Interview with Mr Ben Stein, CEO & Co-Founder | Staple AI Pte., Ltd
Staple builds deep cognitive technology that understands complex business documents. More than a typical OCR or a text mining solution: our deep technology approach reads and interprets documents just as a human would. Instant, accurate data extraction and document processing means that businesses can substantially automate their workflows and reduce reliance on human data entry.
Script of Interview
Interviewee Mr. Ben Stein (BS)
Position Co-Founder & CEO,
Company name Staple AI Pte. Ltd.
Company website URL https://www.staple.io/
Interviewer John D. Evans, CFA (JE)
Interview conducted on 21st August 2020
About Ben Stein
JE: Good afternoon, Ben. Let’s start off and I’ll combine the first two points. Give the reader something of a brief personal overview of yourself. And also, a professional overview studies, previous work experience. Just a little bit of background just gets us started.
BS: I am an accountant by trade. So, I’m a chartered accountant. I started my career at KPMG. So was with KPMG, for almost 10 years actually. Prior to that, I studied business and law specializing in corporate law and commercial law at the University of Queensland, Australia. I grew up in Australia but after joining KPMG I traveled to KPMG in London KPMG, then in Austin, Texas. So, I moved around a little bit with them worked in the audit departments, corporate finance, and infrastructure advisory teams. Great experiences a great, great learning ground. I’ve got a lot of exposure to a lot of different companies, industries and the problems that they face. I did some time in the UK after that, I worked at a couple of private equity firms and finally made my way to Singapore to take up CFO, a multinational company here in Singapore. And in that transition, I came across a program called Entrepreneur First, which is an incubator that basically introduces founders from very diverse backgrounds, different fields and that’s how I met my co-founder to start Staple. Ordinarily, I would not meet people like that in the wild. So, my co-founder is a PhD, computer scientist. He has expertise in machine learning, quantum computing, cryptography. These are not people that I usually mix with. So, that’s how we came together to start this venture. And so, I definitely bring a lot of business and consulting expertise to the table and have an understanding of the pain points and the problems that our customers and potential customers face. And Josh is the CTO and co-founder he, he definitely leads the team to develop the solutions for those problems.
JE: When did you move from the UK to Singapore?
BS: Ah, that was 2017
JE: Oh, so fairly recently and was Entrepreneur First located in the UK or in Singapore?
BS: Okay, yeah, I had first heard of them in the UK. I definitely came across that that name and was definitely interested in starting a business in the technology space but didn’t actually apply to the program until moving to Singapore.
JE: Okay, and Singapore now you consider your home base for business is that correct? I noticed something called AVTEL. Do you have other activities related or different going on at the same time as you’re running? staple? Right.
BS: No, Staple is Now hundred percent of my focus
About the Company
JE: Okay. I guess that’s true of anyone who starts a business. I guess it’s hard to be a part time startup entrepreneur, isn’t it? Okay, well, that’s a good bit of background that covers off our introduction in the first set of points. So, let’s focus and you’ve talked a little bit but let’s talk a bit about Staple. Just remind us of the history of the company when it was founded, presumably by you, but you know, when did your other co-founder come on board? How did the team get built, etc.
BS: Sure. So, the genesis of the idea was from the Entrepreneur First program. That’s where the Co-founding team met. And that’s Josh and myself. So, I’m the CEO and Josh is the CTO. We started exploring the nature of the product in 2018. We didn’t actually incorporate the company into late 2018, it would have been October 2018, and that that company was co-founded by the two of us. We did have our first employee, who was also from Entrepreneur First. And she’s also a PhD computer scientist. So much of the early period, the company was the three of us. And, and thereafter, we’ve grown the team to include other web developers over the course of 2019 and this year. So, we are around, I guess, 20 months old now. We’ve started to now onboard some of their first paying customers. It’s been a long time for development. But that’s, in a nutshell how we’ve, we’ve grown. For the most part, the team is in Singapore. We have five, five team members now in Singapore. And we have two in Vietnam and one in India. So very Asia focused team, we are managing to work remotely. And that’s really helped us we haven’t really been affected by COVID situation, we continue to work reasonably productively through this.
