In the ever-evolving landscape of online commerce, staying ahead of the curve requires visionaries who can not only navigate change but also drive innovation. It is in this dynamic milieu that Henson Tsai, the Founder and CEO of SleekFlow, emerges as a trailblazing figure. In a candid and insightful Q&A session, Henson shares the remarkable story of SleekFlow’s inception and the journey that led him to the forefront of the social commerce revolution.
Our conversation with Henson delves into his entrepreneurial odyssey, beginning with his early forays into smart home technology and food ordering platforms. Through triumphs and tribulations, Henson’s unwavering spirit and adaptability eventually birthed SleekFlow, a pioneering platform that has redefined customer interactions in client-facing industries. We explore the challenges he faced during SleekFlow’s infancy and the innovative strategies he employed to overcome them, shedding light on the vital role talent development played in the company’s exponential growth.
Can you tell us about your entrepreneurial journey and what inspired you to start SleekFlow?
Before founding SleekFlow, I had two entrepreneurial experiences. I developed a smart home software in a start-up competition while I was in university. At that time, we were building a smart home device product that could control old-fashioned air conditioning, curtains, and TV by emitting the same frequency of signals and enabling users to control their at-home devices with Siri and Alexa. After winning the competition, I sold this product. Then one and a half years later, I also started TasteOut, a food-ordering platform, which entered the Cyberport Incubation Programme but was cut short due to intense competition in the food delivery market. At one point, we hired ten people in early 2019 but the market was really tough and margins were low. So after launching for 3-4 months, we decided to pivot. In one day, we had to fire 7 people.
I remember we attended an expo and on the first day we introduced ourselves as a hospitality solution but so many people from the retail and e-commerce industry approached us at our stalls and asked if our solutions works also for e-commerce and retailers, or only hotels? We received so much interest that overnight we created a new banner and backdrop, claiming that we are an e-commerce SaaS company. On the second day, we received even so many signups before we even had the product, proving that it’s worth pivoting towards this new idea. This sparked my idea of SleekFlow in 2019 – an all-in-one app to streamline workflow for those in client-facing industries.
What were the challenges you faced in the early stages, and how did you overcome them?
In the early days of SleekFlow, our revenue was only 2,000 HKD in the first month of running our omnichannel e-commerce software. To get SleekFlow up and running, I had to work hard to hire the right talent at the right time to develop reliable and valuable product. We were fortunate to have the support of Cyberport as an incubator, and they fully subsidized our developers’ salaries.
Now, I really resonate with the saying, “Before you grow your business, grow your people.” I believe in spending the resources to hire the right people at the right time, encouraging teammates to increase their capacity within the company through development and training, and then making sure they see themselves as valued contributors who’d stay long-term.
In a hypergrowth startup, holding ourselves accountable and constantly pushing our limits is the expectation. As a team, we grow together and celebrate the small wins daily.
What sets SleekFlow apart from other social commerce platforms?
SleekFlow equips O2O, retail, and e-commerce businesses with an all-in-one tool to devise a smooth and comprehensive 1:1 customer experience. From product discovery using the catalog in chat and exploration through customer support to checkout and payment with on-the-spot link generation, a complete and frictionless online shopping experience can be catered to customers.
SleekFlow offers a wide range of features that are specifically designed to deploy smartphone technologies. The platform’s ability to set automated rules, define keyword or scenario-based triggered messages, and develop chatbots that can instantly respond to customers without fail ensures a seamless customer experience. With access to SleekFlow’s mobile technology, salespeople can connect with their customers wherever and whenever they want, while marketers can broadcast messages to segmented lists of customers in one click.
SleekFlow also integrates with a wide range of other enterprise-level CRM and e-commerce tools, allowing businesses of all sizes to sync customer databases and manage customer conversations across channels in one place. The platform also offers a messaging API for WhatsApp, enabling businesses to integrate their own system with SleekFlow’s messaging API and send out one-time password verification and post-purchase confirmations without any manual effort. Furthermore, SleekFlow’s payment solution enables merchants to create personalized payment links and collect or get refunds directly in chat via Stripe.
