Years ago, Serge Salager, a Vancouver-based entrepreneur who’d taken a small company public on the Toronto Stock Exchange, was approached by deep-pocketed buyer who was interested in the business. Flattered but also nervous about who else the potential acquirer was talking with, Salager found himself scouring the web obsessively for news about other possible takeover targets, from changes to their pricing and features to job offers.
Salager was right to be paranoid. The buyer acquired a rival company. On the bright side, Salager had a new business idea — to create a much better service than existed at the time to track altered information across the web.
Enter Visualping, a now six-year-old, 16-person freemium service that monitors the entire internet for changes and has amassed 1.5 million users, an undisclosed percentage of which pay the company a monthly subscription fee based on how many web pages and keywords they are following. (Two searches per day are free; 660 per day will set users back $100 per month.)
Journalists like the service as it helps them keep tabs on the people and companies they cover. Law firms use it to stay on top of changing regulations, along with other information. Employees of Apple use it to keep track of what is being said about the company and where.
The use cases are almost endless, which works in Visualping’s favor, as does its apparent ease of use. Users simply provide the company with a screenshot of a page or the part of the page they want to keep tabs on, along with any keywords, and Visualping then informs them via email as soon as a site has been altered or a keyword has appeared somewhere.
Visualping — which has a browser extension and says a mobile app is coming this summer — has also benefited from the pandemic. Indeed, in lieu of endlessly refreshing the sites of companies like Rite Aid and CVS, more people are learning to use Visualping to keep tabs on the availability of COVID-19 vaccinations, thanks to mentions of the startup in recent months in the WSJ, CNBC, and Fox News.
In the meantime, like other data companies, Visualping is getting smarter all the time by applying machine learning to the information it’s generating on behalf of its users, insists Salager. It won’t, for example, alert someone when the banner ads on a page have changed. Or if a customer is tracking a major price change, Visualping can hold off on sending that person an alert until that price change meets a certain threshold.
Of course, with data comes privacy concerns, and on this front, Salager insists that Visualping is fully compliant with GDPR, the EU law on data protection and privacy. He says the company might some day serve up targeted ads to its customers based on their search preferences, as does Google, but that for now, Visualping is instead focused wholly on building up new enterprise products given that more companies have begun discovering its offerings.
That’s also the vision that investors are funding, Salager says, sharing publicly for the first time that Visualping closed on $2 million in seed funding in December from Mistral Ventures, a Canadian fund, and N49P, and AngelList syndicate.
It’s not a ton of capital, he notes, but with the revenue that Visualping is generating, it’s enough to get the startup through the next two years, he says. And after that? We ask Salager if he sees a tie-up down the road, and whether he’d be open to acquisition talks, given what happened with his last company.
He does and he is, he answers candidly. While one scenario sees Visualping becoming “publicly traded,” another “good fit is Google,” he adds. “We believe we fit very well with Google Alerts, so maybe an exit to Google is something we try to do, too.