Henson Tsai (BSc Mathematics with Statistics for Finance 2017), is founder of thriving Hong Kong-based social commerce platform, SleekFlow.
We caught up with Henson to hear about how his interests have developed since he was a student at Imperial.
You may find Henson’s story particularly inspiring if you are a budding entrepreneur, or if you are considering a career in tech!
What did you learn during your time at Imperial, in class or out?
Imperial’s dynamic technology and start up culture has shaped me into who I am today.
Dr Ryan Barnett was my second-year project tutor on quantum physics. He is the person who taught me to see things in a different way and to think one step ahead.
Beyond the classroom, I picked up cycling during my second year at Imperial. Riding with the Cycling Club in Box Hill remains one of my most remarkable university memories, as we would tackle the steep hills and learn about the importance of perseverance as a team. To this day, cycling helps me to stay focused under pressure and reminds me to always celebrate the small wins in life.
Can you tell us about your studies at Imperial?
I think it was the best decision of my life to study mathematics as my university major.
Mathematics is an exciting and varied degree that can open a lot of opportunities up for students. The study of mathematics has made me better at solving problems logically, and it has given me skills that I can use across other subjects and apply in many different job roles.
Who did you find inspiring at Imperial and why?
Everyone knows that he is a distinguished chess player. I recall how he would often use analogies from chess to teach us various life philosophies!
What is your fondest memory of your time here?
Definitely living in Beit Hall! I was able to connect with a lot of international students here, allowing me to really learn about other types of cultures.
What is your favourite place at Imperial and why?
I would say the common room in the Huxley Building, where I got to meet lots of inspiring people from Mathematics and Computer Science. Exchanging ideas here was easy, and I learnt a lot of things that were beyond the textbook.
For example, it was here that I heard about a company called DataRobot, which inspired me to explore more about machine learning and data engineering!
Tell us a bit about the work you’re doing now.
I started my own technology company, SleekFlow, back in 2019 as a solo founder.
SleekFlow is a game-changing, all-in-one communication software as service (SaaS) platform specialising in social commerce, helping small merchants and enterprises to sell better on social platforms with the help of intelligent workflow and marketing automation.
Today we have more than 2,000 enterprise customers across Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brazil, South Africa, and the UK. We have also raised a round of funding from Alibaba to scale our growth in South-East Asia (read more about that here).
How has what you learnt at Imperial helped you in your career so far?
I have learnt that both entrepreneurship and science are all about trial and error – just keep trying, making hypotheses and failing! Don’t be afraid to fall, as one day you will find the path to success.
What have been your career highlights and lowlights?
I started my first venture after quitting my job as a management consultant at EY. I worked on a food takeaway project together with two of SleekFlow’s founding engineers, but the business model simply didn’t work in an already crowded market in Hong Kong. However, I believe that business is all about ‘fail fast, fail often.’
We pivoted just after three months of launching a minimum viable product, as we begun to realise that the restaurants and merchants simply weren’t checking their tablets for takeaway orders, and our team had to send them a WhatsApp reminder every time…
This inspired us to begin developing an omnichannel messaging and social commerce platform. I talked to over 1,000 people from different industries to gather ideas and went on to launch SleekFlow’s products in under six months. It turns out the market demand is absolutely huge, especially in the Southeast countries where they focus on a mobile-first commerce experience.
We have recently reached the seven-digit USD annual recurring revenue mark and have raised our first institutional round from Alibaba – definitely a highlight! (Read more about that here).
What does a typical day look like for you now?
Now that the first step is done, I have to think about ways to scale our growth! I currently spend most of my time mentoring our teams, talking to our clients for iteration of our products and hiring passionate people in different countries to join our teams.
I never know where a start up will eventually take me, but I have been enjoying every part of this wonderful journey!
What are your plans for the future?
Expanding into Southeast Asia – we have been setting up offices in Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia, hiring the best people to join this rocket ship!
We are also building some interesting features for commerce, e.g., around payments and more advanced automation across platforms. We have a mission to revolutionise the way businesses sell via social channels!
What would be your advice for current students?
Stay hungry, stay foolish! Never be satisfied and always push yourself. Also learn to be humble. Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.
What makes you proud to be an Imperial alumnus?
You get to meet a lot of wonderful people and strive for the best in a competitive environment.
How would you describe Imperial alumni?
Imperial alumni are adventurous!
Do you have a favourite quote or saying?
“If you are a wolf chasing rabbits, focus on one rabbit. Change yourself to catch the rabbit, but don’t change rabbits”. – Jack Ma.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?