Wesley Ng learned the fundamentals of running a business by watching his parents run their restaurant in Hong Kong.
“It was not venture-backed obviously,” the 41-year-old said with a laugh. “What’s the most important thing to have to survive? Profits.”
Ng now runs his own business, Casetify, with the same philosophy. Headquartered in Hong Kong, the tech accessory brand is most well-known for its wide range of trendy phone cases.
According to the company, it brought in more than $125 million in revenue in 2020, with a compound annual growth rate of over 70%.
To date, Casetify said it has sold more than 15 million phone cases worldwide.
“It comes down to one thing — being profitable. Being profitable, was super underrated until recently,” he told CNBC Make It in a virtual interview.
“For some companies, they have to burn [money] to grow their businesses, but not all companies. I don’t think in B2Cs [business-to-consumer] you need to burn so much to grow. If that’s what you need, I don’t think you’re heading in the right direction,” Ng added.
“Learn about running a business from your mom and dad. Run a business that makes money and is profitable. That’s the way to go.”
Ng shares more top tips on how he turned his side-hustle into a multimillion-dollar business.
Casetify was first launched as an e-commerce platform back in 2011 that allows customers to customize phone cases with Instagram photos.
It has since expanded into selling tech accessories, while collaborating with global artists, companies like Disney, and now K-pop groups like Blackpink.
“Our users wanted something more than just customization, they wanted to use it like a personal billboard, a creative canvas … and express who they are.”
Looking back, Ng said he never would have expected this success for a business that he and his co-founder started “in a very lean way” with an initial capital of $200,000.
With global inflation and impending economic headwinds, Ng said Casetify has been “fortunate” not to be heavily venture-backed, or it would have set the company up for “unrealistic goals.”
“We are always doing things and operating out of the interests of the company, rather than the shareholders. That’s two different things,” he explained.
“We did not overly invest in things in exchange for unnecessary growth. So very fortunately, we are healthy but we remain very cautious.”
Even so, Casetify has ambitious plans — it aims to open 100 retail stores in the next two years, Ng said. There are currently 19 stores globally, where customers can design their own phone cases and “get it within 30 minutes,” he added.
Casetify was first started selling customizable phone cases, but it has since expanded to collaborations with global artists.
In June 2021, the company reportedly raked in “eight-figures” in its very first round of fundraising after operating for 10 years.
“So if you look at it, we technically don’t need [to raise funds]. It’s more like a strategic investment,” Ng said.
When asked about the company’s valuation, he said that it’s “close to a billion” after the cash injection in 2021 — allowing Casetify to edge one step closer to unicorn status.
As for his company’s profitability, Ng answered without missing a beat: “That’s not a question. It has to be [profitable].”
2. Overshare your problems
For Ng, who has a background in broadcast design, running his own company naturally came with a slew of challenges.
The biggest hurdle? Learning the ropes of the manufacturing industry.
“How can we gain all this knowledge in a short time and apply it to the business? One of the skills that entrepreneurs must have is that ability to learn something in a very short time and be right about it,” he shared.
One mistake he recalled making was the purchase of his first industrial printer, which turned out to be a wrong purchase.
“We lost about $50,000 … But we still keep that machine here as a reminder, we learned that we should just humbly go and ask for help from people who have experience in manufacturing.”
Talking openly, or even “oversharing” your problems as an entrepreneur, is a lesson Ng now holds closely to his heart.
“I meet entrepreneurs around the world and there’s something about those in Asia, [we’re] not as open when it comes to the problems that we have. It seems like you’re weak, right?”
“But that is very important. Be open with talking about the problems, talk about your learnings,” he said. “It’s about give and take … you’ll be surprised how much you know you can learn from other people’s experience.”
3. Entrepreneurship ‘not for everyone’
As an entrepreneur himself, Ng admits that it’s a title that’s been “glorified.”
“It’s important, that’s how you bring disruption and improvement to the world. But you have to ask yourself, is that really something that fits you? It’s not for everyone.”
Ng said the best way to find out if it’s for you is to “work closely with a founder” or join a small start-up to learn how tough it is.
Casetify is now eyeing global expansion of its retail stores, where customers can design their own phone case “right on spot and get it within 30 minutes,” said Wesley Ng, its CEO.