James Henderson

From ‘no money’ to Nasdaq: An entrepreneurial approach to software success

Inspiring entrepreneurs are often asked to cite that specific moment when time stopped and the penny dropped – an epiphany which revealed a world-beating idea.

Over the years, such stories are usually embellished with the addition of fanciful details enabled by a willing media lapping up stereotypical founder anecdotes.

But for Dr. Tianyi Jiang (TJ), his co-founder journey started with a “life-changing event”.

Dr. Tianyi Jiang (AvePoint)

Working at Lehman Brothers on the 40th floor of World Trade Center 1 (North Tower) in New York on 11 September 2001, TJ experienced 9/11 first-hand. Everyone from his office made it down that day but the young software consultant quickly realised the importance of pursuing his passions.

After embarking on a graduate degree and a career building new software, TJ reconnected with old friend and former colleague, Kai Gong, to launch AvePoint from a public library in Somerset, New Jersey.

Making the leap full-time as CEO in 2005 – having completed his PhD thesis and juggled software development commitments at Citadel Investment Group – the co-founder started a journey of education, perseverance and passion.

“In the beginning, we had no money,” TJ recalled. “Kai and I were super scrappy and faced a lot of challenges in the early days.

“I will never forget it took us three years to make a single dollar – and it wasn’t for another decade that I could pay myself more than my Wall Street salary from before I started the business.”

But the co-founders invested every dollar of profit back into the business, kept AvePoint debt-free, expanded into a global player and eventually became a publicly traded company with now over 17,000 customers and an “exceptional team” across 25 global offices.

“For me the key has been to approach every challenge with a growth mindset and optimism for the future,” TJ noted. “Entrepreneurship is a marathon not a sprint and it’s not for the faint of heart.

“I’ve been reading the Tortoise and the Hare to my children and think the lesson in this book is relevant for anyone who wants to be an entrepreneur.”

Operating as an independent software vendor (ISV), AvePoint has been running for 22 years and went public 20 years in following a $2 billion merger with Apex Technology Acquisition Corporation – on paper, and especially in the technology sector, that’s not typical.

“But because we’ve always run this business with a focus on technical excellence and rapid innovation cycles, taking calculated risks and being financially conservative, it was possible,” TJ said.

“There have been so many highlights along the way but when AvePoint went public, it reflected 20 years of hard work and determination to build a company that would help organisations around the world enhance and secure their digital work environments.

“I was incredibly proud of that accomplishment and all the AvePoint employees who made it possible.”

Currently boasting a market capitalisation of $1.29 billion – the company’s highest valuation since November 2021 and up 68% compared to 2022 – recent first quarter results represent a “solid start” to the new financial year.

Total revenue was $59.6 million, up 18% from the first quarter of 2022 and increasing 23% year-over-year on a constant currency basis. Within total revenue, software-as-a-service (SaaS) earnings stood at $35.5 million, rising 34% compared to the same period last year.

“I will never forget it took us three years to make a single dollar – and it wasn’t for another decade that I could pay myself more than my Wall Street salary from before I started the business”

Dr. Tianyi Jiang (AvePoint)

“Our revenue and operating income performance exceeded our guidance and underscores our commitment to shareholder value by advancing the digital workplace, capturing growing markets and prioritising profitable growth,” advised TJ, when announcing company results in May.

According to informed analyst commentary, the business is bordering on breakeven and is expected to incur a final loss in 2024, before generating positive profits in excess of $3 million by 2025. 

Acquiring expertise in Asia

An integral condition of future success for AvePoint is accelerating ambitions in Asia, chiefly Singapore with its strong appreciation of human capital.

“That’s why education is the number one spend nationally in Singapore,” TJ said. “The constant pursuit of education and continuous learning excellence has always put Singapore at the forefront of technology adoption and digital transformation.”

To capitalise on such ripe trading conditions, AvePoint acquired i-Access in early 2022, a Singapore-based training and learning provider with more than 20 years’ experience supporting enterprise customers and government agencies.

Representing the company’s first acquisition, the purchase has allowed the business to expand MaivenPoint – the SaaS digital learning arm of AvePoint – into corporate learning and development as a “massive extension” to an existing focus on the higher education market.

