Thursday, 2022 December 8

Winning the Ears of Gen Z in Asia – Interview with Klangchat CEO Philip Kressin

To adequately express emotion or meaning, it often takes more than text messages, stickers, and emojis. Digital communication is missing an essential part of our emotions and human nature: voice and music. Philip Kressin, a former indie rock star and serial entrepreneur, founded the startup Klangchat in 2018. Together with his co-founders Henning Grambow and Julian Laping, who have been techno DJs, Native Instruments product designers, movie composers and music publishers, the team targets to help the hands-free Generation Z communicate in an authentic, entertaining and more emotional way.

Klangchat provides users with the chance to add music and AI-generated animated lip-sync stickers to voice and share them on any platform or messenger. The app allows Gen Z audiences to become instant brand ambassadors by fluidly integrating branded images and music alongside, user-generated, free and paid content within direct message threads or as tradable NFTs on the blockchain in the future.

Philip is passionate about music & technology. He was formerly a musician and producer of indie rock band Neon Legion as well as a founder of magazine & social media platform Multicorriente in Argentina. KrEurope chatted with Philip to find out more about Klangchat, how they plan to win the hearts (or ears) of Gen-Zs all over the world, plus their next steps expanding to Asia.

This interview was carried out by Francisco Wong and has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Image courtesy of Philip Kressin

KrEurope (Kr): What is the mission of Klangchat?

Philip Kressin (PK):Klangchat’s mission is to bring more authentic, entertaining and emotional communication to a broad audience with the help of voice, music and AI. The aim is to help people build better bonds with their peers. Klang is the German word for sound, by the way. The name is our mission: enabling everybody to easily build entertaining, meaningful and emotional bonds through voice & music.

Our target users are Generation Z who love manga and anime, gaming, web3 users. However, Gen Z users have trouble to create strong bonds in online communication. This is partially why voice messages are so popular among Gen Z: they are more authentic, and emotions and intentions can be better delivered. The problem here is that you can’t make the voice more emotional and expressive and add new meaning to it. Klangchat aims to solve this by adding music and interactive stickers that are triggered by the audio.

Gen Z also do not use “old-school” social media as much, and are not communicating publicly but rather in private circles. Advertisers are struggling to reach audiences within their private threads. Therefore, we have developed voice-reactive animated stickers that move automatically to the beat of the music. Just one single image is enough for Klangchat’s audio-visual engine to produce these anime style animations. Basically, the app can use any image and make it move to the beat of the music, and sync it with the user’s voice input at the same time. In this way, Klangchat users can instantly become brand ambassadors by sending fun “Klang Messages” to their friends.

Kr: Why should young people switch from other communication tools to Klangchat?

PK: First off, it’s super fun. It always puts smiles on people’s faces, both for the sender and the recipient. At the beginning, we found out that most people like sending voice messages but actually dislike receiving them. But not so with Klangchat. People are eager to hear what their friends have to say with a Klang. Another important aspect is that people usually don’t like the sound of their own voice. Our research and testing has shown that this reverses when you add music underneath it. Suddenly people love it and want more of it. This is also something we have learnt from our own experience as musicians and producers. There’s a lot of studies showing that Gen Z are experiencing lack of emotional bonds, but with Klangchat they’ll get to experience emotional connections with voice and music together with friends in a casual and asynchronous way. That’s what makes this an unrivaled solution within the market.

We don’t actually consider ourselves as competitors to other social media platforms or messengers, rather on the contrary. We add functionality to other existing services. Our snippets can be shared on every platform, and we encourage it. We enrich, rather than compete. Everything is built around the voice and music, as a solution to a specific use case. Our UI/UX design reflects this, too. If you look at other popular communication apps, you will notice that they all have very different features and focuses. But certainly not audio. Klangchat is primarily about audio.

Image courtesy of Klangchat

Kr: What’s the business rational behind the app?

PK: Klangchat is free to use. Some “premium” content and features can be unlocked by taking specific actions, while some others are purchasable. We are building a gameplay that makes communication fun and encourages engagement. Eventually, we will build a marketplace for interactive content that can be used across web3 and metaverses alike. Additionally to a token based chat-to-earn economy, branded content is an important element. Klangchat is a perfect tool for word-of-mouth marketing in private and group communication. Klangchat will even become a source of income for musicians, artists, creators, developers and brands. Web3 is one of our top priorities.

At the moment, we create a lot of the visual content with the help of AI. Since three of four founders are music producers, we can create all the musical content in-house. This is a tremendous advantage as music licensing is an absolute nightmare. For the medium term, we believe in user-generated content. There are sea of talents out there and we believe people should be able to contribute and monetize their art fairly. The same goes for developers. We want to make it possible for all people to contribute and monetize their work. In the long run, Klangchat will be a partially decentralized application that works across all devices and is co-created by its users.

In the next step, Klangchat is developing a voice & music based content creation technology which enables groups of friends to create stories and content based on voice & music in the format of a webtoon – a continuous manga-style cartoon story published as a single long vertical strip. Users read it by scrolling up and down on their touchscreens. Gen Z are very familiar with this content format which is designed to be consumed on the phone. Content snippets (next to action lines and visual assets, sounds, vocal sound effects, music) would also be purchasable and tradable on a designated marketplace.

Kr: How do you deal with the issue of cyberbullying?

PK: Online hate speech and bullying is rampant, especially among Gen Z youths. Sadly, social media makes many of our younger generation ill and depressed. We believe hate speech and online bullying actually have nothing to do with speech itself. It’s a very misleading term indeed. The issues arise because of impersonal text and visual communication. Usually people would not say mean things to people if they had to use their own voice. We think Klangchat can alleviate hate speech by focusing on the voice rather than predominantly text and visual mediums.

