SaaS scale-up Whispir makes ASX debut

SaaS scale-up Whispir makes ASX debut

With "on fire" growth in Southeast Asia and major customers like Disney and Virgin Australia, Melbourne-founded global cloud communications scale-up Whispir (ASX: WSP) has opened a new chapter as a public company today.

Co-founder Jeromy Wells (pictured) tells Business News Australia the initial public offering (IPO) has been "super healthy" for strengthening governance at the software as a service (SaaS) group, and he can't wait for what lies ahead.

With gross offer proceeds of $47 million and an indicated market capitalisation of $163 million, the company with offices in Australia, Singapore and the US will receive a significant capital boost to fund its expansion projects abroad. 

The current state of affairs is a far cry from Whispir's bootstrapped origins in 2002.

"It would be generous to say we had half a shoelace," says Wells, who owns around 15 per cent of the company.

"We've incrementally raised modest amounts of capital along the way... but it was hard to be ambitious and scale without access to capital.

"That trajectory really changed in December 2012 when Telstra Ventures led our Series A round. That was the catalytic moment where we finally had a proper material capital raise."

The group now has around 135 staff, while 72 per cent of its $27.8 million in revenue last year was generated through seven channel partners: IBM, Telstra, Nexmo, StarHub, Telstra Global, Critchlow and Telkomtelstra.

But there are plenty of cloud-based communications and workflow management companies out there. What is it that sets Whispir apart?

"One of the things is to understand our history and heritage. We really cut our teeth in the crisis communications space, which is where people are under pressure to perform, to make decisions quickly," responds Wells.

"Unfortunately because often situations are emotionally charged, decision making is impaired and mistakes can happen.

"The genesis of the technology is to really simplify processes and abstract communications management, and make it simple for people to drag and drop repeatable workflows so it's not dependent on human beings to be involved."

He says this allows organisations to respond quickly and consistently at scale, and reduce the operational risk of their communications. This could be internally or with customers and the community; the latter is a key aspect for Whispir which has a lot of government customers.

"You need to be able to deliver on communication across multiple communications channels, whether it's whatsapp, whether it's social feeds, voice, email, SMS - we don't privilege one channel of communication over another.

"In the US you might say that Everbridge is really strong in certain parts of the communications market, but we see that the customer can still have use cases for our technology quite happily sit alongside an implementation of Everbridge because we're able to do so much more.

"For some of our clients we're managing up to 167 dynamic variables so that they can be confident that they can instantly engage with the right people at the right time on the right device in the right language - it's about giving clients the right tools to manage those complex personas."

Wells emphasises what makes Whispir's solution different is that you don't have to be a technologist to use it.

"That becomes hugely empowering for business because a knowledge worker within a business can suddenly start to tackle the use cases that in the past have been too expensive or too complex or that potentially need an application," he says.

When asked about areas of growth, Wells is particularly upbeat about the Asia market.

"Asia is on fire. We've got a terrific relationship with Telkom Indonesia based in Jakarta, so there's a lot of commercial activity there," he says.

"We're in the process of closing before June 30 a significant bank in the Philippines and we just closed a deal in Thailand. South East Asia is a really important region for us.

"North America though over time will be the largest opportunity just because of the scale and the opportunities that exist there, but we're careful about our approach to North America and we're sensitive about how much capital we're deploying there until we've got all the channel partnerships in place to enable us to scale in a capital-efficient way."

In an audit a going concern of $52 million was raised as a potential deficiency, but Wells clarifies that has been resolved.

"Capital's in the bank, we've got a clear line of site we'll be profitable from a month on month position by June 20, and we'll have a minimum cash in the bank position of about $11 million," says Wells.

In its prospectus the company forecast a 27 per cent rise in revenue in FY19 to $25.95 million, and a 17 per cent increase in its net loss after tax to $16.9 million. For FY20, Whispir projects revenue of between $28.9-36.7 million and a loss of $13.1-16.3 million.

When trading commenced for Whispir at 11am, WSP shares were trading at $1.71, representing a 6.9 per cent premium to the offer price. However, by 2pm they were down at $1.60.

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