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iKala Future Talks

International Business Plan under Globalization – Part 2

Many people say that there is not only a "protective sacred mountain" of semiconductors in Taiwan, but startups are showing an endless stream of energy to form a range of protective mountains today. The energy is not only blooming everywhere in Taiwan, but actively expanding overseas. The topic we are going to discuss today is international business planning under globalization, and we are glad to have Minister of the National Development Council, Kung Ming-Hsin, and iKala's Co-Founder and CEO Sega Cheng with us.

Here are some highlights from their conversations.

When it comes to entering overseas markets, what are the key practices and mindsets of iKala?

Cheng: I think the key point is that we should realize the complexity of each market. It is not just about geopolitics, but in the digital age, customers are putting more focus on the quality of products and services, and there is a growing demand for customized service. When we are entering a new market, we should look at each of them separately, to analyze its status quo and evaluate its local internet speed. Whether it is suitable for our digital products? The first thing is that we have to make sure the business model in Taiwan can be duplicated to that market. The second is that we have to do some localization. Thirdly, we will consider the way to attract local talents. This is especially important because the evolution of digital products goes very fast. In other words, we must have a local product manager to tell us about the local users, so that we can optimize our product as quickly as possible. Otherwise, local competitors may surpass us because they understand the habits of local users better. Even in our Taiwan headquarters, we must have talents who are familiar with different markets and different countries. In particular, we welcome Taiwanese new immigrants and foreign talents to join us, because they know the international market and they can bring new ideas to us. I think this is something that is very important for startups in the process of globalization, and we must pay attention to it.

The National Development Council has launched the Asia Silicon Valley Development Plan since 2016, and there is a Taiwan national startup brand, Startup Island TAIWAN. What are the future prospects of these policies? What are the results so far?

Kung: We started the Asia Silicon Valley Development Plan in 2016, hoping to build up connections with Silicon Valley, and introduce the business model and innovation ideas of their startups. There is a great foundation of Taiwan's industries. If we can further make some connections with Silicon Valley, I think it would be beneficial to our local industry. 

Since funding is one of the most important parts for startups, we have implemented some measures on it. From angel funding, match funds for venture capital, to a national venture capital firm, we provide assistance of funding in different stages. Take angel funding for example, starting from 2018, we have invested in more than two hundred cases, and the amount we have invested has exceeded two billion. We have even allocated more than 3 billion recently, and will allocate up to 10 billion in the future. We hope to increase the amount of startup investment, so that the ecosystem can be big enough. Secondly, we help those we have invested to scale up. Scale up, in other words, is to promote them to the international market. Also, there are two new boards proposed by TWSE and TPEx for innovative enterprises, Taiwan Innovation Board and Pioneer Stock Board, one for listing and the other for OTC listing. This is also a revolutionary initiative. In the past, the criteria for listing and OTC listing were very strict. Only if you can make a profit for a few consecutive years can you be listed, but you know that business models of many startups are not like this. They are still in the stage of investing money. And we must allow business models like this to have the opportunity to grow. 

As for the cultivation of talents, we passed a revision to the Act for the Recruitment and Employment of Foreign Professionals, offering more incentives and relaxing the restrictions to attract more international talents to work in Taiwan. We've issued more than 3,000 Employment Gold Cards. As long as one obtains the Employment Gold Card, he can come to Taiwan before finding a job. Our connection with Silicon Valley is continuously expanding from stage to stage. The first stage is the older generation. Those who went to Silicon Valley in the very beginning may be in their 50s or 60s, and they had a sense of mission to give back to their hometown. Then they came back to Taiwan. The second generation is like Steve Chen, who is in his 40s. He had a successful career in the United States, then came back to Taiwan with an Employment Gold Card. He also started to do venture capital here, and link resources between Taiwan and Silicon Valley. I hope we can build up more connections in the next generation. This way, we can keep pace with Silicon Valley when it comes to business innovation. 

