I'm Ching Goh, co founder and CEO of Piktochart and Piktostory. AMA! 🙋🏻‍♀️

Hi founders, I’ve co-founded Piktochart together with my husband 10 years ago. Today, we’re 2 startups, (one profitable, one not yet), and have added an extra family member :star_struck:

Piktochart is a business storytelling tool that helps turn complex information into digestible visuals. Piktostory is a video repurposing app that highlights short clips from existing webinars/footages.

Our founding story is unique as we decided to become entrepreneurs after a 3 months bed-ridden experience at the age of 25, caused by a work-related burn out.

I am happy to chat about anything, but here are a couple of areas to get us going:

  • Business storytelling and why it matters
  • Assembling a world class team in Asia
  • Working in an all-remote environment across 3 time zones: 65% Asia, 30% Europe time zone, 5% US
  • No-Mondays’ blues policy
  • Living life backwards, and a founder’s introspection of the “why”

Love to get your questions and see you on Thurs 25th Feb!

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This February 25th, we’re unspeakably excited about hosting Piktochart’s co-founder and CEO, Ai Ching Goh. From figuring a sustainable operating cadence for remote work to being product-led and creating an exemplary, global SaaS brand out of Asia, Ai Ching and team have quietly amassed many early milestones years before they became mainstream.

Across the decade or so of scaling Piktochart, she has also continued chronicling the team’s ‘tumultuous yet rewarding’ journey in her writings. Casting a discerning (ultimately edifying) eye on subjects like: what stymies innovation, the lifelong apprenticeship all leaders must commit to, the messy middle of startup culture, and more!

Ai Ching’s brain-pickings: :raised_hands:

Here are some incredibly interesting insights and interview excerpts to help you understand her thought process and expertise better. Dive in!

On writing incredibly vulnerable letters to potential senior hires:

“What I do is, not with the JD because that’s public to the world. I write a letter to my future, for example, VP of (x), there I put a SWOT analysis of the company based on what I think the respective team is struggling with and what I would want the person to do. And all in a very transparent way. I share that with a few candidates that I’m having a very good conversation with.

It’s like my secret, usually I go around LinkedIn or whatever, whenever I have a good sense that this person could be a good fit. Then I’ll send them [this letter]. Because it’s not easy. Why would they trust a company based all the way in Malaysia, you know bootstrapped, not funded? It’s tough for them to have that trust.

There’s nothing on the document. It’s all the bad stuff. That’s why I need the person to realise that you’re joining a company and these are the things. ‘The upsides I hope you discover.’ Most of the time, they’re like ‘you didn’t tell me they’re such nice people in the organisation.’ I’m like ‘yeah, but that’s for you to discover.’ The biggest part for me is that I need to paint a bleak picture. Because the right person will find this very challenging, saying, ‘I want this and I want this right now.’"

Source: EP 29 | Goh Ai Ching - On Building An All-In-One Visual Communication Tool: Piktochart

On why making decisions without sufficient data can be easier than we think:

“Making decisions based on incomplete data and making bets is actually easier than what people think. I quoted somebody I knew, they said, when they decide to work on new projects, new verticals, you’d imagine that they’ll sit through management meetings with reports from analysts and call this consultancy firm or that firm. Actually the process has nothing to do with that.

It’s about putting across a hypothesis. Of course, there are some numbers involved but not overly worked up. And then you just put it to test in the real world. That is the only thing you got to do. I think that is something quite easy to do but people, a lot of people in my team as well overthink this part…

I feel like it’s not that tough to put out a small experiment to test whether an idea has legs vs. like spending years on developing something and, then, after that disproving it. Somehow the mentality is like, ‘no, just showing a Figma prototype isn’t going to be good enough to build it, we need to be more high-fidelity.’ I’m very against that. I’m more for ‘you’ve got to put your idea outside, no matter how much research or data you put into this; it’s not going to yield results.”

