Henson Tsai founded his SaaS company in 2019, letting people talk to businesses and helping businesses profit. Henson named his company SleekFlow.
In only a short time, this Hong Kong based startup has found some incredible success and is fast going global.
Henson was born and brought up in Hong Kong, and then educated in England, attending Kings College, Canterbury for two years before going on to study maths with stats for finance at Imperial College London. Henson believes choosing mathematics was one of the best decisions of his life because it gave him skills to apply in so many areas and made him better at solving problems logistically.
Imperial College runs a startup competition for its students designed to bring people from different departments together. Henson’s startup idea was a SMART home device that allowed you to open and shut curtains and other tasks compatible with your TV. This idea was before Siri and Alexa had become popular, so the concept was ahead of its time. Not only did they win the competition, but they were able to sell the business profitably.
Henson returned to Hong Kong having completed his degree and worked briefly as a banking analyst for HSBC and as a management consultant on analytics for Ernst & Young. However, he had always intended to be an entrepreneur. Firstly, he had watched his Dad in the role; also, he was set on building something meaningful and of value to society; finally, the whole entrepreneurial highs and lows and concept of taking a build from zero to one wholly appealed.
He used some capital from the Imperial College venture to set up TasteOut with another couple of developers. This venture was a platform for people to order take-outs on. Henson says that while this idea might work in London or the US, but in Hong Kong, the smaller population means a smaller market. He also found that restaurants weren’t using apps to take orders, so his team had to be sending out constant reminders. Within six months, Henson had lost all his funds and had to fire seven of his team. It was a harrowing experience, but Henson believes failing is part of the entrepreneurship journey.
Henson officially launched SleekFlow as a solo-trader in April 2019. During his time with TasteOut and chatting with his customers there, Henson realized just how many different messaging apps people were using. It also gave him insight into why the restaurants were defeated when it came to keeping pace with them all. Henson started thinking that if only all those communications could be brought together to work for social commerce, that would have a real impact.
So, out of the ashes of TasteOut, SleekFlow emerged. Henson talked to over a thousand people in different sectors to garner ideas, firm up his vision, and launch SleekFlow in under six months. He could already see that the market potential was colossal.
Like most businesses, COVID hit them hard, and they initially dropped 50% in revenue. They had some help from the Hong Kong Government that supported companies during the epidemic. But most importantly, Henson was determined and innovative, finding new industry sectors to service and add value to, so this time, he could retain all his team. Notably, they found success in the luxury retail sector, and by the second quarter of 2020, they were showing a 400% growth in revenue.
Henson believes this is the perfect time for disrupting social commerce, and SleekFlow is a game-changer, and SleekFlow’s story is proving him right.
What does SleekFlow do?
Henson described SleekFlow to me as aiming to be the centerpiece for people to talk to businesses, combining popular instant messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook messenger, IGDM, etc. The communication software as a service platform specializes in social commerce by creating a simple, automated tool to help their customers sell.
The platform enables the users to build their customer flow automation and analytics to keep track of sales performance. For example, it will send customers who have left items in their shopping baskets offers to entice them to return. SleekFlow integrates with messaging apps, social media networks, and CRM software such as Salesforce. As a result, their users can grow their businesses.
Henson and his team work continually with their customers to improve continuously, and new features are added regularly as a result. Everything they do is rooted in their customers’ needs and feedback.
SleekFlow currently helps over four thousand business across the globe to sell more and work more cohesively and are changing the face of social commerce.
An impressive expansion program
Henson didn’t want a money-driven company and had no financing plans when he started. However, as he began to see possibilities for growth, he entered a pitching competition hosted by Alibaba. SleekFlow was pulled out after only the first round and offered investment from Gobi Partners, China, who are the investment managers for the Alibaba Entrepreneurs Fund. This happened in July 2021.
Henson says it opened his eyes to a much bigger picture of potential growth for the company than he had ever dreamed of. With the six-figure USD Pre-Series A round investment, the next step was to expand into South East Asia, specifically Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore. They were also chosen for the Global Launch Singapore Program inaugurated by the global VC firm 500 Startups.
Henson says that the expansion into other countries has taught them a lot. Marketing has to be different, with different consumer behaviors and perceptions. Also, consumer habits can affect pricing structures.
This expansion has meant Henson’s team has also grown from six to thirty-two within a year. He says they are all superstars. They include experts in various fields, but they all believe in him and the vision, despite him still being only 27 years old.
Henson says that he has met many amazing founders both at and since university to learn from. Entrepreneurs, he finds, are happy to share their knowledge. His investors from Alibaba have also been “incredibly good” to him and give him great advice to help him continue his progress.
The immediate future is to build SleekFlow in the UK. Further to their research, they have seen the volume of e-commerce in the UK and know that this is the target market for them, and they need to angle their marketing accordingly. They have been working with twenty-plus partners who have been selling on commission, but Henson is currently recruiting a UK team of his own.
Henson aims to be in every country globally, combining messaging, e-commerce, and payment gateways. While there are other startups in this space, none are focused on helping customers automate and generate revenue in the way SleekFlow is, and that is what is powering their phenomenal growth.
Henson’s advice to others:
Henson was generous enough to share his advice for others based on his experiences. The first point is to be mega-adaptable. Your first idea may not work or become outdated in only two or three years. So you have to roll with that and adapt.
Second, Henson says that you will need perseverance and grit when you start. He emphasizes that this is not to keep going whatever because sometimes you have to know when to stop and re-group on your idea but to keep going as a founder and entrepreneur.
Fast building a team is also a huge learning curve. Henson has found that attitudes are more important than experience. Passion is essential, and mixing in with the existing team is far more important.