Many have heard of Casetify but few know of its roots in Hong Kong. This interview was quite a surprise for me. I thought I was simply going in to interview a successful phone case company. What I discovered was a very passionate founder and team who are looking much further into the future and deeply passionate about the integration arts, culture and expression of everyone’s true individuality through product. My interview took place at their office, which features some really cool art murals by some famous graffiti artists, a testament to their commitment to creativity and culture.
Hi Wes, thank you for the interview. Could we get some background – you started out quite early in Hong Kong’s startup tech scene… why Hong Kong and why Casetify?
Let’s start with our mission, which is really simple. We want to give people the power to express themselves through unique and customizable products. We started first with phone cases in pursuit of this mission.
Our company began in Hong Kong in 2011. I was an Instagram addict myself and noticed that after posting interesting pictures, they would receive some engagement but that was really it. I thought to myself, “wouldn’t it be great if we could turn these great photos into real products?” That’s how Casetify (then called Casetigram) was born. I wasn’t really looking to start a company at first – it was really more about building great products. We gained a lot of traction and I thought, well this really should be a company.
The decision to start in Hong Kong wasn’t a conscious choice. I’m from Hong Kong, studied in Australia and came back right after I graduated. For me, it was natural to start here. When I started, I didn’t have a place in mind, I was more interested in a demographic. Not every business is designed to scale, but for us, everybody uses a mobile phone, takes pictures and everyone needs a phone case. I don’t think we’re limited here, as Hong Kong makes as much sense as a place to start as anywhere else.
Casetify is a global product with its company headquarters in Hong Kong, something that doesn’t happen as much as we’d probably like to see. How did that happen?
Our business is not limited to Asia or by working in Asia. Because of our proximity to China, having your headquarters in Hong Kong definitely has its perks. We have always been a “full stack” company from day one, building, branding, manufacturing and shipping our own products. These important aspects of our business don’t neatly cut and paste into other countries.
Casetify engages a lot of brands and online influencers now. When you approach a brand, do they understand the power of social media? Is it difficult to work together?
We’re currently working with some great brands like Colette, BBC ICECREAM, Lane Crawford, Hillary Duff, Sam Smith, Karen Mok, Fiona Sit – brands and personalities like that understand and get the power of social media right away. How we’ve started with some celebrities is that sometimes, they’re already using and tagging us on their social media accounts. Their fans and our fans will also retweet these tags. These celebrities include Lionel Messi, Kobe Bryant and Snoop Dogg. The beauty is that anyone can use our cases to express themselves, much like any artform. It is relatively straightforward.
What is interesting about the Asia in regards to your product? Is there a difference with your product’s perception here compared with the US?
Asia is a very interesting market. Our first few years, we spent less of our focus here, because we figured Asia was already a very saturated market. If you look around, there are already so many phone case products here. After taking many interviews with local press and checking our numbers, we learned a few things interesting about Asia. Most people here don’t care where your product’s from, but they are incredibly big fans of quality and style. You’ll see products that feel the need to mention “Oh we’re made in country X, Y or Z…” but that’s not as relevant here if the quality of your product speaks for itself. Hong Kong has become Casetify’s top fifth market, and it’s because people recognize our mission and why we do it. For Casetify it is all about self-expression. We celebrate individuality.
Let’s talk about the differences of founders from East and West, since you’ve had experience working in many different places and cultures. Can the West, Hong Kong and Asia learn anything from each other?
In terms of startups outside of Asia, it’s a very different culture. I fly back and forth and have some great friends in Silicon Valley. I still see gaps in terms of execution and the openness to discuss ideas. We’re even lagging here in some industries when compared to China, like e-commerce and the widespread use of mobile payments. In terms of ideas, I feel people in the East can be hesitant to share their ideas, when we should be less afraid to do so. At Casetify, we share our ideas with others all the time. The idea is barely the start. After that, there’ll be 1000 ideas you’ll need to follow through. On each of these, you’ll need to execute. Execution is king.
[Answered by Casetify Social Media Team, Harvey Mok & Ida Lai] Snapchat is one we’re investigating and using quite heavily. For example we used Snapchat for our recent Poketo popup event in the arts district of Downtown LA. Our staff went early and it allowed us to give our followers a sneak peak of the event behind the scenes. We are using these channels now to conduct “flash sales,” where we send out a message and maybe the first 50 or 100 customers can get in on a promotional or exclusive offer.
What are some of the new social platforms that you are interested in or investigating?
Some other social media platforms that are quite big in America for us that we are exploring are Keep, a place to discover and buy the latest trends in fashion, home decor, accessories and design, Wanelo, which is like a “mobile mall”, with over half a million stores and Polyvore, a community-powered social commerce website and community members curate products into a shared product index, and use them to create image collages. It’s important to know on a deeper level how users engage on each respective channel. To put it simply, it is about understanding where your audience is and making that connection by hanging out with them there. For example, Snapchat is an incredible platform for storytelling.
What’s next for Casetify?
We’re building a brand that allows for a lot of possibilities, but we’re staying focused and resisting the temptation to move too fast into new product categories. Retail is another area we want to experiment in, by understanding how retail and e-commerce interact. I truly believe that, the future of retail is an interplay of online and offline.