Source: EP 29 | Goh Ai Ching - On Building An All-In-One Visual Communication Tool: Piktochart

On the connection between growth plateaus and under-investing in training:

We need to focus on people development. Business management guru Tom Peters says that the Chief Training Officer should be the highest paid official in the organization. CEOs often under-invest in training. People usually see mandatory training as a time-waster, and I could see that Piktochart was also falling into the same pattern. I now realize that training or developing our people is the most important agenda for any company that has reached a mass of about 10 people. It’s never too early to start thinking about training.

‘Insanity is when you try the same thing over and over again and expect different results.’ ~ Albert Einstein

With the company currently trying to move out of a growth plateau, the above quote really resonates with me. As a company with a relatively healthy employee attrition rate (15 percent until 2019), we have people who have been with us for years. While we recognize their loyalty, we also need to recognize that skill-sets need to evolve, and given the right training, our team members can grow better with the organization.

During our performance evaluation to build agile and self-organized teams, we looked at the following areas:

  • Performance evaluations on a bi-annual basis. Currently proposing to go with continuous performance management.
  • One-on-one meetings weekly instead of monthly to help managers and employees give timely feedback to help them grow in their role.
  • Personal development plans (including budget) to be owned by the individual, and not the manager.
  • Introducing Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) to inspire individuals to dream big and help them stretch their potential.
  • Regular retrospective at leadership and team level to learn what’s not working and how can we do better at every cycle.

Source: Confessions of a CEO: Piktochart in 2019

On recognizing the need to be strategic:

"I wish someone told me how important it is to grow myself in order to grow the company. It’s easy to become totally operational and forget the most important thing that a leader has to do, which is to be strategic.

I also wish someone told me strategy is not such a fearsome word. It is about understanding your roots and the world around you, taking stock of what you have and knowing where you want to go and how to get there."

Source: Ai-Ching Goh: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Piktochart

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Hey Ai Ching,

Thanks for taking the time for this session! :slightly_smiling_face:

Piktochart has had such an inspirational journey, serving millions of users, building a great B2B2C SaaS brand, all bootstrapped out of Malaysia!

Your tip on writing vulnerable letters to potential senior hires seems brilliant and unheard of. Really admire the way you’d want people to see what needs to change/improve at Piktochart as vividly as possible and leave the usually-trumpeted merits of culture for them to discover on their own. I’m curious to learn, what challenges/setbacks led you to it? And what are some of the other things you prioritize while onboarding senior hires during their first few months?

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Hey Ai Ching,

Thanks for doing this!

So glad to have you on Relay!

Your thoughts on inculcating ‘bias for action’ as a core value across the org resonated a lot. You also emphasised on the hypothesis-driven mindset necessary to making it a reality. As someone who obsesses over operationalising both the tangibles and the intangibles in an org, I’d love to understand, in what ways have you had success in embedding that experimental approach to work, into Piktochart’s OKRs?

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Super excited about this Ai. I have 2 questions:

  1. What is " * No-Mondays’ blues policy" :slight_smile:
  2. On the vulnerable letters - did you see a difference in how it was received in different cultural contexts. Asians are anyways more self-critical and tentative so I am assuming it works well there. But what about US and Europe? I especially like the idea because it plays well with the different psychological tests that have shown if you mention 3 negative things, the other person struggles harder to find negatives and overall lands up with a more positive impression :slight_smile:
    Thanks for sharing your time!
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Hey Ai,

Thanks for doing this, AMA!

Kudos on being bootstrapped all along, scaling a great B2B2C business at that! I’d love to learn what are some of the things that have surprised you about the necessity of scaling capital-efficient acquisition (everything?) in a self-funded business?

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Hey Ai,

Thanks for taking the time!

It’s certainly better today but for the longest time there have been valley-based startups and then the ones outside the valley; perceived as a secondary category almost. What have been some of the challenges you’ve faced in this regard, building out of Asia? And what has helped?

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Hey Ai,

I had another one in mind.

There’s this famous Twillio quote, “acquire developers like consumers, enable them to spend like enterprises.” That is turning bottom-up adoption into major enterprise success. Given Piktochart’s similar product-led, SMB-focussed premise, how have you thought about scaling for the enterprise over the years?

