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Razer isn’t a small start-up anymore. Founded in 2005, the company is one of the foremost brands in gaming culture, with its logo on peripherals, laptops, cases, smartphones and even an energy drink. Right after the debut of the Razer Blade Stealth 13, which Razer is touting as the first “gaming ultrabook,” I met with CEO and co-founder Min-Liang Tan at IFA in Berlin.
In a wide-ranging, half-hour interview, Tan discussed Razer’s relationship with Intel, interest in AMD, the effects of tariffs on the company’s goods, moving into gaming drinks and crossing over with other brands on PC hardware.
Oh, and we talked about the Razer toaster. We talked a surprising amount about the Razer toaster.
Razer’s European Tour
Razer’s workforce, according to Tan, is spread roughly in thirds across the United States, Europe and Asia. But its laptops were sold predominantly in the United States until just a few years ago.
“Today, in the U.S. we’re actually number one in the premium laptops above $1,800,” Tan said. “And in a very short - about, less than a year, we’ve taken leadership in markets like the U.K. at this point of time. And we’re doing incredibly well. So I think we’ve seen massive growth in Europe. I think there’s been a lot of interest in Razer laptops because we could actually even see back then there were many of the purchases in the U.S. being shipped across to Europe. So now we’re good and ready to launch over here. It’s been just a great time for us.”
A Category Outside of Project Athena
The newly announced Razer Blade Stealth 13 is among the first laptops with Intel’s 10th Gen Ice Lake processors, and the first with a 25-watt TDP. Both companies have called it a “gaming ultrabook.” But it’s not, however, fit to Intel’s Project Athena spec for performance, battery life and connectivity.
Tan told me that the company instead focuses on “our own standards... in terms of gaming laptops” rather than trying to conform to Intel’s new standard. But that doesn’t mean there’s not a close relationship with Intel, which supplies the processors in every single one of Razer’s laptops.
“Now we’ve worked very closely with Intel on the new Razer Blade. I mean if you look at ‘ultrabook’ it’s actually an Intel trademark[.],” he said. “So I think for all intents and purposes right now we’re very focused on creating our own category together with Intel for this “gaming ultrabook” category and you’ll probably see a lot more happening from that perspective.”
Intel CPU Shortages Hit Home
The generally relaxed Tan got a bit cagey when discussing Intel’s CPU shortages. But he ultimately revealed that Razer was affected.
“Well, I would say that I can’t talk specifically about it, but in the market I believe there’s been a shortage and things like that,” Tan said. “We’ve definitely been affected by it and I think, maybe what I can say is that we’ve had a lot more demand for our products than we can supply at this point of time. So we’re trying to work very closely with our component providers so that we can supply that.”
He laughed, adding, “I’m just dodging NDA’s here and there.”
Could AMD Come to Razer Blades?
Right now, Razer’s entire laptop lineup is comprised of notebooks with Intel processors. That’s not to say the company has no interest in AMD’s offerings, though.
“So we do have quite a number of customers reaching out to us asking us about AMD,” Tan said. “And especially in recent years, because AMD has been doing some pretty cool stuff I think, both on the CPU and GPU side of things. I think at this point of time we don’t have anything to disclose, but we’re definitely looking at AMD’s offerings very closely.”
Credit: Tom's Hardware, AMD
Tariffs: Not Worried
Razer’s production is primarily in China, Tan said, but he didn’t seem too worried about tariffs imposed on many electronic goods by President Donald Trump’s administration.
Despite the fact that peripherals and laptops would fall under the existing lists, Tan said that Razer is working with manufacturers to avoid short term impacts, though he didn’t elaborate on how.
Razer does have some production in Taiwan, where it also has offices, Tan said. But he claimed the company has “no immediate plans” to move to other up and coming manufacturing hotspots in southeast Asia like Vietnam and Thailand.
When asked if he thinks Razer customers would be spared from paying more, he answered in one word: “Yes.”
But if tariffs do end up affecting the company, will consumers pay it, or will Razer swallow the costs?
“Well I don’t think we even need to look at it, because we don’t think it’s gonna happen,” he said.
