Ryan Tan is one of the well-known faces in Singapore’s YouTube scene. But if you have not heard of him, it is no fault of yours either because he is commonly known by his other aliases like NOC Ryan, Food King and Xi Guay (watermelon) Ong.
As we look to restart entree.sg to bring back the stories of entrepreneurs, we thought of Ryan immediately because he recently restarted his YouTube journey again. His new channel is called Overkill Singapore, formerly known as Get Lost.
Apart from his YouTube endeavour, Ryan is also a serial entrepreneur, co-founding Belly Empire and Remake. More on this below.
How did you get the name Xi Guay Ong?
My Malaysian YouTuber friends, Jinny Boy and Reuben, told me during the earlier days of NOC that it was important for people to know who owned the channel. Coincidentally, we were at a bicycle shop along Haji Lane. They told me to just wear one of the helmets in the shop and appear in the background of our videos.
So, I just randomly took one helmet and wore it. They found it hilarious. That was the same watermelon helmet that I wore for many years in the videos. I didn’t have much of a role in the videos. I was just hanging out in the background like facing the wall, but fans started noticing me.
From thereon, we integrated the character into our videos since people like it a lot.
Why is Get Lost now Overkill?
We tried to register Get Lost as a holding company with the Account & Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA). But we were rejected. We don’t know the reason but it was a blessing in disguise. Here’s why.
We had a booth at the Kyushu Travel Fair seminar in Singapore, naturally, we labelled our booth name as Get Lost. We were puzzled why no one came over to our booth. So, we were thinking perhaps the Japanese might not have understood the nuance of our name and mistakenly thought that we were asking them to get lost. That was when we changed the name of the booth to Overkill. This got more people’s attention to enquire at our booth to find out what we do. That’s also when we decided to change the name to Overkill.
Though our channel name has changed, our content streams still remain the same.
What are the different content streams under Overkill?
Our content streams include:Get Lost that is for travel, Get Busy that is for vlogs and Get What that is for unboxing. We also have Get Rekt.
It is an incubator for content creators where I offer them resources and platforms to start out and/or to collaborate with us. So, it is like if you want to loan out my gear or you need a space to film, just let me know. If I have jobs that I cannot take up due to other commitments, I will pass it to them. The initiative is free-of-charge because when I first started out, I didn’t have much help. I know how it feels.
Many of these content creators I see have the fire and passion in them. I want to be part of their journey and who knows, maybe when they have jobs that they cannot take up, they will reciprocate my kind gesture. That is a bonus, of course.
I want to make the content creators community more thriving because back when we first started YouTube, everyone was very collaborative. Five to six years on, it has now become a cut-throat competition. The scene no longer has the collaborative spirit where we used to have fun together.
I’m trying to bring that back though I do not have the same resources as I had back in NOC. I can only do what I can.
I did put this in one of my vlogs but not a lot of people reached out to me.
What is the process to be part of Get Rekt?
There isn’t much of a structured process. You can just come in, talk to me, have lunch together. If I feel that we hit it off well and that you are sincere, you can be part of Get Rekt.
Some entrepreneurs tend to shun away from their previous line of business due to failure or bad experiences. But you still jump right back into it with the launch of Get Lost. Why is that so?
NOC did not fail because the business was not good. On the contrary, it was too good and we didn’t know how to handle and manage a big company. At its peak, we had 70 full-time staff. We didn’t have the expertise to handle them. I mean all these were for a YouTube channel.
The pressure to make payroll every month was insane. We were looking at a six-figure sum. If we didn’t have the amount of videos and clients, we probably would not have survived for so long. That’s why everyone was working to the bone.
It was a common scene in the office then where everyone’s still around at 4 AM. It was brutal. There was once, in a single day, I had to produce 11 video drafts for 11 clients. I only had between 8 AM and 11 PM. I worked with two other crew members, Isabelle and Bryan. We did manage to pull it off.
Right after, at 11 PM, we had our debriefing meeting until 3 AM. The next day we start all over again. It was the most painful day in my life and career.
