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The Home Team

2/18/2020 10:24:59 AM Tom Kertscher, Illinois Alumni

Feature photo caption: Kujiale founders (from left) Hao Zhu, Victor Huang, and Hang Chen have seen their company grow to 1,300 employees since 2011.  (Image courtesy of Hao Zhu/Kujiale.)

Note: This article originally appeared in Illinois Alumni, Winter 2019. 

Xiaohuang “Victor” Huang (MS CS ’10) was transformed by a building tour. He distinctly remembers the awe he felt learning about the companies associated with The Grainger College of Engineering’s Siebel Center for Computer Science.

“The first day I walked through the Siebel Center, I read about YouTube and PayPal,” Huang says. Equally impressive was the story of Thomas M. Siebel (LAS HIST ’75, MBA ’83, MS CS ’85, HON ’06), the software company owner and Illinois alumnus who funded the Center. “Those success stories inspired us when we decided to [start] our own company,” he says.

So in 2011, Huang and fellow U of I computer science graduate students Hao Zhu (MS CS ’09) and Hang Chen (MS CS ’10) did just that. They launched Kujiale, or as it is known in English, Coohom. (In Mandarin, Kujiale means “cool home.”) The China-based company offers software that allows users to construct and design home models using real-time 3D object rendering—which makes the process much faster than previous home-design methods had allowed.

Huang is the company’s chairman, Zhu is chief technology officer and Chen is chief executive officer. After receiving $160 million in investment funds, Coohom now employs 1,300 people in China, Malaysia, Singapore and the U.S.

“Users can create a floor plan easily, and then design their homes with a real-time 3D experience,” Zhu says. “They don’t need to install software; everything happens in a web browser.”

Speed is the key.

“We can take cartoonish-looking 3D models in a room setting and turn them into photo-realistic settings in seconds,” Huang says.

Huang was the first to attend Illinois, and recruited his friend Chen to enroll. Then Huang met Zhu, who was already at the University, on a flight from Shanghai to Illinois. The three became friends.

Huang’s research focus at Illinois led directly to his idea for Coohom. “Our research work also gave us a scientific methodology of ‘make assumptions and verify,’ which we used a lot for building the business and the team for Coohom,” Huang says.

“I got the training for solving engineering-plus-business problems from Illinois,” Zhu says, noting that all three men are engineers but interested in business problems.

“We are very different kinds of people, but we have very good chemistry. This is the best gift I got from Illinois,” he says.