As more retailers invest in digital transformation tools, SleekFlow’s native Microsoft Dynamics 365 integration displays in-depth order and customer details right next to the chat box, allowing consumers to receive quicker assistance and easily pay in chat without fuss.This has reduced the challenges of data silos and internal operation inefficiencies, making it easier for different departments to update sales activities and ensuring that all data is in one place.
From product discovery, all the way to checkout and payment, businesses across various industries, especially those in e-commerce, retail O2O, beauty, medical & wellness, can use SleekFlow’s industry-specific solutions to streamline the whole commerce process with social and sales all in one and breakthrough their sales growth limits.
Are there any unique features or approaches that you have implemented to provide a competitive advantage?
SleekFlow is a B2B omnichannel social commerce payment solution built for businesses of all sizes and industries. We have empowered 5000+ clients across 120 regions, including MNCs, listed companies, education institutions, government bodies, and many more to streamline sales, marketing, and support workflows across messaging channels.
SleekFlow’s key features have created satisfying results with customers reporting 42% more qualifying leads and a 200% increase in customer conversion rate for e-commerce businesses. With a native Shopify integration, SleekFlow displays in-depth order and customer details right next to the chat box, allowing consumers to receive quicker assistance and easily pay in chat without fuss.
In 2022 alone, we have enabled 32 million WhatsApp messages across 120 regions, helped businesses increase sales by 3 times, and boosted O2O sales by 18%.
Can you share some success stories of businesses that have benefited from SleekFlow’s platform?
Examples of customer success stories and SleekFlow’s impact:
- How Sybil Sleep Tech automated its chat campaigns and increased efficiency by 25%
- How ZENXIN communicate efficiently with customers
- How Jakewell handles 10K monthly inquiries with SleekFlow
- How Le Dessert, a French pâtisserie in Hong Kong, doubles online sales with SleekFlow
- How LUBUDS Group implements WhatsApp CRM to deliver customer-first dining experiences
- How AutoMate, a car service platform, uses SleekFlow to achieve 5 times higher conversion rates
How has SleekFlow AI helped clients with their social conversions and streamline their sales and marketing workflows?
AutoMate, a one-stop car service platform, uses SleekFlow’s WhatsApp Business automation platform to optimize their marketing efforts and improve their customer experience. They use SleekFlow to drive website traffic to their mobile app, qualify leads through a chatbot, send hyper-personalized broadcast campaigns, nurture prospects through automated segmentation, and close sales on WhatsApp. By using SleekFlow’s platform, AutoMate has achieved a 5 times higher conversion rate compared to email and other mobile app marketing tools, improving their communication with their users and enhancing their overall customer experience.
How does SleekFlow cater to businesses of different sizes, from small startups to larger enterprises?
We developed SleekFlow AI not only for enterprises but making it accessible to SMEs as well. I want businesses to adopt our solution quickly and enjoy a cost-effective onboarding experience.
To address the cost concern, businesses can start using SleekFlow AI without any add-on fees and experience the value of AI for themselves.
When my team was building our AI solution, the challenge was in handling complex documents in various formats. A lot of work is required in prompt engineering and formatting the documents in order for the AI-enabled chatbot to provide a relevant and accurate response.
Another challenge is that while GPT-4 excels at generating factual responses, it lacks the nuanced understanding required for strategic selling. Simply providing customers with factual information is no longer sufficient, as sales teams aim to establish more humanized and hyper-personalized interactions with their customers. Therefore, we are creating a portal that allows customers to provide feedback, which allows our developers to train the SleekFlow AI to emulate successful sales strategies that align with their business objectives.
What are the key considerations for businesses when implementing a social commerce solution like SleekFlow?
- Maximizing your ROI: SleekFlow helps small businesses make their dollars count by offering personalized experiences and communication that go the extra mile.
- Gaining a comprehensive view: SleekFlow provides businesses with a full picture of their social commerce efforts through comprehensive analytics and insights, allowing for data-driven decision-making.
- Streamlining workflow: SleekFlow eases workflow by automating social commerce management, saving businesses time and resources to focus on delivering a seamless customer experience.
