In 2011, the social networking application Instagram was an iPhone-only service, with close to five million users and a growth rate of one million users a month. A novel service then, Instagram enabled users to upload photographs with unparalleled instancy on mobile, contributing to a stream of captioned pictures. It focused on cell phone imaging, which was then often blurry or poorly composed, allowing artistic filters to enhance and frame less than stellar photographs, making them resemble postcard prints. This led to the proliferation of companies offering kinds of applications that could turn those images into physical and collectible forms — such as photobooks, framed prints resembling Polaroid captures, and postcards.
One start-up managed to capitalise on the trend in 2011, and offered a way to print images onto cell phone casings — allowing people to carry memorable snapshots with them everywhere they went.
“Instead of focussing on the technology behind a new product, I start by looking at the problem. This establishes a market need and centres our focus,” says Wesley Ng, the co-founder of the company Casetify, which first made those customisable cases easily accessible to Instagram users. Instead of offering services like converting an Instagram feed into an album or postcards (which can easily be accomplished at home), Casetify provided the service of superimposing photographs directly onto phone cases, which could not be achieved without specialised equipment. Its ensuing popularity helped Ng’s company develop into one of the world’s largest tech accessories brands in the world today.
“As we go through the stages of planning and designing the products, that’s when we lean into developing the technology,” Ng says. Another patented innovation born from his problem-solving-centric process was an impact-absorbent material, Qitech, developed for use in manufacturing Casetify’s mobile phone casings. The protective material provided ample cushioning while staying slim and lightweight. “For us, it’s when we arrive at the technology that we’ve found the solution,” he says.
While the success of the Hong Kong-based company can be attributed to great products that entice and retain consumers, there are also other reasons why the 38-year-old entrepreneur was able to build a global lifestyle brand that has gone beyond mere phone accessories. According to him, the turning point was Casetify’s rebrand around three years ago. “As a thriving start-up, we spent a lot of time identifying Casetify’s direction. With the launch of our rebrand, we chose to pivot our identity from a company with a product to a brand with a mission,” he says, as the rebrand turned Casetify’s focus toward becoming a platform celebrating creativity, freedom of self-expression, and connecting like-minded individuals. He continues, “When you’re a start-up, you’re always chasing growth. When you establish a brand identity, then you can truly focus on your mission.”
Courtesy of Casetify
Casetify’s phone cases today remain customisable — much like the way it personalised phone cases with Instagram users’ photographs back in 2011 — except updated with a more modern, fashionable aesthetic.
Growing up, Ng looked up to generations of entrepreneurs, such as Steve Jobs. “[He] developed revolutionary products and showed us the possibility of controlling your own destiny,” he says. “I’m inspired by the perseverance and ambition behind a founder’s legacy. I knew from a young age that that’s what I wanted in my own life.” Today, as a successful entrepreneur himself, his inspirational figures include Ray Dalio, an American billionaire hedge fund manager, and Li Ka-Shing, one of Asia’s most influential entrepreneurs. “I’m reading Ray Dalio’s book, ‘Principles,’” Ng says. “Dalio goes on to explain that any principle you apply to work can also be applied to life. This has provided a framework for my company and me, showing the way you can follow the rules while still finding freedom to innovate.”
Ng is also a frequent speaker at international conferences on topics ranging from entrepreneurship to design. As he wrote to T Singapore by email, in late August 2020, he was en route to Knowledge of Design Week 2020, in Hong Kong, to speak on design and the digital future of the country and beyond.
As the pandemic has been forcing businesses to invent new ways to thrive, Ng saw unfavourable conditions as an opportunity to cement Casetify as a lifestyle brand. “Instead of being reactive in a situation like this, it was in our best interest to be speedy, flexible and proactive,” he says. “Not only did this help us navigate an uncertain time, but our team was also challenged to explore Casetify’s potential as a global lifestyle brand.” While phone cases will continue to be Casetify’s hero product, Ng’s team has also introduced new product categories under the Casetify Protects umbrella, like breathable cloth masks as well as a few UV sanitisers.
“When I’m in my entrepreneur mindset, I see myself as my own obstacle. Not competitors, just myself.”
Every one of Ng’s business development and marketing strategies is conceived through a global perspective. He points out that, as a brand that emerged from the social media boom, “Casetify is uniquely positioned to resonate with a lot of people located all over the world, so we’ve built our teams with that in mind. Diversity is at the heart of many Casetify products, collaborations, and campaigns.” On the brand’s website, consumers are able to shop through their Instagram posts, which spot Casetify product users, including influencers or any stylish personality on the social media platform, often showcasing their Casetify phone cases through a mirror selfie. This rolling group of individuals form the Casetify community, which creates a sense of belonging and exclusivity for consumers — a central strategy adopted by most lifestyle brands to build loyal fan bases.
Courtesy of Casetify
The co-founder of Casetify, Wesley Ng is now equal parts entrepreneur and motivational speaker.
“When I’m in my entrepreneur mindset, I see myself as my own obstacle. Not competitors, just myself,” Ng says, of challenges that he constantly faces apart from those presented by the pandemic. Quoting Steve Job’s 2005 Stanford commencement speech, in which Jobs talked about dropping out of college, studying calligraphy and eventually finding success in surprising corners of his life, he says, “there’s nothing wrong with staying hungry and staying foolish.” He continues, “But sometimes you’ll need the reminder to not be so hard on yourself. Find that balance, and you can overcome any obstacle.”
As a brand that markets its products through social media channels, Ng has to think of ways to futureproof the brand as platforms like Instagram are constantly evolving, and because of the threat of the social media bubble. “We’re well aware that everything has a life cycle, and it’s always a possibility that the social media landscape will look different tomorrow,” he says. “But what’s not going to change is our priority to communicate with our customers. Social media has been an extremely effective tool to connect with a global community, so wherever they go, they can trust that Casetify will be there too.”
Ng believes that staying in tune with his brand mission is an important way to ensure that Casetify remains at the top of its game. Major brand collaborations form a big part of building Casetify’s presence in the market. With every partnership, his team attempts to include a “first-to-market” product launch, like a limited-edition crate from Casetify’s Coca-Cola collection or a grip stand from the Hello Kitty collection. Introducing complementary products is a way to diversify and capitalise on the exclusivity surrounding the brand’s collaborative drops.
This year, the brand has also partnered with organisations such as GlobalGiving, Malala Fund, and Direct Relief to contribute resources in support of social causes. Along with world events like the climate crisis, the pandemic and the slew of global protests, social issues are being brought to the forefront of public consciousness. Looking into the future, Ng says, “With everything going on in the world, now, more than ever, we feel the need to do our part and give back… I’m looking forward to creating more collections and partnerships with these goals in mind.”
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