All these happened when I was going through my divorce. I was feeling depressed and I had to come up with comedic content. The irony was very “mindfuck”. This was also the time I told myself I had to stop. I cannot continue working like this.
Do you think it was a necessary evil to work extremely hard so that everyone gets paid?
I felt that we had no choice. We wanted to grow too much and that gradually eroded the essence of fun in our job.
You mentioned that one of the important factors to grow sustainably is to have fun. Is this something that you have adopted here in Overkill?
Oh yes! If you take a look at my office, 70% of the space is made up of play-area. There’s very little space for work. I feel that if you want to do creative work, you want to do comedic work, you need to be happy.
So, over here, everyone is very relaxed. No one needs to wear shoes, shirt & tie, etc. The rules are very loose. I see everyone as adults and are responsible enough to manage themselves. If they come in late, then they will make up for it on their own. I am not particular.
Work is not everything.
Some of my staff even have mini businesses with me – equal shareholders. For example, my wedding videography business, pokemon business, etc.
I always have this theory that my staff can work for me in their 20s. From their 30s on, I encourage them to start their own thing. This was what I said to my friend, Virus, who was the former Head of Production at NOC, and the current founder of Outcast.sg.
While building up Overkill, what were the challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?
Money was one of the primary challenges. But I was lucky. I managed to land my first job even before the channel was set up and that was the Sydney job. It was also thanks to the reputation equity that we built in the past when shooting other travelogues. I am grateful that the client took the leap of faith with us.
The whole budget that was given to us, I used it to buy equipment because we had none. So, I didn’t earn anything from the job but more of using the money to set up the first batch of things needed for Overkill.
I was also lucky that I had help along the way from office space to the tables, chairs, lights, bean bags and more from clients and friends. This means that we didn’t have to spend too much to have everything up and running.
I’m grateful to Aftershock, SecretLab, Lemon Fridge Studio, Rezt n Relax, ERA and more.
With so much help rendered to you, would you say that it is a testament to the importance of client and service provider relationship?
Yes! When the NOC saga happened, a lot of my friends left me because they didn’t want to pick sides. Surprisingly, a lot of my clients came through for me even when I had nothing to offer. They said that they admire my work ethics and transparency because when I don’t think I did a good job for them, I tend to do more for them.
That said, some of my staff who worked closely with me at NOC also came through for me. They stuck with me and some still work with me until today.
I feel very responsible for them and that was why I took up a lot of jobs like corporate training, zoom classes and more to earn some money to support these special folks, just to ensure that they were still paid and tide through during a difficult time.
I understand that restarting takes a lot of energy, time and especially money. Can you share with us a rough figure of your overhead now?
My current overhead is between $60,000 and $70,000 and only in the recent month we saw some profit.
You set a million subscribers target for Get Lost. What is the significance of this figure? Are there milestones every month that you need to hit to ensure that you are on track and are you on track?
I’m not particular about the metrics. It is just a target that we set for ourselves. If we get there, we get there. If not, so be it. I mean happiness should never be driven by the traditional metrics to show how well a company is doing.
At the end of the day, what is important is that everyone gets their salary and is happy. That to me is success. I don’t need to make a lot of money to buy cars or houses.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that money is not important. It is just not the primary focus. It is nice to have.
Like Overkill, I don’t see it as a money-maker. NOC was, but I saw what it did on a higher scale. I see Overkill as a platform that allows me to connect with other opportunities like the Old Airport Road Xin Mei Xiang Lor Mee and Remake.
On your belly empire
You also run a business called Belly Empire. Can you share a bit more?
Belly Empire was started by 5 people. The first is the co-founder of Fish & Chicks, Justin, who coincidentally was one of our Food King clients. The second is Edmund, who is also my partner for Remake and two other guys, Nicholas and Zhengwen, who are the most involved in the company. They are the ones who see to the day-to-day finance and operations work. Then there’s me.
Belly Empire is a company that helps food store owners expand their business and open more branches. One example is our partner, Old Airport Road Xin Mei Xiang Lor Mee. We are opening our 7th branch in November.
