Having always been a fan of tech and its limitless possibilities, getting into mechanical keyboards somehow felt inevitable. There were so many different ways of customising a keyboard to suit each person’s preferred sound, look and feel.
The familiar sound of cars driving by and the audible crunch of branches below my feet met my ears as I slowly made my way up a slope at the otherwise industrial-like Jalan Pemimpin. I was on my way to meet the brains behind one of the many keyboard stores in Singapore, with this particular store being one that I had a soft spot for.
Entering the grounds of the Kong Beng Industrial Building, an old, dimly-lit hallway greeted me upon taking the lift up to level three. It might feel a little daunting to some, but that didn’t bother me. A quick turn around the corner, and I arrived at LandingPad, the keyboard store in question. With one of the employees opening the door, I was instantly met with relief from the humidity as a cool blast of air hit my face. Greeting me inside was Wenjie, one of the founders of LandingPad.
Taking a quick tour around the place, the walls of LandingPad were filled with shelves upon shelves of different custom mechanical keyboards, with prices ranging from the affordable to the extravagant. Not to mention, they all came in various sizes and colours, and each had its own unique typing feedback.
For those unfamiliar with the world that LandingPad deals in, it begs the question: What makes a mechanical keyboard, and why is it so popular?
Think about it as the opposite of your typical office keyboard. Each key press has its own registry, meaning that all the keys can be activated at any one time instead of the standard membrane keyboards, which only allow for up to six total key activations simultaneously.
Why are they so popular then? Well, much of the hype surrounding it can be summarised by three aspects: Sound, Feel and Looks.
Just like those clips of soap being cut, sound can be incredibly pleasing to many people, and a mechanical keyboard can provide that audible pleasure when you type on it. Moreover, the feel of it when typing also further adds to the experience. Feeling the tactile feedback from a press can be just as satisfying as crunching a dead leaf. To top it all off, the aesthetics of the keyboard itself allows users to express themselves in unique ways.
Mechanical keyboards aren’t new, but now they are becoming more customisable than ever; you can simply open them up to change almost every single component inside. These components include the case, which is commonly made of plastic or metal. The printed circuit board (PCB), which controls the entire keyboard. The switches, which register each key press. The stabilisers, which prevent the larger keys from being wobbly. And finishing off the list, the keycaps, which show the keys.
All these components form a mechanical keyboard, which you can tune the sound, feel and of course, the look according to your preferences. At LandingPad, Wenjie and his team aim to help newcomers in that aspect.
LandingPad was started in 2020, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic that spread worldwide and resulted in Singapore going into lockdown. Wanting to get a new keyboard to replace his old and dysfunctioning one, Wenjie chanced upon the world of custom mechanical keyboards. However, after some digging around on what to get, he realised that the market for custom keyboard builders was small in Singapore.
With their main goal to help others who might be new to the scene, LandingPad was formed. Despite knowing that it was a risk, given how little was known about the custom mechanical keyboard scene at the time, Wenjie and his friend, armed with their knowledge learned through online forums and videos, started up their home-based business.
Every business name has its own story, and according to Wenjie, he envisioned people coming to their office for help, which seemed a lot like someone “landing”(coming) to a “pad” (office). Thus bringing about the name “LandingPad”, which has stuck to this day.
Starting on Carousell, they sold services such as keyboard building and lubing of switches, though business was very quiet at the start. Wenjie recounted: “It was more of a time where I was widening my range of skills that I required, such as soldering.” This was essential, considering that the scene has evolved so much that having a good foundation and knowledge of mechanical keyboards would benefit one extensively in the long run.
In terms of communication, Telegram is where customers can contact them for help or chat about anything, anytime. Instagram is another platform that LandingPad uses, publishing photos of their builds to show off what they could do, and bring in potential customers.
LandingPad wasn’t even supposed to be this large-scale; It was supposed to remain as a form of side income. “LandingPad wasn’t meant to turn into a serious business, but when there was a shortage of Tangerine switches globally, we were suddenly getting tons of international orders for our stock.” That was when Wenjie and his partner realised that this could very well become their full-time job.
They soon had another big break when Channel 8’s morning show – “早安你好”, featured them on their programme, which gave LandingPad that extra bit of legitimacy and credibility, allowing customers to match a face to whatever they were buying from LandingPad themselves.
