Karen Chang is a Managing Partner at Ibbaka, a consulting and technology development company focused on helping businesses bring innovations to market and helping them scale. Karen’s team has extensive experience in market segmentation and pricing for companies ranging from Fortune 50 to pre-revenue startups.
Karen believes that effective pricing is the single most powerful lever to increase revenue, profit, and market share. She is committed to helping innovation stakeholders (technology entrepreneurs, product leaders, change instigators, and investors) understand and explore good pricing practices and methods.
Learn more about Karen’s journey as an entrepreneur, and what Ibbaka means, in this article.
VentureLabs (VL): Tell us about Ibbaka.
Karen: Ibbaka provides strategic pricing advisory services and is developing a data integration platform for pricing and performance data. Our focus is B2B SaaS, Industrial Internet of Things, and market platforms. We also provide a strategy activation platform for large, globally distributed marketing teams. We do this by bringing new approaches to market segmentation, customer targeting and pricing design to our clients, and this is accomplished with data science.
VL: How did you started the business?
Necessity is indeed the mother of invention. We started Ibbaka so that we could enter into a contract with a customer. They had approached us to work on a project and we thought we could be impactful – it was also a project where we could both learn from each other and spearhead work for IP that Ibbaka was exploring.
We had been working on another start-up which was still pre-revenue and we wanted to find a way to sustain development and keep the team together.
VL: What does Ibbaka mean?
Karen: Heart, personality, and vital spark. Ibbaka helps you understand the core of what you do (heart), your differentiation (personality), and the value you create (vital spark). In Japanese, it also means a bunch of crazy fools….It works!
VL: What makes your business unique?
Karen: Our uniqueness is a combination of our technology platform and our expertise. We are able to find clusters of patterns that provide meaningful insight, as companies look externally at their markets to understand how they create value or look internally to determine what capabilities are needed to execute.
VL: How did you decide what market to target?
Karen: When we looked at which market to target, we applied our own Ibbaka methodology and analytics platform to understand which segments would find value in our offering. We surveyed the market to understand where we could drive both economic and emotional value for our customers. We’ve found that we tend to work with organizations who are leaders in their own right–they invest in innovation a strategic lever to transform not just their own business but shape the way business is done in their industry.
VL: What do you see as the exciting opportunities in your industry?
Karen: Transparency is going to be more prominent as people and organizations strive to engage community. Individuals, groups, businesses, society – each of us wants to be treated in a fair way, and to be recognized for the value or contribution we provide. I believe and hope that in society, in community, and as individuals, we can become more attuned to the positive social impact we can have. Certainly, there is much to be done to improve diversity engagement. But it starts with the recognition that each of us, individually, can make a difference.
VL: What are the challenges or threats in your industry? How are you addressing them (without divulging trade secrets)?
Karen: For us, the key is to work with those motivated to change for the improvement, rather than inclined to accept the status quo. We often hear, “A start-up’s main competition is when their customers choose to do nothing.” I think the challenge for us is to get our key set of early adopters, the change instigators. Those early customers can help us to shape the way businesses think–how they can better serve their markets while also better enabling its people to execute on these objectives.
VL: What impact do you want to have in the world or change you want to see or make happen?
Karen: I’ve been lucky in my career to work in roles where I’ve been allowed to have a voice. I’ve also been lucky to have worked with individuals who positively shaped my perspective. I’ve been fortunate to have had certain choices, and to have been able to feel that I’ve always had options. I want, through Ibbaka, to take that sense of “there are always options” into the business world to help companies and individuals reach their aspirations.
VL: Looking back, are there any indications from childhood that foreshadowed your becoming an entrepreneur? Or when did the entrepreneur bug bite you?
Karen: While most of my classmates are successful lawyers, doctors, and financiers, my friends even back then always saw me as someone who would pursue business. My father was an entrepreneur, and so was my paternal grandfather. So maybe it’s in the blood!
VL: What are the pros and cons of being a female entrepreneur in 2019?
Karen: Interesting question! I’ve been in the tech environment and start-ups since the mid-1990s and I never personally felt the distinction—until these last couple of years. With this start-up, I’m definitely noticing it more. I don’t know whether it’s because I used to work more autonomously, whether I’m now just more senior, or whether I now simply pay more attention to how women are treated in professional environments. On the one hand, we have the strength of women supporting each other which is really great.
On the other, there are times where I have felt invisible. I’ll say something that goes unacknowledged, then a few seconds later, an older, white, male colleague will make the same point and people become engaged. Unfortunately, I am hearing more that this is so familiar to women: you think, “Wait–did anyone even hear what I said?” Then, I do what we as women do–I mentally shrug my shoulders and think, “At least the idea is going forward.”
I think it is just a deep, deep current in how we position women in the workplace (and elsewhere). I’m sure most people are not even aware of it—it’s only recently I’ve tuned into it myself. Which is why we have the great support and ability to reach out to our extremely savvy network of women who pay attention to the details and can think on multiple levels.
VL: If you had a “magic wand,” what two things would make it easier for you to succeed in your business?
Karen: Oh, I’d love to have a way quick way to recognize the who will be our great people connections. I’d love a magic carpet to the people who can help us reach our business objectives, and a great way to track if we are on course or when we need to adjust. Perhaps this is aligned to the rationale for why our business…
What podcasts or books do you refer to?
Roger Martin – Playing to Win
Tom Nagle – Strategy and Tactics of Pricing
Geoffrey Moore – Crossing the Chasm
What’s your favorite thing to do in your free time?
Dabbling in the kitchen
What’s your least favorite food?
Natto – Japanese fermented soy beans
What’s your super power?
Still trying to discover this.
If you could spend an hour with one person not currently in your life, who would it be?
Hillary Clinton but now that I’m visiting the UK, Theresa May.
VL: What keeps you going in the difficult times?
Karen: Family, home, and faith.
VL: What do you look for in your team members as you grow?
Karen: Loyalty and commitment… We’re a start-up, and we spend much of our waking day at our businesses. The people we work with are really our extended families.
VL: With the knowledge you have today, what advice would you give your younger self at the beginning of your entrepreneurial journey?
Karen: Listen to people who can share their experiences. Don’t be afraid to take time to connect and really get to know the people around you. (This is something I still need to work on.) Surround yourself with happy, positive people. Build your connections and find mentors who can inspire you and teach you techniques to get you from point A to point B. (Mentors can help you achieve diversity of thought.) If you want to do business travel and visit the world. Don’t just stay in the urban areas or in tourist spots. Experience how others outside your norm live and you can appreciate what you have.
VL: What meet ups, local entrepreneur events and accelerators do you recommend that have helped you grow?
Karen: VentureLabs, Vantec, E-Fund, mentors, and other business owners, industry groups, and affiliations
VL: How much did you know about being financially fluency?
Karen: I did take business, law, and accounting courses, and learnt more as time progressed. I do recommend to every business that you always need to have a good accountant.
VL: How do you define success?
Karen: Having peace of mind and knowing you’ve made a positive impact on others.
VL: What mantra do you live by?
Karen: I remind myself of the Biblical Parable of the Talents: the most important thing is to develop and grow your talent. “Apply your works,” as they say. To do otherwise not only is not fruitful, but also wastes the gifts you were given.