In an exclusive conversation with e27, Aftershock Co-founder Joe Wee talks about the struggles forming and maintaining a specialised game-related business
It all starts off with a dream or a flash of a light bulb. At least, that’s how it was with Aftershock PC’s custom-focused inception.
The specialised laptop-making company hailing from Singapore is the brainchild of Joe and Marcus Wee, computer aficionados and gamers. It’s clear as day from their website that they care about their craft and the hobby, with familiar branding quotes like “Power Overwhelming” that only fans of Blizzard would get and heed to, as well as the company’s emphasis on graphic cards like NVidia. Not to mention the site’s liberal use of “ultimate” and “beast”.
“My brother had this idea of selling gaming laptops,” Joe said to e27, “We decided to take a big leap and build our own brand because we wanted 100 per cent control over its direction. This company was started by Marcus, a classmate by the name of Lam Ziyuan and myself. Since we were kids, we’ve always been gaming and a passion for gaming notebooks came naturally.”
And what direction are they taking for with their custom laptop business? Price control and freedom from authority, said Joe, “We could make a decision on product pricing on the fly without having to seek approval from anyone. One of the things we are really happy with running this business is not having a boss to have to ask for approval for things, you build your own path and make your own decisions.”
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and if you look past the Aftershock computer’s rather ordinary design, you’ll find powerhouses within. Affordable is one, in fact, a regular Joe can play the latest titles made this year with an all-in-one laptop for less than SG$3,000 (US$ 2400) with great settings.
“We allow our customers to choose the parts that they want in their machine,” Joe said, “So they get what they pay for! We are definitely a lot more flexible than the older brands.” He added that the target demographic is 20- to 30-year-old male gamers, who comprise 90 per cent of their customer base.
And the company’s most popular laptop among that demographic? It’s the XG Series gaming line-up, specifically the Aftershock XG13-V2 and XG15-V3 models. Joe said that any notebook within the 13 inch to 15 inch screen size is the more popular choice. Along with the aforementioned model’s value and performance, he said that they’re the de facto computer of choice for new customers. It also helped that the Aftershock XG13-V2 earned acclaim within the hardware consumer sites and magazines in Singapore. The company’s computer was awarded an Editor’s Choice by renowned tech site Hardware Zone.
The road to the company’s relevance wasn’t easy to achieve, as with all struggles of the modern-day era. “Challenges of the business in the beginning included organising stock and inventory systems,” said Joe, “Unlike going in to an established company, this system was something that we had to figure out and develop ourselves.”
The other challenge Aftershock PC had to deal with was promotion and location. “We also had no money to pay for marketing or advertising so we had to figure out how to promote the product without spending anything. In the end, we did it via Facebook/social media marketing, forums as well as some [guerilla] PR. Also, being located in an area not associated with tech products means you don’t get walk-ins or sales that happen by chance.”
Too many bazaars?
As with any fledging tech startup, the one reliable source for getting your name across is through PC and IT trade shows and bazaars. While he agreed that events such as SITEX and PC Show are a good way to get brand recognition, the problem of over-saturation rears its ugly head. “There are currently four major tech shows every year spaced out every quarter. [Event organisations and distributors] are pushing to make it a six-show yearly event.”
Joe said that this dilutes the market because people know that there are many shows to go to, making them skip out on few. This also means that distributors and show organisers will experience more unnecessary overheads. “For all of the setup costs, they will not actually sell much by making more people go into the shows. Thus, it makes each show less profitable.”
He added that because of so many promos and discounts in these bazaars, it makes products hard to sell as people will get used to it and can tune it out during non-promotional periods. “[Due to these factors], I have already seen some shops pull out of the trade shows. If it continues this way, I don’t believe this will benefit anyone in the tech market in the long run.”
Despite all this, the Aftershock team is pulling through with their passion in the gaming and computer-assembling business. “It’s not bad. You have to have an inherent love for what you do in order for the business to have a chance of being successful. There are many types of businesses, not all are equally profitable. The hardware market is not always the most profitable one; software does in fact give much higher returns. But it is something we love to do; therefore, we find it is ‘not bad’ at all,” said Joe. Having said that, he does believe that Aftershock needs a bigger business space, “I’m sure we can improve on system processes; it’s something we’ve been fine-tuning since the start,” he added.
As for the future, Joe said that he’s toying with the idea of doing the Aftershock equivalent of Valve’s Steam Box, but nothing is confirmed as of yet. He did impart some words of wisdom in the tech startup field though, saying, “There will be a lot of blood and sweat before the benefits start getting reaped”.
“It took us almost a year before we saw any gains. Be prepared to take risks and try to understand the tech market before making any decisions,” Joe concluded.