How crucial is this? Well, when you consider some of the prices that have been quoted for some keyboards, which can hit upwards of S$1000, being able to give customers peace of mind when buying something this expensive helps with future sales as well, as they would know what the process of making a keyboard is like, and that nothing shady is going on.
But mechanical keyboards also need not be that expensive. “With the rise in popularity of Chinese platforms such as Taobao (淘宝) coinciding with the increase in popularity of mechanical keyboards, it means that keyboard parts are now cheaper and more accessible with more companies in China manufacturing them,” Wenjie noted.
He’s right. Clones of popular products cost just one-quarter of the actual versions. Nowadays, with the help of platforms like Taobao, you can make a full custom mechanical keyboard for less than S$100 without sacrificing aesthetics or sound.
Slowly, bit by bit, Wenjie and his friends began to expand their business and moved into their first office space in Oxley Bizhub, where they started growing their team and increasing their stock to better cater to the keyboard market.
Starting up a Discord server, they slowly formed their community of hobbyists who were able to help newcomers, as well as talk about new and upcoming releases at the same time. “It’s great to have regulars aside from me and my staff that are willing to spend their own time to ensure that newcomers feel comfortable and can learn more about keyboards, and I really appreciate that.”
May 2021 was a special period for the company in that they launched their very own keyboard – the Ambition67. It was well-received by the community and even managed to hit the minimum order quantity (MOQ), which further highlighted their knowledge and understanding of keyboards. The now out-of-stock keyboard ran for just S$99, with barely any extra stock left over to sell.
LandingPad has only grown, with more and more orders coming in for keyboard fulfilment. This year, they were invited to Campus Legends in August, providing the people with boards to try and purchase.
“I’ve made quite a few friends throughout the hobby, be it through local meetups or online chatting,” Wenjie remarks. Some of those friends include vendors from other local keyboard stores in Singapore, such as K.Techs.
The community built up by LandingPad hasn’t been forgotten too, with Wenjie hosting meetups for keyboard enthusiasts where they would interact with each other and take a look at each other’s boards, or simply just to catch up on each others’ life; it’s the effort to help foster better social interactions that matters.
“That’s also how I managed to meet the author of this article,” he joked. I nearly spat out the water in my mouth, trying not to laugh. Having personally joined their Discord server, what I found was an incredibly welcoming community that is willing to help almost anyone. Through these interactions, I’ve met multiple great friends, including Wenjie himself.
LandingPad currently resides in their new home in Kong Beng Industrial Building. Compared to their previous office space, the current one is much more spacious for people to walk around and allows for more storage capacity to keep parts.
When asked about what’s next for the company, Wenjie said that LandingPad aims to bring in more products to their already extensive inventory of switches, keyboards and keycaps to further cater to the local ever-growing market.
In addition to that, they also want to hold more workshops for the masses. One of the workshops on offer at the moment is a cable workshop, where participants can learn how to make their very own braided cables which can be customised in terms of length, colour and style. It further highlights how they want to help anyone and everyone to the best of their ability.
To Wenjie personally, however, he wants to expand the company further. “For me, my dream for LandingPad isn’t so big. I just want to have one to two big stores in Singapore to allow people to walk in and try out keyboards in a relaxing and chill atmosphere, while also being able to learn about mechanical keyboards and why they are so great.”
As a final question, we of course had to ask him about what his favourite keyboard was. He pulled out his Vega, made by ai03 Design Studios. It turns out that the keyboard itself costs upwards of S$600, not to mention that that’s just for the case itself. Upon hearing that, my wallet started screaming at me. As a student myself, paying that much for a case alone blew my mind.
LandingPad as a whole, was a nice relaxing place to be, where you could talk about anything and everything! Their staff were really friendly, even allowing us into their office to grab a few shots of them lubing up switches that were to be used for a customer’s order. We overall had a really great time there!
If you want your own mechanical keyboard, you can check out LandingPad’s Official Website, where they have multiple different options and configurations for you to see and choose from. Otherwise, if you are a physical shopper, you can head to their office at 41 Jln Pemimpin, #03-06A Kong Beng Industrial Building, Singapore 577186.
You can also have a look at their Instagram Profile for some of the builds that they have done before too. Happy Typing!
Photos by Russell Loh of The DANAMIC Team.