DIY? Get a Buddy
At CES this year, Razer introduced the Raptor gaming monitor and a few cases, putting the company into the PC building market. Could Razer ever get into components?
“I think usually, when it comes down to PC DIY, we tend to partner,” Tan said. “I think, in fact if you look at our cases, we’ve actually partnered with NZXT, we’ve partnered with Lian Li, we’ve partnered with multiple other vendors,” he said. “Definitely I think you’ll see more partnerships. In respect to motherboards or RAM or things like that, many of which will revolve around Chroma. Because Chroma, for example, today is the biggest RGB platform in the world. We’ve got companies like MSI that we work with, AMD that we work with on Chroma. I think a lot of the partnerships will revolve around that.”
Razer has also previously worked with Lenovo on co-branded pre-built gaming desktops, prior to Lenovo introducing its Legion line-up, and he said he could see Razer doing a team-up in that space again if he saw something he liked.
Why team up, though? According to Tan, that’s because while Razer has a large research and development group, “we have a lot more people looking at the same product and designing for the same product than most other companies.” So when there’s an opportunity but a lack of resources or bandwidth, that’s a time Razer goes for the partnership.
The Birth of the Razer Toaster
“Well,” Tan said, letting out a sigh. “Where do I begin?”
The Razer toaster was originally just a 2016 April Fools’ joke. But people seemed to want it so badly that it became a meme. And Tan, the rare CEO who runs his own Facebook and other social media, engaged with those people.
“I’m part of a community, I don’t have a problem taking shit or you know, trolling somebody or stuff like that,” Tan said. ”So this guy Mark Withers started agitating for a toaster. The more he agitated for it, the more I decided to troll him about it. And I said look, get one million likes and we’ll see how many people want a toaster. And he was hovering at about 50,000 and stuff like that. Where occasionally when I would have time, I would pop in and say ‘just checking in to see how you losers are doing.’”
“Probably not the most professional thing a CEO should do, but hey, you know, I do that,” he added.
And that’s when the tattoos started.
“So at one point in time somebody said ‘hey, what if we got tattoos of the toaster?’ and I was like thinking, well, get me 10 tattoos and I’ll think about doing it, Tan recalled. “And I was like, how many idiots, how many people can you find to do a toaster tattoo?”
By that point, Tan said, people within the company were saying there should be a toaster. So Tan demanded ten tattoos, each worth 100,000 likes towards the total.
Tan has seen Razer tattoos before. He’s even seen his own name and face tattooed on people. But this surprised him.
“Oh my god,” he said, a pause after each syllable. “He got like 12 tattoos of a frickin’ Razer toaster… Anyway, yeah, at some point I’m gonna have to start working on it. So we will have a Razer toaster. But it will be the best toaster in the world.”
How Does a Gaming Company Make a Toaster?
Tan says he is looking “begrudgingly” at the toaster. Apparently, it’s more interesting than he thought. It ends up, he doesn’t feel that there has been innovation in the toaster market in a long time.
“And curiously enough, now that I’m spending time looking at the toaster, there’s just so much we can do with the toaster. And I don’t even know why I’m having this conversation with you. But I am spending time looking at the toaster and there’s a team of people on it.”
Here’s the thing: you can’t just design a toaster with people who make gaming laptops and keyboards. He’ll definitely keep his design team on the job, because keeping peripherals, keyboards and even clothes in the same style is part of Razer’s ethos. But still, you need someone who knows toasters.
So he thinks Razer will hire some appliance people. But that may be just the first step in a whole line of kitchen appliances.
“Once I start bringing in home appliance people, it means I must have other home appliances, right?” Tan asked aloud. “Because I’m not going to hire somebody for a single project. So I’m still trying to get my mind around that. I think the next thing I’ve been asked for most is a mini-fridge.”
Razer: The Brand You Can Drink
If Razer ever makes a mini-fridge, maybe you can keep some Razer Respawn, the company’s gamer drink, in it. Tan says it’s a success, and that it’s partly due to the Razer brand. Only a brand so identified with gamer culture could make this work, he said.
