Interested in custom notebooks? They’ve become all the rage lately. RGB talks to Singaporean custom notebook builders – Aftershock PC – on their business, and their humble beginnings.
We sat down with Marcus Wee and Lam Ziyuan from the startup to find out more. 27 year old Marcus leads a dual life with his persona ‘aLt Sheepy’ (Clan aLternative), while 28 year old Ziyuan has always been interested in IT and gaming. The two of them met when they were studying at the Singapore Management University, and have since come together to found Aftershock.
RGB: How did the idea for Aftershock come about?
Marcus: I was a foreign student and only ever had a notebook computer. Gaming notebooks were always something interesting to me because as an Asian foreign student in Australia living in a boarding school in the middle of the countryside, a lot our hobbies were just to play CounterStrike or other games on the school’s LAN network. I later went to Canada during university on an exchange programme and bought a custom notebook from a company over there that builds them. After that I decide: why not try to do this in Singapore?
RGB: Do correct us if we’re wrong. Are we right in saying Aftershock is the first customisable notebook company in Singapore?
Marcus: There were two companies in Singapore before that resold other brands from overseas. I think what they did was taking orders from customers, before reselling them for the people who built them overseas. But the difference between them and us is that we’re actually a builder. So we actually buy parts and do assembly and testing here. We also do support in Singapore, we don’t send the laptops overseas. Everything is build and tested right here in Singapore.
RGB: Why did you choose to be a builder instead of just reselling?
Marcus: I don’t know how these other companies are doing but there were a lot of issues going on with how they could not repair the hardware (they sold). And when customers send a notebook in for repair, you ship it to the US and then have to handle the shipping back on your own; that’s going to easily cost you a bomb just for air freight.
When you’re a builder, you do everything on the spot are have more control with your inventory; we have stock, the components, so anything goes wrong, you have the parts on hand to do a replacement for the customer.
So the main thing is: first of all – we’re able to provide a service, and second, the quicker turnaround time. Because, as a reseller for a US company, how are you going to explain a delay on the US end to the customer? These companies also have a default turnaround time of three weeks. Our turnaround time is only four days, because we get the order, we do the assembly and testing in two days, and we give it to them. That’s the benefit of going the route of the builder.
However, being a reseller means that you don’t have to fork out the startup cost up front. Because we had to buy stocks of everything, and getting stock of the parts is not cheap, because these things have to be ordered in bulk.
RGB: Have much have the both of you invested in Aftershock so far?
Ziyuan: A hefty investment.
RGB: And Aftershock was self funded?
Marcus: It’s partially self funded, partially funded from our families.
RGB: Why do you think there hasn’t been a customised notebook builder in Singapore before?
Marcus: The concept of this only rose to popularity not long ago. We’ve actually seen custom notebook builders in Australia, Japan, Germany, and in Canada in the last one and a half years. They have been doing very well too. We want to do replicate this model not just in Singapore, but in Southeast Asia as well.
Because even now, while we’re doing this, we have a lot of enquiries from overseas customers. They ask if we can ship to them, and we tell them, we can ship to you, but the problem is, we can’t provide any after-sales support. Support is the most important thing when it comes to this sort of products because if something breaks, gamers are the most panicky.
I had a friend who was playing Diablo III on hardcore mode when it came out, and his computer overheated because the thermal paste between the processor and heatsink dried up. He panicked. He came to my house at midnight in a taxi with his computer. That’s how desperate gamers are when their system goes down. I would react the same way too.
That’s why we think that support is so important, and we don’t want to ship overseas until we are able to provide that support in that country itself.
RGB: The both of you are basically building this brand up from scratch. How have you been making yourself known?
Marcus: In Singapore the IT culture is such that the people in shops who sell you hardware and components normally don’t have an interest in what they’re selling. They just tell you, this is the price. I’ve worked at IT shows before and we were briefed to sell the item that has the most stock, rather than what the customer needs. It’s not a good thing.
In the end I feel it’s all about customer relationships. When a person uses a computer, after a few years he or she is bound to want to upgrade to another computer. When you have built a relationship where you have helped them with what they wanted, they’ll naturally come back to you.
We also try to let ourselves be known to the media. We loan review units to the media; that was very helpful. Some of the customers have also been very helpful to us.
Ziyuan: Some of our customers who bought our notebooks liked them so much, they actually wrote reviews for us. This is one of the reasons we managed to get so much publicity.
Marcus: It’s really helpful. The customers, some of them come to us and are like, “oh you guys are a new business? We want to support Singapore businesses, and we’d like to see you guys do well”. So we help them with their notebooks and they find our approach cool. And some of them say, “we’ll write about you, because good things should be shared”.
RGB: So what’s your target demographic?
Marcus: Gamers and hardware users. Enthusiasts and engineers can also benefit a lot from a system that has very good 3D rendering because their 3D applications also require pretty powerful hardware. But in general engineering, notebooks and stuff are typically very expensive when you buy them from a branded company.
RGB: But gaming in Singapore is very accessible. I can walk across the street and find a cybercafé. Why do you think Aftershock laptops will appeal to the gamer demographic when they’d rather play on a gaming PC or at a cybercafé?
Marcus: There are a lot of foreign and overseas students here these days, and all these people might benefit from a laptop because they’ll want to have something that they can easily transport over. Then when they come back they can use it as a desktop. There are also those who like going to B.Y.O.C.s (bring-your-own-computer) parties or gatherings with their friends. A gaming notebook will also save you space as opposed to a full-fledged gaming desktop.
Typically, cybercafés aren’t very personal. People go to cybercafés when they want to play with friends, but everyone will prefer to use their own desktop or notebook when they’re at home. A desktop is definitely more cost efficient, but a notebook has its own niche following. Our notebooks cater to that niche.
RGB: How do you see Aftershock differently from other gaming notebook brands like, Alienware and Razer?
Marcus: We’re different. We’re more of a niche company.
I can share with you that most gamers do prefer a beautiful looking notebook that just screams ‘gamer’. We’re geared more towards the young working adults such as ourselves, who want to have a notebook that lets you pursue your gaming hobbies, but yet not intimidating looks wise.
When you buy a custom notebook, it’s usually more because you want to have that form factor, mobility and the flexibility of choosing your components.
You might buy a very pretty notebook just because you see it and you think, that’s cool. It’s definitely not easy to compete with them (the competitors). But our selling points are very different. It appeals to a different market.
Our customers are often between 20 to 30 years old. They’re young adults who have gaming as a hobby and they know what specifications they are after. You could say our notebooks also cater more to the enthusiast crowd. Hopefully we can make it more mainstream, though. That’s the challenge.
We will also be reviewing a custom Aftershock notebook soon – stay tuned.