Cool Companies Interview: FusionCharts & Collabion

4 minutes

I recently had the pleasure of speaking to Pallav Nadhani, CEO and co-founder of FusionCharts, an industry leader in creating data visualization tools. Pallav is also involved in a new start-up, Collabion, focused on charts for SharePoint. Here’s a part of that conversation where we’ve captured the interesting journey of FusionCharts and future plans for both these companies.

Pallav, tell us a bit about FusionCharts – a veteran now in the industry – and how it has adapted to the changing technology world. 14 years is no small feat!

Our products run (and have always done so) on a simple philosophy: create beautiful visualizations which offer detailed insight on complex data.

In early 2002, a 16 year old boy, Pallav Nadhani, (that’s me J), wrote an article on a tech website to earn some pocket money. The article described how boring MS Excel charts can be replaced with jazzy Flash charts connected to databases using ASP (an open source web framework for building web applications and services). The website published the article and I got paid quite well for it but I also got a lot more out of it than I expected. The article was an instant hit with developers and feature requests started pouring in. This sowed the idea of turning this project into a full blown product and I started working tirelessly on it.

October 2002 saw the launch of FusionCharts v1.0. It revolutionized charting and was well received by developers and users. But, of course that wasn’t enough – I wanted to make new products and explore new areas of data visualization. I started hiring and FusionCharts was formed. Slowly but steadily, the team started to grow and, with it, new products were launched like FusionWidgets, FusionMaps, PowerCharts etc – the rest, as they say, is history!

What about challenges? Tell us some good stories around that.

There were challenges which FusionCharts faced throughout the last 14 years – some serious, some not so and some which could have spelled doom for us. One such instance was the launch of Apple’s iPad in April 2010. It was all set to replace laptops, at least for consuming information, and it did not support Flash! Steve Job’s open letter to Adobe by the end of April that year set in stone the issues with Flash on mobile devices – poor security, lack of reliability and detrimental to the performance, battery life. At that point, FusionCharts was completely Flash based and companies offering basic charting solutions in HTML5 and JavaScript had already hit the market. We had to act quickly, and act quickly we did – development started for the first JavaScript solution. In the meantime, we started a partnership with one of our competitors who already had JavaScript charts. After 5 months of sleepless nights and intense effort, FusionCharts became iPad ready – we were back, threat nullified!

FusionCharts is now in its teens at 14 – but we are not going to slow down! In fact, we are just getting started. Just to prove my point, in 2012 FusionCharts added yet another feather to its cap by launching Collabion Charts for SharePoint v1.

How has the idea for Collabion come about?

We, at FusionCharts, are always eager to incorporate feature requests coming in from our customers. We had a lot of customers who were looking for a charting solution for SharePoint – the market leading document management and team collaboration tool from Microsoft.

There was a dearth of good charting solutions for SharePoint and we moved quickly to make the best out of it. After a lot of market analysis and research, we learnt that a huge percentage of individuals who use SharePoint for data consumption are business users or non-technical subject matter experts. The IT people and developers make up a much smaller slice of the pie.

Traditionally, FusionCharts has been a developer’s tool which required people to code and develop the charts. But, this approach here would not have been much appreciated. Hence, we decided to create a completely different product which would encapsulate the FusionCharts charting engine into a wizard based UI. So Collabion Charts of SharePoint was born! Its USP is that it helps business users create stunning, insightful charts in SharePoint without having to write a single line of code. The wizard is simple, self-explaining and follows Microsoft’s philosophy of prioritizing usability.

What about your clients, have their expectations changed in terms of buyer behavior – what trends have you noticed during time?

Buyers prefer a seamless buying process. Maybe this is more obvious now than it was 10 years ago. We are working with you guys at Avangate on this as well, and what I mean by this is for example customizing the online order form based on client need, i.e. the form for a new license purchase will be different than that for subscription renewal. Also, the communication with the client will be adjusted accordingly, with different mechanisms for conversion optimization. Luckily, you do most of the work there, so the ecommerce platform provides a great advantage.

What we also noticed was that individual users, developers, small companies prefer to buy directly online, while larger corporations still go through the sales team as preferred purchasing channel, but that will probably change as well and the percentage of online direct will also increase. To note that our main geographies were and still are The United States, followed by the UK and Germany. Don’t get me wrong, we sell in many countries around the globe, more than 120 to give you a number, but these three are our top markets and that hasn’t changed.

What are your future plans?

With Collabion, we want to continue creating products which will simplify the data to decisions journey for people across the world.

We have just released Collabion Charts for SharePoint Online, our first app for the online (O365) version of SharePoint. We are also going to release custom visuals for Microsoft Power BI soon.

Apart from adding more products to the Collabion shelf, we will also keep on improving our existing ones.

A word of advice for other start-ups that are just about to monetize their products?

Solve a real customer need, and price for their success.

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