Corrections or additions?
This article by Barbara Fox was prepared for the January 15, 2003
edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Creating His Own Niche
Wei-hsing Wang started his own business, Niche USA,
when he was ready to turn 40. That was three years ago — three
difficult years — and he is beginning to see some results. This
week he announced that one of his products, ZoomerOne, a software
that can streamline students’ web browsing, is being marketed to
and schools through a county consortium. It’s one step toward Wang’s
goal which is nothing less than to be the Next Big Thing in the
"For 150 years, people have been trying to get information across
the barriers of time and space," says Wang, "and we want to
provide the faster, easier connections and offer people more freedom.
Our vision is to become `The Next Big Thing.’ Not to replace anything,
like TV did not replace radio, computer did not replace paper, but
the next big thing which will have a place in people’s life. We are
not in the browser market, nor the search engine market, but we
we will see competition in the "zoomer" market. This is a new
To get this far, Wang has been able to tap Central New Jersey’s
for small business. He attended the meetings of the New Jersey
Network (NJEN), the New Jersey Entrepreneurs Forum (NJEF), and the
New Jersey Technology Council (NJTC). He took workshops given by
Coopers, Arthur Anderson, and Deloitte & Touche. He is an incubator
client of Randy Harmon of the Small Business Development Center’s
Technology Commercialization Center, and at Harmon’s suggestion he
signed up for a consultation with Rutgers MBA students — a
long project that cost $2,000. To hone his speaking skills (and to
overcome his shyness) he joined the Princeton Toastmasters club. He
hired attorney David Sorin, then with Buchanan Ingersoll, now with
Hale & Dorr, to handle his legal affairs. Carl Giordano of Duane
& Heckscher is his patent attorney, and Tom Scott, of FRx Software
Corporation at Princeton Meadows Office Center, offered marketing
His best help, Wang says, came from SCORE, an organization of
sponsored by the Princeton Chamber and supported by the federal
His three SCORE mentors gave him some unusual advice — not to
seek outside investment from angels or venture capitalists, for
So far Wang has been surviving on support from three friends who are
silent partners. But he isn’t looking back, and in fact, he invites
other would-be entrepreneurs to join him. "Job security is a thing
of the past," he says. "I had observed how many people’s
were being turned upside down by big companies’ re-organizing,
and re-sizing. These kinds of changes woke up many ladder-climbers,
me included. I would like to call on people with an entrepreneurial
spirit to step out of their comfort zone and join me."
Wang’s parents had come almost penniless from Shandong (known as the
home of Confucius) to Taiwan. His mother worked as a nurse and his
father became a plant manager. But they also started a small drugstore
business, and Wang and his older brother spent many hours helping
at the store.
Wang graduated from National Taiwan University in 1981 and has a Ph.D.
from Boston University in computer science. His master’s thesis was
in artificial intelligence, and his Ph.D. dissertation was in
analysis of databases and networks. Something of a Renaissance man,
he also has in-depth knowledge about traditional Chinese culture and
is an accomplished harmonica player. He also has translated computer
science books and articles into Chinese. He and his wife, Victoria,
a programmer, live in Princeton and have two school-age children.
At AT&T Bell Labs Wang worked in intelligent network database systems
and wireless base stations, but one experience there helped him
that he possessed abilities beyond technical expertise. During the
years that AT&T was fighting with MCI for market share, an executive
decreed that the researchers with PhDs must man the phone lines and
sell telephone services. "It was unbelievable," says Wang,
who is a normally a taciturn, shy person. "A room full of PhDs
on the telephone, selling. But I did well. I even won an award. And
I thought, maybe I can do this."
In 1995 he was the webmaster for AT&T’s best practices website.
The World Wide Web was young then. Netscape was still in pre-release,
Microsoft was not even involved in the Internet.