- Improving customer experience: SleekFlow enables businesses to personalize interactions, offer timely support, and build meaningful relationships with customers, enhancing overall customer satisfaction.
- Expert support: SleekFlow provides businesses with access to a team of experts who offer guidance, best practices, and strategic insights throughout the social commerce journey.
- As an entrepreneur, what lessons have you learned along the way that have had a significant impact on your journey and the growth of SleekFlow?
There’s a quote: “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late” that points out the importance of launching at an opportune time. Once you find steady footing, you can test the market and constantly tweak your product to adapt to market changes. For an early stage start-up, speed matters a lot.
Are there any key strategies or principles that you believe have been instrumental in your success?
SleekFlow is an industry leader due to its commitment to innovation and customer satisfaction, as evidenced by its impressive growth and expansion globally, partnerships with industry giants like Meta and Microsoft, and the use of cutting-edge technology such as GPT-4 to power its AI chatbots. Additionally, the company’s dedication to providing exceptional customer support through its team of customer success managers, help center, documentation, and training resources further cements its position as a leader in the social commerce industry.
Important achievements of SleekFlow:
- May 2023 – Amongst 180 applications submitted in August 2022, SleekFlow was one of four global retail-tech startups chosen to implement its cutting-edge solutions in the Middle East, as well as the potential of developing tailored solutions catered to beauty and luxury sectors for the L’Occitane brand in the near future. This new partnership with Chalhoub Group, the largest retailer in the region, is a testament to SleekFlow’s robust capabilities and potential to enhance the region’s rapidly growing luxury retail sector.
- Dec 2022 – SleekFlow was selected as one of the 14 startups for Plug and Play and Meta’s inaugural global accelerator program, ‘The Future of Messaging’, which offered the company an opportunity to connect, transact and service their customer base through messaging, and access to 50,000 startups, commercial projects, and Fortune 500 corporations at scale.
- Dec 2022 – SleekFlow has achieved the status of being an official WhatsApp Business Solution Provider (BSP), which includes offering upgraded infrastructure for businesses and enterprises to deliver superior customer experience on WhatsApp for Business. As a verified WhatsApp for Business API provider, SleekFlow uses the Cloud API, hosted by Meta, on the WhatsApp Business Platform, which supports up to 80 messages per second when sending or receiving text and media, and offers an easy onboarding process tailored to ensure that SleekFlow users can experience the advantages of using the WhatsApp Business Platform quickly and efficiently.
How does SleekFlow foster a culture of innovation within the company?
We have a history of encouraging our team to think creatively and come up with innovative solutions to problems. One example of this is when we held a name-changing competition for our software before we closed our pre-series A round. We brainstormed for two hours and even offered a bonus cash prize. It was a fun and collaborative process, and in the end, we decided to stick with our original name, SleekFlow, because it was the best fit for our brand and identity.
What steps do you take to ensure that your platform remains relevant in a rapidly evolving market?
At the end of the day, it comes down nurturing our talent. There’s the saying, “Before you grow your business, grow your people.” I believe in spending the resources to hire the right people at the right time, encouraging teammates to increase their capacity within the company through development and training, then making sure they see themselves as valued contributors who’d stay long-term.
We have cross-team weekly training sessions where we cover a variety of topics, including industry trends, product updates, and knowledge sharing. We also have weekly product demo sessions and feature feedback sessions, which provide a platform for team members – all experts in their own field – to share their knowledge and learn from one another. It’s important to us that everyone has visibility across other teams’ work progress and expertise, as it informs our daily decision making and helps us work together more effectively.
Could you elaborate on how AI technology enhances the user experience and drives results for businesses within SleekFlow’s platform?
SleekFlow AI is a game-changer for customer engagement, as it enables businesses to deliver high-quality customer service and boosts efficiency with AI-driven human agent support. The platform’s AI-powered chatbot engages in natural conversations and provides personalized recommendations based on conversation analysis, ultimately increasing customer satisfaction and loyalty. SleekFlow AI can also streamline business operations management, providing concise reports from long chat threads to help marketers efficiently manage customer inquiries and team responses. The platform can also assist in employee training by quickly answering questions from a vast amount of text, shortening the learning cycle for new employees.
