Small Business: The Pingar story

Pingar chairman Chris de Boer. Photo / supplied
Pingar chairman Chris de Boer. Photo / supplied

Chris de Boer, chairman of Pingar, former chair NZVIF, board director Mobilis Networks and Tarun Kanji, Pingar CFO and chairman, Bank of India (NZ).


Pingar started five years ago, very much as a Research and Development operation, developed by a group of high quality PhDs. Our chief research officer, Alyona Medelyan did her PhD at Waikato and her Post Doc with Professor Ian Witten, one of the world leading experts in the arena of machine learning and natural language processing. Pingar has also worked with AUT, and the University of Wales.

Pingar was set up by co-founder Peter Wren-Hilton, formerly of Butterworth Law Publishers in the UK, Apple Computers and his own web development businesses in the UK and India.

The Pingar API is a platform to better manage big data, transforming organisational information into intelligence using intuitive and powerful technology that harnesses the power of text mining, natural language processing and machine learning.

Managing big data is an ongoing huge challenge for companies worldwide.

Our value proposition is we can enable companies to find, organise and play with unstructured data, giving you significant savings in cost as well as the ability to be more informed.

The company has been international from day one. When we launched in Bangalore this year, we recruited Sir Richard Hadlee as a Pingar ambassador. We have also signed up Daniel Vettori and Scott Styris to help in India with their connections to the IPL.

Why Pingar is not like a small business

Pingar is international but based in New Zealand. We are not typical of any NZ company.

The key for us was to get the name out into the market place as quickly as possible. Because of the global nature of the problem, we could be everywhere. We focus on the major markets, the US and North America, the UK and Europe, Greater China, India, SE Asia as well as Australasia.

Over a year ago we launched a Chinese language version of the technology, one of the most difficult to do. A couple of months ago we announced French, German, and Italian versions, and we are working on Japanese, Arabic and Hindi models.

Japan in particular, is interesting because of the scanning market. We struck a deal with Fuji Xerox a year ago to integrate our software with their OCR (optical character recognition) software.

We have also signed a distributor partnership with Dicom, a Swiss company who have 40 per cent of the UK, European, Middle East and Africa scanning markets. They are very keen on integrating our API (Application Programming Interface) into some of their products and services.

Another focus is the SharePoint market, one of Microsoft's key enterprise products, which has a high market share among medium and large organisations. We have been working with Microsoft for three to four years and have hired Owen Allen, a former senior product manager global evangelist at Microsoft for SharePoint.

Our successes

We have had senior people like Owen Allen approach us about joining Pingar. This is validation that we have got what the market wants.

Other multinational companies we have partnered with beside Fuji Xerox and Dicom include CMC, part of the Tata Group of India and customers include Deloitte.

We launched our India presence formally in February this year in Bangalore, before joining the NZICT trade mission in Delhi and Mumbai. This was another validation step. Everyone we talked to could see what we were about. As a result we are talking to multinational Indian IT companies like Infosys, Gen-i's owner, Wipro, HCL andITC Infotech.

Most of these organisations employ thousands of developers. By comparison, we have a total of 38 staff. We only started to commercialise to market 15 months ago. Now we are in five countries.

We continue our research side in conjunction with universities including the University of Waikato, the University of Wales and two universities in China to commercialise their research.

We have taken on three additional board members, another thing which makes us different from a typical NZ early stage company. Peter Wren-Hilton decided at very early stage that he wanted independent directors. The new directors give us excellent contacts in Asia, America and Europe.

How big will Pingar become?

I think we are looking at a very big hockey stick in terms of revenue. The size of the data problem is not going to diminish.

Becoming a public listed company is possible in the future though not on our near radar screen. The NZ capital market is thin.

We receive approaches in waves when something happens such as when Peter Wren-Hilton was interviewed by the influential Silicon Valley technology blogger Robert Scoble says, "Wow, that's cool." If he says it's cool, the valley says it's cool.

After that we had calls from VCs, investors and investment banks. We have had four approaches in the last three weeks. It means we have prominence globally, being noticed thanks to announcements of what we are doing.

The future

We will try and keep fund raising in NZ from high net worth individuals. We have got a lot of support from Tauranga and get very significant support from NZTE.

Our major costs are people. We have offices in Auckland, Tauranga, Hong Kong, Silicon Valley, the UK and Bangalore and we need good people to run them. We will be opening in Singapore and are looking at Japan.

If you have got something that clearly has global appeal, with a global problem, you need to arm yourselves with the best people you can find. We have a pretty clear plan as to what we are trying to achieve but things are changing all the time.

We believe in a business plan but not for early stage businesses as anything other than guidelines because things change all the time. We have got reasonable flexibility.

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