Interview | Whale Founder Ye Shengxuan: Empowering Brands with Technology, Helping Chinese Companies Build Their Own Brands
"The era of pure e-commerce will soon come to an end, and in the next ten or twenty years, there will only be the term new retail, where online and offline and logistics must be combined together to give birth to a truly new retail." Starting from 2017, along with the concept of "new retail" proposed by Jack Ma, various new consumption models have emerged and have had extremely far-reaching impacts. For example, in recent years, new consumer brands such as Yuanqi Forest, Xi Cha and Perfect Diary, which are highly sought after by young people, have been developing at a rapid pace.
In the new consumer brands behind the rapid progress, technology is an important driving force. With the mature brand store traffic growth gradually weak, online traffic costs remain high in the background, the integration of online and offline become a major trend. In this wave of online and offline integration, how to empower retail brands and channels through cutting-edge technology, so that they can refine their operations through data-driven and create an interactive offline shopping experience has become one of the important breakthroughs.
It is in this context that Whale was born. As a digital marketing technology service provider, Whale features "offline data feeds online operations", and specializes in building intelligent marketing systems for brands with offline data collection, analysis, and insights across the entire chain, which is favored by retail and new consumer brands.
Looking back at the time when he started his business, Mr. Ye pointed out that besides the dramatic changes in the domestic market, his personal hobby and his expertise were also important reasons. "The only way to get twice the result with half the effort is to be good at what you are good at and what you are interested in.
After graduating from the University of Virginia with a double major in computer science and economics, Mr. Ye studied at the California Institute of Technology for a master's degree in computing and neurosystems under Christof Koch, a renowned American neuroscientist and current president and chief scientist of the Allen Institute for Brain Science, where he studied decision making and behavioral analysis. He then went on to hold positions at Harvard Business School and Facebook.
"I can say that I have always had a Tech background, but I didn't want to just do research in the lab, but I wanted to really apply what I learned to practice." Ye said, compared with working in a large factory, entrepreneurship is certainly more suitable for him to advocate freedom, but more importantly, it has a greater imagination space. Therefore, in 2017, he listened to his heart's call and resolutely resigned from Facebook to start his own business in China, starting his next journey.
Digital empowerment to help brands grow
"I look forward to supporting China's future brands through technology and helping them to grow and thrive." At the end of 2017, Mr. Ye returned to China and founded "Weiwo Wu", and the company later changed its name to "Weiwojiangxin", but the word "Weiwo" has been retained. Coming from a technical background, he expects the company to be the enabler behind the growth of Chinese brands, empowering companies with technology.
That's why from the beginning of the company, he insisted on product and technology-oriented, combining AI (artificial intelligence), IoT (Internet of Things) and Data (data) effectively, solving the problem of online and offline fragmentation, and providing digital marketing solutions for brands, thus helping them to increase sales conversion rate.
According to Mr. Ye, Whale currently has four main products.
The first product, Whale Space Data Platform, is a space data platform dedicated to creating a digital omnichannel "store of the future" for retail brands. "You can understand it as the reconfiguration and upgrade of "people, goods and fields" in the retail industry." He explained that there is CDP for 'people', PIM for 'goods' and SDP for 'field', and for 'field', Whale has the ability to collect data online and offline, thus helping customers to solve three things.
Space operation intelligence: There is a data governance system for the standardized operation of "field" to standardize the offline marketing actions. For example, if a brand wants to do standardized displays in stores during specific holidays, the system can standardize this set of displays.
Online and offline data collection and analysis: for Moment of Truth (MOT), consumers are now making decisions online and offline at the same time. In this case, a whole set of data is needed to do analysis. With the help of spatial data platform, brands can realize the effective connection between online and offline, specifically, the connection between online and offline is mainly divided into two parts: the first part is the operation connection, all the operation system should be integrated. For example, some international famous sports brands, their online and offline have a lot of repeated MOT, that is, the intersection of consumer journey in it, which requires unified operation, rather than online and offline use two different systems. The second part is to connect the data. Once the data is collected, there are many ways to connect the data. For example, if a brand wants to do an LBS campaign, it can put an advertisement in the form of SMS within 2 km of the store to attract traffic to the store. In this process, digital penetration can be done on the basis of operational penetration.
Online and offline unified private domain membership operation: the collected data will be used to help brands put their own membership system into operation.