Kr: Is Klangchat targeting GenZ users all over the world, or specific demographics first?

PK: Klangchat’s beta version is globally available on the Apple App Store. We already have a solid beta tester base in Europe and the U.S., but we want to go to markets in Asia first, because we think Gen Z users there are more open to new technology such as Klangchat. We also love to spend time in Asia and enjoy the interaction with the multitude of cultures. Gender, on the other hand, is not really a consideration at the moment. From our usage data, we can see that all genders enjoy Klangchat equally.

Our initial go-to-market will be in Hong Kong. We can’t think of a better place. There are an estimated one million Gen Z users in Hong Kong who are tightly-knit, open to new technology, and at the forefront of web3 development. We are building a local community who gets involved with the development, who gives us feedback and ideas, and helps us identify further wants and needs from users.

Kr: Why did you choose the Hong Kong market to start with?

PK: I have been to Hong Kong before, and have many contacts and friends there. It’s a magical city in my eyes. In the beginning, we thought the U.S. would be our place to go. Very soon we realized that the U.S. is quite behind in terms of blockchain and web3. We saw that Hong Kong is way further than the U.S. or Europe on the matter. It’s the future of the web and our data autonomy, so we feel we are very much part of this. And this is happening in Asia.

Hong Kong ranks also very high in terms of crypto adoption rate, up to 20-30% according to some researchers. This is incredibly high and speaks for the future focused attitude. I would say that Gen Z in Hong Kong is more tech curious and less jaded. An interesting difference is also that Gen Z in Hong Kong don’t really shop online as much. People still go to physical stores. Perhaps this is because of the poplulation density of the city. It’s just easier, faster, more convenient to shop offline. I suppose it’s also a culture that young people in Hong Kong enjoy being out in the city and socialize.

As a startup company, I guess directly entering the Chinese market will be near impossible with the dominance of the big players there. In the first step, we intend to establish in Hong Kong as the regional headquarters to connect with greater Asian markets. If we can be successful with that, tapping China would be the next step.

Hong Kong harbor, image courtesy of Fung Lam

Kr: Hong Kongs startup ecosystem is growing rapidly but still relatively young, what do youlike most about it?

PK: We love the infrastructure and know-how in Hong Kong, for example the universities, Cyberport, Hong Kong Science & Technology Park (HKSTP), just to name a few. We have also recently welcomed a lead investor from Hong Kong into the team. I think the startup ecosystem is developing very fast and has a welcoming culture.

Just recently, we are honoured to have presented at the startmeupHK event in Berlin. We took part in a very inspiring panel discussion about the metaverse. It’s challenging to focus on various ideas around the buzzword. So much is possible, but no one really knows where it is going to lead. That is what’s interesting, though. We are in the wild west of the next era of technology. We are constantly learning about the metaverse space and trying to develop more ideas and explore the possibilities.

We would love to meet people from the Hong Kong startup ecosystem working in the web3 space. Especially in the metaverse, virtual gaming, tokenomics, music NFTs, etc. These are all incredibly interesting areas. If we can meet investors with experience in these fields, that would be a nice bonus, as we are raising a new round for Klangchat at the moment.

Kr: Tell us a bit more about your multicultural background and your startup career?

PK: I grew up in Frankfurt am Main until I was 16. I had always gone to an international school there though so I grew up with kids from 50 nations. As a child, I thought this multicultural life is normal and it absolutely shaped me. That’s why I crave to live in multicultural cities such as Berlin or New York. After the international school, I went to a boarding school specialized in music and art near London. I knew what I wanted to do so I had the opportunity to specialize my education at that point already. I lived in London for 6 years altogether. I completed a BA in Music, specialized in classical composition, and a BA in Film and TV Studies at Brunel University, London. At the time I was also interested in directing my own music videos. I ended up completing a music record in Buenos Aires. I stayed there for 4 years. That’s where my music career took off. Afterwards I moved to New York and spent a lot of time with people in the indie music scene in the U.S. and Canada. Many have also played with my band too.

I have always loved the “touring musician life”, and now I do it for my startup. I was in California fundraising in April 2020. After we were invited to exhibit at South by South West (SXSW) in Austin, Texas by the German Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Action, I spent a lot of time in San Francisco. I really do love the vibe in the entrepreneurial world. People are very helpful and I love to help others too. There is a collegiate atmosphere.

Nowdays I spend majority of my time with Klangchat in Berlin. As a startup founder, I feel that we have a great infrastructure here in the local ecosystem. Being in the portfolio of the MediaTech Hub Potsdam is really amazing, they have opened so many doors for us. The German Accelerator program has been extremely helpful too, which facilitated our first steps toward Asian markets. We have also met InvestHK representatives here in Berlin. All wonderful and competent people!

Kr: What’s the next step for Klangchat in China and Hong Kong?

PK: I think we still need to learn a lot about the Chinese culture, and we would love to find partners that can help us. Not only do we want to hire local talents for our Hong Kong subsidiary, but we also want to find local partners. I believe personal relationships are more important than business. We would love to find partners to build communities together, also communities that help develop the app with us together. This cultural exchange and conglomerate of ideas is the best thing possible. If anyone is interested in contributing, even just by beta testing, please get in touch!

Francisco Wong
Francisco Wong
Francisco is interested in businesses connecting Europe and Asia. Creative mind & puzzle solver.
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