We talked to Sega Cheng, Co-founder & CEO at iKala on how to empower the business with AI and here is what he said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Sega Cheng: My day-to-day hasn’t changed much since Taiwan’s condition is relatively more stable in contrast to the international COVID-19 outbreak. However, my family and the company have limited personal or business international travel, knowing that the threat of this disease infection hasn’t slowed down globally.
As a global company operating in eight countries, it is imperative for us to understand various situations and maintain our connections with worldwide customers and partners in the absence of any physical contact. As a result, I’ve urged my family and our teams at iKala to pay more attention to global situations and the impact of COVID-19 on the regions in our business landscape.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded iKala.
Sega Cheng: My days at Stanford University have given me the privilege of interacting with the world’s top minds and encouraged me to give back to my own country. With a simple vision of “creating more options for our future generations in my hometown,” I co-founded iKala in 2011 in Taiwan after resigning from Google as an engineer. I was the third employee in Google Taiwan and participated in the initial stage where we built the team and created our culture almost from scratch. This experience laid the foundation for my future as an entrepreneur and my beliefs in building a world-class company with human-centered culture.
I wanted to create a place for the talents to create world-class products, offer value-adding AI technologies and services, and above all, co-create a culture where we value each other as distinctive human beings and work together to thrive as a team. iKala is almost 10 years old now. I wouldn’t say we’ve done everything as I imagined in the first place since it’s necessary to keep up with the trend and twist a few things along the way. However, I’m proud to work with the founding members as well as every employee since they are the ones helping me realize my dream to create a world-class company with a great culture.
How does iKala innovate?
Sega Cheng: I was an engineering major focusing on AI, so it’s natural for me to co-found a tech company centered around AI technology. If you look at the nature of technologies and AI, it is not created to replace or reinvent but reinforce and refine. iKala’s mission is to “empower business with AI” and support our SMBs and enterprise customers through their digital transformation stages, including digitalization, data analytics to AI applications, especially in the social commerce and influencer marketing areas. Almost one-third of our employees are certified engineers, cloud architects, and data scientists who serve as the R&D backbones to make sure we center our innovations around customers to satisfy their existing and future needs. We always advance with time and innovate along the way to keep up with the evolving needs of our customers and the environment co-existing with COVID-19.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Sega Cheng: We actually see around 40% annual revenue growth in 2020 with the pandemic outbreak. iKala consists of two main business pillars── iKala Cloud and iKala Commerce, both of which are highly relevant to business sustainability in and post COVID-19. iKala Cloud provides cloud infrastructure, CDP (Customer Data Platform), and machine learning solutions for business infrastructure and business intelligence. iKala Commerce offers an integrated social commerce and influencer marketing service for brands and retailers to expand sales channels and do cross channel marketing through social media for the new retail model inducted by the worldwide lockdown and consumer behavior changes during and after the pandemic.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Sega Cheng: Due to the rising demands from customers we haven’t been forced to make manpower adjustments. However, we did make some human resources redeploy to best respond to customer needs, especially in the local sales team and customer support in the SEA regions. During the pandemic, our main SEA business points, including Thailand and the Philippines, suffered from total lockdown and minimal offline activities. Several of our existing and new customers, including Unilever Philippines, have urged us to assist build online sales channels on social media to recover their loss from the offline shutdown.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Sega Cheng: We couldn’t make physical visits to our customers abroad, so it is important to maintain a good relationship online. Our remote or local customer support team is fully aware of the changing situation and is on duty to proactively understand potential customer needs and provide the necessary support to help them thrive in the pandemic. Tool wise, iKala Cloud is a Google Cloud Premier Partner. We help enterprises use GCP to perform digital transformation and develop AI applications. At the same time, we are longtime devoted users of Google Workspace, and the easily accessible tools have helped us maintain regular contacts with our global customers.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Sega Cheng: We didn’t apply for a COVID-19 grant from the government. However, we did receive a government award in the “Smart City Innovative Application Award” with an extra bonus to recognize our dedication in utilizing AI technologies to empower social sellers to thrive in difficult times. The awarded product──iKala Shoplus is an AI-enabled social commerce integrated service offering a one-stop solution including AI Live Selling, Smart Order Management System, and AI Social CRM across Facebook and Instagram for retailers and brands in Asia.
iKala Shoplus Video (Thailand)
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