Published on January 21, 2008
WEB WEDNESDAY GUEST SPEAKER - INTERVIEW WITH P.K. CHAN, CEO OF EDITGRID. CONDUCTED BY NAPOLEON BIGGS FOUNDER AND MANAGING DIRECTOR OF PALAVA DIGITAL LTD CONVENOR OF WEB WEDNESDAY ON WEDNESDAY 9TH JANUARY 2008 PALAVA DIGITAL LIMITED, UNIT 1201, 12/F, CAPITOL CENTRE TOWER II, 28 JARDINE’S CRESCENT, CAUSEWAY BAY, HONG KONG TEL: +852 3518 2500 FAX: +852 2814 3852
What are your digital resolutions for 2008? i. Convergence of web standards, especially Acid2 and DOM standards, so that writing and maintaining cross-browser code would no longer be a nightmare. ii. Legacy web browsers like IE 6, Safari 2 and Opera 8 going into extinction. iii. More people, especially enterprises, subscribing to the SaaS model. iv. Free wifi everywhere, even on airplanes. PALAVA DIGITAL LIMITED, UNIT 1201, 12/F, CAPITOL CENTRE TOWER II, 28 JARDINE’S CRESCENT, CAUSEWAY BAY, HONG KONG TEL: +852 3518 2500 FAX: +852 2814 3852
How did you get started in the internet business? It depends on how do you define quot;Internet businessquot;. TnC have strong roots in web development -- our first product PEM, which won us the IT Excellence Awards back in 2004, is a web-based calendar and employs pioneering technologies such as XSLT and Ajax (before this term was even coined, in 2005) and required IE 6 to run when IE 5.5 was still the dominant player in the market (those were the days...). But there's crucial difference between what we did back then and what we do now: PEM, and other products we did back then, are enterprise applications developed for private deployment on an intranet, whereas EditGrid is running on a true SaaS model on the Internet. Development on the web has its obvious advantages: low entry barrier for a startup, low cost of distribution, being inherently cross-platform (though not neceassily cross-browser) among others. Playing in the true Internet in the sense of facing the whole world's public users add much more to the mix: rapid exposure to a lot of users from all over the world, quot;release early, release oftenquot; etc. What drove you to become an entrepreneur? The sense, no matter how unsound it is, of being in control of one's own destiny. PALAVA DIGITAL LIMITED, UNIT 1201, 12/F, CAPITOL CENTRE TOWER II, 28 JARDINE’S CRESCENT, CAUSEWAY BAY, HONG KONG TEL: +852 3518 2500 FAX: +852 2814 3852
Your original business, TnC, was an event management solutions provider. At what stage, did you decide to reinvent the business to focus on online spreadsheets. It was back in the summer of 2005 when, after one year of full-time operation in the event information service business, we've come to realise that we lack the scale to make a IT service company like we were at the time profitable to an extent that justifies the risks we were taking as a startup. With the advent of the quot;Web 2.0quot; wave, we feel that our expertise can be better spent in some other ways. Creating an online spreadsheet of our own is one of the most natural choices that we had, as we had been engaged in a number of projects converting the stack of MS Excel spreadsheets that the customer were running into web-based solutions. We had even implemented one using not Ajax but XUL (phew...). Was this a painful exercise? It turns out to be much smoother than expected. We closed a round of angel investment from Silicon Valley-based investors in later 2005, after which we were also able to secure matching fund from SERAP of the Innovation and Technology Commission, the HKSAR Government. With extra funding in place we were able to deploy extra resources into EditGrid's R&D without affecting existing businesses. The most painful process is offloading old customers as we move more and more of our existing resources away from the old event information service busienss into EditGrid. Many of these customers have had close ties with us. PALAVA DIGITAL LIMITED, UNIT 1201, 12/F, CAPITOL CENTRE TOWER II, 28 JARDINE’S CRESCENT, CAUSEWAY BAY, HONG KONG TEL: +852 3518 2500 FAX: +852 2814 3852
How did you come up with the name editgrid? The name reflects, in some sense, our roots in developing enterprise solutions. This name was originally used to describe our innovative interface in enterprise solutions which allow users to easily edit data in a grid-like interface in the web browser. We found this name readily understood by our enterprise customers. That's why when we decided to make our own online spreadsheet for the world, we retained this old name, even though the product is completely different from the old technology. We have many start-ups in this room, all seeking investment. Tell us, how did you go about raising funds? Why did you go all the way to Silicon Valley? There's a substantial difference between soliciting angel investment and venture capital. Angel investors are usually within reach of your own network, whom you may have known for years or have just met yesterday. Both can make good an angel investor. Our Silicon Valley-based angel investors turned out to be a friend of a friend whom we just met at a networking function. So do not down play networking functions like Web Wednesday :) For venture capital, it is really important to find a good VC which do bring strategic value to your company, in addition to capital. For a startup like us which targets the worldwide market from day one, it's important to find a VC with global connections. If your company focuses on, say, the China market, then perhaps a China-based VC is a better choice. PALAVA DIGITAL LIMITED, UNIT 1201, 12/F, CAPITOL CENTRE TOWER II, 28 JARDINE’S CRESCENT, CAUSEWAY BAY, HONG KONG TEL: +852 3518 2500 FAX: +852 2814 3852
