Swiftpoint chief executive Mike Chisholm feared he’d have to tell his wife he’d lost all their money after the Christchurch computer mouse-maker found itself backed into a corner when Covid struck.
But he is now banking on a new mouse, ErgoPoint, that is designed to zoom in on the needs of workers who have to attend a lot of virtual meetings, to bounce back.
The company is a rare example of a Kiwi firm trying to make it in the ultra-competitive computer hardware business, and has been plugging its own range of premium ergonomic mice since 2008.
Swiftpoint finally appeared on the verge of the “big time” early in 2020 after winning an innovation award for its ProPoint mouse at the giant United States’ Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Cleveland.
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ProPoint, which Swiftpoint still sells, has been specially developed to meet the needs of business travellers.
Chisholm recalled that he turned away distributors at CES who wanted to help sell the ProPoint online, telling them it could do that itself.
“We were looking for resellers who had access to airports, Apple stores and premium gadget stores.”
Encouraged by the response at the show, Chisholm booked flights to Japan, Germany, Canada and the US on his return to get distribution deals over the line.
NZ’s computer mouse maker explains how it hopes to make virtual meetings easier.
But just as he was about to conclude an order for 20,000 mice a year with a partner in Japan, the pandemic struck.
“They rang us up in the last week of March and said half of their office was away ‘with this flu-like thing’ and asked to postpone.
“And then it went rather downhill. Our sales fell off about 90 per cent overnight because we’re selling into airports and stores and everywhere that was shut, and our award was for the best travel mouse in the world.”
Chisholm, who became Swiftpoint’s chief executive in 2018 after investing several million dollars in the business, said he went for a walk with his wife in a park in Avonhead to chew over the bad news.
”I’m a positive person and you have to be in business, but there were a couple of days there where I thought ‘what am I going to do?’
What he decided was to plow more money into the firm and prepare to ride the next wave.
”We pivoted to say, ‘okay, well, people aren’t sitting on plans and traveling everywhere, but they are on Zoom meetings; maybe we can build some new functionality into a mouse for them’.
“We spent a few months and a bit of money writing some software that interfaces with all the virtual meeting software systems.”
The result is Swiftpoint’s ErgoPoint mouse, an ergonomic ‘vertical’ mouse that comes with downloadable software that with the click of a button overlays a discreet menu of presentation tools onto users’ computer screens.
“You can draw on the screen, put a spotlight on the screen, highlight the screen, write notes on the screen, and then also quickly save screenshots and send them to everyone who’s on the meeting.
“One of the things I’m proud of is we are the only company in the world that has built virtual meeting highlighting software into the mouse.”
Chisholm believes that if the hundreds of millions of people attending virtual meetings or the 60 million people with carpal tunnel syndrome “who are in pain operating their mouse” knew about ErgoPoint, it would sell millions.
“That’s a battle for us. Where do all those people live, how do I reach them?
For the time being, Swiftpoint has gone back to its roots, selling its ErgoPoint at a currently discounted price of US$49 through a Kickstarter campaign, with orders worth $70,000 to date.
That campaign has also resulted in inquiries from distributors in Europe and Asia.
Chisholm says that as a small New Zealand company, he accepts Swiftpoint will never be able to benefit from the profile of a company such as Logitech.
“I have to try and find a ‘Richard Branson’ to promote it.”
It’s either that or have his marketing manager “run down main street and with nothing on”, he jokes.
“We are a little company. We are just left with trying to do some extraordinary things.”