JE: What about the two people in Vietnam and one in India? What do they do? Are they sort of like business development to open up those markets? Are they technology or …
BS: No, they are technology. So, they are technology in a sense, I guess more DevOps back end and front-end development. So not a lot of the heavy AI. It’s a lot of the interface and user experience as well as integration with other customer systems. Because of the machine learning aspects, the proprietary stuff that we do, that’s all done here in Singapore, with the team here. We have one business development resource in addition to myself and she is based in Singapore.
JE: Okay, okay. At this point in time, what is what is the ownership of the company? Is it you the two co-founders? Or is it more broadly held? Are there any outside interests?
BS: Yeah, so, in terms of equity interests, Josh and myself, the two of us, but we have taken on outside investment in the form of convertible notes. So, when we raise a subsequent financing round, they will, they will convert to equity, but for now, it’s a convertible note, outside interest, and that that investment was from Entrepreneur First as part of the founding of the company. We raised some investment through that program. And then subsequently, we’ve had some more investment from 500 Startups.
JE: Okay. Okay. Very interesting. Now you said you’ve already got your first paying customers. So, I always break startups or prelisting companies into four categories, startups, revenue generation, becoming profitable, and then several years of profitability. So, I’m guessing what based on what you said, you’re in category two, your revenue generating but perhaps not yet to the level of profitability.
BS: So, it’ll be nice, but yeah, you’re correct. It’s the kind of secondary revenue generating we still have some time to raise profitability. Hopefully, sometime next year we’ll be in that 3rd category.
JE: Okay. How many customers do you have that are revenue paying and how many do you need to get to have a similar size to get to break even?
BS: Ah, explain that a little bit. So initially, we had a focus on building AI solutions for SMEs and startups. That, that was that was challenging for us, the churn was quite high. And it’s difficult to sell to a lower ticket price point. We, after the first six to eight months of operation and development of our product, we quickly realized that there was market or there was a marketplace of the enterprise end of town. So, we now focus on that end of the market. So, banks, healthcare, financial services, professional services, and we’ve become more of an enterprise facing product as opposed to an SME facing product. We also have a mix of SME customers and larger enterprises. And in order to become profitable, we probably need to close three to four more enterprise customers. We have a strong pipeline at the moment, but we need to get those additional ones.
JE: Very interesting. Now you’ve touched on some of your customers. So, I want to talk a little bit about your target market from both an industry and a geography perspective, from a geographies perspective. I know Singapore is a big, huge developed financial center. Are you just focusing on Singapore now? Or are you marketing in any other countries ASEAN or any other regions?
BS: Well, that’s right, we do focus on Singapore. There’s a lot of opportunity here. We are focusing, first of all most on the Singapore market. But we have also had in with had interest in Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, and even Japan. We haven’t actively put boots on the ground in those countries. We haven’t invested in marketing in those countries. But we just through word of mouth we’ve been approached for various pilot opportunities and POCs in those countries. One of the aspects of our products that I’m sure we’ll get into shortly is a multi-language capability. So, we have developed a solution that can handle multiple languages with a particular focus on Asian languages. We believe we were focusing on markets been traditionally underserved in our space. So those are the geographies where we’re focusing on Singapore is definitely our primary focus, but with a secondary focus on Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia.
JE: Well, that’s interesting. And I was looking at that excerpt on your website and you said, can be performed in any major language including Thai, Vietnamese, Bahasi and Mandarin. And so that sort of aligns up to the other countries. You were you were talking about. But as you said, still very much a I was going to say an Asian maybe I should even say an ASEAN focus. Okay, very good. So now, the second point, from an industry perspective, you’re starting to look at larger companies, you said banks, health care service organizations. So clearly, your offering is for a lot more than just financial institutions.