The National Development Council is also promoting the policy of developing Taiwan into a Bilingual Nation. Whether you want to recommend your product or your solution to the world, being bilingual is very important. We actually asked the British Council  to deliver tests on junior high and senior high third graders to evaluate their English skills. The result finds that on average, our high school third graders are fairing in English proficiency compared to European countries, but we score low in speaking and writing. This is why in other countries, maybe the product is not as good as imagined, it can sometimes be exaggerated. We are just the opposite: having perfect skills, but failing to speak it all out. The policy of developing Taiwan into a Bilingual Nation is definitely of great help to us in expanding to the international market. 

Finally, the NEXT BIG representative nomination, and the effort we put in Startup Island TAIWAN, is all about pushing outstanding startups in Taiwan to go overseas in the past few years. This is what we are doing now.

How can startups team up with the government to face international competition?

Cheng: Being selected for Startup Island TAIWAN's NEXT BIG has already helped us a lot. Especially when facing a country like Japan, which puts so much emphasis on honesty, goodwill, connection and endorsement, startups really need the help from the government. In terms of internationalization, the foreign language proficiency of our talents are actually not bad, but there is a lack of story-telling ability. I think that Taiwanese people should be more brave to tell stories, and promote their own products and services. The Bilingual Nation policy will have a great impact on Taiwan in the next few decades. Whether a language is strong depends on how many people in the world speak the same language as you. English and Spanish are still the largest, but perhaps in the future, when Southeast Asia rises, we will have new languages to learn, such as Indonesian. Our next generation and the generation after that will become more and more internationalized. I think this is what we have been talking about: the hope to stay at home and look at the world. I think this is very critical.

What are the future prospects of both organizations?

Kung: In addition to the previous version 2.0 of 5+2 Innovative Industries Program, we now have Six Core Strategic Industries. I would like to invite all startups to join and make some efforts together. In the post-epidemic world, the first and most important thing is digital transformation, so digital transformation is included in both the 5+2 Innovative Industries Program and Six Core Strategic Industries. In the longer term, we also value environmental sustainability. Many countries have begun to set a goal for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This is also a disruptive innovation, which startups are good at, and this is what I think we can work on together.

Cheng: Digital transformation happens to be what we are expert in. This year, both internally and externally, we are more active. Externally, we follow the national team to bring our good solutions to Japan and Southeast Asia. While in our hometown, we are putting in more resources because we have found more opportunities. Especially under the pandemic, the integration of software and hardware begins. People start to think about the way to go digital and undergo digital transformation. Notwithstanding the worldwide pandemic, the world economy has not stopped, or even has accelerated. There is no better place than Taiwan to discuss digital transformation, because we have both hardware and software industries. Therefore, we have recently strengthened our efforts, firstly to hire more people to assist the traditional manufacturing industry and retail industry  to seek digital transformation opportunities. Secondly, we started to carry out CSR projects this year, aiming at local retailers affected by the pandemic. We started to introduce some solutions that can help them undergo digital transformation right away. In sum, iKala is now paying more attention to our hometown while maintaining international operations. I think this is a very good timing for Taiwanese startups.

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Culture

An Open Culture Creates a Positive Cycle of Sharing and Communication

Human-centered is facilitating every employee to grow and realize the company's vision.

Dictated by Tammy Chen, Chief Designer, iKala
Written by Iris Hung

 

At iKala, designers enjoy a lot of freedom when developing new products, which is different from my past experiences. Here, we need to take care of both UI (user interface) and UX (user experience) design. Because of this, during the early stages of product planning, we all put our heads together and bounce ideas off of one another—especially the product managers and engineers. This is in line with iKala's "Human-Centered" approach. Here, designers can do more than hone the skills we already have. We can be trained to develop a keener perception of the products, and nurture design thinking. Then, we can optimize our products and services through trial and error.

