Firm aims to shed light on social networks

By Michael Foreman

Software can reveal connections, hidden relationships and patterns in the data of companies, says founder

Christian Hirsch, Mohio founder
Christian Hirsch, Mohio founder

The old adage that seeing is believing is ringing true for visualisation software start-up Mohio as it prepares to clock up its first revenues from its debut product, Mohiomap.

Mohiomap uses business intelligence techniques to provide a visual representation of enterprise social media data, says Mohio founder Christian Hirsch.

Just as Facebook helps you to keep in touch with friends and organise social events, business-orientated social media platforms like Yammer and Evernote allow you to communicate with colleagues and collaborate on tasks and projects.

"What we are selling is an enhanced visual, analytic experience that sits on top of those enterprise social platforms. Mohiomap can reveal connections, hidden relationships and patterns in your data, such as who works together well in a company and who are the key players in a project," Hirsch says.

Mohiomap was born out of research Hirsch carried out as part of his PhD in computer science at the University of Auckland.

Hirsch, from Germany, had planned to stay in New Zealand for two years to complete a Masters' degree, but decided to stay on to gain a doctorate and has been here seven years now.

"It was a great research environment and I fell in love with New Zealand at the same time. I was looking at visualisations and how they could be used in knowledge management and about half-way through the research we - myself and my two PhD supervisors - realised what I was doing might have commercial potential."

Hirsch approached UniServices, the technology transfer arm of the University of Auckland, in 2010.

"Initially we didn't think of spinning out a company, we just wanted to explore licensing opportunities."

UniServices put Hirsch in touch with two early customers - accountancy firm Deloitte and meat industry body Beef and Lamb New Zealand. Both organisations had "large document repositories that they wanted to make sense of", Hirsch says.

"Once they saw what we were doing, that sparked their interest. They started to suggest pilot projects."

At the same time Hirsch was offered a place on an entrepreneurship course at Stanford University in California that was sponsored by the then Ministry of Science and Innovation.

This "mini MBA" changed his thinking, he says, making him decide to develop further applications to appeal to a far wider market.

Then, last year, US-based company Evernote held a competition for developers, inviting them to submit add-on applications for its popular note-taking platform.

Hirsch and his team developed a visualisation app and the prototype Mohiomap was highly placed.

With 75 million users (roughly a third of the size of Twitter's user base) and an open attitude towards third-party developers, Evernote could provide a ready market for the Mohiomap app.

This was enough to convince Hirsch to form a company. So UniServices introduced him to Angel investment company Sparkbox Ventures which manages the Global From Day One Programme, also known as GD1.

GD1 specialises in providing early stage seed capital to start-ups which can show global market potential.

Backed by GD1, Hirsch formed Mohio in November and embarked on an extensive trip to the US, attending the industry conferences of four different software companies including Yammer and Jive Software.

Greg Sitters, chief executive of Sparkbox Ventures, says he was attracted to Mohio because the product clearly had worldwide appeal and the company was a good fit with the GD1 portfolio of investments. GD1 spreads its risk by selecting a range of investments in a mix of markets that will mature at different times.

"Clearly angel investing is quite high risk and somewhat speculative, but we are set up to operate a bit like a fund in that it's a portfolio of company investments ... more than 20 by the time we're fully invested."

Sitters says he's "very bullish" about Mohio's prospects. The launch of a commercial, subscription-based version of Mohiomap for Evernote was imminent and the company was working on versions for other platforms to be launched next year.

• Produced in association with the Angel Association of NZ.

- NZ Herald

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