This events startup takes team building up a notch | Digital Asia
The Fun Empire provides enterprises unique activities for team building, carnivals, public events, dinner and dance parties, sports days, etc.
Ryan Ho has always had an entrepreneur in him right from childhood. He has often fascinated with how ideas could be transformed into interesting products and experiences.
Ho first plunged into the world of entrepreneurship at the very young age of 18, right after graduating from Raffles Junior College in Singapore . Together with his girlfriend, Natasha Toh (who went on to become his business and life partner), Ho started an online T-shirt printing business and also an education platform.
“Being first-time entrepreneurs then, we made many mistakes early on and learned first-hand about the challenges of starting a business, how to get our first customers and also about financial budgeting. Though we have since shuttered those businesses, we were fortunate to achieve break even and earn a small profit,” Ho walked me through his startup journey.
It was after his management consultant stint at McKinsey & Company that he decided to take up entrepreneurship as a career option. The MNC gave him an opportunity to work on challenging projects ranging from corporate strategy, digital transformation, marketing and sales, to organisational restructuring. It was a fast-paced environment that honed his business acumen and problem solving skills.
“Though I greatly enjoyed my work at McKinsey, I wanted to challenge myself again in the field of entrepreneurship to apply what I had learned to start and grow a business again. I wanted to gain the experience of scaling a startup and also growing a team. It was a very difficult decision to make, but I felt that it was the best time for me to make the jump. It also helped that my colleagues and managers were supportive of my decision,” he added.
And The Fun Empire is born.
The three-year-old startup provides enterprises and other organisations unique activities for team building, carnivals, public events, dinner and dance parties, sports days, birthday parties, hen’s parties, casual game-plays and other occasions.
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“We provide clients an end-to-end solution for all their event needs, from planning and booking the venue to executing the activities on the event day. Our events can be conducted either at our office, or any one of our multiple venue partners (e.g. futsal sports locations, sports parks, hotels, etc.) across Singapore. We can also conduct our events, activities and workshops at our client’s preferred location as well, which could be their meeting hall, seminar room and even inside their actual office,” he explained.
The booking process is easy — all you need to do is contact The Fun Empire online or call them directly with your event requirements. The startup’s representative will get back to you within a business day with a proposal.
On a fine day, Ho and Toh noticed a viral video circulating on social media of players wearing inflatable bubble suits while playing soccer. The couple thought that this crazy and unique activity would really stand out in Singapore, as it was a common notion for people to comment that the city-state was boring and that there were no interesting activities to do.
The duo then decided to bring the activity into the local market, and created their own proprietary games such as Bubble Bump Invasion, Bubble Bump Zombie and Bubble Bump Fetch in addition to bubble soccer.
“Although it was a crazy idea to execute at the start, the concept was fresh and memorable as not many people had tried Bubble Bump before. We then tested our games with friends and family, with the initial response being very positive as they loved the experience of bumping their friends in bubble suits. We then officially launched it to paying customers and our Bubble Bump concept took off strongly as clients enjoyed the novel experience. We continued to grow pretty quickly and eventually became Singapore’s largest provider of bubble soccer and other Bubble Bump games,” he explained.
They then continued to innovate and developed other new and unconventional activities to add to the current activities portfolio, with the mission to provide exciting, unique and fun activities to people.
The struggling months
The Fun Empire was struggling to get some market validation and they also two key challenges – credibility and operational know-how.
Ho continued: “In the events industry, clients prefer working with companies with a credible track record, and with prior experience of organising successful events in the past. As we were a new brand back then with little to no experience, we first focused on organising simpler and smaller private events for family, friends and ex-colleagues to refine our product experience and establish early wins to gain momentum.”
“Through a test, learn and refine approach, we were also able to gain valuable operational know-how on how to run successful events and understand what key factors were crucial to ensure a superior client experience,” he shared.
Once they acquired more events experience under its belt, they were more confident to reach out to other types of clients such as companies and government agencies to organise their larger events. By then, they had also managed to establish an operational structure and standard operating procedures to ensure that the events could run smoothly in a consistent way.
