2015/03/26 by lingdecklee
[The following is an interview by Jessica Kao (EST’s Executive Director) on Chelsea Chen, CEO’s Special Assistant of Zillians, with authorization for publishing on the personal blog of Start Jeffrey Up and the FB page of Entrepreneurs Society of Taiwan (EST).]
1. How would you describe your business or startup to someone you meet for the first time?
Zillians has spent years researching and developing GPU computing and artificial intelligence solutions. Based on our image recognition and deep learning technology, we built CatFi (originally named Bistro), the world’s smartest cat feeder that can track appetite and weight change for cats with innovative cat facial-recognition technology.
2. What appealed to you about this startup idea rather than the many other startups you could have been a part of?
At Zillians, we believe technology can make a profound impact on the world, and our goal is to “make technology that benefits zillions of people.” That’s why we spend many years on developing GPU computing and deep learning technology, where the former can change the way we deal with big data and the latter is one of the emerging trends in artificial intelligence and has a significant effect on the world. We built a deep learning platform called JARVIS.AI and applied its image recognition technologies to our B2C product, CatFi, which can improve not only humans’ but also pets’ lives so that more precious memories can be created between humans and their beloved pets. It appeals to me to be part of a team that is trying to do something meaningful in the world.
3. Who are your target customers and what is your business model?
We target the cat owners who care about their cats’ health. Nowadays, people treat pets as their own children. According to veterinarians, cat owners usually don’t know how much their cats eat or drink, though such information is critical to the cats’ health.
Through the cat database built from CatFi users, we can precisely know every cat’s eating habits as well as health status and can therefore recommend more suitable cat food and feeding strategies for each cat. Partnering up with pet food suppliers, we’ll share the recurring revenue for each sales referrals. We’ll also cooperate with and charge service fees from pet hospitals, as CatFi is a wonderful platform that links veterinarians and pet owners and can help the pet hospitals to build great doctor-patient relationship. With CatFi working like a CRM system, veterinarians can keep track of the cat patients’ current health status, take precautions against their disease and can immediately notify cat owners of any anomalies in their cats’ appetites.
4. Who are some of your direct or indirect competitors? How do you seek to differentiate yourselves?
While there are already many kinds of cat feeders in the market, there’s no product that can help owners track their cats’ dietary status. With the world’s first cat facial-recognition technology, CatFi can help owners to keep track of cat appetite and weight changes for each one of their cats. With GPU-accelerated deep learning technologies which we’ve been working on for many years, we want to revolutionize the pet gadget industry in an innovative way.
5. How are decisions made in your company? The advantages and disadvantages of this process?
As a startup, we adopt a parallel organization structure which encourages every employee to be involved in the decision-making process. Everyone is a stakeholder in the business. The benefit of this structure is that it motivates every employee to contribute to the company’s goals and brings underutilized but talented employees to the forefront. On the other hand, sometimes it may also make decision-making process too long or inefficient compared to traditional hierarchical organizations.
6. What has been your best marketing investment to date?
As a startup, we always try to make the most of limited resources. PR and social media are two of the most efficient marketing solutions to enhance the brand awareness of your business. During our Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign (http://bit.ly/bistro42), we tried to leverage the media resources and was reported by 200+ international media including TIME, WIRED, Engadget, CNET, etc.
1. Why entrepreneurship? Why not entrepreneurship?
No matter being an entrepreneur or not, I think entrepreneurship is a spirit everyone should have. To me, entrepreneurship means you’re willing to face the challenges, to solve the problem and to make positive impacts in the world.
2. What is one great experience you’ve had working on your startup? What is one not-so-great learning experience?
There are always lots of ups and downs on the startup journey. We have made mistakes — lots of mistakes — and try to learn from them. We may fail and fail again until we succeed, but I think the most valuable and memorable parts of my startup journey all came from the mistakes. I cannot tell you which experience was great and which was not, because every experience is a lesson and an opportunity to learn and grow.
3. What helps you keep going in the face of challenges and obstacles?
Doing a startup is just like life — you have to face lots of uncertainty and take risks. It’s uncomfortable and even painful sometimes. When facing the challenges, I always look back at my goal, and try to ask myself, “why do I want to do this?” “Why is it meaningful to me?” “What impact can it make?” Then I’ll keep such answers in mind and carry on.
4. What skill has been most useful to you in your entrepreneurship journey?
The world is changing fast, which means the knowledge you learned yesterday may not work today. Therefore, I think the most important skill nowadays is learning ability. You have to be open minded, be willing to learn new things and learn fast. In a startup, you have to adjust yourself as well as your strategies to the rapidly-changing markets.
5. What do you need to learn or improve to take your business to the next level?
We’re expanding our team and are planning to set up new branch offices in Beijing and Silicon Valley in the next 3 months. To achieve this goal, I need to make myself familiar with these two different places and learn how to run cross-cultural operations.
[Chelsea will be a guest speaker at the upcoming EST event on March 27: EST Woman Entrepreneurs Night. Join us and listen to her startup stories!]