“I actually got very, very sick, and I was bedridden for 3 months.” A brush with burnout after her first full-time job at Procter & Gamble (P&G) led Ai Ching Goh to move back to her hometown in Penang, and re-evaluate what she really wanted to do with her life. Prior to joining the corporate world, Ai Ching graduated with a degree in Experimental Psychology from the UK and dabbled in private equity (“I was very heavily involved & influenced by my friends at university, who were all economists”) before opting out due to the steep learning curve.
That homecoming then led to a web development company named YetAnotherStudio she co-founded with her then-boyfriend, now-husband Andrea Zaggia. The combination of Ai Ching’s business & marketing acumen with Andrea’s technology development skills helped the company take off as they started hiring their first designers and pitching to prospective clients. The setup eventually grew too tiring, which led them to looking into developing a product instead. Ai Ching realised that there was a void in the visual communication space during her research on digital marketing (“…the space was lacking a tool apart from Powerpoint, and maybe Photoshop,”) and set out to develop Piktochart with the rest of the team around 7 to 8 years ago.
As the infrastructure and ecosystem for start-ups were not yet available in Malaysia during that period, they went to China to seek guidance from Chinaaccelerator. During their time there, the team had also explored the prospect of entering the China market, only to realise that it was very heterogeneous. “It’s almost like we have to develop a new product in order to cater to China alone, so we would have to put in a lot of effort and investment – but in the future, maybe?” Ai Ching muses.
Piktochart is a Web-based tool which helps people with little-to-zero graphic design experience put their information or stories together visually. It is often likened to Canva (which arrived a little later on the block), but Ai Ching dispels this comparison as Piktochart was more focused on the visual communication aspect of things rather than good design alone. This was also the reasoning behind Piktochart’s initial focus on infographics. “Infographics isn’t just about designing the best-looking magazine cover, it was about how do we tell a story. To tell a story, you need more elements; like charts, flow charts, maps, diagrams and so on – and that’s what we set out to do,” she says.
Users can sign up for a free account or sign in via their Google or Facebook account to gain access to a variety of templates and graphics. Apart from the basic free-to-use service, Piktochart also has a paid-for service offering packages which include more templates, graphics as well as additional features such as larger image upload space and watermark removal. Since its inception in 2012, Piktochart has accumulated about 12 million user sign-ups; although the number of active users “are a lot less than those numbers.” Developing a standalone software version of Piktochart is currently not on the cards, as the current online-only setup has greatly benefited them in terms of customer reach & accessibility.
Piktochart currently has a total of 55 staff — some working remotely from other locations around the globe — but Ai Ching thinks they will increase their numbers this year as they are hoping to achieve certain goals. A number of their staff from Piktochart’s early days remain with the company, and she cites this as a personal milestone of sorts for her. Having surveyed a number of Southeast Asian capital cities, they are setting their sights on having a branch office in Kuala Lumpur as well as another in Ho Chi Minh soon. The former was deemed a natural progression due to its status as the capital city of Malaysia; while the latter has been chosen for more practical reasons such as being cost-effective and only a flight away from Penang.
Despite not being based in the US, Piktochart has received glowing mentions worldwide and has cultivated a very engaged customer base. A very recent incident while interviewing on behalf of Piktochart for a vacant role had reminded Ai Ching of this. The person she interviewed was based in the US, and had formerly held a very senior position in a notable cloud computing company. She was drawn to apply for the position at Piktochart as she had liked their product so much, having convinced her company’s PR team to integrate the use Piktochart into everything they sent out.
Without giving away too much detail on their (multiple!) plans, Ai Ching hints that they are working towards fine-tuning Piktochart to cater for specific user groups in the future; seeing as their current product is quite general. Their user base are a mixed bunch: ranging from Fortune 500-listed companies, to small-and-medium startups as well as students. Ultimately, she hopes that Piktochart could be a catalyst towards pushing people to better shape their ideas as well as be more adept at communicating them visually.