Launched in August, Maestrano is an enterprise app store providing a suite of hosted web applications to startups and SMEs. Whether you need a CRM system, an ERP, project management tools, accounting systems or bug trackers, Maestrano is here to accommodate.
Users can enjoy the benefits of well-known enterprise software with no need for installation, server hosting, maintenance or any other technical involvement. All applications are available in Maestrano’s App Finder, and with a mere click of a mouse, users can have them installed onto their private space. Maestrano handles the rest.
The user’s private space or dashboard is reachable online from any web browser, which means they can access their data and manage their business virtually from any place in the world.
Solving your own problem is a good way to solve those of others
Co-Founders, Stephane Ibos and Arnaud Lachaume, both come from corporate backgrounds and have been heavily involved with IT infrastructures. But they were thoroughly unimpressed by the complexity of IT deployments, the costs associated with them, and the overall lack of efficiency resulting from using these systems.
There had to be a better solution. There wasn’t, so they created one.
They decided to build on the concept of in-demand enterprise applications at the lowest possible price for professionals who don’t want to spend endless hours struggling with IT intricacies.
Ibos explains that Maestrano’s point-of-difference is that it offers “a wide range of proven applications” when many of their competitors develop their own proprietary software.
“We rely on the Open Source community who are incredibly more skilled and powerful when it comes to developing exceptional products,” says Ibos.
He adds that Maestrano is “the only enterprise platform that offers such low prices and doesn’t lock its customer into any plan or commitment.”
Building the product
In late 2011, Ibos and Lachaume started developing a technical mock-up, and at the same time, they conducted a survey to confirm their intuition that such a product didn’t exist in the marketplace and to assess whether there was a market for their product.
“Our conclusion was that we should do it. And we started developing the infrastructure and the core engine that’s at the heart of our entire platform. We had to find ways to develop a reliable and ultra-secure service, whilst streamlining the complexity to offer the lowest possible prices to our customers and the best quality service,” says Ibos.
After nine months of sleepless nights and working two jobs, they were able to launch Maestrano in beta mode, quit their day jobs and dedicate themselves full-time to their company – and not to mention, finally enjoy a full night’s sleep!
“We have done everything in house and it was good fun!” says Ibos.
My idea. My money. My business.
Thus far, the product has cost $6,000 – including hosting.
Bootstrapping was a no-brainer for Ibos and Lachaume. They waited five years before they took a leap into the unknown and started their very own company – though it was at the forefront of their minds since they were studying in a University in France.
“It’s always been clear that we could only rely on ourselves financially. We both spent our early professional years putting money aside so we could embark on our own business venture one day,” says Ibos.
“We believed in our idea, so we invested our own money in it. And we’re probably the most difficult investors we’d ever have to deal with anyway, because we know what this money is, where it comes from and what it means to us.”
He also adds that they wanted to be sure they had a viable concept and an existing customer base before engaging with outside investors.
Ibos says “it’s in Maestrano’s DNA to be a global company.” They already have two deployment centres – in Asia and in the US – and plan on opening more as the business grows.
“Our infrastructure is completely automated, so we can operate 24/7 anywhere in the world, with the only limit of the service being language – for the moment our service is English only,” he says.
Ibos and Lachaume are not holding back, and while the business is still in its early days, they will be targeting the global SME market.
“It’s big. Some figures mention a $250 billion market with around $9 billion forecasted spending in IT and Cloud by 2015. We would be very happy with one to three precent of this to start with and we believe it’s achievable,” says Ibos.
Nothing beats word-of-mouth referrals
Ibos and Lachaume are using Pay-Per-Click campaigns to increase their visibility to target customers; and also use social media to engage their audiences.
But their key approach is to advertise the values of the brand rather the service itself.
“It’s because our potential customers understand that Maestrano can genuinely help them and in turn they will try out the service. This is at the core of our strategy against our competitors,” says Ibos.
He adds that they want to be perceived as “robust partners who provide a useful service” rather than a “must-have tool” which many competitors like to market themselves as, without delivering the service that customers really need.
