Golden boy’s million dollar mall wrapped in “1001 AI nights”

It is often a dinner table ritual that I introduce the latest tech trends and startups to my old mother in the plainest language and let her pick which ones she might feel intrigued in investment by imagining herself as the richest woman on earth. Gradually I believe she has acted like a “professional VC”, meaning rolling her eyes most of the time upon hearing my pitch, or unwittingly cutting my crap, “I am sure the thing must be plenty out there right now…what is its competitive advantage?…”


“They claim their technology can perform more efficiently than all existing incumbents. I would define it as the progress of the “sustaining technology”. Of course, it is definitely NOT the “disruptive technology, which is not born every day after all…” I tried to explain, pretending like a high-end analyst, borrowing fancy terms from one famous book “The Innovator’s Dilemma”.


My old lady yawned, “Who cares!…I just want to hear something more interesting, you know something can make me tickle…”, then she would throw two more routine inquiries,

“Do founders have a glittering CV and sparkling credentials?”

“Have they found any rich sugar daddy to give them enough cash to burn?”


I shook my head and the old lady reached a grim conclusion, “not looking much promising to me, no wonder most startups died eventually…”


Thus scanty of startups lit up my mother’s face; obEN is one of the few.  It is a California based company specializing in building virtual 3D avatar copy of anyone based on photo and audio, impersonating each individual’s look, sound, gesture etc. It was established in 2014 and came to the center of the spotlight in July last year through Techcrunch report of its USD 13 million financing from leading tech giant like Tencent.

Soon in January 2018, the combo of “Bamboo+Curry” founders received additional USD 10 million and this time the connoisseur is the ultimate golden boy from Hong Kong, aka Adrian Cheng, the grandson and designated heir of one of HongKong’s most influential business families, holdings include the Chow Tai Fook jewellery chain and New World Development Group (basically owning lots of department stores, hotels, real estate etc). Above all, he is the mastermind and entrepreneur behind a new concept of shopping mall-K11, or so-called “Art/Museum Mall”. Take Shanghai K11 as an example, it has already turned itself into city’s iconic and trendy spot, attracting over 10 million visitors annually.

The billionaire golden boy quickly put obEN into a pilot project for his own mall. In April this year, Shanghai K11 launched the world’s first personal AI concierge, in which Adrian Cheng is the avatar guide who gives a very customized tour of the exhibition for each visitor through the mobile device. 

Many reckoned that the technology can be extended throughout the retail industry, such as offering personalized concierge service to shoppers, providing them information on new stores/merchandise, guiding them through the retail location, etc. Furthermore, obEN already formed a joint venture with SM Entertainment, Korea’s largest entertainment agency. They are creating the world’s first celebrity AI agency, so in future brands probably can leverage celebrity Avatar for a personalized marketing campaign. 


As for the K11 golden boy, he seems to be unstoppable. In May, just this week, he sank USD15.7 million into an AI solution provider Aibee founded less than a year. It is said the startup will develop technologies,  for instance, facial recognition, voice recognition, traffic tracking&analysis, customer profiling, product identification, AR/VR…(this list should go on) specifically tailored to the shopping mall experience.




Apparently, K11 golden boy is the visionary, hoping to build the “mother of all AI malls”. As young digital savvy Chinese consumers are easily getting bored offline, the fantasy-like immersive yet personalized experiences almost equivalent to lamp genie tale in the 1001 Arabian Nights should be the key to lure their feet into the door of the brick&mortar; for this, the end to end AI solution sounds like the perfect answer or at least we believe it is going to the deliver the revolutionary future we are anticipating to see.


Author: Cecilia Wu