REDMOND, Wash. – June 20, 2008 – Recently, Microsoft began collaborating with Zignals, a new start-up company created through the Microsoft IP Ventures program, to launch an innovative, global, online service connecting individual investors with capabilities previously only accessible to major financial institutions. PressPass recently sat down with David Harnett, senior director and founding member of the Microsoft IP Ventures team, and Pat Brazel, CEO of Zignals, at the SME Conference in Brussels to discuss how this deal came about and how it benefits online investors around the world.
PressPass: How do you see this offering benefiting your customers?
Brazel: Zignals was started to fill a gap in the market. Industry research told us that stockholders frequently cite lack of access to the types of personalized investment services and tools associated with top-tier investment banks as one of the key inhibitors to retail investors maximizing the effectiveness of their investment decisions. We decided then to create Zignals, with the help of Microsoft’s IP Ventures program, which provides an active communications service – including stock alerts and charting services – that gives online investors access to new and advanced investment services.
An example of a stock chart from the Zignals Web site.
The first-stage launch of Zignals, made available for free last week at www.zignals.com, will focus on easy-to-use stock and market alerts that can be personalized to an investor’s portfolio and delivered directly to users’ e-mail, PDA or mobile device. It will also include intuitive stock charts and technical analysis tools, all built using Microsoft technology.
The charts widely used today typically either take a long time to download because they are feature-rich or are sweet-looking and update quickly but are not very user-friendly. Investors who try the Zignals charts will notice that they’re easy to customize and don’t take long to download. Over time, Zignals will develop additional services to give online investors access to a online network of financially savvy retail investors who are willing to share their own independently rated successful investment strategies.
PressPass: What’s the benefit of this deal to both companies?
Brazel: This technology relationship is giving us access to Microsoft rules and search engines, optimizing solver frameworks and Web crawlers that have been critical tools for the development of the Zignals service. Overall the partnership has been a huge help. We’ve brought an idea and our financial services experience to the table, and IP Ventures has given us access to innovative technology – and Microsoft IP – helping us develop our idea into something concrete.
Harnett: The benefit for Microsoft is that we have the opportunity to take technology that’s been developed in the lab and test it in a real-world environment filled with the problems start-ups and other businesses face on a day-to-day basis. We also benefit by maintaining a stake in a company that we’ve helped develop and turn into a successful business.
PressPass: What was the genesis of Microsoft’s IP Ventures program, and what was its role in launching Zignals?
Harnett: Well, to start off, Microsoft launched its IP Ventures program in May 2005 as a way to connect entrepreneurs, small businesses and economic development agencies with technologies developed by Microsoft. The program speeds the commercialization of new innovations by providing access to pre-commercial technologies for licensing and working with interested parties to develop them into new products and businesses. Zignals is a great example of how we were able to work with a budding company and speed the development of its technology solution – bringing it to customers that much sooner.
The Zignals Web site features personalized alerts and other services for individual investors.
Brazel: Having worked in the financial industry for many years, I was already in contact with Frank Ryan, CEO of Enterprise Ireland, the economic development arm of the Irish government. During an event hosted by Enterprise Ireland, I was introduced to IP Ventures and started discussing a project that my co-founder, Scott Tattersall, was leading in Dublin City University’s business incubator. Scott’s work was to become the core technology underlying Zignals, and through introductions from IP Ventures Scott and I started evaluating the Microsoft Solver Foundation technologies and testing them with our technology. We agreed on a business and co-development relationship later with the IP Ventures team, and Microsoft became a shareholder in Zignals.
Start-ups working with Microsoft can really benefit from the opportunity of taking a great concept and combining it with industry innovation and market opportunity. And, while it was incredibly helpful to connect with Microsoft executives, we also were able to develop a meaningful technology relationship with the company that will definitely improve the quality of our online resource for consumers.
PressPass: Do you have any advice for entrepreneurs just starting out?
Brazel: There are lots of new and exciting ways to interact and communicate with customers and partners, so seriously consider Web 2.0 and how it will affect your business model. Having said that, the traditional sales and marketing challenges of being relevant and accessing the customer still exist. The past 25 years has taught me to get out in front of customers and be prepared to listen and take criticism on board. Don’t be too sensitive when you release your product/service to potential customers. Rather, be open to what the market tells you, because it is often different from what you thought.
Harnett: It’s amazing the breadth of resources, both public and private, that are available to entrepreneurs. As much as possible, tap into these resources and the experience that others have to offer. Entrepreneurs can contact IP Ventures directly via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or through economic development and governmental agencies such as Enterprise Ireland, Sitra in Finland and the Ministry of Science and Technology in Denmark.