Twelve years ago, Nicholas’ love for laser tag inspired his father to build up a company that continues to do better every day, despite the many hurdles thrown towards it especially during the current pandemic. Laser Warriors is a mobile laser tag business that focuses on creating treasured memories for kids. They essentially help host birthday parties.
Before the pandemic hit, Laser Warriors would do about a thousand events all over Sydney during the course of the year, sometimes having twenty events simultaneously. There would sometimes be about over a hundred kids at one event.
Dean You Lee had been a banker for 25 years when his 10-year-old son was regularly going to many laser tag birthday parties. “He really enjoyed it,” says Dean.
He goes on to tell the story, “[Nicholas’] cousin phoned him up and said he could get this equipment in Canada; [it’s] just being released. It lets you play laser tag at home. So, we bought a couple of kits and had a bit of fun. And then he started to nag me to get a couple more, so when my brother went overseas, we got some more. And very soon he could have his own party with about eight to ten kids.”
“And what happened was, my wife started to complain because the equipment wasn’t cheap. So, I said okay, fair enough. I sat [Nicholas] down and said ‘look, this stuff is very expensive, you’re going to have to actually pay for this equipment.’ And Nicholas, being a bright eyed ten-year-old said, ‘that’s not a problem dad, I’ll run parties and charge people’,” laughs Dean. And that is where it all began.
However, nothing really happened until a year later. In the beginning, it wasn’t a serious venture. Dean says that it was all really just for Nicholas, who at the time was about 11 years old. In the first year, they did about 10 to 12 parties. And then in 2013, Dean left the corporate world, joined a personal development course where a guy helped him sort out the business side of things. And the business truly started to lift off.
Business in a pandemic
Fast forward seven years, to running a business in a pandemic. Dean says that during the first lockdown, things were not too bad. “In 2020, March was the first month we were impacted. And yes, you know, everything pretty much dried up thin. But the actual restrictions were not as odious as they are now because you could still have social gatherings at home. Limited to, I think, it was six to eight people. So, you could still have a birthday party,” he adds, “[although] we were down by about 40%, we were actually quite profitable because there was a lot of government assistance.”
Early months in 2021 went quite well, despite Covid-19. The second quarter of the year were record months which meant that Dean was expecting the year to be great in terms of revenue. However, lockdown hit the city at the end of June and things started to go downhill.
Currently, Laser Warriors is doing better than many other businesses but things are getting harder as the lockdown progresses. The government assistance has been extremely helpful, but at this point it’s starting to not be enough.
Joining TAB – a change in strategy
It hasn’t even been a year since Dean joined TAB, but within the first few meetings, he had received enough insight to help him transform and grow his business. Before he joined TAB, Dean had been planning and trying to figure out how he could come up with a strategy to franchise Laser Warriors nationally.
As he says, “I found each meeting to be quite useful. Going in to my first TAB meeting, I had a particular strategy for the business that I had been developing for a number of years. And at my first TAB meeting, after talking to them about my strategy and being quite convinced that it sounded pretty good, one of the questions that came out of the board was ‘[it] sounds like you need to decide what you want to do.’ And that took me aback because they could see something that suggested that I should think about what it is that I wanted to do. So, I took it as a good question and spent a month reflecting on that question.”
During that reflecting, he realised that maybe that was not the best way to go. “The strategy shifted from [a national franchising strategy] to dominating laser tag in Sydney,” explains Dean. “In terms of mindset and in terms of thinking, it’s something that I am much more comfortable with from a risk perspective. And when I spoke about it to my senior staff, Nicholas as well, the new strategy, what we call the Domination Strategy, just resonated with all of them.”
Overall, that first meeting itself with TAB helped put Dean into a much better direction. He further talks about it: “now that I’m focused on dominating Sydney, and I’m not focused on trying to franchise the system, I don’t feel as if other people who are competing in the same space as me are necessarily competitors.
“Maybe they’re actually customers. Maybe I can help them because we’re not competitors.”
Being a part of TAB
One of the things that turned out to be a game changer for Dean was the fact that he was able to meet with and talk to other business people. “I didn’t really want to join a group with a lot of start-ups because I didn’t see myself as a start-up business,” he says. “So, I was really grateful that the group that I joined had business experience. So, that was good.”
He also talked about how much of a difference it makes to get to talk to business people. As he explains: “I’ve always had mentors and coaches and you bounce ideas off those people. I think the difference with TAB though is that I’m not bouncing them off other coaches, and so the conversation is very different. You’re bouncing them off other business people.”
And this was perhaps one of the most important things about TAB that Dean was appreciative of. As he concluded, “other business business people understand the pain of making a decision, the difficulty of weighing [many pros and cons]. It’s generally not a simple decision.”
When asked on what he would like to tell people who might be considered joining TAB, he said, “I think you’ve got to think about it. I don’t think it’s for everyone. I’m sure that start-ups will get a lot out of it. And a lot depends on the facilitator. Andrew has been really great because he has constructed a board which I think is got the right people around the table. And that’s what you need. So, that’s good.”
Overall, Dean thinks that it’s always worth a try, even if it is not for everyone. It could be possible that it is simply not the right time while running a business. However, there’s no way to tell without giving TAB a chance.
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