Interview with Press Start, a new game place and event-planning company in Central
Interview with Vince Siu, one of the co-founders of Press Start, a new game and event-planning startup in Hong Kong.
Tell us about Press Start (we’re guessing the name means to start a game)
Press Start Hong Kong is a first-of-its-kind games and event-planning venture in Hong Kong. What we hope to accomplish is to foster a community of game lovers, design and curate game-centric experiences/events and education and inspire through games.
As for the name itself, we wanted one that would evoke a gaming experience that people our age would be familiar with, and there’s no phrase as ubiquitous and widely known as “Press Start to Begin”, which prefaced pretty much every arcade and video game out there. The reason we feel that “Press Start to Begin”, now our tagline, would fit so well was that it was the simplest yet most powerful action a player could do – all we’d have to do was start the game, and we’d enter a whole new world. And we want to provide that platform where people can come try new games, meet new people and maybe even learn some cool new things in the process. This is our first side project for both of us, so in a way we decided to take the plunge and dive head-first into starting something – so we’re absolutely living out this tagline too!
Tell us about your team
Right now it’s Wes and myself, Vince. We’re both co-founders and we used to be high school roommates in the US. This really stemmed from a mutual love of games of all kind starting from our high school days – even when we went to college and then worked in different cities, whenever we met up we’d always play Go-Stop, a Korean card game that a good friend of ours taught us back in high school. Wes would always talk about the games that he’d tried out with his friends in New York as well as the board game cafes he’d been to – so when he moved back to Hong Kong just under two years ago, we decided to start something fun together.
It just started off with Wes bringing over his collection of 20 or so board games over to my place, and we’d invite our friends and their friends to come over for what we called (and still call) Board Game Socials. Our mailing and invite list grew to 50 people within two or three months – we started booking out my clubhouse to be able to host groups of about 25 people each time – and we had friends asking if we’d plan board game events for them. So we thought there could be a business idea in this, and we decided to take the next step and turn it into a business – knowing that if it didn’t work out as planned, we’d still have a place for us just to play games!
Why games? Is gaming a big industry in HK?
There’s so much to love about games. Video games are lots of fun and they give you that experience within a whole new world that’s so unique – but even if you play online multiplayer games, you’re still interacting with people through a screen. With board games – and other party games that we feature in our Mini Olympics format – the social experience is what makes gaming so much fun. You’re learning to play a new game and figure out the rules and a winning strategy together with friends, all the while getting to know them based on how they think, take their turns and hide up their sleeves!
Where board games are concerned, there have always been so-called “upstairs cafes” in Mongkok and other areas where people can go for a meal and play well-known games like Monopoly and Jenga on the side. There are also been a few successful board game cafes around town. What we want to do is put games at the center of a social experience – instead of just providing a space for people to play, we’re there to teach, facilitate and interact with everyone, and we try our best to foster a welcoming environment so everyone can meet new friends while they’re playing. In the case of a corporate or private event, we definitely want to bring people closer together through different formats – and it’s always so much fun to see how much enjoyment our guests can get out of a games experience.
You recently opened a space in Central, tell us about your space.
We opened our first board games event space on Gilman’s Bazaar in Central back in late October 2015 – and it’s been a blast. It’s a cozy space of around 300 sq ft, which sounds pretty small, but is surprisingly roomy given our setup, and we can host groups of up to 25 quite comfortably (or 30, depending on the event format). We have a big wooden shelf showing off our collection of 100+ board games, and all the furniture is foldable and movable, which allows us to configure the space based on the format and number of attendees. We also love our blackboard wall and our projector and screen – sometimes we’re just there by ourselves playing video games and watching movies on the big screen!
What’s it like renting/setting up a space in HK? Any tips for those looking to do the same for their small business?
Finding and setting up the space was actually a relatively painless process – we worked with a real estate agent who scoured the area for us in search of a decent space, and we asked a friend to handle some basic refurbishment through his interior design firm. We didn’t feel the need to really shell out for an extravagant design, so we got most of our furniture from IKEA and kept the renovation costs down that way.
I think the most important part of this process – and why it wasn’t really too stressful for us – was that we weren’t in a hurry to open this space, so we took our time to really find a good location that fit our budget and purpose. Giving ourselves that breathing space and being fine with waiting it out until a good space fell into our lap seems an even better idea in hindsight. There are so many other ways to operate a small business – we ran our first year of events out of an apartment and then a clubhouse! – that it’s not really worth stressing out just to get a space.
How do you pay for your space? What’s your revenue model?
Unlike other board game cafes in Hong Kong, we don’t have standard operating hours (though this might have something to do with us having day jobs!). Instead of we operate on an events-only basis – we host open Board Game Socials regularly, where we welcome people to Press Start Hong Kong, teach and facilitate games and mingle over snacks and drinks, and we take bookings for private parties as well as corporate events. This way we ensure that we’re only open when we know there’s business coming in, and we can schedule meetings with clients and partners when the space is free. When it comes to private events, we don’t just provide a space for people to hang out – we always want to put games at the center of the social experience, so we work with our clients to plan an event and rundown tailored specifically for their group – in this sense we want to provide that value-adding service in addition to just the space and games.
What’s the reception been like so far?
To be honest, the reception has been far greater than we expected – this was the reason we decided to venture out and do this in the first place! We originally started by just organizing our casual social events to find people to play games with us, and in our third month we had to start turning down people because we didn’t have enough space! We’ve found that board games are a big enough niche here – the social element makes them much more accessible, and we’ve got a big enough variety in our arsenal that we can welcome both first-time and casual gamers as well as experienced players who want their fix of longer strategy games.
Tell us about your favorite event
We had a request come in from a newlywed couple for a tailored mixed-format games event for their bridal party – they wanted to thank their bridesmaids and groomsmen for their help on the big day (and also wanted to set two of them up!). We did a team-building activity to start the afternoon off, followed by a round of board games, a Mini Olympics Challenge and a big group game towards the end, with dinner sandwiched somewhere in between! It was just a really cool way to bring new friends together, and from this we’ve actually coined the Bridal Party format now. (Dinner, by the way, was catered by a new F&B startup who brought us to their restaurant to do a team-building event for their staff!)
What’s one thing you want people to know about Press Start?
That it’s really all about the experience for us. We love playing games for their design, mechanics and uniqueness, and we love playing with people of all levels and experience, because it’s the connections you can make over playing a game together that are the most memorable. At Press Start we strive to foster a cozy environment so we can bring together a great community – and welcome more people into the wonderful world of games.
Who’s your ideal target market?
I’d say young working professionals – though we’ve had people our parents’ age book our space for events and groups who’ve brought their kids too! Everyone’s on their smartphones and devices all day every day these days – there’s something comforting and refreshing about putting down your phone and interacting with people through learning and playing a new board game, and I think that’s why we’ve had a lot of casual gamers come to our public Board Game Socials. We’ve been really excited to welcome new faces to our events every month, and to see new friendships blossom to the extent that they’ve even gone and done their own events!
What do you think of the startup ecosystem in HK?
There’s a lot of emphasis placed on tech startups – and rightly so, since they’re the headline grabbers challenging and disrupting traditional business models. But underneath that glamorous surface we’ve come across a lot of people who are just doing what they love and turning that into a business, just like we are – in areas like F&B, design and events – and I think the startup ecosystem should shine the spotlight on these entrepreneurs just as much as it’s already highlighting the stars in tech. Ultimately it’s about taking that plunge to try something you’ve always wanted to – and there are more and more people deciding to give their dreams a shot, which is really exciting.
For more info, get In touch with Press Start