eko

Thailand- and US-based enterprise communications solution provider Eko Communications announced today that it has secured US$5.7 million in a Series A round led by venture capital firm Gobi Partners.

A few investors who participated in previous rounds also joined in this latest round.

The company first received an undisclosed amount of pre-seed funding from Tigerlabs Ventures when it participated in the firm’s accelerator programme and US$1 million in seed funding from 500 Startups and Siemer Ventures last year.

The new injection of funds will be used to expand Eko’s eponymous flagship mobile enterprise communication platform’s business in Southeast Asia and East Asia, especially in China, increase marketing efforts, and up its headcount.

eko-founders

L-R: David Zhang, Co-founder and CTO, Korawad Chearavanont, CEO and Founder, and Bernie Tay, COO and CMO

How Eko distinguishes itself

Unlike many workplace communication tools in the market, Eko is not interested in small companies or startups. Korawad Chearavanont, Founder and CEO, Eko Communications said, “You know that’s (small companies) a very crowded field, and that’s not a field we’re looking to get into. In fact, we focus on another segment. We focus on bigger companies.”

Typically, these companies have more than hundreds of employees.

Also Read: Why you need to build workplace culture your employees rave about

“Our biggest customer has more than 150,000 employees,” he added. “… I would not recommend using our product if your company has less than, let’s say, 100 people. We only begin to add real value after that; maybe 120 — that kind of threshold.”

Another differentiating factor is that Eko is only available on mobile devices whereas its competitors might cater for those who are also on laptops and desktops.

“I think that you would be surprised that most Asian companies, especially East Asian companies, and their staff are already moving to mobile. You can walk into an office and you can see someone already has their desktop with a nice big keyboard, but they pull out their phones to chat with their colleagues via LINE or WeChat. It really shows how extreme the mobile-centric culture in Asia has become,” said Chearavanont, who also cited other examples of executives on-the-move (“They rely so heavily on mobile”) and retail staff who are able to stay in contact with HQ via their mobile phones.

“The company has to adapt to mobile or they will fall behind,” he said.

Kay-Mok Ku, Partner, Gobi Partners, echoed the entrepreneur’s thoughts in a press statement, “The advent of email and shift to client/server computing created the groupware category in the 90s. Similarly, the prevalence of instant messaging on smartphones has led to all-in-one social communication apps such as WeChat on the consumer front. We believe that there is ample room for enterprise-grade mobile communication platforms such as Eko to thrive in the connected workplace.”

According to the press statement, the company’s active user base has grown more than 1,800 per cent since April this year. This user base includes employees of true, Radisson and Park Plaza, all companies named on Eko’s official website.

Chearavanont declined to disclose the number of companies on the platform, only reiterating points made in the same statement; its “customers include public companies with a total of over US$25 billion in market capitalisation” and that it has an Annual Recurring Revenue of US$1.2 million, most of which comes from China.

Let’s go to China

Eko’s supposed success in China, according to Chearavanont, was not exactly predicted for. “Actually, we were not planning to launch in China till later but it was actually quite organic because it was just kind of a couple of references from some execs in Southeast Asia to the, let’s just say, government-affiliated entities and it kind of peaked off and now we’re working with them on some stuff,” he told e27.

One challenge faced by Eko while marketing to Chinese firms is understanding what customers want. “The culture is definitely very different. I have to say, they do move very fast,” he added. “They seem to be much more security conscious, which is one of the reasons why our platform has attracted attention, you know, because of all the recent worry about US, about hacking between the two countries and also the Chinese government warning against the use of US tech.”

Security is definitely something most big firms look out for in a communication platform. Chearavanont explained that companies can choose from different tiers of defence, from “normal encryption” to “on-premise deployment”, which allows companies to host information on their own servers. The latter is more expensive, but can be a huge make-or-break factor for some companies.

Also Read: Startup in Spotlight: Keygo wants to balance security and ease of use

At the moment, most of Eko’s traction comes from the North of China, which is home to quite a few big Chinese cities namely Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei and Shanxi. Eko’s plans to enter China will be unconventional, said Chearavanont, who added, “You might not recognise us at all. Our priority is not to spread our brand; our priority is to spread our platform.”

Eko’s official entry into China will happen in about eight to 10 months, he informed this author. In the meantime, he and his team will also be working on building even more traction in home base Thailand and the rest of Southeast Asia.