iKala, Taiwan based artificial Intelligence (AI) start-up, announced that it has received US$ 17M in its recent Series B funding round to expand its global footprint.
About the Funding
The Series B round of funding was led by Wistron Digital Technology Holding Company. In addition, existing investors like Hotung Investment Holdings and Pacific Venture Partners also participated in the round.
This strategic investment in iKala marks Wistron Digital’s entry into the Southeast Asia region. Through this partnership, both companies are confident of propelling the region’s digital transformation journey forward and facilitating the development of AI technology and software.
The funding raised from the round will be used to expand into new markets including Indonesia and Malaysia. In addition, it will also be utilised to strengthen iKala’s position in its existing markets like Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Vietnam and Japan.
Furthermore, the fund injection will propel the start-up’s research and development investment. It will drive innovation in AI technologies and lead to digital transformation and integrated solutions for new retail in Southeast Asia and beyond.
This latest round of funding takes the company’s cumulative total funding raised to date to US$ 30.3M. Previously, iKala raised US$ 10M in its Series A round of funding in early last year.
iKala was founded in Taipei in 2011. Headquartered in Taiwan, iKala is an AI-driven digital transformation and data-driven marketing solutions company. A human-centred AI company, iKala’s mission is to “enable AI competencies” of its enterprise customers to increase their customer acquisition capability and customer lifetime value.
Some of its technology products and marketing services include Shoplus, KOL Radar, GCP.expert, StraaS, Picaas, and CloudAD. According to iKala, its marketing solutions are recognized and used by many top international brands including Fortune 500 companies. Till now, more than 400 enterprise customers across 12 industries have used iKala’s technology to transform their business, and reach and sell to their customers through AI. Along with that, over 15,000 advertisers and brands are using iKala’s technology to engage in precision marketing.
Furthermore, iKala is google cloud’s biggest partner in the Asia-Pacific region. It is proudly recognized as “Google Technology Partner” and “Google Cloud Premier Partner”. It is also a “Facebook Partner for Messaging Solution”.
About the Investors
Taipei-based Wistron Digital is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Wistron Corporation. It invests in software application and digital technology and firms, focussing on big data analytics.
Robert Hwang, Vice Chairman & President of New Business, Wistron, commented on the latest investment. “As part of the Fortune Global 500 and as a TSP (Technical Service Provider) company, iKala’s AI and software capabilities will be a value-adding element to Wistron’s long-held and leading hardware industry presence. We have heavily invested ourselves in digital transformation and further creation of new business to provide our clients with new opportunities brought by digital transformation,” said Hwang.
A venture capital investment management group, Hotung Investment Holdings Limited has two business segments: Venture Capital and Fund Management. The company’s fund management segment deals with third party funds in addition to the funds generated from its venture capital business.
Founded in 1990, Pacific Venture Partners is a venture capital firm based in Redwood City, California. The firm mostly invests in sectors like semiconductor, information technology, electronics, communications, market applications, and software.
Statements from iKala
Sega Cheng, co-founder and CEO of iKala, commented on how the funds will help iKala expand. “We’ve been on a strong growth trajectory over the last couple of years, expanding into new markets and developing cutting-edge technology that has put us in a leading position in the region’s digital transformation and commerce space. With this funding, we look forward to exploring new opportunities in AI commerce beyond our existing markets,” said Cheng.
One of iKala’s milestones this year include Dr. Lee-Feng Chien joining as iKala’s board member earlier this year. He was previously the Google Taiwan managing director. According to Dr. Chien, Taiwan has an excellent reputation for having some of the best high tech talents in both hardware and software around the region. Therefore, “with Wistron as a strategic partner, iKala can become a major driving force for transforming Taiwan into an AI industry and talent hub in Asia,” said Dr. Chien.
About iKala Commerce
Following iKala’s exceptional growth in the cloud and digital transformation industry, iKala has established a new division. In June this year, the company started a new division known as iKala Commerce. It consolidates KOL Radar, an AI-powered influencer database, and Shoplus, an AI social selling service. iKala Commerce provides an integrated solution and holistic customer data insights for the region’s social commerce players. Adopting a user-centric approach, both of the solutions use AI to solve business problems.
KOL Radar assists enterprises by providing a solution to effectively evaluating and predicting the efficacy of influencer marketing. KOL Radar relies heavily on the search engines, natural language understanding, and recommendation engine technology. It performs social data analysis and recommends the most optimal internet influencers to companies seeking to advertise.
Shoplus, specially designed for social sellers, is a one-stop online sales assistant. Shoplus provides customer service at scale. It detects and interprets customer language and intent. After that, it combines that with order management, payment, and logistics functions to quickly and efficiently help social sellers provide customer service.
