When we talk about patents and intellectual property, most of us have our eyes glaze over and we mumble something about needing to head off to a meeting. It isn’t the most glamourous part of the business, but we know it has value. The main reason for this revolves around the complexity of identifying and then applying for patents.
Imagine a young startup with a seed grant that just built a device that revolutionise the world. To prevent theft, they need to secure their IP and to do that, they often have to part ways with most of their grant. However, there are options and one of them comes in the form of PatSnap, Southeast Asia’s newest unicorn and one that has been building its business steadily for over a decade.
With just an idea in hand, PatSnap CEO Jeffrey Tiong was able to secure his first round of funding and slowly, but surely built a company that has changed how we see IP.
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To find out more about their journey, we had a chance to speak to Jeffrey about his journey and the story behind PatSnap. With more unicorns being built every day, it is a welcome sight to see a company that built its foundations and created a sustainable business around innovation and hard work. Their story is below.
If you want to know more about his journey, you can catch him on FuturePulse, a podcast series by IPI, a subsidiary of Enterprise Singapore.
What drove you to start a company focused on IP? What was the genesis of PatSnap?
I interned in a US startup internship program back in 2006, that startup developed a medical device and in that industry, IP is very important. I helped the startup to do patents due diligence and hence got the idea of starting Patsnap. From this experience, I learnt that patents are actually very powerful and useful documents. There is a study shows that 95% of the information found within patents cannot be found elsewhere. PatSnap has the first patent from 300 years ago until now, updated daily.
However, as patents are written by lawyers, therefore it contains a lot of legal and technical jargon and a normal layman would be hard to understand. We hope to democratize the patents information and make it available to everyone.
Was there a catalyst or a singular moment that propelled PatSnap onto the path of being a unicorn?
That isn’t a singular moment. Along the way, there are so many decision points that if any one of them has changed, we will not be where we are today. I met many great partners, mentors and teammates along the way. For example, having our angel investor invest in us back in 2010 even though we were literally just an idea was key, without his investment and help along the way, PatSnap would not be where we are today.
Also meeting my founding partners from all over the world (they were from UK, Germany and China) has been instrumental to PatSnap journey and my own personal growth development. We have shaped each other a lot as we have been working together for 12 years+ now.
Could you describe the evolution of PatSnap as a company over the 14 years, how has it changed?
Patsnap went through 3 phases. phase 1 is from 2007 till 2012, the first 5 years we spent time building and develop the product. from 2012 to 2018 is our phase 2, we start proving the business model and start scaling up on the IP intelligence market globally. 2019 and onwards we start branching out to new adjacent markets.
There were a lot of ups and downs along the way too. We fought, argued with each other, but because we all believed in the same cause and same vision/mission, and we also have the trust and bonding, it helps us and the team to go through a lot of difficult and challenging times.
What were the initial challenges in your journey that were the most difficult to overcome?
building and leading the team. my own leadership as well. I have to keep growing and expanding my leadership horizon and capabilities in order to keep leading the company in the right direction. Back then in early 2010, after we raised first seed funding, I ramped up the team quickly from 10+ people to 40+ and made a lot of mistakes, I have to eventually lay off more than half of the company and went back to 10+ people. That was a painful decision and all this because I didn’t know how to build a team, and didn’t have good leadership.
What have been the biggest surprises over the years when it comes to the evolution of your industry?
Surprisingly, our industry does not change much. However I believe with the advancement of AI and many other technologies, I believe it is time this industry should start seeing more innovation and changes, which should be good for the companies and market.
What’s next for PatSnap?
We will continue to build great products and have a user-centric first culture as we scale our global team. I strongly believe that the only way to continue to compete in this hyper-competitive market, we need to keep innovating and keep delivering value to our users. This is easier said than done. We need to find ways to better understand customers as our team is getting more diversified and globalized.