Founder Spotlight of ICW: Gary Lam

Gary Lam, ICW

Founded in 2016, ICW (International Compliance Workshop) connects global retailers, manufacturers, and TIC providers to reduce supply chain hassles in worldwide sourcing and digitalizing the supply chain process. We interviewed ICW founder Gary Lam, who has worked in top global labs like UL where he was the Head of Global Operations for Toys and Cosmetics, is a long-distance hiker. While Lam’s reputation in global retail, testing, inspection, and certification industries is impeccable, it’s his founder’s journey that demonstrates why ICW is a beacon of growing success. His inspiring tale is benchmarked with great loss and personal reckoning.

In January 2021, the Hong Kong-based company announced they had secured US$5.7 million in a Series A+ round led by Headline Asia.

“ICW builds a marketplace based on data is shaping up to be the cornerstone of B2B commerce in the future,” said Headline Asia Principal Brian Yen, who lead the investment. “E-commerce is driving supply chain innovation due to the increasing popularity of cross-border transactions. Quality control is a huge market and will be playing an even more important role in the future as the consumers demand transparency over the supply chain.” “Quality control is a huge market and will be playing an even more important role in the future as the consumers demand transparency over the supply chain.” — Brian Yen, Principal at Headline Asia

ICW also oversees trade compliance and prohibitive spending with supplier audits and product testing. Since their 2016 founding, they have partnered with five of the top US retailers and have accrued more than 20,000 MAU.

Tell us a little bit about your experience on “Milestone of Achievements in FundRaising & Development” such as being mentioned in “Forbes Asia 2022 100 to watch”, winning silver for “HKICTA 2021: SMART BUSINESS AWARD”, etc?

ICW has raised a total of three fundraising rounds to date. We were incubated by Hong Kong Cyberport in our first year of business (2016), where we connected with our first VC investor Mindwork Capital, who led our first and second rounds in April 2018 and May 2019 [respectively]. Thanks to the funding support, we were able to develop our software platform “better” and contribute more value to customers.

We are honored that our solution was chosen by the HK Government for the HKICT Smart Business Award in 2018. We are very lucky to be the first HK Government invested startup. The HK Government also utilized their Innovation and Technology Venture Fund to co-invest in ICW with Mindworks Capital in 2019.

We closed our third fundraising round in November 2020, led by Headline Asia (previously Infinity Ventures). We continued our growth amid the pandemic and the additional funding fueled ICW SaaS growth to a new level.

Because of our proven track record, we were honored to be selected by Forbes as one of the startups in the inaugural Forbes Asia 100 to Watch list 2021. We can achieve all this because of our VC investors who provided financing and mentorship to us.

Can you share the story of how you met Headline and what your experience has been working with us so far?

We met Headline Asia through the introduction of our previous VC investor, Mindworks Capital. The experience with the Headline Asia team has been fantastic.

Akio Tanaka from Headline Asia is also a board member of ICW. He’s provided valuable insight, coaching, and experience sharing on how to run a successful software (SaaS) business. He also helped our fundraising and introduced reputable investors to us.

ICW logo

ICW logo

What made ICW different from others, to be the first ever venture to secure investment from the Hong Kong government’s Innovation and Technology Venture Fund (ITVF)?

We dare to try.

We are digitalizing a traditional, old-fashioned compliance industry that has been 99% [reliant] of Excel spreadsheets and paper reports for decades.

We’re very good at what we do, and we understand customers’ needs very well because our team of 80 experts came from the supply chain, compliance (testing and certification), big data, and software engineering.

We are lucky to be the first ever startup to secure HK Government investment also because our Testing & Certification domain is defined as one of the six pillar industries with clear advantages in Hong Kong due to its trust and integrity nature. This is difficult to be replicated elsewhere in the world.

“We are lucky to be the first ever startup to secure HK Government investment also because our Testing & Certification domain is defined as one of the six pillar industries with clear advantages in Hong Kong due to its trust and integrity nature. This is difficult to be replicated elsewhere in the world.” — Gary Lam, ICW Founder

What made you go into the market of “supply chain compliance management & B2B sourcing platform”?

I was born in the compliance industry. About 20 years ago, I got my first job at an international testing and certification organization, which provides compliance validation and quality assurance service to brand retailers and manufacturers.

The pain points and hassles in our industry are the complexity and fragmentation of supply chain laws and sourcing landscapes. Of course, any violation of the law would lead to disastrous consequences. So, compliance is the bread and butter for every customer in the supply chain.

However, the industry remained [stuck in] conventional ways. I think we can utilize software technology to make the industry better, by increasing efficiency, transparency, and resource planning. That’s why I decided to quit my senior leadership role in the certification organization and created the ICW platform in 2016.

We aim to help customers compliance made easy — that’s our slogan.

ICW iSource

ICW iSource

What’s something your parents told you that still influences you today?

Think big, start small!

What were the three biggest challenges your company had to overcome?

The first is customer acquisition. I believe this is applicable to every company.

Second is the brand awareness and value message of ICW platform to the market.

The third is the transition to an international business and scale. By the way, ICW just opened our first European office in The Netherlands. We are moving forward to be a global company.

Can you briefly share your life story with our readers? What characteristics helped you become who you are today?

I am not an MIT or Stanford graduate! I am a pure HK-grown entrepreneur, who studied and got my degree in Mechanical Engineering at HK Polytechnic University.

When I was young, I was quite lazy, barely passing examinations. Maybe because I am not a threat to classmates [laughs], my friends like to get along with me. I realized that being polite, respectful, humble and attitude are important character to build a relationship. These shaped my personality.

I am not a smart guy either. However, I feel lucky today that I am surrounded by many peoples who are a lot smarter than me and are willing to support my vision. I don’t like my team calling me “boss”. I want them to see me as a leader so I worked closely with my frontline team.

Gary with his team

Gary with his team

My life changing point was in 2011 when I lost my wife to cancer. I was thinking of starting ICW before that. I held onto my plan until 2016 after my father passed away. My father was an entrepreneur, too, who owned three retail shops that supported our family. He always encouraged me to be an entrepreneur and to never stop chasing dreams.

“I decided to leave my stable high-paid job in the Certification organization because I realized life is short and time is precious. It’s time for me to pursue my own dream so I can tell my father in heaven that I made it.” — Gary Lam

I am a marathon runner and love hiking too. I love adventure. I can hike 50km in 10 hours. These trained me to be a persistent, positive but lonely person because nobody wants to hike with me [laughs].

Gary Lam

Gary Lam

Fun fact about you:

I have a brother, who is just 10.8 months older than me! My friends believe my family has a hardworking DNA!

Can you briefly explain what QMAS is and how is it different from the traditional way of doing supply chain compliance management?

QMAS is our compliance management platform. We offer end-to-end project management software tools (specialized in compliance domain) and integrate an aggregated third party certification service marketplace in the QMAS platform to help brand retailers and e-commerce sellers to comply with supply chain law and manage the compliance activities at their fingertips, more transparently and efficiently. We digitize and digitalize the traditional supply chain compliance process and provide value to customers in utilizing data analytics to evaluate performance and business risk.

QMAS — Compliance Management Software Platform

QMAS — Compliance Management Software Platform

What are you working on right now and what’s next?

Now, we are focusing on customer acquisition, and also advancing our software by building AI models to improve the user experience.

Next — become the next unicorn in compliance SaaS space.

  • This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity

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