We Created A $2.4M/Year Social Commerce Messaging [From Hong Kong]
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi there! I’m Henson Tsai, the Founder of SleekFlow. I come from Hong Kong, and I started the business more than two years ago to tap the potential of social messaging in businesses. We started with a team of 3, including me. Now we have 20 more staff members across two regions. We have just been backed by Alibaba, recently finishing our Pre-A fundraising.
A brief introduction about SleekFlow’s product
SleekFlow features an omnichannel social commerce platform that enables full conversational journeys across SMS, live chat on websites, popular social and messaging such as WhatsApp, Facebook, and Instagram, or whatever your customers prefer.
We use smart routing rules and targeted campaign messages to streamline sales, customer support, and marketing workflows while integrating with 2500+ tools, including eCommerce platforms and payment gateways, to automate the whole customer journey with ease. (We have just launched our brand new Shopify integration! So excited to up the eCommerce game for our customers!)
SleekFlow lays a stepping stone to success for businesses ranging from start-ups to medium-and-large enterprises such as Lalamove, a logistic unicorn, Chow Tai Fook, a leading jewelry retailer, and other listed companies in Hong Kong plus other regions. It is highly recommended to the tertiary industry, in which the communications between customers and staff can be centralized in an all-in-one platform.
We aimed to streamline the communication workflow and increase chat transparency for the organization. Now is the best moment to seize the opportunity due to the rising mobile-first behavior and the increasing prevalence of social commerce.
Here are some of our highlighted features
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I have always wanted to be an entrepreneur since I was young. Back in college, I got a chance to join a start-up competition with my classmates. This confirmed my will to start a business on my own one day. After graduation, I worked for EY and HSBC investment bank division for some time to save more money. I managed to work as a full-time white-collar worker while writing business proposals, thinking of possible business ideas at night.
My experience in failing two start-ups fueled the growth of SleekFlow
SleekFlow, this social commerce platform, wasn't my first business idea. My first idea was a takeaway mobile app as I spotted the gap in the takeaway market. My solution was focusing on takeaway without providing a delivery service. That means you ordered through your app and then picked up the meal on your own while enjoying a generous discount provided by us. The business could not sustain itself, and it ended after half a year because the takeaway market in Hong Kong was already overcrowded.
I hence twisted the App idea and tried to create an all-in-one communication app tailored for hotels. We joined RISE, an international exhibition for start-ups. RISE was where I realized my second idea wouldn’t work either as I finally got the chance to talk to the potential customers directly. There were no inquiries from hotels, while many were from people in the eCommerce and retail sector. So here comes the idea of SleekFlow. Our all-in-one app will be a right fit to streamline workflow for those clients-facing industries.
What I learned is, market feedback is vital when you try to develop a product and it’s OK if your first idea isn’t perfect. You can refine, and you will become better.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
As I said, the first product is quite different from what we have now. At first, my target audience was hotel groups. We planned to help their concierge. I still remember receiving no inquiry from any hotel groups, but I didn’t stop there. It simply inspired me to tweak my thinking that probably an eCommerce solution is a way to go. Our team, basically just me and my 2 very first developers, made more than 100 cold calls the next day. We simply LinkedIn those people in the e-Commerce field and did a primary survey.
So 4 months later, we got our prototype of SleekFlow using Flutter. Another 2-3 months later, we launched the beta.
Back then, due to limited resources, we couldn’t just do the testing by the internal team. We are especially grateful for our early clients. They indicated some flaws in the Beta and we would just fix them overnight. But now we improved and our team grew. We've set up the automated testing flow. That's part of the start-up journey. Patient customers are your best mentors and your best teammates.
We are still receiving feedback from customers to improve our product along the way, so I would never say the product is final. It can always be better.
How I prioritize which feature comes first
In a lean start-up with limited resources, prioritization is vital. We would prioritize the requests according to the goal of the task. For instance, you have to ask yourself, is that for retention or a new acquisition. A good enough feature to make existing customers happier is retention. A brand new function out of the current scope might be for a recent acquisition. New acquisition vs. retention, that’s how we try to balance.
Find out your niche advantage as the starting point and then keep promoting and expanding on that.
We also maintain a customer feedback log where customers can submit feature requests and vote for them. It is not surprising to say that 80% of our current features are customers’ suggestions. Establishing an effective feedback loop is how you should develop your product, especially a SaaS product. We created the feedback form via Canny.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Everything started with a lunch event held by Cyberport, a Hong Kong-based incubator. Being an incubatee, we’ve got the funding, office discount, and other network support. Then I hired the fourth member, who was a marketing person and also a former start-up founder. With 4 laptops, 4 people, we have just worked along the way.
