THE LIFE! INTERVIEW

Nightlife entrepreneur John Langan makes Singapore swing

Mr John Langan with Mr Phillip Poon, his business partner in lifestyle group Massive Collective; and during his early clubbing days (above) in Singapore with a friend. -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF JOHN LANGAN
Mr John Langan with Mr Phillip Poon, his business partner in lifestyle group Massive Collective; and during his early clubbing days (above) in Singapore with a friend. -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF JOHN LANGAN
Mr John Langan (left) with Mr Phillip Poon, his business partner in lifestyle group Massive Collective; and during his early clubbing days in Singapore with a friend. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
Mr John Langan (left) with Mr Phillip Poon, his business partner in lifestyle group Massive Collective; and during his early clubbing days in Singapore with a friend. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
Mr John Langan, the youngest of three siblings, when he was a chlid in California between 1986 and 1987. -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF JOHN LANGAN
Mr John Langan, the youngest of three siblings, when he was a chlid in California between 1986 and 1987. -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF JOHN LANGAN
-- ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI
-- ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

Creativity and business savvy have steered John Langan's nightlife group to success in crafting playgrounds for the rich

If nightlife entrepreneur John Langan had his way when he was a young man, he may not have ended up in Singapore. Instead, he would have brought his world of clubs and parties to Thailand.

When asked what made him leave California for Singapore a decade ago, the Taiwanese-American says with a laugh: "You don't know the back story? I wanted to go to Thailand, not Singapore. I watched the movie, The Beach. Dude, it was Leonardo DiCaprio."

In the 2000 movie, DiCaprio starred as an American tourist who discovers a beach paradise on a secret island in Thailand.

It was enough to inspire Mr Langan, then in university, to want to do an exchange programme in Thailand. But his conservative father dismissed his plans.

In the end, they struck a compromise.

He would head to Singapore for a semester on a university exchange programme and his father would pay for a month-long vacation in Thailand after that. "I was like, you got it," says Mr Langan, now 32.

So in 2003, he spent a semester at the National University of Singapore and returned to Singapore after graduating from the University of California in 2005. He ended up building a nightlife empire here and across the Causeway.

You could say he had found paradise in Singapore. He is now one of the key creative drivers of lifestyle group Massive Collective, arguably the biggest nightlife operator in town with an eye on expanding into food and beverage.

The group has a strong track record in creating successful playgrounds for the well-heeled - its parties have been graced by celebrities who include actors Zhang Ziyi and Lee Byung Hun, star of TV's Suits Patrick J. Adams, chef and restaurateur Gordon Ramsay, and singer Wang Leehom.

Massive Collective, often credited for pioneering the "bottle-popping" culture where clubbers spend thousands of dollars on premium bottles of champagne served by sexy women, boasts an impressive portfolio.

It operates more than a dozen nightlife and food and beverage outlets in Singapore and Malaysia, including popular nightspots Bang Bang at Pan Pacific Singapore, Fenix Room in Clarke Quay and Providence in Kuala Lumpur.

In August, Massive Collective co-founded Foodmatters, a health food lunch-time delivery service with Kuala Lumpur-based nutritionist and chef Alexandra Prabaharan.

Many of its concepts are run in collaboration with other home-grown lifestyle and F&B groups, including LifeBrandz, The Prive Group and Hidden Door Concepts.

Massive's latest project with Hidden Door Concepts, a sprawling 17,000 sq ft lifestyle hub at Raffles Place, is its most ambitious one to date.

Called 50 Raffles Place, the two-storey venue, which opened in September, houses upscale club lounge Empire, steakhouse Sear and Angie's Oyster Bar. Teikoku, a Japanese sake and small- plates eatery which includes a private dining space, will also open soon.

Sitting in Sear on the 46th floor of the Singapore Land Tower, Mr Langan says: "I always expected big things but I didn't know what. Maybe two clubs and if I'm lucky, a restaurant. But we've been lucky and our team is strong."

When Life! meets the gregarious bachelor, his down-to-earth demeanour and the way he is always mindful of other people's needs stand out.

"Can I ask for your opinion? Which outfit do you think suits me better?" he asks earnestly, offering this reporter a peek into a large paper bag filled with clothes.

"I'm not sure what you'd like me to wear for this photo shoot."

Outside the club environment, he strikes one as a regular T-shirt and jeans guy.

He enjoys hiking and getting fit.

His latest hobby is playing real-life room escape adventure games with his friends, where the players escape imprisonment in a space by solving puzzles and challenges as a team.

Born the youngest of three siblings to a Taiwanese mother, a retired nurse, and an American father, a retired university professor with a doctorate in Chinese history, he grew up in Stockton, California, a city just outside San Fran- cisco.

