By Glendon Gwee
SINGAPORE — Imagine being able to work on an airplane engine or to visualise the placement of furniture in your new home. This is what Hiverlab is working on. The company specialises in immersive technologies such as Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), and Mixed Reality (MR).
Hiverlab, the Singapore based start-up founded in 2014 by Ender Jiang Shutao, is seeking Series A funding to grow and expand in research and development as well as product development after raising S$1 million in a seed round in 2019.
The funds will be used to help the company accelerate growth and expand into new markets in Southeast Asia namely Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and even Japan and the UAE where Hiverlab already has business partners, Jiang told Yahoo Finance Singapore in a recent interview.
Jiang, a Chinese national, came to Singapore in 2009 after exiting a cartoon animation production company he started the previous year. He joined Creative Technologies for five years as the creative director of its branch in China and deputy general manager, before starting Hiverlab.
The 37-year-old, now a Singapore permanent resident, explained the inspiration for Hiverlab. “I spent 10 years in the interactive media industry as a communications engineer. The inspiration to build Hiverlab came from a diving trip which I was part of a team filming a documentary, teaching handicapped people how to dive. I wanted to provide a better storytelling experience for the end user by turning abstract information into more friendly and engaging stories.”
Hence, coupled with his experience in interactive media, Hiverlab was formed. “It was also at this time where Facebook acquired a similar partner, and this reinforced my decision to enter the industry."
COVID-19 was a tough time for many companies and Hiverlab was not spared as well. The company had to pivot as many in-person events were being cancelled. The core product for the company pre-pandemic was Storyhive, an interactive learning VR/AR platform that allows content to be presented in a virtual format physically and for multiple users to share the same learning journey. Clients were mainly based in the educational and corporate learning sector and include OCBC Bank and DBS Bank.
“I had to rethink the business model as going down to run VR events was not going to be possible. The remodel was good for the company as we managed to drive more movements while the team size doubled, and more time was spent on product development,” said Jiang.
The company pivoted and created products such as Realitycast, TheHub and Cloud Expo to provide solutions for users. “The key success product after the pivot is Cloud expo which allow business owners to map out a building or design their own virtual expo experiences, providing an immersive way to conduct tours and showcase various environments” he explained. The company has seen huge success with Cloud Expo, with an impressive 300% increase in user growth monthly and contributing to 20% of overall revenue in just a span of six to seven months.
Being an entrepreneur is something that Jiang said he enjoys as it gives him opportunities to meet like-minded people. "It is important to find people who can make better decisions, building a system where everyone can make decisions instead of relying on just one person”.
Jiang, a father of two children, shares his enterpreneurial experience with Yahoo Finance Singapore.
Why did you name the business “Hiverlab”?
The name Hiverlab came from the concept of the Hive mind, which was coined by the writer, Kevin Kelly. The concept is about the future of organisations being highly decentralised whereby individual business units can improve what they want, pursue new technology and solutions to build comprehensive and improved systems. I was intrigued by this and decided to adopt the name for the company.
What are some of the challenges you faced?
A tough moment was at the 3-year mark where the company bank account was left with S$800 and payment dates were near. I pushed myself to react beyond the normal response to avoid delaying salary payments to my employees. To challenge and motivate myself in this tough time, I decided to take up busking, playing my harmonica for one month and took myself off the payroll. It was a memorable moment for me.
What is your advice for future entrepreneurs?
Firstly, reflecting on oneself is important, you need to grow as a person, not only growing the company. I feel that one should always keep his eyes open to discover new trends and cover blind spots. Constant self-reflection is necessary to make sure that as the founder, you are still contributing and adding value to the company.
Choosing the right paths to scale the company or taking a new track and the ability to identify market niches are very important. Building a system that can function on its own without the owner having to be present all the time is highly encouraged.
Thus, having the right people is critical to help the company grow. As a start-up, you must provide an attractive growth path for your staff to be who they can be and empowering them to make decisions. I see today’s ultimate competition is in other companies taking away your best talents. Hence, I believe that for a small company, giving equity incentive is another good way to retaining your talents.