Like every start-up founder, I have to do everything on my own, from designing the WordPress pages to prioritizing features for our core product. You are the CEO, and you are also the janitor. I still remember I have to set up the SEO plan carefully, choosing the keywords on my own. It was a hands-on process before I could afford to hire more people.
First, we developed a keyword pool with around 150 keywords. Both Chinese and English. Chinese is less competitive when compared with English. Our initial goal was to gain traffic, the keyword might be more general things about social commerce.
We developed based on the channels we had, such as WhatsApp, WeChat, etc.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Our first step of marketing was using SEO strategy since we are a SaaS platform. We wrote blogs and struggled to appear on the SERPs.
At that time, we also leveraged a government grant which aimed to help SMEs to purchase software or hardware for digital transformation. We had a marketing campaign to promote that grant plus our products. We have acquired quite some users.
To retain customers, I hired another two very dedicated and passionate individuals to form our customer success team, setting up a caring and effective onboarding process as our software is not low-touch SaaS. It requires education for customers before they can fully unleash the power of our platform.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
So in this year, we’ve helped SMEs in digital transformation amid the pandemics. We have just won around 5000 users across 20+ countries, hitting the annual recurring revenue of 7-digit USD.
Don’t limit yourself to your current constraints. Don’t be afraid to seek advice. It is surprising but sometimes, when you LinkedIn message people, they will genuinely share their insights.
So we have just set up a Singapore office led by a country manager responsible for the SEA region. We have faith in the full potential of our social messaging platform, especially for eCommerce, which I believe is a thriving industry in SEA. Then we aimed to tap into another new market, probably in Europe.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
KNOW YOUR MARKET.
You should understand the market size, the market behavior. You can just develop a prototype first and let people try this Beta. You should receive feedback constantly. You don’t have to make an all-around product, but instead, you should find out your niche advantage as the starting point and then keep promoting and expanding on that. For example, at the very beginning, the only message we carried for our customers is “now you can have multiple logins.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We are a SaaS business, and we also utilize many other SaaS.
For CRM, such as consolidating WhatsApp and Facebook messages, we use our platform. Through which we can consolidate all the social messaging channels into one app. All social messaging activities are tracked, such as the average response time, no. of new users, etc.
For project management, we have Asana. For internal communication, we use Slack. For managing human resources-related issues such as leave applications, we use Talenox. For all the sales activities tracking, we use Hubspot plus our curated platform. For SEO, we use Semrush, Google analytics, and Google search console. We have also recently built an internal “SleekFlow Wikipedia” via notion. We use notion as our knowledge base so new joiners can navigate the platform to get all the information they need. Each department is responsible for maintaining their knowledge base on Notion too.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
It is always good to take references from the best role model in the industry. But it doesn’t have to be the same type of business as yours. For example, we take reference of successful B2B startups; it doesn’t have to be CRM-related. It can be those local B2B unicorns. Check out their strategy using Similar Web.
Besides, I enjoy listening to podcasts and maintaining a reading habit. 20 minutes a day could make a difference. Some podcasts are 5-minute long, which you can listen to during your drive to work. For example, the Marketing School by Neil Patel and Eric Siu. One book I would recommend for those who pre-founder is High Output Management.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
I would say use low resources to make a minimum viable product first. And there are many resources out there for you to grab for free. Useful podcasts sharing insights by industry experts could also be inspiring. Don’t limit yourself to your current constraints. Don’t be afraid to seek advice. It is surprising but sometimes, when you LinkedIn message people, they will genuinely share their insights. Joining an incubation program like mine would be a good start too. You can thereby get tangible resources plus industry networking. What you have to do is just write a proposal and struggle through a series of interviews. But trust me, an incubation program is the handiest stepping stone a green entrepreneur can get.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
YES! YES! YES!
Since we keep expanding we welcome new joiners every week now. As we expand our businesses overseas, we look for talents for different regions across sales, product, and analytic people. Please check out our LinkedIn job ads page.
Where can we go to learn more?
Please check out our website sleekflow.io! (We have just revamped it in November, and it’s a brand new identity!)
Want to learn more about WhatsApp Business API or our Live Chat solutions?
Check out the blogs below.
Please visit our LinkedIn and YouTube, where we constantly update trends about social commerce and the most remarkable new product features!
Any thoughts about my story? Feel free to write to [email protected]
SleekFlow has provided an update on their business!
About 1 month ago, we followed up with SleekFlow to see how they've been doing since we published this article.
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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