About the Founder
Sega Cheng is the co-founder and current CEO of iKala. In addition to leading iKala, he is also on the boards of Rayark, Gamania, Fuco & Solution, and Junyi Academy. Previously, he served as a member of Youth Advisory Group of Executive Yuan of Taiwan. He used to report directly to the prime minister, and has actively promoted the development of the internet industry since then. Furthermore, he was the winner of the 2015 Pan Wen Yuan Award.
As the co-founder and CEO of iKala, Cheng said, “I’ve guided its transformation from a start-up to an enterprise that positions itself as a Human-Centred 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.”
Cheng commented on the journey of iKala and its growth under his leadership. “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,” said Cheng.
Cloud computing has always been iKala’s core competence. iKala went from operating an online karaoke platform to streaming and cloud infrastructure services to focusing on marketing technology. Despite the switch to different business models over the years, iKala has continued to refine the cloud computing technology at its core.
In 2016, iKala noticed a sea change in the market. The advertising industry went from seeking exposure to looking at efficacy. There was a shift towards performance-based advertising that considers the actual amount of sales made as to the result of advertising. Therefore, it was an appropriate time to introduce machine learning into the equation. In addition to undergoing digital transformation, corporations also needed to engage in precision marketing through machine learning.
iKala responded to this market demand by focusing on cloud computing core competence and using AI to develop data-driven marketing solutions. This has helped corporations in performing extremely effective segmented precision marketing and performance-based advertising.
About Artificial Intelligence
iKala places great emphasis on the fact that it uses human-centred AI (HAI). According to Sega Cheng, one of the most important missions assigned to AI is helping to finish time and effort consuming tasks so that the valuable human mind may be devoted to more creative work.
For example, Picaas, one of iKala’s products, helps humans complete a task more quickly and efficiently. It solves the problems e-commerce businesses and online retailers often face while using Google Shopping Ads. The problem is the failure to successfully advertise because images fail to adhere to requirements. To provide a solution, Picaas combines various deep learning models and uses image segmentation to detect if elements of the ad image fail to meet requirements like manually-added watermarks, promotional texts, frames, or logos in the ad image. After removing the incorrect elements, Picaas uses image in-painting technology to improve the overall integrity and quality of the image, allowing the previously rejected ad to be successfully displayed via Google Shopping Ads.
Basically, it helps ad designers in completing challenging and miscellaneous tasks like image editing. Compared to the traditional method of manually editing an image, Picaas actually assists ad designers work four hundred times faster, saving their time and energy for creativity.
iKala ensures that its inventions must originate from the benevolent goal of trying to help people solve problems. Otherwise, it will lose its way exploring the possibilities of AI without making positive contributions to the human world. In an interview, Sega Cheng provided an example for this situation. “For example, 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.” Compared to that, Picaas strictly adheres to intellectual property rights laws in addition to using similar technology to help businesses reduce the cost and effort of editing images to meet the requirements of Google Shopping Ads. It does not allow consumers or companies to add their own watermarks to images bought from four major stock photo sites: Shutterstock, Getty Images, iStock, and PIXTA.
USP of iKala compared to other MarTech platforms
Specializes in developing AI, iKala applies AI to automation and serves to speed up the workflow. Its services can be expanded to solve problems in all kinds of business situations.
Focusing on the topic of digital transformation, the value proposition is to help enterprises accumulate digital knowledge and data assets. Consequently, it analyzes internal and external data and then initiates various types of data-driven applications. It helps companies set up their own data platforms to compile internal data. In terms of connecting to external data, it provides partnered data platforms such as KOL Radar. This helps companies integrate heterogeneous data from external and internal sources, allowing to conduct more refined analyses of customer data. This will help the companies win new customers while also improving how they engage with their current customer base.
Right now, iKala’s AI technology is mainly based on images. In the near future, it plans to develop applications for audio, video, and animated advertisements. The potential of AI image optimization solutions like Picaas is ever growing. Additionally, iKala also plans to set up shop in six countries in the JPAC region.
MarTech Market in Taiwan
MarTech is the blending of Marketing and Technology. The term is used for the software and technical tools marketers leverage to plan, measure, and execute marketing campaigns. The global MarTech market value is US$ 121.5B.
The number of Taiwanese start-up companies in MarTech is growing. Appier and iKala are the most well-established start-ups in this category. Appier provides the service of using AI data to give brands more accurate digital campaign marketing and analysis. Ikala started out as a live broadcast platform and then established the service to help brands find influencers.
According to statistics, Taiwan has an e-commerce market worth US$ 42.7B. This is two times as large as that of Indonesia, which is the largest economy in Southeast Asia. Therefore, it is a great place to develop a MarTech start-up. E-commerce businesses attach great importance to marketing indicators such as traffic, data analysis, membership management, and marketing conversion rate. Basically, they’re well-positioned to utilise the services of a MarTech start-up.