“Providing a consistently good experience for our events allowed us to gain referrals from our early clients who had enjoyed their events with The Fun Empire. It also helped that our team building games such as Bubble Bump Invasion and Bubble Bump Zombie were unique and refreshing, which our clients loved and led them to refer their friends and colleagues to us,” he said.
The bitter moment
From their prior startup experiences, Toh and Ho knew that the journey in the initial months was not going to be easy. Gaining market traction and establishing credibility were crucial for survival. He recalled an experience where they were pitching to a financial services company and had worked with them closely for a month to plan their upcoming sports day event.
“They were impressed with our unique activities and event proposal and were ready to proceed to confirm the event booking. The client then enquired about how long The Fun Empire was in business. We then replied that though we were a new brand just three months old, we had already close to 50 events under our belt and several reputable brands in our client portfolio. However, the client was still doubtful about our experience, and pulled the plug at the last minute. The worst thing was they used our exact event proposal and engaged another events company to execute the event based on our proposal,” he didn’t hide his disappointment.
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Needless to say, it was a big blow to The Fund Empire team’s confidence and they were disheartened to see that their hard work and effort go in vain. It felt even worse that another company had benefitted from their hard work just because they were new to the market.
“However, we knew that it was part and parcel of the startup journey, and vowed to continue hustling and serving our clients with a great events experience. In the subsequent two months after the setback, we managed to double our number of events organised and have never looked back since,” he said.
Ho feels that hiring the right people is one of the toughest obstacles that he has had to face as an entrepreneur. It is challenging to compete with larger MNCs and companies in Singapore for great talent. “At The Fun Empire, we believe in learning by doing and we provide opportunities for our team members to take on more responsibility and ownership of tasks from start to finish. We provide a nurturing and fun company culture to work in that helps us to attract talent who share the same culture of fun as us. Our line of work is also really different and unique, which helps us to differentiate our brand from other companies.”
Since inception, the startup has organised more than 5,000 events for over 300,000 participants ranging from Fortune 500 companies, MNCs, SMEs, Government Agencies, Military Groups, Universities, Schools to individual consumers. Its clients include companies like Google, Facebook, Apple, Disney, Nike, Goldman Sachs, Citibank, Ministry of Education, Prime Minister’s Office, and National University of Singapore.
Currently, The Fun Empire has a core team of about 15 people and an extended team of close to 60 event facilitators.
Sharing the company’s future plans, Ho told Tech News that The Fun Empire is expanding its current portfolio of activities by introducing several unique activities that its clients have not experienced before in Singapore. Geographical expansion is also in the offing and the company has received several collaboration requests to bring The Fun Empire concept into other Southeast Asian countries.
No bed of roses
“Overall, the entrepreneurship journey has been a challenging yet fulfilling one. At the beginning, we had to do everything ourselves, from operations and maintenance like cleaning and transporting our inflatable Bubble Bump suits, to sales and marketing like pitching for a customer deal alone to a group of 20 corporate executives,” he told me.
“Throughout this experience, I have learned so much about growing a business, building and leading a team, and the great thing is, there is still so much left to learn and do. I will never forget our humble beginnings of how we first started – in a tiny room that could barely fit three people and with no windows, to where we are today at our current office with our own classroom space that can hold up to 80 people,” he shared.
Being a firm believer of lean startup methodology and the mindset of achieving profitability as soon as possible, Ho advices aspiring entrepreneurs to test their startup concept as soon as possible to assess market viability before scaling their operations. It is vital to receive market feedback sooner rather than later as it will help them iterate on their product and also identify which traction channels work best to reach their intended target audience.
“This helps you reduce your downside risk significantly as you can help identify any blind spots in your initial idea or concept, and allow you to pivot quickly without wasting too much time and resources.
Once you have proven that your startup concept has demand, the next important thing is to start attracting the right people with the right attitude to build your team. Having the right team members will help to supercharge your growth and allow you to scale your operations well. As the saying goes, if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together,” he concluded.