“This kind of marketing strategy takes a little bit more time than the usual “buy our product because it’s the best” campaigns, but we believe it does in turn attract customers who can help us grow our business better because they will feel more involved with our brand,” says Ibos.
“They are also more likely to be better advocates of Maestrano; and at some point we are hoping that the organic marketing will be strongly reinforced by the “word of mouth” chain – that is, if we succeed at providing the experience our customers are expecting, which we are working very hard on!”
Keeping the business model simple
Once subscribers complete their free trial period and have decided that they enjoy the product, they will be prompted to pay for the usage of their applications. They can choose the pay-per-hour-of-use option or a more classical monthly plan.
“We believe that this is an acceptable model in the B2B industry. Our customers understand well that a reliable, secure and professional service comes at a cost and we want our platform to be strictly advertisement-free,” says Ibos.
He admits, however, that the low prices and the flexibility in paying that they offer comes at a price for the business – but only in its early stages. They’re aware that they need to have a large customer base to keep their service alive.
“We’re happy with that though as we would like to create a community around our platform and this doesn’t happen with only a few members. This is where having customers that advocate our product will be extremely important,” says Ibos.
Simplicity. Efficiency. Honesty.
The biggest achievement for Ibos and Lachaume was building a complex platform from scratch that reflects the brand’s values: simplicity, efficiency, and honesty.
“Regardless of the success of failure of our endeavour, this is something we are very proud of…It took us a while to develop this product in conditions that most would regard as less than ideal. But here it is and it’s exactly as we wanted it to be – reliable, secure, and useful,” says Ibos.
More investment in Australian startups
Ibos believes we live in one of the best countries in the world with an increasingly innovation-driven economy. However, investment in Australian startups hasn’t reached its prime.
“It takes courage for entrepreneurs to start creating businesses, and it takes courage for investors to back them up. But I can’t help but think that while we hear a lot of encouraging speeches and declarations of intentions, the truth is that investment is timid and I think it’s a shame,” says Ibos.
“Everyone dreams about Silicon Valley. I don’t. I think we can do the same, if not better here, because we have everything it takes. We just need to be a lot less risk-adverse.”
Forking out the cash and spending off-hours switched on
The two biggest challenges for Ibos and Lachaume, like many other startup founders, have been limited funding and limited time.
“The questions that would keep us awake at night were: how do we best use the very limited cash we have? Where is it best applied? How do we ensure that we get the best ROI possible?” says Ibos.
“These are usual questions, but they acquire another dimension when it comes to applying them to your idea and its future. A good example would be for the marketing campaigns: how to best spend the money to get the best conversion rates?”
He acknowledges that limited funding and limited time are interlinked. Having limited funding means you have to do much, if not everything, yourself. This is made more difficult when there are an unlimited number of things to do!
Ibos adds how important it is to manage your time and tasks so you can achieve your maximum while maintaining high energy levels throughout the process.
“But despite needing to do everything, you’re far from knowing everything. So quite a lot of time is spent making mistakes, but it’s part of the game and indeed you do learn a lot from those mistakes,” says Ibos.
“Thankfully, there are always people who are willing to help one way or another – if only to discuss ideas or provide alternate viewpoints. All in all, thrilling, but surely challenging at times. That’s why we love it so much!”
Ibos says once they have a large customer base, they will seek funding to accelerate the development of the business.
“We have a medium term and a long term roadmaps, both related to improving our service, creating partnerships that will benefit our customers and developing this community around us,” says Ibos.
“We need more hands on the deck for that and the support of a network that will help us achieve all of that.”
A word of encouragement to other startups
Ibos’ key message to other startups is not to hold back from starting a business. It’s a rollercoaster ride, but in a good way.
“For those who are wondering whether or not they should start a business, the answer is yes. It looks scary, and at times it is. It’s certainly not easy and it takes lots of time and moral investment,” he says.
“But it is also an incredible adventure: you will learn more than you could imagine possible in very short amounts of time, you will meet incredible people and you will be fighting for your dream. And that is so enjoyable that it’s really worth a try, no matter how frightening it might be. The first step is the hardest. So don’t wait. Just do it!”
For more information, visit www.maestrano.com.