Casetify Founder Wesley Ng On How To Pivot Your Business Amidst A Global Crisis
The coronavirus fallout has left companies reeling and stock markets widely volatile, with few countries and companies spared. In the US, industry giants such as retailer J Crew and luxury department store chain Neiman Marcus have recently filed for bankruptcy. So how has tech accessories company Casetify managed to navigate the Covid-19 pandemic?
The answer: SARS.
SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, hit Hong Kong in 2003. The outbreak spread rapidly through the city, killing 299 of the 1,755 people it infected. Lasting around a year, the virus scarred the city and served as forewarning for Casetify co-founder Wesley Ng of the threat that rapid-spreading viruses can pose.
“SARS hit the same year I moved back to Hong Kong,” Ng says. And while the two viruses pose different threats, both had parallels when it came to business implications. “So I knew what it was and I knew what it was like. That’s why we took it so seriously when Covid-19 was just breaking out back in January,” he says. “And that helped us a lot. It kept us a few steps ahead.”
The company, founded in 2011, has grown into a leading global brand for stylish tech accessories. Tapping into the millennial market, Casetify has built a social media presence of over 2 million followers and is known for its quirky collaborations with celebrities and big-name brands like Pokemon, DHL and Coca-Cola.
Since day-one, Casetify has built its success on the back of social trends. “I was an Instagram addict back then, and I thought, wouldn’t it be great if I could turn all these Instagram pictures into customised phone cases? That’s how it all got started,” says Ng.
The brand is no stranger to pivoting as trends change, but no amount of experience could prepare the company for the coronavirus, which threw a spanner in the works when it came to Casetify’s 2020 plans.
“Casetify was on track to have our biggest year of growth, with many exciting projects in the pipeline, including the opening of our store in the Hong Kong Airport. What should have been another milestone for our direct-to-consumer brand is instead a celebration put on hold,” Ng says. Their ambition to scale their retail presence was also postponed.
Nevertheless, Ng remains optimistic about his company’s future growth. Here, he describes what he’s learnt when it comes to surviving and thriving during the coronavirus pandemic.
LEARN TO TRUST YOUR TEAM
“Nobody really saw [the coronavirus] coming. Everyone was worried and I was feeling lost and confused about what was going to happen next. But it’s important to remember to talk to you peers, talk to your mentors and, most importantly, learn to trust your team,” Ng says.
Ng put this mentality into practice two months ago when he was faced with the question of whether he should use his factory connections to make masks when the world was in need of them, but risk being seen as a company capitalising on the pandemic. Ng admits to being conflicted. “I talked to my team in Los Angeles, I talked to the management team in Hong Kong, and they thought that there was nothing wrong with making products that people need. So I learnt to trust them, and at the end we made the masks,” he says.
“In the end, we became a trusted source for masks and we helped people acquire them at a time when they were so difficult to find, he says. “And most importantly, for every mask sold, Casetify donated one to medical workers. It ended up being a very successful campaign, and if I hadn't talked to my team, I don’t think I would have done it.”
“We made sure we had the flexibility to move things around. For example, our team was really innovative in coming up with a UV sanitiser that sanitises your mobile devices and tech gadgets. We were able to launch it to the market in a very, very short time, and 100 percent of the proceeds we make from the UV sanitiser are donated to the coronavirus relief fund.”
“I’m really proud of what my team has done, and I’m definitely not taking it for granted. I’m really grateful to have a team that is so innovative and fast to react.”
The world glorifies fast growth, exponential growth, but that comes with a big downside: your company might not survive the pandemic. So review your growth strategy and learn to grow slow
— Wesley Ng
DIVERSIFICATION IS KEY
“Diversify your marketing channels, your source of production, everything.” My experience during coronavirus has led me to learn the importance of diversifying and building a team structure that allows for flexibility, Ng says.
“When people talk about startups, the mentality is that if you find one channel that works then focus all in, but if you do this, then you risk suffering significantly because you didn’t diversify,” he says.
“And when we’re measuring the time to market, team flexibility is essential. It’s about determining how fast you can launch a product,” he says. Because if you structure your team correctly then you’ll be better prepared in global situations like this, and “you’ll be able to react much quicker and launch timely products. I really believe that this has a lot to do with the structure of a team.”
UNDERSTAND THAT BRANDS ARE NOW COMMUNITIES
“Post-pandemic I think the role of a brand will change,” Ng says. “It’s not just about selling your products, it’s about looking after your community. That’s why we launched [UV sanitiser] Casetify Protects, because we wanted to contribute as best we could through the influence we have.”
When people talk about startups, the mentality is that if you find one channel that works then focus all in, but if you do this, then you risk suffering significantly because you didn’t diversify
— Wesley Ng
USE THE TIME TO REVIEW YOUR GROWTH STRATEGY
“I know a lot of entrepreneurs take a lot of risks, but I see this as a good time for us to review our growth strategy—meaning learn to grow slow. The world glorifies fast growth, exponential growth, but that comes with a big downside: your company might not survive the pandemic. So review your growth strategy and learn to grow slow.”
See other honourees from the Technology category of the Gen.T List 2019