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Commentary

Don't let Pirate3D's actions sully name of all Singapore start-ups

Whenever I am asked about success stories in the Singapore technology start-up scene, names such as Witching Hour Studios, SUTD Game Labs, Secretlab, Aftershock PC, Honestbee and Airfrov come to mind.

If I cast the net wider, I can include names such as X-Mini, Creative and even Razer.

I have covered some of these companies. They make laptops, develop games, run online grocery-delivery services, and even design chairs for gamers.

Some of them are not well known, not because they are not successful, but because they are low key. Ironically, the few which have made the headlines in the past did so because of the wrong kind of publicity.

This is why I had a sense of dread and deja vu when local start-up Pirate3D started trending on social media earlier this month.

Here was a local company that has earned accolades from a successful partnership and won awards for its highly anticipated product despite the fact that there was no actual consumer gadget to speak of.

It has raised several millions in funding, but has spent the last few years deflecting its commitment to deliver the Buccaneer 3D Printer to its backers.

Two weeks ago, Pirate3D said it is discontinuing production of its original device, and is trying to go on another round of fund-raising to make an even better product.

I was reminded of another local company called Fusion Garage.

In 2009, it partnered with Mr Michael Arrington, founder of online news site TechCrunch, to develop an affordable tablet nicknamed the CrunchPad.

Despite not having an actual unit, the CrunchPad was recognised for its potential. Fusion Garage later pulled out of that tie-up, and the device was dead in the water.

But Fusion Garage proceeded to announce a new product called the JooJoo Tablet, raised US$3 million (S$4.2 million) in additional funding, and promised to sell a fully functioning item, then continued to delay its release. Sadly, Fusion Garage failed to recover and went into liquidation in January 2012, with reported debts of US$40 million.

I am not saying Pirate3D will go the same route, but its trajectory seems to mirror that of Fusion Garage. My worry is that this latest incident will diminish the accomplishments of its peers and tarnish Singapore's reputation.

The tech start-up scene here has been lively over the past few years and looks set to grow.

For instance, home-grown firm Witching Hour Studios will be releasing its third video game next year.

Its role-playing game Masquerada: Songs And Shadows will feature the voices of American talents, including Jennifer Hale (Commander Shepard, Mass Effect), Dave Fennoy (Lee, The Walking Dead) and Michelle Lukes (Kelly-087, Halo 5).

Online retailer Honestbee recently expanded its grocery shopping services to Hong Kong, and raised US$15 million in funding.

And concierge shopping service Airfrov was named co-winner of the recent Singtel Accelerator Challenge, and took home $20,000 in prize money, as well as an entry into the Singtel Group-Samsung Regional Mobile App Challenge.

SUTD Game Labs just released its One Upon Light game for Sony's PlayStation 4 console, and I am typing this while seated on the new Throne V2 office chair from Secretlab, which has sold and delivered over 1,000 chairs so far.

Like its products, the Pirate3D blip barely matches up to the reality of the local start-up scene. It should not become a standard by which all other Singapore start-ups are measured.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 28, 2015, with the headline 'Don't let Pirate3D's actions sully name of all Singapore start-ups'. Print Edition | Subscribe