42-year-old started by turning Instagram photos into phone cases—now, his company brings in $300 million a year

How Casetify turned custom phone cases into $300 million a year in sales
How Casetify turned custom phone cases into $300 million a year in sales

Inspiration struck Wesley Ng as he scrolled Instagram in 2011. People were sharing photos online from their phones. Why not give them the ability to put those photos on their phone cases?

That concept was the genesis of Casetify, the Hong Kong-based tech accessories brand launched 12 years ago by Ng and co-founder Ronald Yeung. Since then, Casetify has sold more than 15 million phone cases, topping $300 million in annual revenue last year, according to the company.

"I think we are one of the first very first brands to be born out of Instagram, and we just grew from there," Ng, Casetify's 42-year-old CEO, tells CNBC Make It.

Turning Casetify into a multimillion-dollar brand meant leveraging a then-burgeoning culture of social media influencers. Early on, Ng sent messages to anyone he saw with lots of Instagram followers, asking if they wanted to turn their photos into customized phone cases.

"We figured out if we get these people to buy our products, [and] if they liked it, they will likely share it to their followers," Ng says. "[That] Instagram influencer strategy ... we've been practicing it since Day 1, literally. And it's been very important to us."

Part of its success came from timing: Casetify's influencer strategy is now common among companies trying to grow without much of a marketing budget, and being a first adopter meant less competition.

The visibility allowed Casetify to extend its reach to bona fide celebrities. In recent years, Casetify has been featured in posts from people like Kylie Jenner. It sells designs by Drake and Olivia Rodrigo, and maintains partnerships with global brands like Disney, NASA and Saint Laurent.

Even with those big names, Casetify's competition is tougher than ever. In an increasingly online marketplace, it can be difficult to stand out without constantly doing something new.

That helps explain some of the company's recent decisions, like unmooring itself exclusively from Instagram. The company says it'll deploy to any new social platform where trends can be found, which is why it offers a collection of designs titled "As Seen on TikTok."

"TikTok is just a natural extension for us," Ng says.

Casetify has also expanded its product offerings — which now include a variety of accessories beyond phone cases — and shifted away from only selling online. In 2018, Nordstrom started selling Casetify products before the startup opened its own retail store in Hong Kong in 2020.

The company now has 25 brick-and-mortar stores, mostly throughout Asia and Australia. The e-commerce approach works for young, social media-savvy customers — and Ng says the expansion is a chance to reach a broader audience, giving shoppers a chance to see the quality of Casetify's products up close before buying.

Casetify's first U.S. location opened last year in Santa Clara, California, and it's experimenting with "style labs" in some cities, including a New York City pop-up that opened last month. At the style labs, shoppers can build their own designs for products that can be ready within 30 minutes — a particular selling point for Ng.

"That's instant gratification," he says.

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