Wesley Ng learned the basics of running a business by watching his parents run a restaurant in Hong Kong.
“Obviously not backed by risk,” the 41-year-old said with a laugh. “What’s the most important thing you have to have to survive? Profits.”
Ng now runs his own business, Casetify, with the same philosophy. Based in Hong Kong, the tech accessories brand is best 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 all comes down to one thing – being profitable. Being profitable has been super underrated until recently,” he told CNBC Make It in a virtual interview.
“For some companies, they have to burn down [money] to grow their business, but not all companies. I don’t think in B2C [business-to-consumer] you have to burn so much to grow. If that’s what you need, I don’t think you’re headed in the right direction,” added Ng.
“Learn how to run a business from your mom and dad. Run a business that makes money and is profitable. This is the right way.”
Ng shares more top tips on how he turned his side hustle into a multi-million dollar business.
Casetify was first launched as an e-commerce platform in 2011 that allowed 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 more than just personalization, they wanted to use it as a personal billboard, a creative canvas … and express who they are.”
Looking back, Ng said he would never have expected such success for a business he and his co-founder started “in a very economical way” with seed capital of $200,000.
With global inflation and economic difficulties ahead, Ng said Casetify was “fortunate” not to be heavily backed by ventures, or that would have set the company up for “unrealistic targets”.
“We always do things and work in the interests of the company, not the shareholders. These are two different things,” he explained.
“We haven’t invested too much in things in exchange for unnecessary growth. So, very fortunately, we’re healthy, but we remain very cautious.”
However, Casetify has ambitious plans, aiming 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 “receive them within 30 minutes,” he added.
In June 2021, the company reportedly raised “eight figures” in its first fundraising round after 10 years in business.
“So if you look at it, we technically don’t need to [to raise funds]. It is more of a strategic investment,” said Ng.
When asked about the company’s valuation, he said it’s “close to a billion” after the cash injection in 2021 — putting Casetify one step closer to unicorn status.
As for his company’s profitability, Ng answered without missing a beat: “That’s not a question. Must be [profitable].”
2. Share your problems too much
For Ng, who has a background in broadcast design, running his own company naturally came with a host of challenges.
The biggest obstacle? Learning the ropes of the manufacturing industry.
“How can we accumulate all this knowledge in a short time and apply it in business? One of the skills that entrepreneurs must have is this ability to learn something in a very short time and be right,” he shared.
One mistake he remembered was buying his first industrial printer, which turned out to be the wrong purchase.
“We lost about $50,000… But we still keep that machine here as a reminder, we’ve learned that we just have to humbly go and ask for help from people who have production experience.”
Speaking openly or even “over-sharing” your problems as an entrepreneur is a lesson that Ng now holds very close to heart.
“I meet entrepreneurs all over the world and there is something about those in Asia that [we’re] not so open when it comes to the problems we have. You seem thin, don’t you?”
“But it is very important. Be open by talking about the issues, talk about your knowledge,” he said. “It’s about give and take… you’d be surprised how much you know you can learn from other people’s experiences.”
3. Entrepreneurship “isn’t for everyone”
As an entrepreneur himself, Ng admits it is a title that has been “glorified”.
“It’s important that this is how you bring disruption and improvement to the world. But you have to ask yourself, is this really something that suits you? It is 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 startup to learn how hard it is.