Source: Australian Trade and Investment Commission – Austrade
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Whispir’s cloud communications platform is an international success, thanks to investor support and a well-judged approach to expansion.
Whispir is a classic tech success story: the startup has grown from a two-person operation struggling with debt to a global business employing more than 140 staff across Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Indonesia and the US.
Whispir’s category-defining cloud communications platform enables businesses to manage complex communications through a simple, flexible workflow. It has more than 500 customers, including The Walt Disney Company, Virgin Australia and numerous government departments and institutions.
In June 2019, Whispir completed an oversubscribed initial public offering on the Australian Securities Exchange that raised $47 million. Further expansion into Asia and North America is now very much front of mind.‘We’re well capitalised now and in really solid shape,’ says Jeromy Wells, the company’s Co-founder, CEO and Executive Director.
Pivoting to a new category
Wells was a registered architect when he co-founded Whispir with another architect, Romilly Blackburn, in 2001.
‘I wasn’t an IT expert and you don’t need to be,’ he says. ‘Technology businesses are really about business problems – we leverage technology to solve problems.’
Whispir’s big break came after Wells presented the platform to ANZ Bank.
‘It was a big boardroom. Lots of suits. I gave my presentation and there was silence. Then, the ANZ guy said to the Vodafone guy who’d made the introduction, “You’re right. This is exactly what we need.”’
Whispir switched its initial focus on the construction industry to providing a user-friendly platform for crisis and operational communications, supporting banks, telcos, utilities, transport and logistics companies, and emergency services.
Whispir is also used for customer engagement, making it simple for businesses to communicate with customers via multiple platforms.
‘In many senses, we were defining a new category: communications workflow as a service,’ Wells says. ‘There are no other vendors out there doing it the way we are.’
While Whispir wanted to expand overseas, capital was an issue until December 2012, when Telstra Ventures provided the company’s Series A investment.
‘That was the first time we’d raised real money and it created an opportunity to build a significant channel relationship with Telstra, which has terrific reach,’ says Wells.
The first move outside Australia and New Zealand was Singapore, in 2013. Via an office with two people, Whispir quickly built a list of blue-chip clients, including AIA Group, Singapore Airlines and the Monetary Authority of Singapore.
Similar low-key approaches were taken when Whispir expanded into North America in 2016 with offices in New York and Seattle. The company’s clients include Disney, the US Congress and Canada Lotto.
Crucially, Whispir has raised capital at key points in its journey to facilitate overseas expansion. A 2016 round raised funds from Telstra Ventures, Singapore’s NSI Ventures and Rippledot Capital.
Whispir’s entry into Indonesia was assisted by telkomtelstra, a joint venture between Telstra and Telkom Indonesia. telkomtelstra has a practice of supporting Australian technology firms and used its and Telkom’s reach to promote Whispir’s growth with enterprise users in Indonesia.
‘We see a strong role for telkomtelstra accelerating the uptake of Australian technologies and innovative services in Indonesia,’ says Erik Meijer, President Director, telkomtelstra. ‘It’s good for our customers, deepens our offering, and can bring new innovation to the Indonesian market.’
Through this connection with telkomtelstra, in 2018 Whispir received funding from MDI Ventures, a corporate venture capital initiative owned by Telkom Indonesia. The investment paved the way for Whispir to open an office in Jakarta.
Wells is fully aware of the need to be responsible with investors’ money and expand sustainably. His advice to tech startups thinking of venturing overseas? It will invariably cost more than you think.
‘There’s a risk in going in too soon and not being properly capitalised,’ he says. ‘You don’t want to charge into these markets without having first found your feet.’
Gearing up for growth
According to Wells, overseas expansion has been a learning curve.
‘The product is the same, but the way we sell it is different,’ he explains. ‘In Asia, people don’t want to engage with a senior salesperson; they want to have a relationship with a tech expert they can look in the eye. When we went there, we focused on high-quality enterprise sellers, with technical presales and solution architects behind the scenes, but now we do it in reverse.
‘We’re building an Asian business to service the Asian market. We have different sales models from ANZ, and different again in North America.’
Channel partners have been integral to Whispir’s success. In 2017–18, about 72 per cent of the company’s revenue came from leads generated by seven channel partners: IBM, Telstra, Nexmo, StarHub, TelstraGlobal, Critchlow and Telkomtelstra.
New channel partnerships in North America are due to be announced soon, as Whispir begins a push to expand in that continent after laying down solid foundations.
‘We had a commitment to quality, transparency and reporting, and we built a reputation based on those principles,” Wells says.
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