BS: That’s right. Yeah. We, we initially set out to solve an accounting problem, the classic documentation problem in accounting. Let’s that’s a lot of my background is in that space. So, things like invoices and receipts. There’s a lot of solutions in the market for this kind of problem. But we quickly realized that this is a problem in a number of sectors with a number of business workflows in different regions and different industries. So, invoices and receipts are something that we can, we can read and extract and process. But there’s so many other challenges that can be solved using a similar technology. I think it’s more product. So how our solution can handle a number of use cases. Primarily, our industry focus is now banking, finance, professional services, including accounting, legal, and healthcare. Those are industries that have a very heavy reliance on documentation for a paper based or digital PDFs, we do both. But those are the six we focus on now.
JE: I’m involved in healthcare and other sectors. I would guess that your product would be in the healthcare sector more suitable for the healthcare insurers sort of the big claims processors as opposed to little clinics or hospitals.
BS: Yeah, correct is medical claims is the core focus at the moment. We have been approached through other things in the medical space around hospital administrations. But we haven’t got any customization in that particular sector. At the moment it’s mainly medical claims.
JE: Now, let me ask another question sort of close to home for me. How do you see your offering in the future now or later? Will it be targeted at the mainland China market? You mentioned Mandarin as your language capability. How does that fit into your plans?
BS: It is something we would like to focus on in the future. It’s just that at present we, we like to stick with what we know. We have strong networks in ASEAN countries that I mentioned. We actually we have partners in those locations. We have very little partner connections in mainland China. And I don’t speak Mandarin, I don’t I don’t have any prior experience in mainland China. We have had some conversations with potential users in Hong Kong but nothing in mainland China at this stage. Definitely something we’d like to do but there have been no prospects yet.
JE: Okay, very interesting. I mean to run your business, either now or going forward, will you be sort of a self-contained full service being provided inside or do you depend on any sort of external partners, outsourcing, strategic partners for the delivery of the operations?
BS: Ah, not at this stage. Ah, our solution involves, as with most software products, we do have some open-source technology we’ve incorporated as well as our own proprietary tech but at the moment we don’t have any dependency or supplier, supplier vendor dependency relationships. We have partnerships. We have partnerships with the likes of Xero, SAP, some of the RPA companies in terms of technical partnerships as well, but we don’t have any dependencies as you said. It’s more partnership arrangements.
About the Industry
JE: So, you can deliver your whole product with your in-house resources, you’re not dependent upon any key external supplier. Okay. Okay, let’s turn to the third general section. Now, I had labeled that about the FinTech industry. But of course, we’ve already discussed that your offering is more broad than FinTech, service enterprises, healthcare, etc. So how would you if you had to put a single label on it? How would you classify your industry subsector? Or is it just too broad an application?
BS: Ah, well, we have a data capture solution for business workflows. Ah, If I had to describe it in a single sentence, its AI that reads, interprets and extracts data from documents. Our primary classification, we do in terms of the customers are we’re servicing, the use cases that, that our technology is applied to, they are primarily financial use cases. Yeah, there’s, there’s, I think there is some broad applications to other sectors like health and accounting, but at the end of the day, I say we are financial as a primary focus.
JE: So, you’re defining your industry based on where you see the greatest demand the most user strong. There’s an analogy there, we worked with a firm and, and Suzhou is called Modula and they provide precision storage. And if they put a storage system into a company, like into a library or something like that, then they get classified as a storage system. But if it’s part of integration into an automobile assembly line, then they’re classified as an automobile. And so, they have so many different applications that, you know, they get classified in that application with whichever it’s being used for at that point in time. And I guess, as a service provider, that by definition, can be broadly used because this this paper issue really is almost universal. It’s, yeah, there’s the biggest customer segment and that becomes the focus, but really, in terms of defining the actual service, it’s almost sort of universal and can fit into almost anything.
