Interview with Co-founder and CEO, iKala – Sega Cheng


“The advertising industry went from seeking exposure to looking at efficacy”

1. Tell us about your role in iKala?
As the Co-founder and CEO of iKala, I’ve guided its transformation from a startup to an enterprise that positions itself as a Human-Centered AI Marketing Technology Company. I’ve maintained a spirit of openness and entrepreneurship as I helped iKala create its long-term strategy, business plan, market strategy, and the direction of development for all its products.Based in Taiwan and aiming for the world, iKala began with 30 people when founded in 2011, we now have 130 employees working in six offices in Taiwan, Singapore, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, and Hong Kong. At the same time, our business model has shifted toward B2B (business-to-business), and we now focus on providing “Digital Transformation” and “Data-Driven Marketing” products and solutions for corporate clients. We’ve served nearly three hundred corporate clients in the JAPAC region. Our products and quality of service have also become more reliable and secure.

2. Can you tell us about your journey into this market?
Cloud computing has always been our core competence. Despite the switch to different business models over the years—we went from operating an online karaoke platform to streaming and cloud infrastructure services to our current focus on marketing technology (Martech)—iKala has continued to refine the cloud computing technology at its core.

In 2016, we saw a sea change in the market.

The advertising industry went from seeking exposure to looking at efficacy.

In short, it’s a shift toward “performance-based advertising” that looks at the actual amount of sales made as to the result of advertising. Therefore, it was time to introduce machine learning into the equation. Corporations not only had to undergo digital transformation, they also needed to engage in precision marketing through machine learning.

We saw this business pain point very clearly. We responded to market demand by focusing on our cloud computing core competence and using AI to develop data-driven marketing solutions. This helped corporations perform highly effective segmented precision marketing and performance-based advertising.

3. How do you think technology is upgrading the marketing Sector?
Big data and machine learning are certainly two key technologies that will help industries upgrade themselves. Out of the various tools we have at our disposal, “Big Data Lake” is especially important. It can help enterprises begin to integrate internal data and ingest external data, so they can advance to the next phase of utilizing data. To take iKala as an example, we are what’s known as a cloud-native company. In the eight years of our existence, we’ve always combined big data with machine learning to create our products.

For instance, look at Picaas, we recently launched AI smart image editing solution. This is the world-first commercialized application of Deepfake concepts in the field of marketing technology. Picaas uses powerful deep learning and AI automatic image editing functions to achieve mass image adjustment in 2.2 seconds. It makes sure your ad images adhere to the strict requirements of Google Shopping Ads, and it allows ecommerce businesses to advertise tens of thousands of products in one go, without fear of ads being rejected because they failed to meet certain requirements.

4. How do you think the application of AI has eased functions of marketing professionals?
One of the most important missions assigned to artificial intelligence is helping to finish time- and effort-consuming tasks so the valuable human mind may be devoted to more creative work. To use Picaas as an example, it solves problems e-commerce businesses and online retailers often face when using Google Shopping Ads, which is the failure to successfully advertise because images failed to adhere to requirements. Picaas combines various deep learning models and uses image segmentation to detect if elements of the ad image failed to meet requirements (such as manually-added watermarks, promotional texts, frames, or logos in the ad image). After removing the incorrect elements, Picaas uses image inpainting technology to improve the overall integrity and quality of the image, which allows the previously rejected ad to be successfully displayed via Google Shopping Ads. Picaas helps ad designers complete tedious and miscellaneous tasks such as image editing. Compared with the conventional method of manually editing an image, Picaas helps ad designers work four hundred times faster, so they can save their time for creativity.<

5. How do you define your products Shoplus and KOL Radar?
KOL Radar helps enterprises solve the problem of how to effectively evaluate and predict the efficacy of influencer marketing. Shoplus is a one-stop online sales assistant specially designed for social sellers. Both solutions adopt a user-centric approach that uses AI to solve business problems. KOL Radar relies heavily on the search engines, natural language understanding, and recommendation engine technology to perform social data analysis and recommend the most optimal internet influencers to companies seeking to advertise. Shoplus provides customer service at scale; it detects and interprets customer language and intent, then combines it with order management, payment, and logistics functions to quickly and efficiently help social sellers provide customer service.

6. How do you differentiate your MarTech platforms from other such software?
To use Picaas as an example, iKala specializes in developing AI and applying it to automation that serves to speed up the workflow. Our services can be expanded to solve problems in all kinds of business situations.

If we focus on the topic of digital transformation, then our value proposition is to help enterprises accumulate digital knowledge and data assets, analyze internal and external data, then initiate various types of data-driven applications. We help companies set up their own data platforms to compile internal data. In terms of connecting to external data, we provide partnered data platforms such as KOL Radar. This helps companies integrate heterogeneous data from external and internal sources, allowing them to conduct more refined analyses of customer data. It will not only help them win new customers but also improve how they engage with their current customer base.

