I Am Gen.T: PressLogic Founder Ryan Cheung On How A Textbook Changed His Life
One economics textbook and one dedicated high-school teacher managed to change the entire life path of a young Ryan Cheung—now the co-founder and CEO of PressLogic, a Hong Kong-based social media content and data analytics startup.
Cheung describes himself as a very badly behaved student growing up. “I didn’t study at all, and in secondary school I was in the bottom of my whole class,” he says.
The only exception to his lack of interest in school was his economics class. “One year I remember reading this economics textbook, and all of a sudden I felt so excited—it was so interesting and easy to me. It honestly just changed my life.”
After realising his new-found passion for economics, Cheung went from skipping all his lessons at school and being in the bottom 200 children in his school year to becoming one of the top 10 students and heading off to university.
After a stint in the corporate world, Cheung launched PressLogic with co-founder Edward Chow in 2016. It started with a proprietary AI system that uses data analytics to predict the topics that will trend on social media among specific groups. To show its clients how well the system works, PressLogic launched its own lifestyle content brands. Just a couple of years later these brands, such as GirlStyle and UrbanLife Health, claim over eight million followers and more than 700 million monthly impressions.
This rapid growth attracted the attention of Chinese tech firm Meitu, which acquired a stake in Cheung's startup in late 2017, and was behind PressLogic's US$10 million Series A+ funding round a year later. Today, the startup they has six offices around the world and more than 130 staff.
“If I didn’t have the chance to take that economics subject at school or meet that teacher, then I wouldn’t have had the chance to turn my life around like I did,” he says.
We talk to Cheung about AI, Gen Z, and the future of social.
What sparked your interest in AI and predicting social media trends?
Before setting up PressLogic, I founded another e-commerce startup company in Hong Kong, where I worked with Edward, my technical partner and CTO. We learned a lot about big data, data analysis and social media marketing from that company. After we left we realised that data, content marketing and social media were the future.
You use a proprietary data analytics system called MediaLens to predict social media trends. How does it work?
MediaLens is a data-driven analytics system that Edward and I developed. It combines machine learning and AI capabilities to optimise our performance on social media platforms. It sources popular content and hot topics from the internet every day to determine what is likely to go viral. We then break down every topic and analyse the popular content in each interest community. This helps us to build our followers and engagement on our social platforms, and PressLogic utilises this data to manage our content, publishing, the content optimisation and even the editorial management.
PressLogic has grown rapidly in the last four years—what has the journey been like?
I think we are very grateful to be where we are now, and to be doing what we are doing. We also have great colleagues and some partners who are working closely with us to achieve results together. We have a favourite quote, from Winston Churchill: "Those who never change their minds never change anything."
We always embrace flexibility and have an open mind, especially because we are in an ever-changing world, and when things change so fast it’s important that we’re not stubborn; instead we have to adjust, be innovative and work things out. So that's our job, and it's quite fun. With our team we usually try something first and see how it works, and if it does then we scale up, and if it doesn’t then we just scrap it. I think remembering to be responsive and flexible is extremely important nowadays.
Those who never change their minds never change anything
— Ryan Cheung
Why did you decide to focus on the female lifestyle content market?
We thought that content marketing revenue is a huge market—one that exceeded US$300 billion in 2019—and women control over US$20 trillion in spending worldwide, so we determined that the female market is the one that we should be focusing on, especially looking into the future of the Her Economy, with women as the rising spending power. Also, our results and system data showed that social media engagement is driven more by women.
What are your goals for future growth?
We aim to continue expanding overseas. Currently we have offices in Taiwan, Singapore, India and Malaysia, and we aim to expand into Western and Southeast Asian countries. We also want to leverage our high-traffic websites and the huge number of followers we have to be able to explore more opportunities to develop some e-commerce business working directly with independent brands.
See also: I Am Generation T: Mica F Tan
What's the future of social media?
Nowadays we see so many traditional brands releasing products without actually testing the waters first on the internet and social media—and then they keep wondering why no one is buying their products or they just continue allocating a lot of budget to push them.
But the world is changing, and in the future companies who can generate their own traffic, and have their own audience, will be able to flip the process by creating an audience before creating the product, because the relationships these companies build with their audience allows them to have more insight into the data. So I think the branding industry is going to be totally flipped around. Now we’re starting to see more individual brands growing extremely fast, and that’s going to be a big challenge to those traditional large brands. It's going to be a game changer.
Companies who can generate their own traffic will be able to flip the process by creating an audience before creating the product
— Ryan Cheung
Since you first launched PressLogic, how has your ability to overcome obstacles evolved?
I am grateful that I’ve never had one particularly huge obstacle, but of course we’ve come across many obstacles throughout our startup journey. For example, our business model is quite mixed because it’s combining technology, which is data driven, with content creation, which is more of a traditional business, and we had to determine the best way to combine the two and create something new.
Regarding overcoming the obstacles we face, I think being creative is one of the key elements—especially how we utilise our previous experiences. Also, being persistent is very important in the startup industry; as Jack Ma said, “Today is hard, tomorrow is harder, but the day after tomorrow is beautiful, but lots of people die before the beautiful day.” I think a lot of entrepreneurs and startup runners experience similar things, so being persistent is key, as well as having faith that you can overcome any obstacle.
What do you see as the next disruptor in your industry?
Most statistics show that Gen Z, the people born in the late 1990s to early 2000s, are becoming a very serious consumer power, and they are digital natives; they grew up in a YouTube, Snapchat and TikTok world, and they’re surrounded by social media influencers. I think young teenagers don’t really recognise the older, traditional brands because somehow these brands have become old-fashioned to them. I think this provides a lot of great opportunities for new brands who have very strong social media marketing, as they have the opportunity to make themselves a household name with new generations.
See also: I Am Generation T: Jordy Navarra
If you’re a quick learner and you have the passion to learn, you’ll never get bored in the startup world
— Ryan Cheung
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
To learn something new every day. Because if you’re a quick learner and you have the passion to learn, you’ll never get bored in the startup world. It requires a lot of passion and you’re constantly learning new things every day, which allows you to strive for constant improvement and makes every day exciting.
What productivity hacks do you swear by?
I try to take on the smaller tasks first because as our company grows bigger, I always seem to have a huge to-do list, so now I prioritise my tasks by urgency and by how long each task is going to take. I’ve found that getting my smaller tasks done in the morning helps me feel like I’ve accomplished more earlier in the day, which gives me the energy to try to tackle the more difficult stuff after.
Do you have a mentor?
Technically no, because I see everyone as my mentor. I love learning and by treating everyone as my mentor, I’m able to learn from a variety of people.
Where do you seek inspiration?
I love talking to other open-minded people. I find when you talk to other people who aren’t in your normal circle of friends you’re able to gain great inspiration. Also travelling, because it allows you to try new things, see new places, meet new people and experience new things—all of which allow you to have fresh ideas and see what is going on overseas.
See other honourees from the Media, Marketing and Advertising category of the Gen.T List 2019.