SINGAPORE: US software company Qualtrics is investing US$2 million (S$2.7 million) to open its Southeast Asia headquarters in Singapore, and plans to ramp up investments here over the next three years, it announced on Thursday (Sep 7).
Its local operations, located at the Marina Bay Financial Centre, will be headed by Singaporean Foo Mao Gen, who was previously the vice-president for Asia at Canadian business software maker OpenText.
Qualtrics is looking to fill eight sales and technical positions before the end of the year. By 2020, it hopes to expand the local team to be about "50 to 60 people", Mr Bill McMurray, the managing director for Asia Pacific and Japan, told Channel NewsAsia.
To do so, the American firm will ramp up investments in Singapore over the next three years, added Mr McMurray though he declined to put a figure to future investments.
Founded in 2002, Qualtrics makes research software that allows companies to track the experiences of their customers and employees on one single platform. It has 8,500 customers worldwide and is valued at US$2.5 billion after its last funding round in April raised US$180 million.
While it bills its experience management software as a "new-generation solution" for measuring things such as customer satisfaction for businesses, it has confidence in the region's appetite for its software due to the nature of Southeast Asian markets "being a rapid adopter of new generation solutions" and as brands begin to place greater emphasis on customer experience.
In particular, Qualtrics has seen “very good traction” in Singapore over the last 12 months - a key reason why it decided to have its regional headquarters in the country, according to Mr McMurray.
Among its 70 clients in Southeast Asia, around 40 are from or based in Singapore, added Mr Foo. They include banks, educational institutions, telcos, hotel booking websites, food & beverage and logistics companies.
Singapore Post, for one, has been using Qualtrics' experience management platform for the past year to "measure, analyse and act on customer feedback", as well as conduct ad-hoc market research projects.
"The flexibility and agility of the platform have allowed us to better anticipate and react to our customer needs real-time and take appropriate action," said the company's assistant vice president for customer excellence Gillian Yeap.
Mr Foo, the newly-appointed head of Qualtrics' Southeast Asian operations, described Singapore as the "spearhead of technology" compared to its neighbours. With companies having a more receptive attitude toward new technologies and a government-led push to become a Smart Nation, the tech unicorn sees an abundance of opportunities.
"Experience management is the new wave for business applications. Companies in Singapore are already talking about big data and artificial intelligence, which shows that they are open to considering new ideas on how to improve their business," he said.
Other factors such as ease of doing business and the availability of talents also outweigh considerations about Singapore's high-cost business environment, Mr Foo added.
Given Singapore's centralised location in Asia, the local office could take on more responsibilities in the longer run such as taking care of markets in Southern Asia, said Mr McMurray.
But for now, it will focus on growing Qualtrics' presence in neighbouring markets, such as Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam, which were previously handled by the company's Asia Pacific headquarters in Australia.
NEXT MOVES: JAPAN OFFICE AND AN IPO?
When it comes to growing its presence in Asia, Qualtrics is not stopping at Singapore. It has set aside another US$2 million to open its first office in Japan, slated to be ready by the end of the year.
The new offices will put the company in a good position to tap into Asia, its key growth market, said Mr McMurray.
"In Asia Pacific, which is a far less penetrated market than the US, we are growing at 100 per cent per annum in terms of revenue. This means Asia is an important engine for driving revenue growth for the company globally," he explained.
Apart from that, the Utah-based company has also begun laying the groundwork for an initial public offering (IPO) back home which could happen in late-2018.
Echoing previous comments from Qualtrics' founder and CEO Ryan Smith, Mr McMurray told Channel NewsAsia that the last funding round in April would be the company's "last prior to the IPO".
He added that Qualtrics is "doing a lot of things which are leading indicators to an organisation planning for an IPO" such as the naming of Mr Murray Demo, chief financial officer of Atlassian Corp, to chair the firm's audit committee
"We are putting in significant investments now for the company to be ready for an IPO so that we do not suddenly find ourselves not enough well-positioned to carry on business under those IPO rules and regulations," Mr McMurray said.
"The plan is heading towards an IPO in late-2018. That obviously can (change)... but that is clearly our next step."