Will Wong is one of those easy, unassuming people who you instinctively know has your back in almost any situation.
We’re chatting about ecommerce and his fascination with modern, clean web experiences. His voice bristles with excitement every time we talk about branding and design.
“I first dabbled with making websites when I was 12 or 13 years old,” reveals the Hong Kong-based Shopify partner. “I primarily used Microsoft front page and scripts I found online. That’s when I really discovered my passion for building things and the path to web development was a natural fit for me.”
Wong isn’t one of those entrepreneurs prone to loquacious explanations of their business, achievements, or the kinds of problems they’re solving. His replies are short and succinct, to the point that I have to fish for further information. It’s almost as if he’s downplaying his exploits or the clients he’s worked with.
But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
I recently came across luggage ecommerce site Monos and I loved their user interface, branding, and design ethos. The website compels you to relive your most intimate travel memories which, I assume, is exactly the kind of emotional levers it’s aiming to tug at.
And as I browsed through Will’s portfolio site preparing for our chat, I was thrilled to see Monos featured prominently. He beams visibly when I tell him I’m a fan of the startup, explaining that the project was very challenging both from a technical and design standpoint but also one that he’s extremely proud of.
I ask the ecommerce specialist to tell me more about the companies he’s worked with and the projects he’s helped bring to life. He points to Vessi Footwear—the Vancouver-based startup has had a meteoric pace of growth, raising over CAD $1.2 million on Kickstarter on a modest initial goal of $25,000, selling about 50,000 pairs every month and a waitlist of over 20,000.
Again, its site perfectly encapsulates all you want from a modern ecommerce experience. Clean, intuitive design, liberal use of white space, and captivating CTAs sprinkled around.
Wong remains modest about his work but I can see why his clients love working with him.
“90% of my customers are via referrals or word of mouth,” explains Wong. “I’m based in Hong Kong but I have clients all over the world, in the US, Canada, and Europe. Sometimes I’m up till 4am due to Skype calls and meetings. It’s funny because I’ve never met a few of my clients in person, despite having worked with them for a few years now.”
We’ve been chatting animatedly about his work without really touching upon Wong’s initial training and expertise. I ask him about his motivations: tinkering around with computers as a teenager is one thing, but merging design and code is a whole different ball game.
“My first foray into full-time web design was in 2013 when I joined a marketing agency in Vancouver,” he reveals. “We worked on a lot of B2B corporate sites but I personally didn’t find the work very interesting because the design elements were traditional and boring.”
Wong, who studied design and web development in Vancouver, started to dabble into building B2C Shopify sites in his free time which gave him the flexibility to explore his design passions.
“I’m very interested in building cool things with smooth UI. I started off as a freelancer and then began to get more referral clients that shared my vision and outlook. Despite not having a strong portfolio or large amounts of exposure, I was still able to get business,” he says.
He was also prescient enough to decode what the future of ecommerce enablement might look like. He’s built Shopify sites since 2013 — well before Shopify became the household name that it is now. His entrance into the Shopify Partner program earlier in 2019 is testament to his commitment to ecommerce excellence.
“In Hong Kong, the Shopify community is growing rapidly and the platform is becoming more popular every day,” he notes, “My application to the Shopify Partner program was to drive more visibility, leads, and stand out from the rest. Next up we’re going to try and become a Shopify Plus expert.”
Global training, local impact
Despite getting his initial start in Canada, Wong chose to leave the mature ecommerce markets of North America in 2017 to relocate back to the city where he’s originally from: Hong Kong. Some might have viewed that as a risky move.
Hong Kong’s ecommerce industry lags behind Canada and the U.S. Shopify is better known across the Pacific and, arguably, he might have been able to lock in more clients had he stayed in Vancouver.
But Wong prefers to take a long-term view of things.
“I’m very passionate about bringing more high-quality work to Hong Kong, similar to standards in North America. Ecommerce in Hong Kong is still relatively underdeveloped so there’s far more potential to make a lasting impact.”
His outlook makes sense. Hong Kong’s 5.5 million internet users are expected to drive $6.4 billion in ecommerce sales by 2023 with an annual growth rate of about 8%. However, there’s much to be done still. Hong Kong’s ecommerce sector only contributes to about 5% of total retail sales, lagging behind the rest of Asia Pacific which counts ecommerce at up to 18%.
Wong is aware of the challenges — he believes offline retail is still a key shopping avenue because of the vast prevalence of malls and a unique shopping culture ingrained into Hong Kong’s consumers. The city’s smaller size and traffic gridlocks also make deliveries difficult and time consuming, hence compelling users to shop via malls instead.
Nevertheless, he’s confident of success.
“Brands are slowly catching on and they’re receptive to my ideas. I’ve learned to put my head down, keep working, and keep trying. Focus is key for me. As long as I keep doing what I need to do, it will eventually pay off.”