“i-Access Solutions has deep, broad domain knowledge and expertise in training management solutions for institutes of higher learning and many Singapore government agencies,” TJ added.

“Our acquisition is helping to accelerate digitisation in the Singapore training and adult education sector and transform the future of learning and training across education institutions and within the commercial and corporate workplace.”

Scaling inorganically through mergers and acquisitions (M&A) will remain a strategic imperative, added TJ, who stressed the importance of “expanding our multi-cloud footprint and launching more industry-focused and line-of-business solutions”.

Recently recognised as Microsoft Singapore Partner of the Year in the Education category, AvePoint has also rolled out a new training management system in the form of Vitae.

This helps training providers, academies and institutions automate course administration and streamline processes such as course scheduling, student enrolment and billing.

“When we won a strategic deal with all polytechnics in Singapore to build their TMS [Training Management System] that will help over 300,000 learners, that was our biggest customer for this solution,” TJ outlined.

“We also just won the confidence of the biggest commercial learning and development provider here in Singapore, to service hundreds of thousands of labour union members in their learning journey towards continuous education.”

Months after snapping up i-Access, AvePoint unveiled its newly established $100 million international R&D Hub in Singapore – a commitment backed by EDBI, the investment arm of Singapore’s Economic Development Board, and Digital Industry Singapore (DISG).

Dr. Tianyi Jiang (AvePoint)

The aim is to create a “major hub” within the company’s worldwide R&D network and foster local talent to support the growing global demand for B2B SaaS solutions.

“We’ve had many exciting updates to the AvePoint Confidence Platform since launching our R&D Hub,” TJ explained. “Most notably, AvePoint’s governance, management, migration and data protection capabilities now extend to Microsoft Power Platform, which many organisations are using to automate processes, build digital solutions, analyse data and create virtual agents.”

Notable work includes a “ground-breaking project” with the Monetary Authority of Singapore – AvePoint’s third largest customer in the country and a user for more than 10 years.

“When they needed a partner for this project, AvePoint was the natural choice, beating the Big Four and the largest systems integrators in Singapore in a highly competitive bidding process,” TJ recalled.

“They’re launching a digital platform for global financial institutions to share customer and transaction data, with the dual goals of preventing money laundering and terrorism financing, as well as protecting client privacy.

“It’s a national priority and the first of its kind in the world and we are helping to ensure the proper security controls and regulatory framework are in place.”

Gunning for growth

In Singapore, a range of core priorities top the agenda list for TJ – starting with a commitment to build new products and solutions linked to the AvePoint Confidence Platform.

“Something that’s always helped us meet evolving market demand is our platform approach to software,” he emphasised. “We are a one-stop shop for companies looking to migrate, manage and protect their digital work environments.”

This approach offers AvePoint an advantage, according to TJ, as organisations continue to consolidate the number of vendors they engage with and move away from the ISV’s point solution competitors.

An end-to-end software play does not suggest a lack of specialisation however, with deep expertise in vertical industry solutions such as MaivenPoint central to market success.

“This is a great example of a vertical solution acceleration on top of our Confidence Platform and Microsoft Cloud stack,” TJ said. “We continue to support Singaporean efforts to improve lifelong learning through our technology and this is just one of the industries we will expand into.”

From a go-to-market standpoint, building a network of channel partners and scaling via an indirect ecosystem represents the “biggest opportunity” in Singapore and across Asia. For TJ, winning in the ecosystem will form a “critical part” of profitable growth ambitions in the years ahead.

“Through the channel we have an indirect network of sellers helping customers overcome challenges across data security and governance, multi-cloud SaaS management, migration and more,” he said.

“We continue to build our channel program with an emphasis on training and development, go to market support and personal relationships.”

Just a few weeks ago, the ISV surpassed 3,000 certifications through the AvePoint Certification Program, approximately 15 months since launching in February 2022.

“We’re mindful of the uncertainty in the global economy in 2023 yet we are encouraged that organisations we work with continue to think for the long-term,” TJ added.


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