BS: That’s right. I, I think we deliberately focused on the customer segment. Initially, we knew that there was a lot of pain in terms of its document processing, onboarding, credit applications, KYC documentation, General compliance issues in banks and financial institutions. So, we initially built a lot of our enterprise grade solutions for that segment. We were then approached by customers in other industries and asked if we could apply our technology to these other use cases. Luckily, we could, we could easily train our AI to try this medical claim example. But we never really set out to be a healthcare solution was always a finance focus. It’s just fortunate that the approach we’ve taken was very flexible and can be used regardless. But I guess were still a FinTech focused company.
JE: And I guess FinTech pardon me, Singapore and financial center just sort of go hand in hand, don’t think. Okay. Okay, so we’ve defined the application. So, I’ve sort of touched upon this before. You’ve already described who your major customers are financial institutions, service organizations, healthcare providers. we’ve, we’ve gone through that. You’ve talked about major suppliers, you mentioned SAP, and any other key suppliers to your firm.
BS: I think we’re channel partners such as Xero that have an interest in our capabilities. I mean that they have in house solutions that are traditional OCR. They can convert images to text to say receipts and things like that, but they like to work with us for the multi-language capability component. There’s, there’s a bit of a barrier in some cases where these solutions I’ve been trying for English or Latin characters. So that’s the intent behind these partnerships. In terms of other other partners, I would say E&Y is also quite a significant one. There’s a big four
firm. We we’ve been part of their foundry program in Singapore for some time and we work closely with them on a number of use cases. And that’s, that’s been a really beneficial partnership for us.
JE: Now, you said you had worked for KPMG for quite a number of years in different locations and yet in a number of conversations, about startups in in many different areas, I keep hearing about the E&Y support? So, you know, in the Big Four, are they sort of the only one providing the support? Or is it just I’ve just been exposed to a very small sample size?
BS: Ah, well, I think so I think in this particular form of support, I would say that they’re the only one that that offers a similar standard program. All the big four have some kind of startup exposure or startup program, but I don’t believe any of the other big four have anything close to the E&Y standard program and support they offer. I have spoken to the other firms in the past, but no similar support is really available to my knowledge, in one of the other big four.
JE: So, what does E&Y actually provide? Are they sort of like an incubator? Do they provide you with premises what is their own offering?
BS: So, it’s a formal foundry program, where we are co a co located in one of our offices here in Singapore. So, we do get space, office space. We did pre COVID at least, those offices haven’t opened back up yet but we also get exposure to a lot of the different teams within E&Y to test the use cases and test the feasibility of our solution in a real-life context. So, there may be real life use cases that need to apply our solution to, again in a POC or pilot kind of environment. We also get formal workshops provide by E&Y for certain aspects of running a business, pricing for example, it could be branding. So, tapping on the expertise internally within E&Y. There is no equity arrangement, so it’s more of a partnership where we are not invested.
JE: So, when you said they help you with use cases, might some of the relationships they introduce you with they might some of them become your paying customers in the future. Does that happen? Okay, so it sounds like a great, great arrangement. Now, what about what you do in terms of regulation? The finance industry is one of the most heavily regulated industries in the world. Do you fall under that massive pile of required regulation? How does your service fit in? Do you have to be registered, regulated by someone, etc?
BS: No, not, not particularly for the core use case that we offer. We, when we’re when we’re dealing with a bank an FI and insurer, there’s obviously a requirement for security around data management. And that’s mainly what we do when we’re dealing with data information. We are dealing with payments, we’re not dealing with holding funds, or custody or anything like that. So, there are regulation in that respect. But privacy and security of information is of utmost importance. These are companies that live and die by their reputation. So, it’s often extremely challenging to convince a bank for example, that a small startup is the right fit for them when, when they’re putting customer client information in our hands. So, to, to get around that we have to offer technology that deal with those privacy needs. In that, in that regard, traditional SaaS solution, a cloud-based solution is not going to fit. So, we have to offer our on-premises option, or private cloud solution that can scale. And that’s what we do. So, when we initially developed a SaaS solution that any anyone could use with our API’s or with our platform, but we quickly realized that this would not work for a bank or for healthcare provider. So, we have an on-premises option or a private cloud option that we offer to large enterprises, and that really circumvents the need for any regulation in that respect. There’s obviously the ISO quality standards, ISO 27,001 or whatever, around data security. And that’s something we’re working on. But for now, the on-premises option allows us to build for these institutions.