For instance: Would you drink something from Logitech?
“When we came up with a drink, it was something that everybody thought was cool [and] funny. But nobody said Razer shouldn’t be doing a drink,” he said. “But if you think about it, there are lots of great companies out there. Like Logitech make great peripherals, Dell makes great laptops. But would you drink a Logitech drink or a Dell drink? And if they came up with that, people would go like ‘huh? What?’ But when we came up with this, we’re so focused on the gamer lifestyle that when we came up with it they said ‘Respawn, I totally get it. It’s gonna work.’”
Tan promised that new flavors are coming, and said it’s the default drink in Razer’s U.S. offices (Respawn isn’t yet available in other markets).
The Future: Cloud Gaming and 5G?
When you’re the CEO of a company steeped in gaming, you have to be looking ahead. So when I picked his brain about the future, Tan told me his mind was on cloud gaming and 5G, the latter of which proved to be a big topic at IFA this year.
“I think with 5G coming up, it’s just this perfect confluence of technology coming aboard to be able to deliver a phenomenal experience,” he said. “I mean, for what it’s worth, cloud gaming is actually old news. It’s been around for a very long time. But I think with where 5G is -- low latency, high bandwidth -- there is so much that we can do. I mean at the end of the day I’m a tech guy and I get excited about tech, you know?”
The market is already starting to crowd with services from Google, Nvidia and Microsoft. Streaming, Tan said, is an area where Razer could again partner.
On Concept Projects: We Use That Tech
It’s hard to think about Razer, especially at a trade show, without thinking about the wild prototypes it has historically brought to the CES tradeshow in Las Vegas. Those, generally, haven’t come to market as consumer products. But Tan said that these are more like concept cars, and that they have taken some of the learnings and put them in hardware that we have seen.
“I’ll give you a case in point,” he said. “The first one that we ever showed off was Switchblade. And Switchblade [had] these dynamic keys that change behind a screen. That was actually put into our first laptop eight years ago.”
Indeed, Switchblade was shown off at CES in January 2011, and the laptop would be announced that fall with changeable buttons and a touchpad that doubled as an LCD display.
He also pointed to Project Christine, the CES 2014 concept that showed a PC broken into modular pieces that could be easily swapped. That, he says, can be seen in the Razer Core and Core X GPU enclosures, which let you plug in your own GPU and swap them out later.
Of course, some ideas may be good enough to launch. In fact, Razer apparently planned to announce a consumer release of one at IFA this year, but it got delayed in engineering. He wouldn’t commit to which project it was, but we’ll see it in a few months, he says. That sounds like it could be CES timing, which is almost ironic.
“I Think It’s Fine Until I Get Fired”
Towards the end of my 30 minutes with Tan, I couldn’t help but ask: how can you be so outspoken? He’s known for it, after all. What’s it like to occasionally troll on Facebook as a CEO?
“I don’t know -- I think it’s fine until I get fired, I guess,” he said. “I have this fatalistic approach that at some point in time I’m gonna say something, I’m gonna offend a whole lot of people and I’m probably gonna get fired but well, you know, life is short."
When asked if he ever runs this stuff by his legal team, he laughed.
“I must say that my PR team and my legal team lives on tenterhooks that I’m gonna say something stupid,” he laughed again. “So Maren [Epping, Razer’s PR lead of Europe, the Middle East and Africa] probably doesn’t get a lot of sleep.”
Some of this, he said, comes from the mentality that Razer is part of the gaming community. So he, to that end, will engage and interact, and expects others in the company will, too. If it’s a crime, it’s one of passion. It’s a startup mentality, despite the fact that there are 18 offices worldwide.
So yes, he’s afraid he’ll one day say something offensive. But he also considers it a duty. But his peers may question it from time to time.
“I mean, I’ve got meetings with other CEOs, and other CEOs go like, “what the hell are you doing?"
“You’re not supposed to say something like that. And if they said something like that they would get in trouble, but I’m getting away with it and stuff like that. I guess I’ve always seen Razer as being part of the community, built by the community. And we just don’t ever want to lose that.”
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