Was it difficult to find investors in Hong Kong? Finding an angel investor, yes, it's difficult, but not quite as difficult as finding a VC. How long did the fund raising process take? In our Series A round it took us just longer than one month from initial contact to signing the term sheet, and two more months for due diligence before closing. It's a relatively fast track for us. Of course, it takes time to prepare a good pitch before establishing the initial contact as well. Did you bring a financial advisor on board or do it all yourselves? We pretty much did it all by ourselves. Are you profitable? If not, when? No. We hope to attain profitability in 2008. PALAVA DIGITAL LIMITED, UNIT 1201, 12/F, CAPITOL CENTRE TOWER II, 28 JARDINE’S CRESCENT, CAUSEWAY BAY, HONG KONG TEL: +852 3518 2500 FAX: +852 2814 3852
What is your business model? How do you make money? Three major business models: i. Direct subscription (SaaS) through editgrid.com ii. Retail subscription (SaaS) through a partner site, such as centraldesktop.com and onsheet.net iii. Licensing the EditGrid Software behind the customer's corporate firewall. iv. (Potential) Advertisement by leveraging the user-generated contents on editgrid.com What technology have you used to build editgrid? The grid interface is primarily Ajax (no Flash or Java involved). In the backend, we run Perl in the webapp tier and C in the spreadsheet engine tier. Where is the platform hosted? www.editgrid.com is hosted on a server farm in San Jose, Calif., but you can host it yourself if you buy a standard license. PALAVA DIGITAL LIMITED, UNIT 1201, 12/F, CAPITOL CENTRE TOWER II, 28 JARDINE’S CRESCENT, CAUSEWAY BAY, HONG KONG TEL: +852 3518 2500 FAX: +852 2814 3852
What makes your offering different to competitors like Zoho and Google Spreadsheets? Our business model is unique. We are the only player to offer the licensing route for global enterprises to deploy on intranet, such as Mitsubishi UFJ, one of the two largest banking conglomerates in Japan. Being a standalone product, we are also ready to establish partnerships with many other good web applications in market. Real time update (RTU): what is it and how does it work? RTU is one of EditGrid's most important features. It allows multiple users to work on the same spreadsheet at the same time and, when one user updates a cell, the other user will see it updated in real-time in his/her browser. This enables both online collaboration (important for enterprises) and online publishing (important for broadcasting time-sensitive data, such as stock quotes). This is a big step forward from MS Excel, which considers revisions in terms of files, not in terms of cells. Remote data: Can you explain how this works? Remote data is another important innovation of EditGrid. It allows users to fetch real-time data from somewhere else on the web. The most prominent use-case is fetching real-time stock quotes and currency exchange data from Yahoo! Finance (which publishes delayed stock quotes and forex for free) and feed them into your own spreadsheet. This brings to live numerous use-cases not previously possible in MS Excel, ranging from building your own portfolio spreadsheet and monitoring your real- time net worth, to broadcasting your own quot;financial news channelquot; by mashing up the relevant financial data from the web. PALAVA DIGITAL LIMITED, UNIT 1201, 12/F, CAPITOL CENTRE TOWER II, 28 JARDINE’S CRESCENT, CAUSEWAY BAY, HONG KONG TEL: +852 3518 2500 FAX: +852 2814 3852
I understand that one of your users, War God, has developed a stock market spreadsheet using RTU and real time data that has generated over 1 million page views. Tell us more... The ADR spreadsheet is a very good demonstration of what the users can do once they've gotten liberated production tools. The spreadsheet, which is accessible by the public at http://www.editgrid.com/user/wargodriver/adr , is most famous for its ADR index: due to the 12-hour time difference between the Hongkong market and the New York market, it compares 7 Hang Seng Index constituent stocks' stock price at NYSE with its closing price in Hongkong, and thus predicts its influence to the next day's Hang Seng Index opening price. In peak hours (when the NYSE is active), it can easily attract two to three thousand concurrent users. This example is a vivid proof that once the user has the tool and the means to broadcast to the world, users can create contents which can rival the quot;professionalquot; productions by the likes of Bloomberg. You started the business in May 2006 and already have over 50,000 users. How did you grow so fast? To be honest it's not even fast enough to us. What we did is largely leveraging the Web 2.0 marketing means: words-of-mouth, blog marketing, online advertisements &c.. PALAVA DIGITAL LIMITED, UNIT 1201, 12/F, CAPITOL CENTRE TOWER II, 28 JARDINE’S CRESCENT, CAUSEWAY BAY, HONG KONG TEL: +852 3518 2500 FAX: +852 2814 3852
How do you market your services overseas? Via google adwords? Google AdWords, as well as (more importantly) coverage and referrals from bloggers and opinion leaders in the field. Which is your most effective online marketing channel? Keywords, word of mouth referrals, email marketing, events, pr, blogs, interviews? Blogs. Where do you run your customer service centre? Here in Hong Kong, both in our office and at our homes. PALAVA DIGITAL LIMITED, UNIT 1201, 12/F, CAPITOL CENTRE TOWER II, 28 JARDINE’S CRESCENT, CAUSEWAY BAY, HONG KONG TEL: +852 3518 2500 FAX: +852 2814 3852
What are the future trends of online documents? Convergence on the web is an irreversible trend. The next step will be to attain greater inter-operability from one application to another. You've launched an iPhone version. Any plans for apps for Facebook and the like? We've just launched a Facebook app yesterday (Jan 7th, 2008). The most important next step will be the launch of the EditGrid Application Framework (quot;EAFquot;), which is a next-generation development platform that allows more mashups to be built on EditGrid, and enables incorporating third-party applications onto EditGrid -- a bit like the Facebook development platform. It will open much even more exciting opportunities. Thank you! PALAVA DIGITAL LIMITED, UNIT 1201, 12/F, CAPITOL CENTRE TOWER II, 28 JARDINE’S CRESCENT, CAUSEWAY BAY, HONG KONG TEL: +852 3518 2500 FAX: +852 2814 3852
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