SmartCompany: NextWindow – Timely technology

Leading-edge technology and impeccable timing put nine-year-old New Zealand company NextWindow in just the right spot to take advantage of market shift toward touch-screen computing. As result, the company is confounding recessionary pressure with sustained rapid growth.
The genesis of the business was founder and chief technology officer John Newton’s interest in finding new way to access websites through shop window. He came up with the idea of using optics and, in brief, NextWindow became one of the first companies to commercialise optics-based touch-screens.
When the company started life back in 2000, its focus was on large touch-screens (of the sort seen in shopping malls) because the componentry it used was relatively big. Its big decision was to miniaturise – and helped by $560,000 development grant through the Foundation for Research Science and Technology, the company achieved that breakthrough at just the right moment.
One of its earliest engagements was with HP, which was then looking at building kind of coffee-table application, explains CEO Al Munro.
“That didn’t proceed, but about that time we got the first prototype of our miniature technology screen and the consumer division at HP were looking for touchscreen for new all-in-one PC they were developing. So we were in the right place at the right time with new technology that provided some benefits over and above existing technologies.”
These included clarity of screen image, plus annotation capability and speed (to keep up with handwriting). The product represented new category and therefore potential tipping point for the company’s fortunes, notes Munro.
“It was going to be important for us to win the follow-on business at HP because that would say two things: that HP has proved for the market for that category; and if they opted to go with us again, then it proved us as supplier. So when the second product got announced, we knew the phones would ring off the hook. So we positioned ourselves for that with all the other PC and monitor makes and basically that is what happened.”
In the meantime the introduction of touch to new smartphone and iPod products had helped push the technology into mainstream markets. So when Microsoft chose to make Windows 7 touch-screen enabled and looked at what was out on the market, NextWindow had become the de facto standard.
No surprise then that the Auckland-based company has become ‘Fast 50’ phenomenon – on the list three times in row and able to boast revenue that’s grown 600 percent in the past year to hit nearly $50 million. Staff numbers are now up around the 80 mark (more than half have been there less than 18 months), it has offices that stretch from Taiwan and Singapore to the US, and does its manufacturing out of China, Thailand and Malaysia.
Distance from markets was never felt to be constraint, says Munro.
“I guess we were, in that horrible phrase, born global. We always expected our markets would be overseas and my background was with IBM where the experience and training you get is in global business development. So being able to take New Zealand technology to the world was something I always really wanted to do.”
The company is 65 percent offshore owned because it couldn’t raise enough capital in the local market. But it’s driven from New Zealand and still strongly focused on R&D in the bid to stay on the leading edge of touch-screen development.
“At the moment in many respects we’re ahead of the market so there’s not lot of customer feedback to drive the next range of options,” notes Munro.
So, present emphasis is on making improvements while driving down costs and keeping keen eye on the competition that has inevitably heightened as touch goes mainstream. Looking back, Munro reckons one of the smartest things the company has done is maintain its focus.
“When you start off, you have to throw lot of things at the wall and see which ones stick, but as we’ve grown, we’ve become more and more focused. Delivering to these big global customers requires you to execute very very well so you do less, but do it better. I think that focus has been one of our strengths – we don’t get distracted.”
The challenge now is staying ahead.

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