"I took a risk and gave up the big company life to join a small
California company, BroadVision," Wang says. Long working hours and
fire-line pressure did not seem to be a problem. Then he decided to
take more risk and start a virtual company with three long-time
in New Jersey and California.
Three volunteer SCORE mentors — Ivan E. Becker, president of
SCORE chapter 631, Gerald J. Bose, CEO of Intellilink Corporation
on Alexander Road, and Harch S. Gill, founder of PARS Environmental
on South Gold Drive — provided nuts-and-bolts experience.
Wang is a very innovative individual," says Gill. "He has
developed what I believe to be innovative software that will benefit
both the web page users as well as web page vendors or sellers.
Wang’s mentors helped him work through his initial
plan. Wang ended up discarding his first idea — to sell a security
interface between retailers and credit card companies — in favor
of using the software to expedite web searches. "At SCORE we lead
people to think about certain ways of operating businesses," says
Becker. "My suggestion was to see if scientists would welcome
something that makes their jobs easier."
Wang’s current product has educational software for using the web
in a safer and/or smoother way. He and three silent partners wanted
to have "zoom" in the name, but many versions of it were
in use. He consulted with attorney Sorin on what name to choose and
came up with ZoomerOne.
He devised his logo based on the concepts that computers use binary
language and that the Chinese "yin and yang" was the earliest
binary system. "I drew the traditional yin yang circle but with
a piece missing, showing that we are trying to find a niche
He attended the NJEN and NJEF meetings and practiced his pitch.
is part of my character, but I realize that modesty does not help
business," he says. "So I have been trying to be more
and have also joined the Princeton Toastmasters club."
ZoomerOne is now being deployed in several different ways. In a school
setting, it can collect information from multiple web sites based
on educational needs and teachers’ input, so the students will be
presented with the best material. Wang is working with the Princeton
Public Library so that cardholders can tap into the library’s
from their home computers more easily. One version of ZoomerOne is
on trial with the University of Pennsylvania’s biochemistry
and it can also be useful in company intranets, by allowing employees
to access data held by different departments.
"Web users today have a four-step process: select a search tool,
work with the search tool, try out the list of URLs, and work on each
page to locate the needed information," says Wang. "While
it is hard to skip any steps for an initial search for information,
repeating the same steps for updates is avoidable." He compares
today’s browsers to VCR players that play one page and then another.
In contrast, his tool is like a TiVo system, which uses artificial
intelligence to let the viewer select and eliminate material.
Wang further explains the concept of his software by noting that
searches are four dimensional. Web sites have depth, and search tools
can search on multiple sites with one keyword or concept. The third
dimension is when multiple search engines search on the same concept.
The fourth dimension is time, because web pages are changing
Say you want to search quickly on Subject A for a particular audience,
Audience B. "If you search fast forward on all four dimensions,
you will get a million hits that no one can read. So we zoom in on
one area while keeping the audience in mind — say, science for
three to fifth graders, or biochemists involved in a certain research
area. We get quality, not quantity in our results."
Censorship is not involved, so this filtering software may please
librarians. "We are not keeping something out but only inviting
some web sites in," Wang says. The core technology can be
for each audience, grade school students or biochemists. Experts
the sites to be used by the filtering software, and the company also
taps the expertise of Google.
Because the tool can differentiate between elements on a page, the
tool can also remove advertising, which pleases some school systems.
"Schools will pay extra to have ads removed," says Wang.
way to make money would be to sell advertising to those who want a
narrowly defined audience who are frequent users of particular sites.
Still another option is to license the technology so a company can
define its own version of ZoomerOne, making sure that its own site
Wang is well aware of the difficulties involved in real time
systems for personalized pages, a la Amazon.com Once you order
from Amazon.com, be it a math book or a babies’ picture book, Amazon
pigeon-holes you according to those parameters. "Once they put
the label on you, it’s hard to change the label. So buyers try to
put up a wall between themselves and the sellers by using false
Then the identities are hard to remember."
