Ryan Ho used to travel frequently as a consultant at McKinsey & Company, and he would always marvel at the interesting activities overseas that are unavailable in Singapore.
He and his then-girlfriend (now wife), Natasha, got intrigued when they noticed a viral video of people playing soccer in inflatable bubble suits in Australia.
This prompted them to bring in ‘bubble soccer’ to Singapore, and they even created proprietary games such as Bubble Bump Invasion, Bubble Bump Zombie and Bubble Bump Fetch.
The couple first popularised it among their family and friends, and they slowly grew to be the largest provider of ‘bubble soccer’ in Singapore.
That was how The Fun Empire was born.
Founded in 2015, the startup provides enterprises and other organisations fun and unique activities for team building, carnivals, corporate and public events, bachelor and bachelorette parties, and other occasions.
“In the past 5 to 10 years, fun activities are rather limited to amusement parks, fun fairs and carnivals. Slowly, more interesting activities like laser tag trickled into Singapore, but they are stagnating. This is why you always hear people complain that there is ‘nothing interesting to do in Singapore’,” said the Raffles Junior College graduate.
“We saw this gap in the market and noticed that ‘escape rooms’ are getting increasingly popular in Europe and across the world. But as with any new experience, the service providers explode into the market but when the hype dies down, smaller players are forced to close down.”
Despite the market saturation, the good news about the fun experience industry is that the possibilities are limitless. For that reason, the team makes it a point to innovate and create their own games, so their customers will keep coming back for more to try new experiences.
“Ultimately, our mission is to create the world’s most interesting experiences. We want to push boundaries by mashing different games together, improving on an existing game, or putting our own spin on it,” said Ryan.
“When we incorporate fun elements into unexpected activities, people naturally gravitate. It’s fun for us looking at people enjoying our activities — they start letting loose and having fun like kids again, and they derive this sense of amazement when they indulge in something new.”
Some of the novel activities they have come up with include Combat Archery (archery with foam-padded arrowheads), PoolBall (giant pool with soccer-sized cue balls) and Saber Tag (team-based game that incorporates combat sabres and electronic scoring vests).
They are also looking at exploring the increasingly popular virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technology to weave into their experiences.
This is also why run-of-the-mill team activities like building towers out of uncooked spaghetti and trust falls are not in their playbook.
In the same spirit of creativity, they offer workshops like terrarium building, art jamming, leather crafting, soy candle-making and clay figurine making for those who are a little less interested in physical activities.
Proving Their Worth In The Business Of Fun
In a span of three years, Ryan said that The Fun Empire has seen “tremendous healthy growth”. It has hosted a total of 6,000 events serving over 400,000 participants.
Some of its clients include MNCs like Google, Facebook, Apple, Disney and Nike, as well as government agencies like Ministry of Education and Prime Minister’s Office.
Motivated by their rapid local growth, Ryan mentioned that he’s not ruling out overseas expansion and in fact, the startup has received several collaboration requests to introduce the The Fun Empire concept into other Southeast Asian countries.
Reflecting on their business journey, Ryan and Natasha shared that they both had faced a lot of bumps along the way.
When they first started out, their biggest challenge was proving themselves as a viable company to the market.
As their concept was very new back then, they had a tough time convincing clients to work with them. Some even rejected them because they were doubtful about the team’s experience.
Ryan also shared that in the early days, he and Natasha had to bootstrap their entire operations. They had to juggle multiple roles, from cleaning the inflatable bubble suits to pitching for a customer deal alone to a group of business executives.
Internally, the both of them also worked on establishing structured processes so that events could run smoothly, ultimately delivering consistently good experiences to his customers.
“There was no case study, no precedent. It was going to be a hit or miss, and we had to do it in a clever and sustainable way.”
“We had to [make sure that we are] sustainable in profit, and we are proud that we’ve never had to raise a cent in investment money. We grew The Fun Empire organically.”