How a Hong Kong start-up thrives in an age of individualism
Wesley Ng still remembers the moment of revelation — when he realized that CASETiFY, a tech accessories website he co-founded, was destined for bigger things.
In 2011, he had received a flurry of phone calls from friends and investors one night, telling him that the website had crashed.
“The first few minutes were chaotic. But when we finally narrowed down the cause of the outage, we knew that things would never be the same again,” said the 32-year-old, who was then a design specialist at a Hong Kong-based cable television channel.
The root of the crash? At exactly 10.41pm on October 22, British chef and restaurateur Jamie Oliver had tweeted a picture of his newly-purchased CASETiFY phone case, talking about its durability.
This set off a shopping frenzy among his 6.77 million followers on Twitter, flooding the CASETiFY website with so many orders that it crashed.
“The crash was actually a good omen, because it was then that my partner and I made the decision to quit our full-time jobs to fully focus on CASETiFY. We knew then that it was the start of something incredible,” said Ng.
CASETiFY, which started out as a passion project in 2011, has since grown to become the fastest-growing tech accessories brand in the world. Its meteoric rise has been aided by celebrity partnerships, brand collaborations, and bold efforts to expand its market reach, which now stands at one in seven millennials globally.
Building a unique identity
A self-confessed tech junkie, Ng was one of the first few people to purchase the iPhone 4 when it was launched in 2010.
But he was frustrated about not being able to find a phone case he truly liked, despite scouring online shops and physical stores.
After sharing his experience with friends, he realized he was not alone.
This prompted Ng to start a tech accessories website that would allow consumers to express themselves and showcase their individualism — perfect for a generation of young people who dare to be different. He roped in his partner Ronald Yeung, who is now Chief Operating Officer at the company.
“Our generation views technology almost as a reflection of our inner selves. In a monotonous world, we’re all looking to leave our own mark. A customized phone case was the perfect fit,” said Ng.
With a keen eye for visuals and design given his area of study, Ng decided to tap on the power of Instagram.
He felt the platform was the best medium to express one’s individuality. “Each of us views the world differently, and a platform like Instagram is proof of this because it allows you to peek into the inner workings of a person’s mind,” he explained.
For the first batch of phone cases, CASETiFY offered customers the option to transform photos from their own Instagram accounts into mural-like designs, which proved to be an instant hit.
Innovation was a key focus for Ng, against the backdrop of ever-evolving e-commerce and consumer demands. He introduced new online features such as a custom phone case builder that allowed users to further personalize their designs.
As sales increased, so did the size of the company. It has 80 employees today, compared to a two-person headcount in 2011.
But its success also spawned another problem: copycats. Replica products made their way into the market using low-grade materials and at a much lower price.
Instead of engaging in a price war, CASETiFY chose to improve on the durability of its phone cases by devoting its attention to research and development.
The result was a new series of phone cases made with a trademarked material called qitech™, which boasts superior shock-absorbing qualities. The Casetify X series has been touted as the world’s slimmest and most protective iPhone case.
“I’ve always believed that you cannot replicate substance. If you deliver a solid product with high standards, people will respect you for it, and they will always support you,” said Ng.
To cater to a fast-growing overseas market base with consumers in over 180 countries, the firm has been working with DHL Express to make sure that all of its orders reach the customers safely and on time.
The partnership has also allowed CASETiFY to better serve its largest market, the United States, where buyers can enjoy same day-delivery — a factor that can make or break a deal for online shoppers.
For Ng, two heads are better than one.
Since its inception, CASETiFY has launched key collaborations with celebrities like Pharrell Williams and Sarah Jessica Parker, as well as fashion labels such as Saint Laurent, Thom Browne, Vetements and Sacai.
One of its most sought-after collections to date is the DHLxCASETiFY Tech Capsule Collection, a designer series of phone cases and watch bands that it created alongside DHL Express. The collection was sold out online in just under 12 hours when it first launched in December 2018.
CASETiFY has also partnered top retail names like Anthropologie, Nordstrom and Lane Crawford, as well as online stores such as Revolve and Shopbop.
These creative unions have sprung from Ng’s constant desire to push the boundaries. “There is a certain beauty to collaboration because it becomes the focal point for ideas and possibilities. By working together, we can achieve so much more.”
CASETiFY has caught on with world-famous celebrities in the likes of Kylie Jenner, Gigi Hadid, Kobe Bryant and Snoop Dogg, among others. In fact, football maestro Lionel Messi never fails to order a customized CASETiFY case with a portrait of his family every time he buys a new phone.
“The beauty of CASETiFY is that anyone can use our cases to express themselves and their identities freely, very much like an art form,” Ng said.