For many new businesses, especially small to medium sized ones, creating an online presence is crucial. For teams without the time, knowledge or skill to create basic forms to run day to day operations the task is often daunting and frustrating. Of course there is software available such as MS Infopath or Adobe Livecycle but they are still relatively difficult to use. So I met Ben Cheng of Hong Kong based start-up, OurSky who is trying to help make things easier and quicker with their product, PandaForm.

1. How did you become an entrepreneur?

After I graduated and worked for a few months, I felt really bored with
the routine of work and realized that I don’t want to work like that for
years, so I decided to start the company with two of my best friends
in University. It turned out to be more difficult than I thought but I really
enjoy it. I think being an entrepreneur is a totally different
career path than “normal people”, you have to take financial risk, you
have to keep doing trial and error, learn lots of new things and meet people
all the time.

After 3 years of running the company, I think there are two things
really important: one is your partners: the trust and commitment
between me and my partners are great but all of us are hackers, none
of us are designers nor “business-type” people. So complementary of
skills set between partners is one thing I hope I have considered.
Another thing is try to concentrate and focus; since we’re
bootstrapped we are always distracted by consulting projects.

2. How is it to be based in the Science Park with other Start-ups?

The Science Park perhaps has the highest density of tech-related start-ups
in Hong Kong. A number of interesting start-ups can be found here,
such as Stepcase, Gobuya, MotherApp. It’s good to be with the “nerds”,
which makes hanging out and sharing of useful information easier.
However, there’s still a long way to go for Science Park to be
recognized as a hub for local start-ups to attract talents or
investment interests. Not much has been done to educate the public
that IT companies here are more than making company websites.

3. What interested you in starting an online form company?

What really interested me was the SaaS space. There are couple very
inspirational start-ups who have built simple but extremely useful
enterprise products, like Dropbox, Basecamp and Mailchimp. I want to
build products that make running businesses easy and their customers
happy. I’m also always thinking of what if SaaS start getting popular
in mainland China? So that’s why I want to start by doing a SaaS for
small business, targeting more mature markets at US first, and launch
in China later.

PandaForm seems the safest bet when we started, as we have been
self-funded and bootstrapped by doing web consulting works, a “simple
online forms / database software for small business” seems something I
can just sell to my existing customers.

4. Who is your target client?

There are 2 groups of users who show strong interest in PandaForm.
The first group is organizations like universities & institutes who
run a lot of workshops or events and demand frequent use of online
forms. PandaForm completely changed how they work. Gone are the days
they had to push vendors to set up online forms for them, which
couldn’t even process payment like PandaForm. Unlike those crappy but
expensive custom-built systems which poorly store the data you
collected, PandaForm keeps your precious data in a database that takes
seconds to learn and perfect for collaboration.

Another group is actually quite amusing. They don’t use PandaForm to
collect information from customers, but use it as an online database
to manage and share business information among the staff themselves. A
real life example from a realty company will explain this more
clearly. A team of about 10 people enter information of prospective
customers into the sales lead tracking form, which is categorized by
the sales status (e.g. Negotiating). They are really being creative
with PandaForm and rig up a sales system and CRM that fits themselves.

5. Tell a story about a happy customer

One example is MadShuttle, They’re a shuttle bus company in Spain that
has been our users since the beginning. They use PandaForm as a
booking system for their customers to book a shuttle bus from the airport to
their hostel online. With their growing business and satisfaction with
PandaForm, they upgraded to a more powerful account recently.

Another example is JML, they use it as a CRM system and this is
exactly what they said…

“We had subscribed to several CRM systems, and suffered many
frustrations trying to develop an effective sales lead / follow up
tool that worked for our company. Panda forms allowed us to develop
our own system, one that was both more simple and effective than
anything we had experienced before. As a result, the new sales team
members are able to grasp the working process within 10 minutes, which
has both saved us time and helped make our sales team more efficient.

In addition, we are developing new Panda forms for the collaborative
part of our business, and by having these reports online with the
ability to customize the process; it is allowing us to grow the
business much more effectively.

They have turned something quite difficult into something simple, and
we are very pleased to be able to use the software. Thanks guys!”

6. Who are your main competitors in this space and why are you better?

Wufoo and Google form are often thought of PandaForm’s nemesis by some
people. While I will agree that we all offer similar
functionality, our focus on the management of collaboration on the
collected data is the thing that sets us apart. Let’s talk about
Google form first, it’s free but lacks a lot of features, such as
payment processing and notification emails, which make it not suitable
for serious business uses. While Wufoo is well implemented, it does
not have the good database management tool and simple workflow
capability offered by PandaForm, which makes processing collected data
in a team environment very hard.

7. What else is your team working on?

We’re now working on a new product called PandaDesk, basically it is
what you expect when Yammer meets Basecamp. It makes clients projects
collaboration easier and in real-time by micro-updates.

Let’s say if you’re a doing a web consulting business, you can use the
software to invite clients to collaborate. It displays an activity
feeds for internal team or clients to communicate, manage tasks and
milestones; With micro-updates it encourage everyone in the team to
post quick & short micro-update instead of long email messages; it
also integrates with Dropbox so new files or updates from clients are
always in sync.

Besides new product, we’re also actively looking for investment so we
don’t have to be distracted by doing a consulting business.

Jason is an Australian born Chinese living in Beijing, specializing in entrepreneurship, start-ups and the investment eco-system in China, especially in the tech and social area.

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