The XM Studios office at Bras Basah Complex is a mecca for toy collectors. The shelves are strewn with collectibles from different universes. There’s a 45kg figurine of Iron Man emerging from a Hulkbuster. Close by, a similarly-sized Hulk stares angrily into the distance. On another shelf, the Ghost Rider is ready to speed off.

In the middle of it all sits Ben Ang, the self-taught entrepreneur and artist who dropped out of school as a teenager, ran a loss-making comic book store in Chinatown and rolled the dice by taking over Xenomorph, which sold collectible toys. Ang and his brother ploughed the latter’s school fees into a month’s rent for the store. Although it was a massive struggle at first, Ang came up with the idea of producing high-quality luxury licensed figurines.

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Their big break came in 2013 when Disney granted the newly-renamed XM Studios a one-year licence to build Marvel figurines. A year later, its sixth figurine, the X-men villain Magneto, became an overnight success. It’s considered a holy grail among collectors today. Ang built on that win.

Last year, the premium collectible figurine company made $16.9 million in revenue. The profit after deducting tax and costs was a handsome $4.2 million. The company also currently holds intellectual property licences that include Disney, Warner Bros. Consumer Products and Hasbro.

The Peak chats with Ang about the success of his company and the challenges he faced.

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What were your biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?
Acquiring the licences was not an easy feat in the early days, but it has improved because of our strong track record with global entertainment brands, and the trust built within the industry.

Getting artists on board is another challenge because the design and sculpting skills required for this field of work are highly specialised and it was tough to attract talent because we were operating from a small studio with humble beginnings. But this has improved immensely. We are currently working with over 80 international artists.

You’ve been in this business for almost a decade. What are some of the important lessons you’ve learned?
It’s all about perseverance, creativity and thinking outside the box. Building and engaging the community is important as well. We constantly chat with our customers online to get their feedback and comments on our products because delivering quality is our top priority.

How much do your figures usually go for and do you consider them investments?
Our premium collectibles range from $600 to $6,000. We are also releasing premium mass collectibles at a more affordable price. Our current collectors are mainly males between their 20s and 50s. With our newly acquired licences, such as Mickey & Friends and Sanrio, we are currently developing new products to market to a female audience.

Our premium collectibles are highly sought after as collectors’ items as they are extremely limited in quantity and uniquely numbered. Rather than focusing on investment aspects, we usually encourage our collectors to buy what they love and appreciate.

How did the pandemic affect XM Studios?
With travel and physical socialising restrictions set in place in Singapore and the rest of the world, both our local and international collectors have been spending more time interacting with their collections at home. Our international fanbase revealed increased community engagement and online shopping frequency. We took the opportunity to ramp up our digital marketing efforts to create more awareness and build conversations with our online audience.

What has contributed to your success?
A lot of hard work, passion and dedication. We owe our success to the support from our community of collectors, the licence owners who believe in and trust us, and my XM Studios family who’ve been through thick and thin with me since day one, growing and constantly pushing the boundaries as a team.

What’s next for you in this journey?
We are working on acquiring more licences, growing the existing business in US, Europe and Asia and tapping into new markets such as the Middle East and India. We are diversifying into mass premium collectibles and lifestyle products to reach a wider audience. We are also delving into blockchain to add another layer of authentication to our products. Our flagship concept store The XM Store is set to open at the end of the year. It will occupy 19,000 sq ft of space at Kitchener Complex. It will house a retail space, a gallery, a cafe and our office. The goal is to bring the multi- licence experience to life.

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