Singapore is celebrating one of its most notable tech exits to date after Zopim, a company that provides live chat support services for websites, was sold to customer service software firm Zendesk in a deal that could be worth as much as $30 million.
There have been bigger acquisitions out of Singapore — for example Rakuten’s $200 million deal for Viki last year — but Zopim is different, since it did not raise private venture funding and has been profitable for some time.
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Zopim bootstrapped, pivoted to a freemium model and maintained a strong focus on product. The founders gathered $400,000 in government grants and investment in total, paid themselves tiny salaries in the early days, and did very little PR — one exception being when we covered a big mobile launch last year.
In a world where some consumer products get most all the attention and can command huge deals — hello WhatsApp for $19 billion — Zopim is a reminder that B2B businesses are a better fit for many entrepreneurs, particularly in Asia where consumer culture, language and other factors vary wildly between countries.
Likewise, the deal shows that good technology is good technology regardless of whether it is built in Silicon Valley, London, Berlin or Singapore. Zopim serviced an international base of 40,000 customers right from Singapore, proving that any company can be international.
Explaining the deal, Zendesk says of Zopim and its product:
We acquired Zopim to accelerate our chat functionality and to bring our users a beautifully simple product they can use to engage their customers in real-time. Zopim has a great track record of providing tools for proactive customer experiences to customers worldwide. They offer both free and paid plans for customers, and have focused on making their product intuitive, transparent, and fun.
Startup ecosystem in Singapore boosted
The deal is a boost for Singapore’s startup ecosystem. Zopim got going off of the back of government grants, and that has led to quite a windfall for its staff and founders, as Tech In Asia notes:
Co-founders Royston Tay (CEO), Wenxiang Wu (COO), and Yang Bin Kwok (CTO) would get the lion’s share of the deal at up to $7.7 million in cash and stock each at the end of three years, while customer experience vice president Qing Ru Lim, also a co-founder, will get $3.57 million.
That means four new potential angel investors are on the scene, and the Zopim founders have unique experience that they can share with the community and other aspiring entrepreneurs across the region.
A culture of working for big companies still persists across many parts of Asia. Society often places great value on working for established firms rather than starting out on your own, making it difficult for some entrepreneurs to gain the acceptance of their family and friends. Exits like Zopim, Viki, McAfee’s 2010 purchase of TenCube, and the establishment of accelerator programs like JFDI Asia are all steps towards changing that.
There are some concerns however. Zopim suffered “breaches of its security measures” in the past, and there are issues surrounding past business in Iran, something outlawed in the US, but overall the deal represents another important marker for Singapore’s tech ambitions.
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