JE: Like a spring just dropped. Let me see. Okay, yep. You just froze for a second I heard this ‘boing’. So sometimes it is sometimes it means a call is coming into the other side. That’s why I just paused for a second. So, let’s talk about this customer approach because you raise an issue that I think a lot of newer smaller companies do. So, you’ve said you want to approach the larger enterprises, they have more revenue, they’re their target markets, but sometimes just because of relative size or bargaining power it’s sometimes tough for a smaller company, a newer one to close a contract with a much bigger firm. So how you want to target the larger enterprise because that’s where the revenue is. How do you make that approach? How can you be effective and overcome that barrier of a small firm approaching a big entity?
BS: That’s a good question. It’s, there’s no silver bullet. It’s, it’s difficult to first of all get noticed by these big companies. So, exposure is, is one thing. We, we have been lucky in terms of publicity and exposure of our overall solution and our company here in Singapore and in in Vietnam. And ASEAN, for that matter. We’ve been we’ve been invited to our conferences, and we won some awards. And that really helps get your foot in the door to some of these large enterprises. So, that’s the first step and then secondly, getting in touch with the right person and
these companies are imperative finding, finding some kind of digital transformation manager, or someone who’s in charge of digital initiatives in a bank or FI. And they need to be your champion or advocate, because in order to just get a single deal, you have to get sign off from, I think at least eight different people in one of these companies. You have to deal with the decision maker, the privacy team with the client team and the IP team, the price has to be right, so making sure you satisfy all those people is a time-consuming process. But basically, our approach has been to basically build a solution that is perfect for their problem. And that may mean introducing more features and more features than we had in mind. There may be an element of customization, but we will take that approach and try to price that functionality into the deal. So that’s been in a nutshell, we have done it. Just making sure that the solution is perfect to them and then better than what is currently implemented in their in their operation, or better than the other alternatives that they have access to in the market.
JE: I’ve heard that, I don’t know whether it’s the Singapore government or the MAS or maybe both. They’re very supportive of startups, particularly in the FinTech space. Do they provide any sort of assistance in bringing startups and established customers together? Could they be a channel that that helps with introductions or are they just providing more financial support?
BS: They have been. There’s different arms of the of the government in Singapore that have made introductions to us. There are a number of brands, I’m sure you’ve heard about, particularly in the recent economic environment that the government has really tried to support, especially FinTech companies and FinTech certified companies, to make connections with banks and financial institutions. So, some of these grants and some of the funding of ours is contingent on FinTech companies doing a project with a financial institution that, frankly, were we’re in that category. So, there’s funding available for the POCs delivered by fintechs to banks or financial institutions. And in that, in that sense, there’s kind of an incentive to make these connections and do this kind of work for banks and FIs. That there’s a there’s a number of industry bodies, you mention the MAS, there’s also the Singapore accounting commission that we that we work with where they are making introductions to accounting firms. And MAS participates, or has involvement, with the F10 incubator, and so indirectly, we make connections with other corporates and enterprises through that relationship.
JE: You used the term a minute ago saying if a firm is quote, FinTech certified, unquote. What does that mean? It’s obviously beneficial to be FinTech certified. But what’s that entail?
