INNOVATORS VS COVID 19
KAWO’s CEO Alex Li shares with us how his company has been able to grow its revenue by over 300% in the past three years
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID19 times?
Alex Li: China was the first country hit and also the first country to recover from the COVID19 pandemic. The first 3 months of 2020 was difficult for us as we were all scrambling and dealing with various travel restrictions and home quarantine measures. I myself, was stuck in Taiwan then the U.S and finally ended up doing 2 weeks of mandatory hotel quarantine when I finally arrived back in Shanghai. My colleague Alex Duncan was stuck in Morocco for a number of months before finally arriving in Shanghai via Prague. Things have now returned to normal in Shanghai aside from the international travel restrictions.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded or joined KAWO
Alex Li: I was not one of the original Founders of KAWO. The company was originally founded by Andrew Collins, Alex Duncan and Brian Van Damme in 2013, I joined much later in 2019.
The origin story of KAWO is very typical of similar SaaS companies like HootSuite in the west. Andrew Collins, who is the CEO and Founder of Mailman digital sports agency found himself having trouble managing hundreds of client social media accounts efficiently, and was looking for a better way to improve the workflow of his digital agency. From that original problem, the founders set out to create a solution that would revolutionize the way digital agencies or brand marketing teams run their social content creation process.
Since I joined KAWO at the beginning of 2019, Andrew has taken an early investor/ evangelist role at KAWO.
My personal journey started when I moved to China in 2013 right after finishing college at NYU. Initially, I worked in Finance but decided to leave and start my first SaaS company within 8 months. The company was called WeFlex, a SaaS tool that helped over 1000 gyms/ fitness studios to manage their trainer schedules, class bookings, client profiles and memberships. I then sold the business to a Chinese competitor in 2018.
After that, I did some traveling and joined one of my early investors at his family office in Taiwan, sourcing deals and handling LP relationships. By chance I met Andrew and was introduced to the KAWO team at the beginning of 2019. I realized it was a company I could really make an impact at and it had a fantastic team/ product already, the rest is history.
How does KAWO innovate?
Alex Li: KAWO seeks to revolutionize how marketing teams and digital agencies currently operates their social media channels. We believe that through technology, teams can use less time in mundane workflow tasks and spend more time in the creative process of making great content. With KAWO, digital teams can edit, create, discuss content across 3 main Chinese social platforms in 1 place, replacing e-mails, and excel sheets.
The reports are then generated automatically and helps brands analyze what strategy has worked well and what strategy hasn’t. We use machine learning to predict the best time to publish content and cloud asset library to help brands store all of their digital assets in one place. We currently supports WeChat, Weibo and Douyin platforms, but will add more platforms in the next 12 months. We currently work with clients such as Vera Wang, NFL, FIFA, Airbnb, Evonic, ACCA across 12 different industries.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business and how are you coping?
Alex Li: The Coronavirus has been a horrible event for many people and businesses. From our experience, many brands in the travel and hospitality industries were affected significantly by the pandemic. To support them, we gave free extensions as well as delayed payment options to the clients who are affected the most.
From a different prospective, the pandemic has accelerated the digitalization of teams, especially in the way they work. When people can’t meet face to face, efficiency in the workflow becomes much more important and urgent. So for businesses like KAWO, the demand from client to adopt a better way of working is strong.
Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?
Alex Li: We were lucky that our business was not significantly impacted by the pandemic. However, we did have to delay some payments in the initial few months. I guess we realized how important cashflow is to small businesses even more now.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety, how do you project yourself and KAWO in the future ?
Alex Li: When you are a serial entrepreneur, I think you get used to the stress and anxiety more. You realize that this is the normal and it’s a path you had chosen for yourself. As a matter of fact, you secretly thrive on it and you would be much more unhappy without the ups and downs. Other than that, I think taking breaks and living a healthy lifestyle really helps as well.
KAWO is doing really well at the moment. We’ve grown our revenue by 300% YoY in the past 3 years straight.
I think the reason is that the cost of business is increasing in China and businesses want to look for ways to become more efficient and more digitized, and that’s a good trend for KAWO. I think by the way we have grown in the past 3 years, we will become a business that has 20million USD ARR in 3 years time. Hopefully, we can continue to deliver value to our customers.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Alex Li: Currently, we don’t have a lot of competitors in the domestic market because enterprise social solutions are still at the beginning stages. Our biggest domestic competitor is probably excel sheets and platform backends. In the west, there are many companies like HootSuite, Sprout Social or Social Bakers, but we see them more as our partners when it comes to providing brands a global social media solution.
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