Herman Ng has been passionate about gaming since he was young. Not many people are fortunate enough to turn a hobby into a business, but Herman Ng did just that.
He is still a hardcore gamer, but today also runs one of the most well-known gaming events company in Singapore.
A Passion for Gaming
Herman loves gaming. Even when he was working for one of Singapore’s telecommunications firms, the avid Warcraft III fan had started www.warcraftsingapore.com, a community fan site for one of Blizzard Entertainment’s more popular games. Herman’s site exploded in popularity, and he soon found himself engaged in organising competitions for visitors to his site.
As he completed his first year in his corporate job as system analyst – a natural progression from what he had studied in university – Herman found he lacked the burning desire for his job the way he did for his gaming hobby. “I had no motivation for my job. It wasn’t bad, just that I couldn’t find that extra pump to put into my work. Could I see myself still doing this in 3 year’s time? The answer was ‘no’. I wanted to wake up every day looking forward to my work, and this wasn’t it,” Herman confided.
So when the boss of media company Playworks approached him to help run a gaming project, it was one of the toughest decisions he had to make in his life. Should he quit a secure and financially comfortable job to follow his heart? “I had few family commitments, so it was really the best time to change my career,” Herman decided.
He quit his system analyst job to pursue his gaming dreams. As expected his parents and girlfriend were skeptical about his decision to quit a decent job to make such a move, yet they recognised how motivated he was.
Employer or Employee?
Herman’s stint in Playworks didn’t last long however.
While he was the project manager responsible for the entire project, he felt that he had very little autonomy. Herman also felt totally burnt out after the project’s completion, and decided to leave only after three months. “I was only an employee,” he shrugged, “and it didn”t meet my long-term objectives.” Herman didn’t regret the experience though – he was exposed to an environment totally different from his previous job, experiencing challenges facing all small start-ups.
Financially it was also taking a toll on him. He had taken a massive 20% pay cut when he left his previous job, and things weren’t looking very bright.
Herman met Jonathan Cheah during an event he organised for the fans of his site. Jonathan ran the cyber cafe Asteroids Cyber where Herman had held an event, and the two avid gamers soon hit it off. They found out they shared a similar vision for gaming, and both saw an opportunity in gaming which was taking off in a big way in the United States, Japan and Korea.
Herman realised that for a successful business, you had to find the right time, the right idea, and the right people. He knew he had found the right person to start a business with. Jonathan loved gaming as much as he did. Jonathan also came from a business family, and knew how to run a business.
It was then that they decided to start a business that focused on gaming, and Rapture Gaming was born.
Loads of Passion, But How to Make Money?
“Most people start a business to either make money, or to do something on their own,” Herman shared, “and the funny thing was we didn’t know how to make money from gaming at that point in time!” But they got the company started anyway. “This way, when you get an idea to make money you can immediately roll with it”, he said.
They decided to first run competitions for cyber cafes in Singapore. The idea was well-received, and the fledgling company started business. Herman still remembered that time fondly. “When we secured our first client, it gave us a tremendous boost. You know, this may actually work!”
There was only the two of them at the start. But they did know people who had the right skill sets whom they could trust and rely on. Herman had a piece of advice. “Always maintain your relationships. In this world, you never know when you may need help in the future,” he advised.
Rapture Gaming’s Big Opportunity
Their biggest break was to come. Both Jonathan and Herman used to joke about holding a gaming event as big as the World Cyber Games (WCG). On a whim they contacted International Cyber Marketing (ICM), the organisers for WCG, by email. They were surprised when ICM replied, and asked them to submit a proposal on holding the Singaporean leg of WCG in 2005.
They went to work on it immediately. “I remember burning my Christmas that year,” Herman mused. Korea-based ICM flew down to Singapore to listen to their ideas, and was surprised to find that the team very young.
A month later ICM contacted them, and told them they were selected. They liked their passion and they had a strong vision for the gaming future in Singapore, they said. The Rapture team was ecstatic.
The breakthrough opened the doors for Rapture. The local WCG Finals 2005 became a tremendous success, even bringing them media attention. They now had an opening to speak to potential sponsors, partners and industry players who may otherwise have ignored the fledgling company.
Planning for the Future
After WCG, they realised they still needed a business plan. “Compared to other companies, we got it backward! We had been in business for eight to ten months, but we still didn’t have a business plan,” Herman laughed. Today, Rapture Gaming positions itself as a marketing and events management company specialising in gaming. “Gaming is just a platform that we work with. It’s a platform for our clients to use as a marketing tool.”
They are also looking at rolling out new products and services to support their revenue model.
Any plans in the pipeline?
“We’re looking at creating the Rapture Gaming Academy. It will be a platform to communicate and educate the public that gaming as a new mainstream form of interactive media and entertainment,” he reasoned. “The academy will run courses addressed at different target audiences – parents, youths, educators, and marketers. We may even run team-building events for corporations built around gaming.”
“We acknowledge that gaming has negative influences, but we need to work together to address these issues rationally.”
Challenges and Issues
It had been difficult finding talent – there were simply none in Singapore who were experienced enough in running huge gaming events.
“Gaming is a very new industry – and you need the right people to transform vision and ideas into reality,” Herman reflected. â€œWe are considered an experienced gaming company, but there’s little talent out there who are very familiar with gaming. The people we brought in had to be hand-held.”
“We’re still considered a start-up. There are endless opportunities out there, but since we’re small there will be some that slip through the cracks. But we don’t want to expand too fast, because the industry is still new and not yet stable.”
Despite these challenges, Rapture Gaming prospered. By the end of 2005, their turnover was close to half a million dollars, and are on track to hit one million in turnover by the end of this year.
Advice for Business
One of the first things Rapture Gaming decided when they finally had a working business model was to pay themselves. When they first started, Herman was the only person who drew a tiny allowance and only if there was money coming in. It was only until they had clients who would invest in them for the long run did they begin to employ people. Today, Rapture Gaming now has a full-time strength of six including Herman, supported by some 20 part-timers.
But then it became a totally different ball game. “Now not only do I have to worry about the financial health of the company, I also have to worry about whether my employees were doing their jobs and whether they were happy,” he said with a grimace.
Herman had a piece of advice for business owners. “Sometimes in order to grow your business, you have to learn to let it go,” he said. “It hit me hard when I asked myself what would happen if I fell ill or if I am not around. Will my business just drop dead and die?” At one point, he decided that he will build a business to survive and run on its own. He wanted time to do his own things and to think of new business development, and not bogged down by operations. So he restructured the company, making sure everybody had the power to make decisions, so that company can still function without him. “You need other people to drive your business, to think of ideas, to drive the company. Otherwise your company cannot go far.”
Does he consider himself a success? “Definitely. I’ve never once regretted setting up a company. I’ve learnt all aspects of business. Financially, I didn’t have to beg and steal and I have enough money to survive and save some as well. Things have definitely worked out better than we’ve expected them to be.”
Find out more about Rapture Gaming at www.rapturegaming.com.