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With the movement of more and more information online, readers are no longer what they once were. Most consumers of online media scrolling on their computers or mobiles would not want to be confronted by walls of text.

Back in 2011, Ai Ching and Andrea realised there was a growing demand for web content to become more visually attractive, and decided to do something about it. They founded Piktochart, a do-it-yourself infographic platform, in a small Penang-based warehouse. With only 4 employees, they had to work almost ceaselessly day and night.

Although their idea took off fairly quickly, it was not easy in any sense. Besides work, other life changes also affected the core members of the team.

Ai Ching shared with Vulcan Post, “At the beginning, Piktochart didn’t pay so well so the whole team sacrificed a lot. I think also in terms of time or balancing commitments, Andrea and I got married the year we started Piktochart. We didn’t have a honeymoon, we flew in between pitching on events, our wedding and going to Silicon Valley on a learning/immersion trip. It was very intense and an experience of a lifetime. A lot of these were in the beginning of Piktochart.”

Beautiful Visuals Made Simple

Image Credit: Piktochart
Image Credit: Piktochart

Piktochart is designed to be easy to use, with various templates, examples and tutorials available, which should be a relief to those of us with little to zero graphic design skills. Creating a basic account (or signing in with your Google or Facebook account) is free. Even with a free account, you can get access to quite a few templates and graphics, which is probably one reason for Piktochart’s popularity.

How this startup makes money is by charging users a monthly or annual payment for access to more features. Their YouTube channel is home to short tutorials to help you use their features better, and they also regularly update their blog with guides and how-tos. There’s also an iPad app for those who want to use it on-the-go.

I used the term startup to refer to Piktochart earlier, and despite having a reported 6.8 million* users signed up, they consider themselves very much one still. “We’re still experimenting with products, making new things and making mistakes all the time. We also have not implemented too many processes although now we are—otherwise we can’t scale. We may have learned to make 1 thing scalable but scaling all the products is hard,” said Ai Ching.

* Editor’s note: Ai Ching has clarified the actual number of users signed up is 6.8 million, instead of the previous figure stated. 

Growing The Team To Reach The Users

The Piktochart team at the #PiktoRetreat2016 in Maldives. Image Credit: Piktochart
The Piktochart team at the #PiktoRetreat2016 in Maldives. (Image Credit: Piktochart)

The team culture at Piktochart, according to Ai Ching, is one that is like a family. One fun fact about the company, their customer service team is known as the team working on customer delight.

At the company, they practice what she called “radical candour”. She said, “Being a good boss and colleague sometimes is all about giving feedback, being able to get the message across and help someone improve. Before, I wasn’t able to give direct feedback and would sugar coat my words. It was so difficult to let people go because I did not have enough courage to say it. Now I usually give feedback within 24 hours and it empowers my whole team to dare give feedback in turn.”

Piktochart employs over 50 employees and most are still based in their office in Penang. They also have quite a few expats employed in their company, so moving somewhere more convenient might make more sense. However, Ai Ching shared that a move might be in the works but they wouldn’t want to leave the island state behind without having a good reason (who would want to leave all the good food anyway?).

“We have debated this for some time and soon may have to find another solution. We looked at KL and Singapore but found the same issue—everyone is still fighting for talent. If moving there doesn’t solve it… then we shouldn’t. We don’t have any other reasons to move from Penang apart from finding more talent!” she said.

A Global Reach And Continued Growth

Screenshot of the first part of the interactive infographic on the Piktochart website.
Screenshot of the first part of the interactive infographic on the Piktochart website.

Piktochart has gained worldwide recognition, and a quick Google search will bring up examples of it being used in all sorts of settings and the stories that accompany it (one example here).

Ai Ching shared that one of her favourite uses of the Piktochart features was several years back.  She said, “Some healthcare company cleverly used Piktochart as a landing page. Each tab you clicked on (they programmed it) links to a landing page with a Piktochart Infographic within it. Unfortunately, I lost track of that website; it was during the days when I did customer delight myself so it’s a long time ago!”

The team also shared some of the strategies they employed to grow to what they are today.

Strategy no 1: Don’t hire people until you really need them or when you can really afford to (Strategy 1a: Get 1 really good person versus 3 people to cover 1 person’s role).

Strategy no 2: Take a very minimal salary but pay yourself back the second you can afford to.

Strategy no 3: Think about ways of charging users from day 1.

Strategy no 4: It’s good to be prudent with finances. We’ve only started spending in the recent 2 years.

Ai Ching has her own personal words of encouragement for anyone who looks at Piktochart and wishes to emulate their success. “At the end of the day, no matter how much of mess I make, everything is going according to a divine plan anyway. I have a lot of doubts; I usually refocus and look at the data points and remember how I arrived at that decision. You don’t have to listen to the conventional wisdom—do what is right for you and your company.”

Feature Image Credit: Piktochart

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(UEN 201431998C.)

Vulcan Post aims to be the knowledge hub of Singapore and Malaysia.

© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)