The second product is Whale Marketing Cloud. It is an all-in-one marketing cloud solution that is data-driven, collaboration-first, and easy to deploy. It consists of five modules: Digital Asset Management (DAM), Customer Data Platform (CDP), Marketing Automation Platform (MAP), Digital Touchpoint Management (TPM) and Analytics, which together empower brands to grow across the board. "Whale Marketing Cloud improves brand marketing efficiency and ROI with Data and AI, enabling brand marketing to adapt to the dynamics of the consumer journey and allowing brands to understand their customers better." Through the marketing automation platform, brands can not only realize ad placement and open up effectiveness data, but also make cross-scene, cross-end and cross-channel brand promotion precipitable, traceable, optimizable and sustainable. At the same time, it can also store consumer data assets with brand as the dimension, forming a long-term and sustainable brand growth model. From marketing content management to marketing process management, the complex marketing play is broken down into a few simple steps for deployment, and a successful marketing campaign can be created in a short time.
The third product is Whale Open Platform, which can be understood as a service to help IoT devices in commercialization scenarios to develop and debug, data analysis, remote control and so on. The devices are not only "connected", but also play a direct role in the business. It can be said that Whale Open Platform has built a "cloud-native platform". Here, "cloud computing" is not a slogan, but a solidly embedded enterprise action.
The fourth product is compliance management, which allows customers' applications to comply with personal information protection laws while increasing user trust and product transparency.
"The four major product lines complement each other and work together to build a region-wide digital marketing operation system." Shengxuan Ye pointed out that the state of online and offline fragmentation that exists in the retail industry has largely restricted the development of businesses. With Whale's products and technologies, it will be able to effectively solve these challenges.
Build a solid moat through technology and experience
Facing the digital wave, more and more brands have recognized the importance of digital transformation and started to embrace it proactively. IDC predicts that by 2024, 70% of China's IT budget will come from digital innovation/digital transformation. And as digital transformation deepens across industries, the market is becoming increasingly competitive. So what are Whale's competitive advantages over other companies?
In the opinion of Shengxuan Ye, Whale's advantages are mainly in two areas: the first is technical capability. "Our team is 70% technology, and technology is our innate DNA," he said, adding that the core members of Whale's team come from well-known companies at home and abroad, such as Facebook, Mingluo Technology, Jingdong and Xiaomi, and span hardware, embedded, machine vision, data algorithms, product development, etc. They span from hardware, embedded, machine vision, data algorithm, product development and other fields. With such a group of talents, Whale has built up a digital marketing solution to better empower brands with digital and better connect people, goods and fields.
The "New Retail Lab" created by Whale and Midea is a typical example. Inside the store, Whale will deploy the customer flow system, security system, sensors, interactive screen and inventory system with artificial intelligence algorithm.
With the help of these systems, the United States is not only able to achieve the integration of customer information, product information, inventory information and other such isolated data, to achieve personalized content recommendations, dynamic discounts, pricing and other precision marketing for thousands of people, but also operators can implement content material management for all screens in the store through the background, freeing employees from the daily repetitive work and greatly improving operational efficiency. Especially worth mentioning is that with Whale's empowerment, the "New Retail Lab" of the United States has opened the closed loop of consumer purchase from offline to online, effectively enhancing the brand's fine operation and lean growth of the private domain.
The second is the accumulation and precipitation of service experience. Whale has been serving only brand customers since its establishment, and has accumulated rich service experience after 5 years of cultivation. At the same time, these experiences have been verified and improved in practice, forming a virtuous cycle. It is reported that Whale has served many consumer brands and retail giants, including well-known brands such as Midea, Sibe, Unilever, Carrefour, Watson's, etc., as well as many new consumer products such as Bubble Mart and Azure Auto, and has accumulated years of industry reputation.
At the same time, capital is also extraordinarily optimistic about Whale's model. Since its inception, Whale has received multiple rounds of funding. The most recent public funding was in October 2021, when Whale closed a $50 million Series B round of funding. Last year, Whale was named to the "2021 Hangzhou Prospective Unicorn List". Whale is already like a rising star in the enterprise service track, and has shown great potential. But this is obviously not enough to satisfy Ye's "ambition".
Shengxuan Ye points out that, overall, digital marketing is a very large market, and more importantly, the industry is far from saturation, and still has huge potential for development. "This also means that there are more opportunities for us." He revealed that "our ultimate vision is to empower brands through technology and help Chinese companies build their own brands." The sea is wide and the sky is high for birds to fly. We also expect that Whale will be able to break into a bigger world under the leadership of Mr. Ye.