BS: The Singapore government has introduced a FinTech accreditation, that is managed by a body called the Singapore FinTech Association, the SFA. And startups can now receive certification as a FinTech company. In order to do that, they need to demonstrate that they are developing technology that is suitable for finance companies, banks, financial institutions, maybe insurance. And, and once they can demonstrate that and prove that they’re delivering technology to that, that particular customer segments, they get this certification. And this certification is obviously signals to the market and you’re a FinTech focused startup, but it also allows you to apply for various grants and various funding that that you would otherwise not be entitled to. This this is part of the government’s focus on this particular industry and startups and technology in the finance sector is a real focus at the moment.
JE: So, it’s like a business enterprise assessment. It’s not like a single exam, the CEO takes like, CFA Level 1, or something like that?
BS: No, you have to have some hard evidence that you are legitimately servicing the finance sector.
JE: Okay, and do you have to have minimum size, minimum capital or is it just solely based on the service that you’re offering?
BS: I don’t believe, no, I don’t believe there’s a size requirement or capital requirement. I think it’s just the nature of your business. Does your technology somehow accelerate the productivity or facilitate financial services company?
JE: Okay, very interesting. I’ve known for decades that you know, the Singapore has big been a big financial center, but the Singapore governments and related entities have always been really supportive financially with education. It sounds like there’s just a really good business to government ecosystem in Singapore.
BS: Yeah, that’s right. Okay. With the Singapore FinTech Association, this thing is a reasonably recent initiative they’ve taken but it’s, it’s to help drive and help support the FinTech startup ecosystem.
JE: Very good, very good. So, you’re focused on Singapore, but you know longer term, the whole ASEAN market. So, let’s talk a little bit about the comp the competitive structure of the industry. So, whether you’re talking about Singapore or whether you’re talking about ASEAN who are your competition? How many are there? Are they a few small or big firms? Are they lots of small startups? What’s the competitive environment in your specific application area?
BS: There are a lot of competitors that that focus on this problem. I might start broadly and then talk more about the ASEAN market but traditionally, there’s been some large OCR companies and traditional OCR was developed for computing applications in the 70s. But it was it was developed to convert I guess, books or long form text by taking images and converting it into text. So, it could be for books for archives, other long records, and that that technology has evolved over time to deal with business transactions, receipts, invoices, forms, that kind of thing. The challenge with traditional OCR though is that it’s template driven. And that when a new format or document is introduced to an OCR application you have to set a new rule, a new template to help it understand this particular style of document. Machine learning led applications like ours take a little bit different approach more template-less. There is no need for rules or templates. The machine learning has been trained to understand different formats and layouts. So, for the past, I think probably decade or more, the biggest players in the market are companies larger, mid to large. I think it’s a Russian company, ABBYY, and there’s also Ephesoft who are who are, I guess leaders in the OCR space. In terms of the neural machine learning approaches, there’s companies such as Hyperscience, which is a US based company, as well as Rossen, similar machine learning based approach. And they’re based in Prague. But the commonality with all of those companies is that they primarily focus on English and Latin character-based instructions and documents. And this is where we decided to take a different approach and focus purely on the Asian market. So, we spent a lot of time working with banks and customers in Vietnam, for example, spent a lot of time working with a Thai script and Japanese script. So, so there are those companies that are definitely much bigger, much more established than us Hyperscience, for example, they’ve recently raised 60 million in series C funding raising around 60 million USD. So very, very successful. There’s, there’s obviously a market there. But we don’t really see a lot of these companies in Asia for the reason of Asian language, or at least that’s what we believe. So that’s, that’s where we have a little bit of differentiator
JE: Two follow up points in there. I don’t have an in-depth technical background. I just have a more superficial one. But I don’t hear you talk as competitors with any of the really big household names the Googles the Apples, they’re, they’re not people in this space driving.