At iKala, everyone keeps an open mind when attempting something new. Whenever someone wants to share or teach, their colleagues are always eager to participate and provide positive feedback. So, whenever I discover an effective tool, I cannot wait to share it with everyone else. To cite a recent example, I found that the UI/UX design tool Figma has announced a remarkable set of new functions in the past few years. Everyone is talking about it online, and after trying it for myself, I was impressed. I began to share what I've learned with my colleagues.

To reveal a bit of inside baseball, this is how designers used to work: first, they created the interface with the user interface design program Sketch; then, they connected the interfaces by using the user flow diagram tool Overflow; then, they go into the app interface collaboration program Zeplin to mark the coordinates and data that R&D engineers need for development. It's a three-step process, and it can all be done with Figma at nearly half the price. In the past, colleagues in charge of different tasks used different tools, making it difficult to manage assignments and communicate between them. But Figma was a tool that everyone could use, and it made collaboration between colleagues a breeze. 

Because it is a relatively new tool, there isn't a lot of information or tutorials online. Fortunately, everyone was glad to share what they've learned. As the head of the design team, I did everything in my power to give members of my team a heads-up about the challenges they might face. I also gave them enough time to switch over the systems. The entire process, from start to finish, was initiated by our team from the inside out, without any pressure from the management. After all, it is a sign of commitment to voluntarily improve our workflow, so we can achieve better efficiency and results.

Our HR department, which is in charge of internal training, also played an important role in the process. They proactively set out to discover what members of the team wanted to learn, and they instilled in everyone the habit of sharing and providing feedback. In the past, when they found that salespersons and product managers often prepared presentations and asked designers for pointers, they arranged a training course so designers could share the tools and methods they use for presentations with everyone else. It was the same this time. When I mentioned I had something to share, HR began planning courses and actively inviting everyone in the company to attend. After my presentation, I saw some colleagues actually using the new tools in their work. Through the process, I understood the importance of sharing: not only did I achieve personal growth, but I made our whole team better, as well.

I believe this positive cycle will not end with me. It will continue throughout the whole company, creating a sustainable loop of positive growth that will help everyone learn and improve themselves.

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iKala Future Talks

International Business Plan under Globalization – Part 1

Many people say that there is not only a "protective sacred mountain" of semiconductors in Taiwan, but startups are showing an endless stream of energy to form a range of protective mountains today. The energy is not only blooming everywhere in Taiwan, but actively expanding overseas. The topic we are going to discuss today is international business planning under globalization, and we are glad to have Minister of the National Development Council, Kung Ming-Hsin, and iKala's Co-Founder and CEO Sega Cheng with us.

Here are some highlights from their conversations.

What are the driving factors of innovation and entrepreneurship in Taiwan?

Kung: Taiwan has paid great attention to innovation and R&D in the industry, so that is why WEF and IMD both speak highly of our innovation ability. We have great innovation clusters, the supply chain, the research and development system, and the industry. The ecosystem is quite complete when it comes to the production side. In terms of talents, a lot of foreign investors give high opinions of our technical capabilities, especially that of engineers. What's also important is that Taiwanese people are very loyal to work, bringing us more positive feedback. Thirdly, the vitality of the people. You can see that there are some startup communities that are very active in Taiwan recently. Moreover, Taiwan Government launched the Asia Silicon Valley Development Plan in 2016, forging connections with Silicon Valley. That's why we can see more connections between innovation and entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley and Taiwan, and this further helps startups in Taiwan understand the trend internationally. Also, the government has been reviewing its policies of providing early-stage funding for startups, putting in place incentives for angel investors, match funding, and founding a venture capital firm, Taiwania Capital. The Financial Supervisory Commission even established Taiwan Innovation Board and Pioneer Stock Board to facilitate startups in raising funds on the capital market, which I believe do good to startups.

What is the role of startups in Taiwan's economic development? What are the key industries when we are talking about startups?