The idea behind it came from our love for good food. We realised that many stores with good food only have one branch. It could be because they are extremely good at their crafts but not as business savvy. This is where we come in. We want to bring very good food and spread it all over the island.
Why did you start off with Old Airport Xin Mei Xiang Lor Mee?
I have been eating Xin Mei Xiang Lor Mee since I was 5 years old. When I got my first car, the first place I went was to eat their Lor Mee.
At 18 years old, I told them that when I become successful, I will help them expand their business. I have been a faithful customer. Each month, I will go 3 – 4 times to eat.
I used to go at unearthly hours like 4.30 AM to be the first customer. The auntie would tell me that I was too early. But because I knew that they were already ready at 4.30 AM, I would just head down even though the store officially opens at 6 AM. The whole hawker would just be me and her.
She was very nice and made a bowl for me even though she wanted to take a break before her store opens.
So when Belly Empire happened, I met up with them to see if they were interested, which they were. That was when all the work started and everything’s history.
Today, the original owners are very much involved in everything related to the brand. They do the quality check, apply their recipe and do the cooking too.
You ran a food business before Old Airport Road Xin Mei Xiang Lor Mee. It closed down because of manpower and rental issues. What were the learnings before and how are you doing differently this time around since in this economic climate, these still remain two key challenges for brick and mortar stores?
Right now, we have a whole company of people that see to the daily operations like hiring, managing the finances and more. My failed experience with the Food & Business (F&B) industry was due to my inexperience. I did not know how to effectively run or cook unless it was related to just eating.
Back then, I didn’t even know about marketing. So, nothing really worked out for me.
This time around, I am working with people who have experience running F&B, maybe not locally, but still more experience than I do. Other than offering my failure from my previous F&B venture, now, I help with the marketing part of the company. Then these folks work on costing control, quota issues, etc. So, everything is very well-managed.
Have you broken even yet for your investments in Old Airport Road Xin Mei Xiang Lor Mee?
We do see some profit but after deducting the cost of our operations, we use what is left to open new branches.
Now that we have covered your YouTube and food business. You also have a company called Remake. What is Remake and how did it start?
Remake stands for Ryan and Edmond Make.
I met Edmond through World of Warcraft. Many years back, in the game, I attracted too many creatures to attack me and when I was about to die, this random priest came to heal me. I managed to survive.
From there, we started chatting and found out that we were from the same school and from Singapore too, which was quite rare at that time. After I dropped out from school, we remained in contact and continued to play games together.
Then years later, I came across a piece of news on the SecretLab. It was founded by Alaric Choo and Ian Ang. It was reported that the two used to play games with each other and now they each own a Ferrari. So, I sent this news to Edmund and asked why we play games together but we don’t own a Ferrari. He said one day, perhaps.
That one day did happen, not owning a Ferrari, but partnering with each other to start Remake.
Initially, Remake was just for fun where we help businesses improve their branding and then we see where that leads to. Because Edmond has years of experience as a Design Director in a well-known French branding agency, we believe we can take on more clients and expand our business offerings.
At this juncture, I think you should hear from Edmond as I’m not involved in the daily operations of Remake. He is.
Edmond Ng: To answer the question of what Remake is, we are a digital creative agency. We deal with anything that affects the perception of your brand.
We are also focusing more on the digital experience. Basically, anything that is online, we do it.
What made you leave your previous company to build Remake?
Edmond: Things changed when my former boss left the company, whom I had a fantastic relationship with. When a new managing director took over, the culture changed. A lot of people left. So, I was thinking to myself, if I am going to work so hard, why don’t I start my own thing? Subsequently, the team from the previous workplace came and joined me. Just like how Ryan’s old team also came to work with him too.
How’s Remake doing so far?
Edmond: We are doing well. We just made it past our first year profitable. The reason is also because we don’t have high overheads other than manpower. So, that helps.
Who are your clients?
