Origami Labs, the creator behind the OFLO System, a communication solution for enterprises that empowers frontline staff with the power of computing, increasing teams’ productivity, efficiency, and engagement.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Emile Chan: Same as everywhere else, the folks are social distancing, try to avoid crowded places, but it’s still hard when it comes to getting their day to day supplies. We have been seeing a controlled number of cases here in Hong Kong, the team ourselves have just returned to the office since last week from the work from home situation and we just have to make sure everyone is doing their part in sanitizing frequently. Let’s hope that things will normalise soon.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Origami Labs.
Emile Chan: It all started back in the time we met in our master’s program back in Hong Kong University Science and Technology. As if a full-time job and part-time studies weren’t occupying enough, we all had our own side projects with a dream to kickstart something here in this city. Prior to Origami Labs, I have been in the advertising industry managing both B2C and B2B accounts then later I have also run a tech consulting firm specialised in connected devices.
Origami Labs began with the inspiration from Kevin’s dad, Peter, who’s been visually impaired since he was 13. It became what pulled together the co-founding team and our core motivation to innovate in the space of ‘visual computing’. This led to our first product ORII, a voice-powered ring, and now OFLO, an enterprise communications solution to upgrade the frontline workforce in today’s digital world.
How does Origami Labs innovate?
Emile Chan: Looking back since we started, there was never a point when we weren’t innovating. The lab-like mentality lives in everyone here, from the 20 plus prototype iterations before we launched ORII to the hundredths of A/B tests we do for our communications to our evolution of our in the business model into the enterprise space. With our inspiration from the visually impaired, to our vision of building the visual-less computing of tomorrow, we have not stopped spearheading at defining this space and relating to our future lives. Our iterative approach and testing with real market feedback have been the cornerstone of Origami Labs’ innovative culture.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business and how are you coping?
Emile Chan: Prior to COVID, we had been receiving high interest from customers internationally, especially from the US including Marriott and Starbucks. Roughly 50% of planned deployments were for projects in the US. The global travel ban in Q1 2020 put a halt on most of these projects. Practically, our business development strategy has shifted towards a renewed focus on local Hong Kong projects. Additionally, we have started to rely less on our own hardware. Our original solution called for proprietary hardware along with our enterprise hardware. A shift from a hardware consumer product to a hardware-agnostic software solution company has also moved us away from the uncertainty in the current manufacturing supply chain. By being software-focused, we are able to continue on product development and scale to meet our pipeline demand despite the COVID situation.
Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?
Emile Chan: Being able to accelerate time to market was our priority, to tackle this during the pandemic, we had to make ourselves not only able to solve communication problems for our clients but also be significantly more competitive among existing solutions. Our shift to software focus allowed us to launch products that will not be bound to specific hardware, as a result, this has offered greater flexibility and competitive pricing to lower the barrier of adoption.
Internally, with everyone working remotely, coordination became more challenging. The physical distance made processes even more of a necessity to bring clarity to the change of strategies as well as bringing transparency to everyone. One of the things we introduced was a daily standup meeting that kept everyone engaged across our offices. In a way, this has brought everyone closer together and is something that we have decided to keep moving forward.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety, how do you project yourself and Origami Labs in the future?
Emile Chan: Our goal is to be on top of mind for all walkie talkie users or teams that demand ad hoc collaboration during this time. We are expecting to have established a series of strong industry use cases and new interest in Hong Kong that will allow a deeper penetration when the economy recovers. Seeing the work from home situation, we see that by taking traditional walkie talkies to the cloud, we can help frontline coordinators to collaborate remotely on their phones or desktop. With the travel bans lifting, later on, our portfolio cases established in Hong Kong will support our global expansion plan.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Emile Chan: From the product perspective, we would be able to demonstrate the value add from using OFLO beyond walkie talkies, showcasing how voice will improve engagement for enterprises by getting frontline teams to talk to each other more. On our roadmap, we will also be introducing voice assistants to the frontline to open up the possibility of visual-less computing.
In addition to frugality on our own company spending, we’ve also implemented a frugal mentality to the product itself. Simplification and honing of the product offering, has made our solutions easier to understand and priced more competitively for an increasingly price-sensitive and practical market. Perhaps most importantly, we managed to shorten our sales lead time from 6 months to just 1 month, allowing us to move forward at a much faster pace.
Your final thoughts?
Emile Chan: Overall, the impact of COVID will cause the survival mentality to remain for many businesses, that speed and practicality will be even more important than ever before. Only the strongest will survive this pandemic, and we are taking the opportunity to harden and strengthen ourselves.
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