BS: Wow. Yeah, that’s a that’s such a good point. So, you are either there are solutions provided by the likes of Amazon Textract. The Google, Google Cloud solution has a product that can do extractions about these are more, I guess, generalized solutions, that you will not be able to plug it in and extract the relevant information from a medical claim, for example. You would have to do some connections and you would have to have an IP team to build a solution around it and train the Amazon Textract technology to look for specifically, these fields. So, for example, you have to tell us you’re looking for specific drug prescriptions or you’re looking for the patient’s name or you’re looking for the clinic address, for example. It will just get everything off the document. By the relevance for, for a solution like ours is that you don’t want everything from a from a document, you want the information of interest, the data points that matter to you. So that’s where we fit in, we have the industry specific solutions, as opposed to something that will just get all the text of a document, without any discrimination for what’s important and what’s not important.
JE: I guess, as a user, the Googles, the Apples are there they’re huge things they tend to focus a little bit more on the consumer market. That’s not true for Microsoft or others. So, I guess anything they’re going to do is going to be big, and it’s going to be a little bit more of a generalized nature for sort of a mass market and so they’re big mass market people and that’s not what a business needs, business needs a customized solution.
BS: Yeah, that’s right. That’s right. So, we are able to be more of a plug and play solution for specific industry use cases.
JE: What about, say Tencent and Alibaba, so they are obviously using Asian characters. So, are they on the scene anywhere?
BS: Ah, we have not yet come across them. I certainly would not rule them out, then they would be they would likely be playing in this space, if they’re not already. But, we haven’t come across yet. There are there are a number of a number of small local players in every jurisdiction, we find. There are varying degrees of performance and accuracy that we see but we. We feel that for the particular use cases that we pursue in different industries that we focus on, we do reasonably well in terms of performance and accuracy. And the overall use case for our product.
JE: What is the general pricing or revenue model? Is this like a consulting contract for a fixed period of time at, for level monthly payments? What is the general structure of a contract?
BS: It depends on the deployment that the customer would prefer so we have a cloud-based pricing model that can be accessed through our API where we’re talking several cents per document. And we have more competitive pricing as per document has the volume of processing increases. So, the more you process the lower the price per document. Importantly, I would say that we don’t charge per page. As a lot of traditional OCR companies do. We charge per document, because our technology is an AI solution, the AI needs to ingest the entire document before I can understand the contents, not just standalone pages. You and I, as humans, we can’t just read a page and get full meaning from an incomplete document. So that’s the way our processing works. If a document is four pages long or one page long, the pricing is the same. For that, of course, if it’s 100-page document and we have to put a cap on that. But that’s, that’s the difference primarily in our pricing. So that’s for the cloud based/API model that we have but for enterprise customers that require an on prem deployment. We price on a license basis, so, an annual license. Ah, pay for usage, basically.
JE: Okay. So, looking a little bit further ahead. Now, let’s talk about three years down the road. What are the scenarios you would hypothetically like to consider? One, would you like to keep it a private firm that you kept control of? Two, would you like to IPO but still stay in as a CEO or Three, is there a possibility? There might be an M&A transaction?
BS: Ah, they are all nice options. I guess there is a possibility for an M&A transaction. I think an IPO may be challenging in the next two to three years. We would like to scale the company but I’m not sure if we get out to IPO scale in that timeframe. Some kind of M&A maybe an option, there are a lot of synergies that we can foresee with a range of different companies. So, there are software companies that may be interested in what we’re doing. There are accounting firms, there are financial institutions, there are a range of potential synergies that we could draw from an M&A transaction. We’re not actively pursuing that right now. We’re just trying to grow and scale businesses as best we can, right now. But yeah, that’s certainly a possibility in that time frame.
JE: Okay, so anything’s possible. Anything’s possible. Okay, so we’re coming up to just over 50 minutes now, and it’s getting time to conclude. So, the last point I’ve put on the page is a case study, and you’ve said you’ve got several revenue paying clients. Now we don’t have to mention any names or any private detail. But can you just sort of illustrate one of those generically in its totality and people will get a sense of, you know, what that business contract is all about?