Edmond: Other than Xin Mei Xiang Lor Mee, our other clients include government agencies and private entities. It is hard to name many of our clients because the work that we do, many a time, is for a project that will appear in a year or 2 years time.
If I have to name one, that would be My Junior Maths. It’s a tuition centre. We gave them a brand facelift from logo, website design, decals and more.
Ryan’s connection does help a lot as well. People know him so, many big and small businesses will reach out to us through him. It has been interesting working with him because he opens us to many rare opportunities that we never knew money was there.
Ryan: In a sense, our businesses gel very well together. A lot of smaller clients when they come and look for us, they normally don’t even have a landing page, curated website or Instagram for people to refer to. For example, if someone wants to sell a device and they don’t have a website or social media, even if I come up with a whole marketing campaign for them or a YouTube video, potential customers don’t know where to look for it or get more info.
This is where Remake comes into the picture. If the client chooses to engage us as a whole package, we can provide a very holistic one-stop-shop service for them, covering multiple touchpoints.
This industry is very competitive. How do you stay competitive?
Edmond: Because of my prior experience, I know what are the various charges out there in the industry. So, we are very mindful and strategic about our approach from who we hire to the clients that we work with.
Being small has its own advantages. We are more nimble and react faster to changes than larger agencies. In some cases, you need to wait for the bigger agencies to have the time to work with you. For us, anything can happen as fast as the following week.
On your business advice
If someone wants to start their own content production company/YouTube channel, what would be your advice to them on landing their first gig?
Open to collaborations, relationships and networking. But it must come from the right place. If you build a relationship or network with the aim of money, people can sense that from afar. If that’s the case, this relationship or network will start off negatively.
I also told Edmond the same thing when we first started Remake. I told him that I don’t mind doing free work for clients. If it is good, they see the results and value, they will come back and engage us. I believe in this philosophy and so far, it has proven me right.
Another advice that might not be related to the question is, always give back to society. Overkill, Belly Empire and Remake also do charity work. Some examples include giving out food to low-income families and sponsoring renovation work for a family whose flat was burned down. When the flat was done up, we visited and realised that many of the things that they own were partially burned. So, we reached out to even more sponsors to give them new stuff.
Another memorable one was when my client’s son contracted a rare disease, where there is a cure, but the drug costs $3 million. Obviously, she didn’t have that kind of money. She sort of resigned to the fate that she would lose her son. That’s when I offered to help her fund raise. At the end of the campaign, she managed to raise the sum to save her son.
Similarly, if someone wants to start a food business, what would be your advice to them and what to look out for?
Don’t do it! It is very under-appreciated in Singapore. I think it is not worth the pain. It is not easy. As a foodie, I understand the effort put into making a dish. So, I have never faulted any dishes e.g., if I find a strand of hair in my food, I’ll just take it out and throw it away. I won’t complain. That’s not the case for a lot of people out there.
If someone wants to start a branding business, what would be your advice to them and what to look out for?
Edmond: I would say stand from the client’s brand standpoint. Companies, sometimes, engage social media influencers to help them with the branding but they come from an angle where it is about them and how it makes them look good. They should think for the business and not themselves.
Name five tech gadgets that aspiring YouTubers should start off with to create their content?
Ryan: You need a good computer/laptop, camera, a good wireless/lavalier microphone, lenses for your camera (pro-tip, get Zoom lenses as it is cheaper than prime lenses) and tripod.
Name one entrepreneur that you admire the most and why?
Edmond: Ryan for his never say die spirit.
Ryan: The boss of Aftershock. He is the kindest person I have ever met. When I was at the lowest point and when I needed help the most, he was there. I also saw the Aftershock culture when I visited the office, it is similar to what I have here at Overkill. Everyone is very casual and they treat him like a friend. So, it hit me that one can run a big and successful company and yet treat everyone very nicely.
What is that one dish that you can eat everyday without getting sian?
Ryan: Engawa hand roll
Who should we interview next?
Ryan: The co-founder of Aftershock, Marcus Wee.
Edmond: Marcus Wee because I’ve seen the help he extended to Ryan.