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Hey Ai,

This just came to mind. Piktochart is quite horizontal as a product, serving teams as varied as healthcare, HR, finance, and marketing. During his session @dokuniev had summed up the challenges of Typeform’s similar, broad nature, “…so we have a harder time convincing people to activate down verticals where a competitor might have the use case more focused and wrapped up.”

Curious to hear, how your thinking has evolved when it comes to approaching verticals?

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Hey Ai,

Thanks for doing this!

What’s your exit plan for Piktochart as a bootstrapped company? I love what you’re doing and have always been inspiring new SaaS founders in Malaysia. :slight_smile:

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Hey @Krish , thanks for your question! We’ve recently checked out Chargebee :slight_smile: As I’m interviewing, I usually care about 2 things.

  1. Getting to know the person and assessing a fit
  2. Presenting the challenges that we have to assess if there’s a fit.

I’m not sure about everyone else, but I’ve usually had about 90 mins of an interview where I spend about 30 minutes talking about the challenges that we are going through and trying to see how the person would respond. I kind of preferred to turn it into a discussion, so this document serves as a pre-read. This stage is really important, because we know that a person who would be a great fit at one organization doesn’t necessarily fit well somewhere else. I find that by going through this process, we reduce (not eliminate) the possibility of a wrong hire.

In the document, I go through:

  • History and where are we going
  • Current company make up, SWOT
  • Team structure and the person’s responsibilities
  • The unique challenges in this role and who would be an excellent fit

From what I was told, the right candidates that value transparency really appreciate this “odd” process. They automatically know what’s it like working together with me, my thought process and what I value and do not value. It takes me some time to craft a good “letter” but I have found this to be totally worth it!

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We have a standard onboarding process now. The bulk of the onboarding takes place over the first 2 weeks. The goals are two-fold. First, to ensure that people have the ability to connect with other team members (we’re remote, so that’s even more important!). Secondly, for them to understand the areas that we’re working on so they can get up to speed as quickly as possible.

  1. Customer support - where the person would have to go through some typical questions/challenges that the user has. They would also be asked to create a visual out of mock data so they get to experience the product in their shoes. I love that our CS team is the one leading this!
  2. Product - either the Product managers or the Head of Product will have to walk the team member through the why, vision and roadmaps.
  3. Data - going through some dashboards and key metrics that are important for a person to orient themselves around.
  4. HR and finance
  5. Depending on their teams, they may also go through onboarding in Marketing, Sales, Product Design or Engineering.
  6. 1:1s with relevant team members are also prioritized during this time.

Lastly, we have ‘Everyone on Support’ which is an initiative to get people to spend 0.5 day per quarter on the Customer Support helpdesk. This is not just for onboarding but everyone gets this opportunity on a quarterly or bi-quarterly basis, as we want them to intimately know and understand customer problems.

Happy to learn about how you all run onboarding too!

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Hi @rajaraman,

That’s a really good question! I’ll be plain honest that we still have room for improvement on our OKRs.

I can however give you an example of how OKRs embody the experimental approach that gets results. The key is to craft OKRs that are entirely focused on the outcome, not the output.

We recently worked on Piktostory.com, and the main OKRs were:

  • Increasing activation rate to xx%
  • Acquiring xx,000 users who are in the target group

As compared to an output focused OKRs, such as:

  • Build features on the roadmap (payment, email system, admin dashboard, Helpscout, editor foundation, and core repurposing needs) by eoQ1 and launch Piktostory by X date

By giving a business metric that the team can focus on, they have tonnes of incentives to thoughtfully experiment and try to hit the numbers.

Hope that answers!

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Haha @wingman4sales The basic idea is if someone is having Monday blues, they need to consider whether or not Pikto is the right place for them! :star_struck:

Don’t get me wrong, I know that when going through Monday blues, it’s more likely a systemic problem than it is with the individual. So, the organization has a bigger role to play. We acknowledge this and deliberately build our engagement surveys to ensure that we have a pulse on what may potentially disengage people and transparently work on plans to make things better.

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Actually, I’ve mostly tested this out with Europe than Asia in recent days. I would say that the reception has been overwhelmingly positive. I still get told that the reason why a senior hire went with Pikto in the end was because of this.