His siblings - Carolyn Noble, 38, and Matt, 42 - live in California. He keeps in touch with his sister but is not close to his older brother.

Mrs Noble, an elementary school teacher, speaks fondly of her brother: "John has always been the clown and entertainer, and has always been very smart. He was never afraid to speak his mind, he excelled in school and enjoyed soccer.

"He is like my dad in that he wanted to be a world traveller and is really connected with being Chinese. He was never a wallflower, his personality shines through and everyone likes him."

After graduating with a degree in psychobiology - Mr Langan says he enjoyed the problem-solving aspect of the science courses and fell in love with psychology and marketing - he moved to Singapore in 2005.

His first job here was as a forex trader for a local trading company, but he soon quit to work in marketing for publishing firms, which he felt suited him better.

In 2007, he began moonlighting as a club party promoter and it was around this time that he met his business partner, Mr Phillip Poon, who was also working as a party promoter and events organiser.

Mr Poon, 37, says it was a "mutual respect for what each had achieved" through the parties they organised that led them to collaborate on projects. They quickly built a reputation for having the coolest party guest-lists, made up of good-looking people in their 20s and 30s.

Mr Poon says: "Langan is a great networker, a true hustler at getting friends to attend our clubs and events. He's passionate about what he does and truly enjoys living the nightlife lifestyle."

While the duo were doing promotions for The Butter Factory in 2009, they met Singaporean Cedric Chong, 34, another party promoter. The three then decided to form a lifestyle marketing agency, Massive Collective.

Things took off in 2010 for the group when it opened the members-only Filter Club at Gallery Hotel, a joint venture with the Emerald Hill Group.

It quickly became the hottest club in town, with patrons queueing for two hours to get in and paying $7,000 just to secure a table in the 2,000 sq ft venue. The group broke even within the first month of operation.

The club gave new meaning to popping bottles of champagne - with its sexy female servers and sparklers that came with the bottles - but closed after a good three-year run as Massive decided it was best to end it "on a high".

In the years that followed, Massive Collective opened upscale nightspots Royal Room and Mink at Pan Pacific Singapore with The Prive Group; nightclubs Dream and Fenix Room and hotdog eatery Hopdog in Clarke Quay; and lifestyle hub 50 Raffles Place.

In Kuala Lumpur, it opened Spanish tapas restaurant Ohla Tapas & Cocktails, and premium dance club Providence, which are both thriving.

Mr Langan attributes most of his group's success to "team effort" and having "sharp, hardworking people who are willing to grind it". He says: "We weren't even nightlife people starting out, we just saw opportunities to make money. We were there, ready to go. I'm just lucky to have people who are kick*** at things I'm not good at."

Like Filter, Royal Room and Mink also closed after three years. The clubs were replaced by fine-dining restaurant Match and high-energy dance club Bang Bang, which the group opened a few months ago.

Why does Massive close its clubs after three to five years and relaunch them as new concepts?

Mr Langan says: "Nothing really lasts forever, there are always other clubs closing too. It's just the whole style of partying. It evolves, so you have to tell a new story."

He declines to reveal his company's annual turnover and admits there have been a few hiccups along the way, including a failed business venture and a party promotion fiasco that prompted a public apology in 2012.

During that year, Filter Club had used the school crests of Anglo-Chinese School and Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus to create posters to promote a themed party held at the club.

The party slogans, which were deemed inappropriate, had read: "In need of a one-night-stand: CHIJ girls please stand up!" and "In need of a sugar daddy: Where my AC boys at?"

He says: "I didn't realise it would be so offensive. I learnt from that. It was nothing personal - some people got really offended and understandably so. I didn't know it would blow up. We had to make our apologies and, to this day, it's a lesson for us.

"Fortunately, we've avoided similar situations since then."

A move to open a cocktail bar at Pacific Plaza last December was also short-lived, with the bar closing after just four months.

He says: "We really needed that, to show we're not invincible. It's a reality check to remind us that we really have to work hard in any project and that you have to get the right people who are specialists in that field. We weren't specialists in cocktails."

But like all savvy businessmen, he brushes it off as a minor setback.

He is now focused on expanding Massive's footprint in Kuala Lumpur, having recently launched Foodmatters there. He adds that the group has plans to push out new concepts in Bangkok and Bali in future.

"I really do see a lot of opportunities here, just building bridges around the world, starting with South-east Asia," he says.

"It's a matter of delving into the right networks and sending out good vibes and doing stuff for people. Then people will say good things about you and good things will fall into your lap."

melk@sph.com.sg