Kung: We have a very unique definition of a startup. Not all new companies can be treated as a startup. A startup means new ideas, innovations, or it is formed in a startup community, an accelerator, etc. I think it plays a more active role than in the past. A quick example is that we have been promoting the Asia Silicon Valley Development Plan, to shape a smart city, and boost the innovation for the internet of things, we now have a complete ecosystem. From sensors, gateways and servers, and user applications, we used to be a good original equipment manufacturer, but we failed to provide comprehensive solutions. Traditionally, whether it is a SME or an enterprise, they are less accustomed to doing such things, but startups are different. Startups have fewer limitations, and they are eager to try, and to understand the pain points of consumers and users. Although they are relatively small, they will try to leverage other resources. In that way, for Taiwan, startups play a key role in upgrading or transformation of the industry.This aligned to my own observations. In the past, from PC, mobile, to the IoT era, some considered that we didn't have too many competitive advantages in the mobile era, and blamed it on the limited space in Taiwan, saying that it is difficult to develop a platform. However, after the development of the past few years, facts have proved that this is not the case. A lot of startups in Taiwan, including iKala, are developing their own platforms. Another example, KKday, is a well-developed platform in tourism that started from Taiwan, to Japan, to Southeast Asia, that is the case for iKala and some other startups as well. So I would say, as long as there is such an environment or opportunity, I believe that these startups have the ability to grow and demonstrate their innovations.

What is the key to success for startups?

Cheng: I think the most important thing about a startup is resilience, which can also be used to describe Taiwan. Taiwan is surrounded by the sea, and we have limited resources, but we can have a "protective sacred mountain" of semiconductors, and then we can now develop another startup economy. iKala has come to its tenth anniversary, and we've kept the same spirit throughout the past ten years. We have gone through several transformations. Undergoing transformation is a big deal for a company, both internally and externally, so the foundation and the culture of the company would be very important. One great role model is Acer. Acer is adapting to this digital age with constant transformation, and it remains to be an internationally renowned Taiwanese brand today. 

I often ask myself, if I could turn back the clock, what should I do first? My answer is finding a good business model. There are so many innovation and entrepreneurship activities in Taiwan in recent years. Everyone considers that with the advancement of technology, there would be many interesting topics to come. With mere enthusiasm, people start their own businesses, forming a team, raising funds, but failing to think clearly about the business model. Taiwanese have always been very good professionals. We are very good at solving problems, but we sometimes fail to raise questions, define business models and new markets. If this could happen again, I will look more carefully at my business model, and take the reference of both at home and abroad, especially looking at the more advanced European and American markets. Don't just do it as you like, and not figure out a feasible business model. This would be a waste of time.

How do you look at the international business planning of Taiwanese startups? What are the advantages of Taiwan?

Kung: Different companies may have different business models, but I can simply list some categories here. The first category includes platforms like iKala, Pinkoi and KKday. After a success in the Taiwan market, they continue to expand to Northeast Asia and Southeast Asia. An online platform is not limited to physical distance, and can reach people everywhere, through the Internet. Another category is the integration of software and hardware. It should be a team battle, or say "Team Taiwan". We used to call for proposals for smart cities in the Asia Silicon Valley Development Plan and participate in the smart city exhibition. Some participants from Southeast Asia want to introduce the solution after seeing it in the exhibition. In the past few years, more than 40 of them have been delivered all over the world. We really hope that everyone can gather greater strength and bring this smart city total solution to other countries in the world. 

Cheng: What the Minister said reminds me of Israel, the country in the desert. It is a country in a difficult situation, but it can become a big exporter of agricultural products to Europe—by using intelligent technology. People often say that Taiwan has a small population and a small market. I think that it becomes your limitation when you only look at Taiwan, so we should be like Israel, start by looking at the international market. In the digital age, there is no more physical boundary, especially under the pandemic, everyone is paying attention to digital products. This turned out to be a good opportunity for Taiwan, because even those who did not focus on digital transformation and digitization started to look for good digital solutions. Taiwan has always been a country with a solid foundation, from the textile industry, electronics, to semiconductors, we have a very strong hardware industry. In the past ten years, to us startups, we sometimes feel far away from those traditional enterprises. True, because the distance between hardware and software was a bit far from the beginning, but now companies as traditional hardware and semiconductors are actually undergoing digital transformation. Leaders or business owners in these traditional industries in Taiwan can regard startups as an external innovation team. We even noticed recently that Taiwan's large companies seem to be willing to invest in some startups in the past few years, and then go overseas with them. Startups as an external innovation team of big enterprise, this is where synergy comes from. 