I do not release this document to every candidate but to the candidates that I think would be a perfect fit for the organization. Currently, I haven’t experienced any cultural differences. But yes, it did get a couple of people to say “Not my cup of tea”, which is okay because that’s then a smart use of both parties’ time!

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Hi @aditi1002, Love your question and I do get asked this quite a bit.

I believe that the ecosystem is super key to help a business scale, not because of funding etc since we’re bootstrapped, but more for access to mentors/advisors, talent and even business partners!

Mentors/advisors
It has been harder to find mentors and advisors that are familiar with SAAS or visual communication space in South East Asia. So I’ve travelled frequently to the US to build and nurture a couple of connections. This was until the pandemic happened. I know that there are platforms that connect people online, but for an advisor type of relationship, I’ve often found it needful to build the relationship in person. The absence of advisors makes it easy for the founders to stay in their comfort zone :slight_smile:

Talent
As an all-remote team, we have had no such barrier as around 50% of our team currently works outside Malaysia. We are limiting our recruiting efforts to the Asian/European time zones due to proximity and the need for “sane” hour synchronous overlaps. Barring the pandemic, we usually meet at least once or twice a year.

In other words, I think founders of a global startup that is primarily based in Asia needs to take some very active steps to stay hungry, not be complacent, and do more in order to connect with customers/advisors in a different continent. Being all-remote definitely helps in terms of attracting and retaining talent!

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That’s a really good question. We see single users within enterprise but are not actively converting them into enterprise teams. The other case is that Piktochart is primarily used to create reports and infographics. Often times, users share their accounts instead of using it in a real collaborative mode! :shushing_face:

There are some discussions internally about whether we should have a focused effort targeting enterprises but we have not taken any significant step in that direction.

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Thanks for your question @rajaraman, you’ve done your research on Piktochart! We have been talking about product positioning a lot over the past year. One of the more significant findings for us is that although we attract many verticals, it’s for a very specific use case.

To expand more, people who come to Piktochart usually have a need to condense information into a visual. That format which we have been known for, is infographics. When a HR, finance, marketing person thinks about how do they best present their findings or reports to convince their stakeholders, they come to Piktochart to create a visual to deliver these findings.

While we cater to a broad amount of verticals, our efforts are focused on fulfilling a specific use case, and not to help them design marketing materials as well as print etc. As to whether we would hunker down and focus on one particular vertical, it is not immediately obvious to us that it would be a good strategy. :grin:

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Hi @arif Good to see you here!

For a bootstrapped founder that has been doing this for 10 years, I can say that there is no exit plan! :rofl:

I say this with tongue in cheek. There are several options:

  1. Literally to have no exit and run the company for as long as we can.
  2. A merger and acquisition - we have previously considered this route in the past because we admired the founders and found good synergy between the products.
  3. Find a really good CEO to take over, so this is a founder exit.

I have always advocated ‘living life backwards’ which basically begs the question ‘At my deathbed, what will I regret doing and regret not doing?’. I then do a periodic (yearly) check on where I want to be in terms of both my personal and professional goals.

Hope that answers!

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Hey @Akhilesh,

Thank you for your question. By acquisition - I’m guessing you mean acquiring users, talent and more?

There are a few learnings that I have made in the past years about building capital efficient business:

  1. It’s wise to choose your marketing channels correctly. For us, we went with SEO and content marketing and we wouldn’t have otherwise been able to get hundreds of thousands of sign ups per month with minimal budget.
  2. Sometimes getting the best talent isn’t about a crazy huge budget, people are more motivated by purpose, culture and how they grow in the organization. This applies with perks too. It’s not about the best and most expensive perks, but once again, if they are trusted and can make a great impact, that speaks a lot louder for talent acquisition and retention, rather than having the best swags or $$$ perks.
  3. I also learned that it is needful to convey the same mindset to the people working in the company. If the company focuses on profit and sustainability,then tell these stories internally and call out exemplary behaviors of people who have demonstrated that.

Hope that helps!

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