Wesley Ng learned the fundamentals of running a business by watching his parents run their restaurant in Hong Kong.
“It’s clearly not venture-backed,” the 41-year-old said with a laugh. “What is the most important thing for survival? Profit.”
Ng now runs his own company, Casetify, with the same philosophy. Based in Hong Kong, this tech accessory brand is known for its wide range of stylish phone cases.
According to the company, it brought in more than $125 million in revenue in 2020, growing at a compound annual growth rate of over 70%.
To date, Casetify says it has sold more than 15 million phone cases worldwide.
“It comes down to one thing — profitability. Profitability, which until recently was grossly undervalued,” he told CNBC Make It in a virtual interview.
“For some companies, they have to burn [money] Grow their business, but not all companies.I don’t think in B2C [business-to-consumer] You need to burn so much to grow. If that’s what you need, I don’t think you’re going in the right direction,” Ng added.
“Learn how to do business with your parents, and do business that makes money, that’s the right way.”
Ng shares more top tips on how he turned his side hustle into a multi-million dollar business.
Casetify first launched in 2011 as an e-commerce platform, allowing customers to customize phone cases using Instagram photos.
It has since expanded into selling tech accessories while collaborating with global artists, companies and more disneyand now there are K-pop groups like Blackpink.
“Our users want more than customization, they want to use it as a personal billboard, a creative canvas… and express their identity.”
Looking back, Ng says he never imagined that what he and his co-founders started “in a very lean way” with an initial capital of $200,000 would be so successful.
With global inflation and looming economic headwinds, Casetify has been “lucky” not to have significant venture capital backing, which would otherwise set the company up for “unrealistic targets,” Ng said.
“We always do things and operate in the interest of the company, not in the interest of the shareholders. Those are two different things,” he explained.
“We’re not overinvesting in exchange for unnecessary growth. So very fortunately, we’re healthy, but we’re still very cautious.”
Even so, Casetify has ambitious plans — it aims to open 100 retail stores in the next two years, Ng said. He added that there are currently 19 stores around the world where customers can design their own phone case and “get it within 30 minutes”.
Casetify started out selling customizable phone cases, but has since expanded to collaborate with artists around the world.
In June 2021, the company reportedly raised “eight-figure” funding in its first round of funding after 10 years in operation.
“So if you look at it, we don’t technically need [to raise funds]. It’s more of a strategic investment,” Ng said.
Asked about the company’s valuation, he said it would be “nearly $1 billion” after a capital injection in 2021 — bringing Casetify one step closer to unicorn status.
As for the company’s profitability, Andrew Ng replied without hesitation: “It’s not a problem. It has to be [profitable]”
2. Oversharing Your Questions
For Ng, who has a background in broadcast design, running his own company has naturally presented many challenges.
Biggest obstacle? Learn the ropes of manufacturing.
“How can we take all this knowledge and apply it to the business in a short period of time? One of the skills an entrepreneur must have is the ability to learn something in a very short period of time and put it right,” he shared.
One mistake he remembers making was buying his first industrial printer, which turned out to be a bad purchase.
“We lost about $50,000…but we still have that machine here as a reminder that we should be humble enough to ask someone with manufacturing experience for help.”
Talking openly about, and even “oversharing,” your problems as an entrepreneur is a lesson Ng now takes to heart.
“I have met entrepreneurs from all over the world, Asian entrepreneurs are very distinctive, [we’re] Not so much openness when it came to the issues we had. You seem weak, don’t you? “
“But it’s very important. Talk openly about the problems, talk about your lessons learned,” he said. “It’s about giving and taking…you’d be surprised how much you can learn from other people’s experiences.”
3. Entrepreneurship is ‘not for everyone’
As an entrepreneur, Ng admits it’s a “glamorized” title.
“It’s important, and that’s how you disrupt and improve the world. But you have to ask yourself, is this really for you? It’s not for everyone.”
The best way to figure out if it’s right for you is to “work closely with the founders” or join a small startup to see how tough it can be, Ng said.
Casetify is now eyeing global expansion of its retail stores, where customers can “design their own phone case on the spot and get it in 30 minutes,” says its chief executive, Wesley Ng.