Instagram photos on phone cases earning millions
Inspiration struck Wesley Ng as he was scrolling through Instagram in 2011. People were sharing photos online from their phones. Why not give them the opportunity to put these photos on their phone cases?
This concept was the origin of Casetify, the Hong Kong-based tech accessories brand launched 12 years ago by Ng and his co-founder Ronald Yeung. Since then, Casetify has sold more than 15 million phone cases, surpassing $300 million in annual revenue last year, according to the company.
“I think we’re one of the very first brands to be born on Instagram, and we just grew from there,” Ng, CEO of Casetify, 42, told CNBC Make It.
Turning Casetify into a multi-million dollar brand meant tapping into a then burgeoning culture of social media influencers. Early on, Ng messaged everyone he saw with lots of Instagram followers, asking if they wanted to turn their photos into personalized phone cases.
“We understood if we got these people to buy our products, [and] if they liked it, they will probably share it with their followers,” Ng says.[That] Instagram influencer strategy…we’ve been doing it since day 1, literally. And that was very important to us.”
Part of its success is due to timing: Casetify’s influencer strategy is now common among companies trying to grow without a lot of marketing dollars, and being an early adopter meant less competition.
The exposure has allowed Casetify to expand its reach to bonafide celebrities. In recent years, Casetify has been featured in posts from people like Kylie Jenner. She sells designs by Drake and Olivia Rodrigo and maintains partnerships with global brands like Disney, NASA and Saint Laurent.
Even with these big names, the competition from Casetify is tougher than ever. In an increasingly online market, it can be difficult to stand out without constantly doing something new.
This helps explain some of the company’s recent decisions, like coming off exclusively from Instagram. The company says it will roll out on any new social platforms where trends can be found, which is why it offers a collection of designs called “As Seen on TikTok”.
“TikTok is just a natural extension for us,” says Ng.
Casetify has also expanded its product offerings – which now include a variety of accessories beyond phone cases – and moved away from selling online only. In 2018, Nordstrom started selling Casetify products before the startup opened its own retail store in Hong Kong in 2020.
The company now has 25 physical stores, mainly in Asia and Australia. The e-commerce approach works for young, social media-savvy customers – and Ng says the expansion is a chance to reach a wider audience, giving shoppers a chance to see the quality of Casetify’s products up close before to buy.
Casetify’s first US location opened last year in Santa Clara, Calif., and it’s experimenting with “style labs” in select cities, including a pop-up in New York that opened last month. In the styling labs, buyers can create their own product designs that can be ready in 30 minutes – a particular selling point for Ng.
“It’s instant gratification,” he says.
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