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Chris Cardell

Interview with Royston Tay (Zopim)

Zopim is a proactive chat tool that small to medium businesses can use to chat with their website visitors.

I interviewed Royston Tay, Zopim co-founder and CEO to find out more. This is the hundred and sixth in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Royston!

How would you describe Zopim in under 50 words?

Zopim provides a simple, and effective live chat software for more than 50,000 websites worldwide. We power genuine conversations between businesses and their web visitors.

Give us an example of how Zopim is used?

There’s a wide range of businesses using Zopim, from startups looking for product-market fit, to large businesses (like airline operators) serving customers on checkout pages.

A typical e-commerce site would use Zopim to complement their existing conversion funnel. Using our automated chat invites on high dropoff pages, the business owner has an extra opportunity to impress customers and improve sales.

How did you meet co-founders, Wenxiang and YangBin?

All of us are born and raised in Singapore, but met in SF bay area. We were in our University’s entrepreneurship program which sent us to work in Silicon Valley startups, and study at Stanford University for a year.

What made you all decide to start working on Zopim?

Inspired by our friends and mentors in the bay area, we started churning through tons of ideas and prototypes. One of those ideas was to let businesses embed a meebo-like chat window on their website. One thing led to another. We got some funding, pivoted on the business model, grew our user-base, and eventually started working on Zopim full-time after college.

Why do you refer to yourself as ‘Chief Executive Dude’?

I’m more a dude than a stiff-faced executive. In Zopim, our titles reflect our personalities as well as our job scopes. That’s why we have titles like “VP Partying / Engineering”, “Frontend Developer / Company Douche” on our name cards. An additional plus: it’s a great conversation starter at networking events.

What awards has Zopim won so far?

When we first launched, we garnered a couple of awards including “Top 10 Web Apps in Asia” and was one of the finalists in Red Herring top 100 startups. These days, we are much more focused on impressing our users. They are the best judges of our product. Their compliments, and continued support mean so much more to us than any award.

Who uses Zopim?

Some 50,000 websites use us. We wish we knew all of them in person, and are slowly working towards that. Some of the interesting customers that we will be featuring on our new website include hosting provider – “Reliable Hosting”, manly goods subscription service provider – “Manpacks”, makers of explanation videos – “Cuillin Collective”.

Who came up with the name?

All the founders chipped in. We wanted a two-syllable, short domain name which ended in IM (Instant Messaging). Looking back, we probably violated all the rules of good company naming. True to conventional wisdom, Z companies are always listed last in publications, and last to present at events. That said, we’re in the company of some great Z companies like Zappos, Zendesk, etc..

What technologies have you used to build Zopim?

Lots, just to name a few.. HTML5, javascript, flex, ruby, python, c, mysql, couchbase, nodejs, solr.

What was technically the most challenging part of developing Zopim?

This is tough because at various stages of growth, we’ve faced technically challenging problems. But I think the one technical challenge that could have killed our aspirations early on was the development of our chat widget.

When we first started developing our prototype in 2007, we were the first to fully embed our chat widget within the website. Other solutions used pop-up browser windows. And for a very good reason: Most of our customers embedded other 3rd party products along with Zopim. e.g. other javascript widgets, Flash videos, etc.. Making sure our chat widget worked great without affecting other elements on our customers’ websites was really challenging. Then there was IE6..

How long did it take to put together Zopim?

We built our prototype in weeks, but spent two long years in beta getting valuable feedback, and enhancing the user experience. Honestly, even to this day, there’s no end to the ideas and improvements we have in mind to disrupt the customer engagement market.

Do you have any features in the pipeline?

We’re excited about our upcoming launch of version 2.0 of our product – comprising a greatly improved HTML5 dashboard and a beta iOS live chat app. While the details are still confidential at this point, early indications from our beta users have been very positive.

Has Zopim got the feedback and growth you expected since launch?

Yes, we officially launched in 2010, quickly became operationally profitable within months. We’re still showing very healthy growth. Because of the nature of our product, customers are in direct reach of our team. We remain greatly humbled by their compliments and positive feedback from day one till now. Here’s a twitter search feed of Zopim.

How many staff do you have now?

20 full-timers, and we’re still hiring, albeit at a deliberate pace. Candidates are expected to be bright, and more importantly, able to fit in our unique-quirky-fun work culture.

Where do you see Zopim in 5 years time?

Customer engagement is such an important part of any business. I see all businesses, big or small using Zopim as the de-facto engagement solution to build genuine relationships with their customers, over various channels – social, voice, text, mobile, etc..

What trends do you see in the instant messaging platform space in the future?

The importance of traditional IM networks (e.g. Gtalk, MSN, AIM) is slowly being eroded with more social, and mobile-friendly IM alternatives like Whatsapp, FB Messages, Twitter. There’s an opportunity for us to help businesses stay connected with customers through emerging IM channels like these.

What is the biggest hurdle you have faced or are still facing?

As a non-US company, it’s tougher for us to get the attention of US-based investors and business partners, despite outperforming the competition on many publicly available metrics.

That’s understandable though, and we’re working doubly hard to set up a permanent presence in the US for us to be in close proximity to our customers and partners.

Singapore or Silicon valley?

Both. We’re lucky to be leveraging the high quality workforce in Singapore, while working with the brightest companies and investors from Silicon valley.

What one piece of advice would you give to soon to be startup founders?

Don’t do it. It’s way less glamorous, and way tougher than anything you can possibly imagine.

If your knee-jerk reaction is to disregard this advice, then you should stop reading this, and start prototyping.

What would you say is the key to running a successful startup?

Caffeine, or something stronger. Lots of it =)

What are you most excited about at the moment?

The shrinking world, powered by advances in web, social & mobile technology. Businesses can now use the same amount of resource to have genuine conversations with so many more customers. Being the product that enables this is going to be really exciting.

Can you convince the reader to start using Zopim in under 50 words?

Simple. Come chat with our friendly live representatives at

Finished reading? Check out Zopim!

This entry was posted on Tuesday, August 28th, 2012 at 5:03 pm GMT. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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  • Mary Thornton

    Thanks for the article! We at decided to add a live chat feature to our website about half a year ago and tested a few apps before making our decision. We liked the design of Zopim and Chatra the most, and they made it to the final round:-) We’ve chosen Chatra cause it has cleaner interface with the same functionality and our agents are happy with it. My point is – Chatra is the best solution for small teams and Zopim is better for big companies.

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