SleekFlow AI for WhatsApp Business Marketing Expert, a beta version released in May 2023, is a personalized WhatsApp marketing solution that provides effective marketing strategies tailored to each business’s needs. SleekFlow’s customer-centric approach, derived from 80% customer feedback, ensures the platform’s features meet the needs of businesses. SleekFlow’s features on Instagram and Facebook automate and simplify customer interactions in the comments section to boost organic engagement and connect with customers on a more personal level.
How do you balance the role of AI with the need for personalized and human-like interactions?
I think GenAI technologies like ChatGPT can be used as a tool to augment human capabilities rather than replace them. For example, our marketing team leverages ChatGPT to brainstorm content ideas, generate SEO blog outlines, and adapt original content for cross-channel distribution. Our writers and marketers utilize their expertise in refining the content and have more time to focus on the more creative aspects of their work, such as product marketing and content strategy.
Beyond streamlining internal communication, SleekFlow AI, our recently launched tool powered by GPT-4, can also help our customers improve their efficiency when engaging customers. Ultimately, human interaction is still crucial for building trust and resolving complex issues. ChatGPT’s role is to assist in responding to routine inquiries, freeing up human resources to focus on more complex issues. I believe that AI will be an indispensable part of business in the next three years and become the driving engine of various industries.
How do the partnerships with Meta, Microsoft, L’Occitane and Chalhoub Group contribute to SleekFlow’s overall value proposition?
Our partnerships have allowed us to flourish as a result. Becoming a WhatsApp BSP has also greatly enhanced our reach and offerings. Meta’s ‘The Future of Messaging’ accelerator program fast-tracked our ability to connect to various stakeholders, from customers to Fortune 500 companies.
With SleekFlow’s presence in multiple global markets, what are the unique challenges and opportunities you have encountered in each market?
Entering into each market, it was important that we effectively accommodate the needs of local customers. Thus, we had to adapt the app to cover a wide range of languages, to meet the wide needs of customers in countries such as Hong Kong, Indonesia, and Brazil.
How do you adapt your platform and approach to cater to different cultural and regional preferences?
To accommodate the needs of local customers, SleekFlow’s mobile app now supports English, Simplified and Traditional Chinese, Bahasa Indonesia and Brazilian Portuguese. Our webapp (app.sleekflow.io) also supports these 5 languages. Instead of translating the copy of each app, our UX/UI team works together with regional Customer Support and Sales Teams to conduct in-depth research to adapt our app to each local market. Take Indonesia for example, when we were looking to activate our product into the market, we backlogged some product features, such as Shopify for e-commerce and Stripe as payment gateway, to focus on creating features that satisfy local customer demands.
How does SleekFlow prioritize customer feedback and incorporate it into the ongoing development and improvement of its platform?
Adopting a customer-centric approach to retail solutions, 80% of SleekFlow’s features are derived from customer feedback.
Can you share any specific instances where customer feedback has driven meaningful changes or enhancements?
Other than payments, SleekFlow’s features on Instagram and Facebook automate and simplify customer interactions in the comments section, as a way for retailers to boost organic engagement and connect with customers on a more personal level.
Looking ahead, what are your future plans for SleekFlow? Are there any new features or expansions in the pipeline that you can share with us?
When I first started, I knew that the social commerce market was growing fast, but I couldn’t have predicted just how quickly it would develop. The company has now expanded to six countries, including Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brazil and the UAE, and our brand has seen 2-3 times YoY revenue growth over the past year. As an official partner of tech giants such as Meta and Microsoft, I plan to continue working closely with them and adding more conversational commerce tools to our platform to stay ahead of emerging trends. SleekFlow will soon offer more AI-powered integrations, including ChatGPT for customer support, marketing, and sales. While I first founded SleekFlow as a Social Commerce Conversational Solution, our platform will evolve into an AI-Powered Omnichannel Conversation Suite. In the near future, we are dedicated to continue creating accessible AI for social commerce and customer engagement.