Taiwanese actually do business all over the world in the very beginning, the so-called "going all over the world with just one suitcase". And we just come to another turning point of the digital era. This time, we don't even need to carry a suitcase. We just need to contact the media in Eastern Europe, build up connections with the Japanese market, and we can deliver our products. I think this is a very good opportunity for Taiwan. Taiwanese are very conservative and honest, sometimes we deserve to have 80 or 90 points, but we are too modest to speak it out. I think Taiwanese people are relatively introverted in brand management. We are taking important roles in the supply chain, but we never say that we are vital to the world. When we are building digital brands in the future, I think the concept of branding should be highlighted and now is a turning point for Taiwan to move from behind the scenes to the stage.

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Culture

8 Years in 6 Positions for 3 Products: iKala Sets the Stage for Talent to Flourish

Human-centered is treating employees as the most valuable assets of the company.

Dictated by Yachun Tsai, Lead Engineer, iKala CDP, iKala Cloud 
Written by Iris Hung 

I joined iKala in 2013. From LIVEhouse.in to Straas to CDP; from Mobile to the back end to streaming engineer; from member to leader, I have experienced an incredible journey, one that has presented me with a series of challenges, as well as multiple chances for growth.

I remember the first time I was put in the role of Mobile Engineering Team Lead of LIVEhouse.in. I was nervous but happy that I had been chosen to lead a team of around seven members, after just three years as a full-time worker. I was very grateful for the chance the company had afforded me. However, I eventually discovered that more than managing a team, I wanted to be closer to the development process of a new product. When the company understood I wanted a change of responsibilities, they were less concerned about how to fill my soon-to-be vacant position, and more desirous of seeing a talented person stay with the company and find new room for development. Shortly after, I was transferred to the back-end engineering team. Under the leadership of our colleague, Li-fong, the entire team was a swell of positive energy, and I acquired many back-end engineering skills. 

The change of job positions brought its own challenges, such as the difference in technical know-how and field knowledge. But in terms of the frameworks and concepts, there are quite a few similarities between engineering and product development. A bit later, I was put in charge of the back end of the Straas product; and then, I became the streaming engineer; after that, I was made head of the entire Straas team. The company has devoted every effort to nurturing my career; my only hope is that, when the company has need of me, I will be ready to step up and give something in return. iKala is mindful of every individual's personal growth, and it is careful to place you in a team where the right leader and right team members can help you develop new skills and contribute to the team effort. I think this is closely related to the unique quality of our company: we like to share, and we are not reluctant to teach someone about something they don't know. The culture of the entire company is the catalyst for this kind of camaraderie. It is what helps everyone achieve personal growth and acquire new skills when changing from one job function to another.

Looking back, my different roles and responsibilities have afforded me a more fulfilling experience in my career. I have been given a more complete understanding of our products, and now I can look at new problems from a more all-encompassing perspective. For example, engineers are accustomed to using the work hours it will take to complete a task to evaluate whether a client's request can be fulfilled. But if we looked at this problem from a broader perspective, we would realize there are other questions to be asked. For example: does the client really need this? Is it possible they don't fully grasp what they want? We leverage our in-depth understanding of the product so we can return to our client with counterproposals. Sometimes, there is more than one way to give customers what they want.

In recent years, as the person who's in charge of a whole team, I've spent a lot of my time communicating with team members about our "vision". You must first help everyone understand what the company's ultimate vision and goal is. Once everybody is on board, you can get down to the nitty-gritty and provide individual assistance, such as helping colleagues learn new skills, earn a bigger paycheck, or develop an affinity for the team. In the process of communicating, I can clearly feel the company is willing to listen to its employees, to accept logical counsel, and to strive for a win-win situation.