ZoomerOne works on many levels. Scientists at Penn are using it to
have a constant flow of data from the U.S. patent office, medical
databases, and journals. Instead of bookmarking seven sites and doing
regular serial searches, their search with Wang’s software takes one
word, goes seven places, and assembles the information.
Even the invisible web is accessible to ZoomerOne. On
U.S. 1’s website for instance, www.princetoninfo.com, the article
archives are on the visible web, but to get information about
events would require using a database on the invisible web.
When Wang started his business three years ago, his advisors told
him to avoid outside investment because — in this recession —
the valuations are very low. "If we can generate income, we can
survive," he says. "When you look at the whole economy, it
is not much better." So attending venture fairs does not rank
first on Wang’s list of priorities. "Between attending a venture
fair and keeping an appointment with someone who might be a paying
client, there is no choice," he says.
Similarly, his business plan is conservative, perhaps more
than the one drawn up by the Rutgers University Graduate School of
Management Consulting Team under the supervision of Michael Corridon.
Going through the consulting process with the MBA students opened
his eyes to all sorts of business factors that, as an engineer, he
had never encountered. But when the students presented a plan at the
end of the semester, it did not meet the approval of his SCORE
Looks fine on paper, they said, but it makes assumptions that may
not come true.
Wang has an agreement with Dana George Wilson, coordinator of the
Mercer County Educational Technology Training Center (ETTC), a
program created by the New Jersey Department of Education. ETTC will
offer ZoomerOne to school districts at a special group rate. All
County teachers now have access to ZoomerOne through a 60-day trial
"We are delighted to take the initiative to make great technology
products available to schools in the county at the lowest group
says Wilson. "Introducing ZoomerOne is the beginning. ETTC will
partner with more companies to provide more hardware and software
solutions to our schools."
Though Wang made all the "right" moves and consulted with
the right people, that has been offset by bad timing. His company
was launched in the midst of the "New Economy" and was hit
successively by the market crash, the 9-11 disaster, and the
crisis. "We started with founders’ support and had three very
tough years," he says.
But he has repositioned the company for the "old economy"
and is certainly not sorry he left the corporate world. His job might
not have lasted very much longer anyway. "Many of my friends who
worked in a big company thought it was a safe place, but it’s
Says Wang: "Try living on a shoestring first, so you can survive.
Don’t buy big ads. Don’t buy banner ads. Don’t spend money without
the promise of payback."
Wang, owner. 609-688-9364; fax, 609-688-3470. Www.nicheusa.com
Born in Hungary, Ivan Becker immigrated to America as
a 16-year-old orphan, started a company as a division of a larger
firm, and ended up as CEO of a publicly traded $1.4 million plastic
extrusion firm, Blessings Corporation. With a Horatio Alger-like story
as his credential, he teaches graduate students at New York
"I was an intrapreneur. I don’t care what the establishment says
about how to do business, because in my company, I was able to do
whatever I wanted as long as it made sense, and what I thought was
best was usually against what Harvard Business School taught."
Along with Harch Gill and Gerald Bose, Becker is a mentor for
Wang. Becker also mentors Tim Lefens, who has a business offering
visual arts for the severely challenged. This year Becker is the
of the Princeton chapter of SCORE (Service Corps of Retired
housed at the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce.
As the volunteer arm of the Small Business Administration, the
SCORE has 10,500 volunteer counselors in 389 chapters. As in SCORE’s
early days, the counselors have management and industry experience,
but now more and more people serve while they are still employed.
"SCORE is saying that it must become more conversant with modern
technology, and that not all the counselors should be retired,"
says Becker. "That we should recruit people who are working yet
willing to serve a business for the future." That’s hard. "Had
I been still working I would not have been able to commit to meetings
far ahead," says Becker.
631, 231 Rockingham Row, Princeton 08540. Ivan Becker, president.
609-520-1776; fax, 609-520-9107. Www.score.org
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