Hitting the funding pot - one local ASP's story

With a niche market offering, and fine-tuning of its business idea, a Singapore ASP found its venture capitalists.
Written by Thomas Chen, Contributor

The ASP sector is getting a lot of boost these days. Start-ups aside, even established companies such as Symix and Sun are getting a piece of the action by setting up an ASP arm. But how many of these ASPs will survive in the end, and how many will be assigned to the trash heap of dot-com oblivion?

According to a Gartner report, only 40% of existing ASP's today will continue to exist five years from now. And those who are left will survive as niche market providers.

A bleak forecast.

For one Singapore ASP, however, it may be enough.

As a local company founded just 3 years ago, Wheresoft Geocommerce, occupies a unique position of providing a specific service toward fulfilling specific business ends. In this case, a unique service of providing vector mapping to their clients over the Internet.

The Idea

For over twelve years, Terence Tan, founder and CEO of Wheresoft, has worked in the Geographic Information System industry, an obscure industry segment dedicated to providing geographical information to business with location-sensitive needs.
GIS information enables a business to see in detail the environmental difference between one location and another, including traffic flow conditions, road placements, and neighborhood features.

It's a critical task, and a convoluting one. Companies were required to acquire an application package and map information in order to bring about the kind of result that will fulfill their needs. To make matters worst, map information are often outdated fairly quickly, making it a requisite to constantly update the application data.

For Tan, the solution was simple.

"If someone would take the trouble to keep the map information up to date, along with hosted application, …then we have a business model that could work," Tan said.

OCBC Wernes & Walden, a venture capitalist group which oversees a fund of US$110 million, agrees--enough for it to inject S$3 million dollars into the company.

"We understand that there is a demand in the market right now for a good web-based mapping system, and after much evaluation, we are convinced that Wheresoft has a solution that can meet the needs of web users, whether, corporations or individuals," said Daniel Ong, executive vice president of OWW.

With the investment, the company has moved to a bigger office, retained a PR representation and expanded the team of employee to the number of ten. The future is looking up.

The Funding

The road to funding hasn't been an easy one for Wheresoft. Founded in October 1997, it took Tan two years to ensure that different aspects of the business become fine-tuned enough to be marketable. Meanwhile, the boom of the Internet locally in 1998 signal a readiness of the market for the kind of business Tan had in mind.

September 1999, Tan decided to source for funding to the project. It will be another 9 months before he'll reap any fruits.

During that time, Tan solicited all kinds of investors imaginable, from patron-investors to incubating groups, all to no avail.
Tan, however, takes it all in stride, chalking the whole experience up as a learning process.

"The nine months has been a real learning experience, … our idea and business model was sharpened with teach encounter until we met OWW when it had become good enough for them to take a risk on us," said Tan.

Sharpening presentation skills is one thing, the business fundamental of Wheresoft, however, remain unchanged, and that is the offering of a service that will help businesses either to make better location-critical decisions or to visualize location information in a way that is intelligent and interactive. This, ultimately, is why OWW pumped that money into the company.

"There is vast potential in companies which provide enabling technologies to help other companies conduct web-based activities, or to enable companies in the enhancement and improvement of their web contents and services, and we see Wheresoft as a company in this category," said OWW's Ong.

The Product

Setting Wheresoft apart from most other mapping technology that is offered today is a technology that allows the streaming of vector-based maps over the Internet.

Vector-based mapping application will allow unlimited scaling to any size and the ability to embed any amount of information into any point on the map, therefore making the maps fully interactive.

Point the mouse at a point on the map, click, and information about that location is displayed. That's the kind of capability that Wheresoft's service enables.

In addition, a client can be assured of up-to-date mapping information as maps are updated regularly back at the Wheresoft office.

"Wheresoft becomes a source for maps where subscribers can access the most currant maps as and when they need it, similar to subscribing to utilities such as electricity and water. The cost of ownership, skill set, time and software required for maintenance rest on us," said Tan.

What sort of business would use such a service? Any business that engages in geographic-based planning that requires location analysis, including logistical routing.

Already Wheresoft has roughly 10 customers and is looking to expand into the region. By next year, Tan expects, the company will be profitable.

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