Last month, the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia list for 2019 was unveiled.
Singapore events startup The Fun Empire‘s founders Ryan Ho and Natasha Toh were among the 28, and finding out that they made the list was such a “surreal” experience that they temporarily ignored the notification and “just went back to work tackling the numerous challenges and fires that [they] face daily”.
“It was only towards the end of the day that the realisation really set in,” Natasha revealed in an interview with us.
To celebrate with their team, they “immediately” booked a movie (Avengers: Endgame, if you need to know) and dining experience after.
“It was truly an honour for us to be recognised with other outstanding individuals in the list, and it has really inspired us to continue working even harder to drive The Fun Empire to the next level,” she beamed.
However, in spite of having served over 400,000 individuals at over 6,000 events to date, not much is known about the couple (yes, they’re partners in life too!) behind The Fun Empire.
We got in touch with the duo and found out more about how they went from Junior College sweethearts to selling fun experiences for living.
A Couple That Starts Up Together, Stays Together
The Fun Empire isn’t the couple’s first brush with entrepreneurship.
Having met and started dating since they were studying at Raffles Junior College, Ryan and Natasha bonded over their common interest in business.
They even started a fashion ecommerce business right after their A level exams, and an education platform when they were university undergraduates.
More than just bonding over their venture, they’re also a couple that enjoys trying out new experiences.
While on an overseas trip, they came across ‘bubble soccer’, where players wore huge bubble suits while playing soccer.
Returning home inspired, the couple was once again bitten by the entrepreneurship bug, and wanted the “challenge the notion that Singapore is a boring and monotonous concrete jungle”.
Then, Natasha was helping her family’s skincare business digitise and scale regionally.
Being business people themselves, Natasha shared that her parents “believed in taking measured risks and trying out new ideas” and were thus “very supportive” of her latest venture.
Ryan, however, faced a slightly different reaction when he revealed his intentions to his family.
“When I was considering to leave [my job as a Strategy Consultant] at McKinsey & Company to jump into entrepreneurship, my parents had their concerns as I was leaving a stable corporate job at a highly reputable global firm.”
Bootstrapping from their own savings, Natasha and Ryan launched The Fun Empire in April 2015, starting with Bubble Soccer.
“It was a crazy idea to execute at the start, but the concept was fresh and memorable, and it turned out to be a hit!”
The Challenges Of Building An Empire From Scratch
It’s not easy building a business from scratch, let alone one that’s so logistics-intensive.
Exclaimed Natasha: “We literally had to get our hands dirty!”
“[We had to] maintain, fix, and wash our equipment while running back-to-back events all day. We even drove a lorry to deliver equipment for our events while answering phone calls from customers.”
Apart from that, they also worked on marketing and recruitment initiatives to scale their growing business.
“The initial phase was both physically tiring and mentally draining, but we are grateful that we managed to hire great people [who] helped drive the company forward during the starting up phase,” admitted Natasha.
With rather unconventional team bonding activities like Saber Tag, Ninja Tag, and Poolball, Natasha admitted that it “took [them] a while to get the word out and convince people to try out something different”.
Thankfully, their empire steadily grew over the years thanks to referrals by former clients, but Natasha took the chance to express her gratefulness to their first major client, tech giant Garena.
“We still remember clearly that they put their faith in us and decided to give us a chance when we were first starting out,” she reminisced.
“Although our personal connections got us the first introduction (to Garena), we still had to prove to them that we had the capabilities to organise a fun and memorable team building event for one of their departments.”
Fortunately, everything went smoothly and this led to “quite a number of customer referrals from there”.
Served Over 400,000 Participants So Far
Having done over 6,000 events to date, Natasha lists a SaberFit session for 100 staff from Singtel as one of their more memorable clients to date.
“It was really cool to see 100 participants wielding neon combat sabers while exercising together! We were really happy to see the participants having fun while working out and trying out this activity,” said Natasha.
The team has served over 400,000 participants so far, and clients include government agencies like the Singapore Police Force, Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA), Ministry of Defence (MINDEF), and companies like Google, Facebook, Apple, and Disney.
Bootstrapping The Business, Going Regional
The portfolio they’ve built over a span of 4 years is outstanding, but perhaps what’s more impressive is that they’ve managed to keep the business afloat with zero investor funding.
For the team, staying prudent and believing in a “lean startup methodology” has been their key to survival and success.
Instead of staying to tried-and-true methods, they’re also believers in “creating a Minimum Viable Product first” and “taking measured risks and testing out product market fit before scaling”.
“This is the most important step so that resources are not unnecessarily wasted on ideas or products that the market simply does not want.”
As for their future plans, Natasha shared that they’re looking to continue expanding their current portfolio of activities and revealed that they actually have “several in the pipeline for this year which will be launched soon”.
There are also plans to eventually turn The Fun Empire into a “strong regional brand”.
The journey of entrepreneurship can be treacherous, but this startup is proving that sometimes, it can be achieved with fun and games.
We’d like to thank Natasha and Ryan for their time!
Check out The Fun Empire’s team bonding activities here.