Razer CEO tells students it’s okay to waste time, get an ‘F’

razer tan min liang

Razer CEO Tan Min-Liang (center) at a cosplay event in the Philippines. Yes, he gets to take lots of pictures with hot chicks.

Tan Min-Liang, the Singapore-born CEO and creative director of gaming hardware Razer, is like a mini Steve Jobs.

Besides emulating the Apple visionary’s dress of black top, blue jeans and sneakers — except that he replaces Job’s turtleneck with a V-neck and doesn’t tuck in his shirt — Tan also shares the same obsession for product design and cutting-edge, premium gadgets.

A former law student at the National University of Singapore, Tan transformed from a lawyer into the head of a California-headquartered company that employs about 500 people in ten cities. When people in startup circles are asked about outstanding entrepreneurs, his name is often thrown into the hat.

Tan has an undeniable stage presence, evident as he spoke in his baritone voice to a group of students from the National University of Singapore (NUS) in August this year. Here’s what he shared.

1) It’s fine to waste time

Gaming as a hobby does not always have a positive connotation. Tan was told all the time that computer gaming is horrible and it’s an activity that won’t amount to much. It turns out that this hobby became his most valuable asset. He says:

At every point of time I was wasting my time I was learning something, doing something really constructive for the future.

2) It’s okay to get an ‘F’.

Tan observes that people can be too caught up with results and artificial metrics. In schools, students are told that they have to pass examinations, and failing will destroy their lives.

But in the greater scheme of things, nobody cares, especially when you get an ‘F’ in something that’s not reflected in the work you want to do.

Tan brings this attitude over to Razer, where they frequently design crazy products at the risk of failure. The company entered the laptop business as Tan couldn’t find a great gaming laptop for himself.

The decision made no business sense, and they lost money with every unit they sold.

It came to the point where if this went wrong, it will take down the company. But we went ahead because it’s fun.

But with each iteration, the laptop got better, and the latest version received positive reviews.

3) Don’t work too hard.

“I’m one of the laziest bastards you’ll see in any place,” he said. At NUS, he coasted through lessons that he wasn’t passionate about. He finds that if you’re struggling to work really hard at something, it either means that you don’t like what you’re doing, or you’re not very good at it.

Tan enjoys spending his time designing products, getting the perfect color, angle, and precision from his creations. It’s not work for him, it’s fun.

While being a CEO involves taking care of aspects of the company that he doesn’t like, it also gives him the luxury to hire people to do the stuff that he isn’t passionate about.

Tan makes sure that his company has the right role for every person it hires. Not everyone is cut out to be a founder or manager; there may be some engineers who want to focus on purely technical roles, so Razer tries to cater for that.

Some of the most talented engineers or lawyers work well in a silo. They’re also insanely intelligent.

Video of his speech and Q&A at NUS:

(See also: The story of Qisahn, Singapore’s hottest video game shop)

(Photo credit: Razer)

(Editing by Willis Wee and Paul Bischoff)

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