After so many different roles and responsibilities, I still choose to stay with iKala, precisely because of the people. The company has always offered me a chance to grow. It has given me a platform to develop my abilities, and it has demonstrated that it values and respects the talent of its employees. After more than eight years with iKala, I can say that I like my workplace and my colleagues from the bottom of my heart. I look forward to working harder to make my team and company even better.

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Culture

Human-Centered: A Beautiful Flower Built with Teamwork

Human-centered is treating employees as the most valuable assets of the company.

By Fiona Chou, Senior Vice President of Corporate Business Development & Communication, iKala

human-centered-ai

As anyone who works at iKala will know, "Human-Centered" is the core of iKala's culture and vision. However, some may not know the circumstances that created the concept of "Human-Centered", and how it became the core ideal that drives iKala forward.

I joined iKala at the beginning of 2019. At the time, one of my tasks was to help rebrand the iKala group as "One iKala". Before I came aboard, there was no specific person in charge of branding, public affairs, or corporate communications. Because of this, even though the company had a lot of experience creating new products, there was a relative lack of ability to narrate and promote the story of its brand.

In the past, my experience with corporate brand strategy research and practice has taught me that 90% of companies know little about branding beyond naming their products and describing their functions. That is not true branding. True branding is about fostering a partiality in the minds of clients and customers; so that, in addition to the benefit they gain from buying the product, there is an added value. To the client and customer, a good brand is a sense of trust; a cherished asset; a guarantee. Therefore, before we can create the iKala brand, we need to understand the core values of the company, including the "brand identity", "business philosophy", and "corporate vision". Especially since iKala has such a broad range of products used in different industries and regions, if we did not keep a set of ideals as the unifying basis, it would be easy to lose focus in our messaging.

So, I conducted interviews with our CEO, Sega, to understand why he founded the company; what he learned along the way; and how iKala is unique among other AI-related companies. Sega explained that to his mind, the greatest technological revolution since the Industrial Revolution has been the development of AI. This inspiring new tech should be used to augment humanity's capabilities. Instead of replacing humans, it should be a step towards ensuring our happiness and advancing our society.

This is the basis of iKala's corporate vision of being "Human-Centered".

What's more, to inspire trust, a good brand should adhere to the same rules of character as a human being. That is to say, there needs to be "consistency" and "constancy" in its brand image. If we put iKala under a microscope, we will see that despite the evolution of its products and technologies over time—from cloud-based karaoke services to streaming social platforms, to audio-video platform software services for enterprises, to cloud-based infrastructure, to AI marketing and business technologies—in the end, all these products and services were a combination of technology and humanity, which helped people create more value and achieve greater influence. In other words, they were the actualization of the "Human-Centered" technological empowerment.

Certainly, some have said that "Human-Centered" sounded like a marketing slogan, while others have raised questions about how our vision became the core value of our corporate culture.

In fact, if one looked at the operating guidelines iKala has followed in the past, one could hardly fail to come to the conclusion that the entire operation has always been centered around people. This can be seen from our internal rules and regulations: including our "Peer Review", "Peer Interview", and "Peer Bonus" systems. This is also evident from iKala's six "Human-Centered" core values, which guide the company to this day. Through these guidelines, we hope every member of our team will be able to turn theory into practice when going about their daily tasks. Together, we will build the ideal work environment and corporate identity. 

If we turned our gaze inward, we would see that "Human-Centered" has always existed in iKala's DNA. It's only that, as the company has grown and prospered, the unchanging culture of iKala has advanced with the times, and we should help the company, the team, and the individuals grasp its meaning more clearly by using different methods and practices.

The Japanese entrepreneur Kazuo Inamori famously said: "Great inventions and major discoveries result from continued effort in such tedious, mundane activities." iKala's "Human-Centered" corporate vision and culture has been nurtured by the collective effort of many; by their steadfast stewardship has this beautiful flower bloomed at last.