The whacky cartoon characters of Kokoworld have come to epitomise the unique start-up company that designs and markets them in Hong Kong.
But there is nothing friendly about creating a start-up from scratch. Kokonuzz, the crazy brand that has developed seven different characters and a range of brands, some of which are for kids, has seen many bumps along the road.
“Everything about creating a start-up is a challenge,” says Alexis Bautista, founder and design director of the Asian-based company, which was launched last year.
He has achieved some success and his brand, which creates unique printed t-shirts and may soon develop a book and an animated series, is enjoyed by Chinese children across the country.
Yet he knows the task was and remains arduous. “I was on my own. Just imagine, I had no design training whatsoever, I lived in a country whose language I can barely understand nor read and I had very limited capital to start with,” says Alexis, who studied at ESADE Business School, as he cuts to the chase.
“So how did I overcome those odds? I think one of the key factors is passion.” For small companies, the process of raising funding, hiring staff and launching is possibly the greatest initial set of challenges.
You need to be committed to the company, both personally and financially. Alexis loves every minute of the entrepreneurs’ grind. “It makes me feel happy. Since day one it felt like I was spending time on my hobby instead of being at work,” he says. “And that was a huge difference compared with my previous start-up.”
Although he launched last year, Kokonuzz has been in development for years. Alexis is, no doubt, a creative and spearheads the company’s designs, which are sold in pop-up shops across Hong Kong and also online.
For start-ups, kicking-off an enterprise as a foreigner can be both lengthy and daunting. But Kokonuzz’s founder says, with confidence, that it is a smooth process in Hong Kong. “Starting a company here is fast, cheap and easy, and keeping it running is simple and very affordable,” says Alexis, who moved to the Chinese city in 2006.
“Now, there is a thriving start-up community, with much wider access to investors, mentors and networking than before.”
The booming Chinese economy provides huge market opportunity, and he hints that the company could have taken advantage of the wide range of government funds and schemes that aim to get start-ups off the ground.
Alexis used a Master's program which was linked to his undergraduate degree at ESADE, which was later re-named "MDE", to help him overcome classic entrepreneur hurdles. “Luckily for me I had both the knowledge, through ESADE, and the practice with my previous start up to get the company going,” he explains.
Being skilled in business and marketing has helped differentiate his brand from competitors, the owners of which are usually design-educated. He focused on building marketable concepts with one eye on their brand and audience, instead of developing an “artist-centric” view of the company.
“This is what is making our licensing business grow almost effortlessly,” he says.
His inspiration for Kokonuzz is drawn from an early age. He has always loved creating silly, wacky characters and before long realized he could transmit his personality through them.
“So the inspiration behind Kokonuzz was to create a brand that stands for that way of life; for that happy, colourful and slightly crazy attitude that wants to create a better world,” Alexis enthuses.
His personality has defined much of his professional life. For Alexis, it was always the life of the entrepreneur that peaked his interest. The “politics” of bigger organizations were never enjoyed. Nor were having his actions “constrained” by a company’s rigidity.
Although using the online medium to sell products, Kokonuzz aspires to one day trade in their own stores. Although the target suggests eagerness, Alexis is seemingly less concerned with money.
“I truly want to create a better world one smile at a time, that is my ultimate goal,” he says. “So our content and products are created to remind people that there’s more to life than work; that we all need to take a break every now and then. And just be happy, have fun and go nuts.”