7. What advice would you like to give to the technology Start-Ups?
Forming a positive, synergistic partnership is far more important than destructive competition. Here at iKala, we are also in the process of establishing an open ecosystem. We welcome friendly entrepreneurs to exchange know-how and trade sources with us, so we can achieve a win-win situation.

8. What is the Digital innovation in sales technology according to you that will mark 2019?
The proliferation of the Internet of things, artificial intelligence, and machine learning have brought us a large amount of usable data. Cloud computing facilities also make it easier for enterprises to utilize big data at a lower price. It is essential for corporations to learn how to organize, analyze, and utilize these so-called big data. An early adopter with analytical capabilities may gain valuable insight from the data, improving the precision and application of their marketing or sales strategies.

9. How do you prepare for an AI-Centric world?
We place great emphasis on the fact we use HAI: human-centered AI.  Our inventions must originate from the benevolent goal of trying to help people solve problems, or we will lose our way exploring the possibilities of AI without making positive or helpful contributions to the human world. For instance, the controversial app Deepnude, which was recently shut down after receiving massive backlash, is an example of using AI applications the wrong way. It did not originate from an effort to help people solve problems. In contrast, our product Picaas not only uses similar technology to help businesses reduce the cost and effort of editing images to meet the requirements of Google Shopping Ads, it also strictly adheres to intellectual property rights laws. It prohibits consumers or companies from adding their own watermarks to images bought from four major stock photo sites: Shutterstock, Getty Images, iStock, and PIXTA.

10. What are the major developments you are planning, in recent times?
Right now, our AI technology is mainly based on images. In the near future, we will develop applications for audio, video, and animated advertisements. We also plan to set up shop in six countries in the JPAC region. And of course, the potential of AI image optimization solutions such as Picaas is endless.

11. Can you tell us about your team and how it supports you?
The entire iKala team is very talented. Many came from first-tier tech companies such as Google, Yahoo, and IBM. Nearly half of our team members have technical backgrounds, and we have professionals from various other disciplines as well. The gender mix is half and half. Besides having their own special fields of expertise and a reliable work attitude, the most extraordinary thing about our staff is their innovative qualities, as well as their willingness to try different solutions and to keep up with the times. These characteristics are what make them a formidable team of well-rounded talents.

12. Which is the Movie that inspires you the most?
Rather than movies, I’ve always enjoyed reading fiction, prose, comics, and reference books more. “JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure” has always been one of my favorite comic series. The author uses boundless imagination to create a persuasive fictional world. I also greatly admire the hero’s indomitable spirit, and how he never bows down to fate no matter what kind of obstacle or challenge is thrown his way.

13. We have heard that you have a very joyful work culture, so can you share with us some of the fun pictures of your workplace?
iKala is convinced talents are the foundation of any corporation. iKala respects the opinion of all our employees, and we utilize a peer-based system when it comes to career advancement, such as Peer Review, Peer Interview, and Peer Bonus.

We try to create a cheerful and positive atmosphere by offering open office space and building a youthful and creative team. What’s more, all employees may request to work from home (WFH) and unlimited free snacks, self-serve coffee bar, movies, company trips, employee physical exams, employee training subsidies, etc. are benefits all iKalarians received.

14. Can you give us a glance of the applications you use on your phone?
Some of my most-used apps are  Slack, Evernote, pocket (online article documentation),   speech to text,  Linkedin and Google Lens.

Sega is the co-founder and CEO of a Taiwan-originated pioneering AI marketing technology company, iKala, with operations in pan-Asia and focusing on using cloud and AI for social commerce and influencer marketing. He is also sitting on the boards of Rayark, Gamania, Fuco & Solution, and Junyi Academy. He had served as a member of Youth Advisory Group of Executive Yuan of Taiwan, reporting directly to the prime minister, and actively promoted the development of the internet industry ever since then. He was the winner of the 2015 Pan Wen Yuan Award.

iKala is a Human-centered AI company that provides Digital Transformation and Data-Driven Marketing solutions for enterprises. Its technology products and marketing services include Shoplus, KOL Radar,, StraaS, Picaas, and CloudAD. Headquartered in Taiwan and operates in Singapore, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, and Hong Kong, iKala solutions are recognized and used by international brands, including Fortune 500 companies. Over 10,000 advertisers and brands are already using technology developed by iKala to engage in precision marketing.
iKala is Google Cloud’s biggest partner in the Asia-Pacific region and a Facebook Global Marketing Solution Partner.

For more information please visit our Website.

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