BS: Sure. I will give an example of a bank but won’t mention any names. Typically, like I mentioned earlier, it is a challenging process to get the foot in the door, but assuming that we’ve had those conversations and, and the customer is satisfied with our technical capabilities, the processes generally start with a with a proof of concept for POC. And that aspect would be paid, because there is a lot of work that goes into it. Like I mentioned before, there’s, there’s a, there’s a need to develop the best solution for the problem that they have. And for that reason, we have to do some additional features and customization to that use case. So, we have a paid POC, we, we stipulate and agree upon success criteria for that POC. In our case, its accuracy threshold, its processing speed, its uptime. And it’s just general usability of our product to the duration of that POC, and the fact that it can do, what we kind of can do, we can process KYC documentation, we can process credit applications, utility bills, bank statements, all these all these documents that someone would submit when they want a loan from the bank. So, provided we pass the success criteria, we would continue with a with a commercial pilot at that point, negotiation of pricing would need to recompense because we will be with the entering agreement on a more commercial long-term basis. At that point, we would offer the option of a cloud-based deployment but invariably with a bank, it will be a private cloud. So, something like Microsoft AZURE or internal cloud or an on-premises deployment. So that that will most likely be a license, annual license or if there is desire there may be a perpetual license as an alternative, but that that is typically the life cycle of closing a deal for us, it has been so far. So, negotiate and prove our technical capabilities, POC, succeed with the POC, mover to commercial pilot. We are still too early to proceed any further than that but that’s how we’ve, we’ve worked so far.
JE: So, for ones you’ve move forward with, if you said from your very first meeting with the company until you sign the commercial contract, how long did that take?
BS: Ah, that would have taken between nine and ten months.
JE: Okay. Not quite a full year but pretty close to it. So, these, this takes a lot of work to get to the signing.
BS: Yeah, that’s right. That there is some variation to that. There are some other companies that have taken two months to do that, but they were not banks. Banks and financial institutions tend to take much longer sales cycle but our other customers we’ve had a much, much quicker.
JE: Okay. Very, very interesting. So that that covers all the talking points that I had put on the sheet that I had sent to you. I want to close with two questions, and I’ll ask them, the second last question is, what is the impact that COVID had on your business? And then my final question, I’ll just open it to you to say, Are there any other things that you want to just add to the discussion that I didn’t think of asking?
BS: I will answer the first question. In short, we haven’t been as badly affected, as I had expected. I was very, very concerned that we would, we would not really be able to close any sales or any POC deals or, or really yet to have any conversations with any potential leads, but we’ve been extremely lucky and fortunate in that our pipeline is very healthy. We’ve had a lot of customer interest from all the geographies I’ve mentioned. And if anything, it may have made it easier for us, the willingness to videoconference for meeting Teams Zoom or Skype. We can reach customers in Indonesia or wherever the case may be without having to be there. And that’s been great for us where we get a lot of momentum and continued conversations at a reasonable cadence. So, I guess the only small challenge is paperwork. And some of these countries like signing a contract or an NDA or any other kind of documentation really needs to be paper based. So, I’ve been I’ve been shipping in couriering a lot of documents around the place as opposed to the traditional or not supposed to the digital signing of documents that we can get away with in some other countries. So, yeah, it’s been fortunate for us. I am really grateful every we’ve been able to continue. And I think also our business and the service we offer is, is not the first thing that these businesses want to cut in terms of their expenditure. In fact, it’s the opposite. It’s reducing headcount or refocusing headcount on more revenue generating activity. It’s automation and intelligent processing of documents is something that’s still reasonable, reasonably top of mind for a lot of these companies. So, we haven’t been badly affected. I don’t think there are any other questions that you have missed.
JE: You just reminded, I’m just going to interject something, you just reminded me of something in, in the late 1970s television. It was a TV series about students at law school and the name of the TV show was called the Paper Chase. And it sounds like the Paper Chase is still going on.