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“We’re bringing the cloud to SMEs – for real”: Maestrano’s CEO on levelling the playing field

Co-founded by two French expats, Maestrano is fast-becoming one of Australia’s great start-up success stories. Buoyed by its most lucrative capital raise to date, the cloud computing platform provider is chasing an audacious goal: an addressable market of 4 million SMEs worldwide by mid-2017.  

The brainchild of compatriots Stephane Ibos (CEO) and Arnaud Lachaume (CTO), Maestrano gathers leading business apps and consolidates them on a single, user-friendly platform. According to Ibos, while the USP is straightforward, the platform equips SMEs with business insights that have previously been hard to obtain or inaccessible.

“We bring the cloud to SMEs – for real,” he told Dynamic Business. “Straight out of the box, SMEs can access a suite of purpose-built business solutions from the dashboard and they automatically share data (or ‘talk to each other’ as most businesses would say) with built-in tuition and advanced business intelligence rounding out the experience. The platform saves SMEs time (no re-keying of data!) while providing them with a real-time, consolidated view of all aspects of their business.

“Maestrano isn’t a ‘light’ version of an enterprise offering either; rather, it was designed for SMEs and equips them with the sort of system large corporations have been paying millions of dollars for – but at a fraction of the cost. We also empower our enterprise partners to go out to market rapidly with cloud platforms that help them better engage with their own SME clients. Being fully customisable, we integrate with our enterprise partners’ core systems.”

“SMEs are falling behind on the cloud journey”

Launched in January 2014, Maestrano is described by Ibos as a marriage between his passion for business and strategy and Lachaume’s passion for technology and engineering. The co-founders met at Telecom Paris – one of the Grandes Écoles of France – in 2006, with Ibos moving Down Under shortly afterwards to work with Thales Australia, a primary contractor for the ADF. Remaining with the company for seven years, Ibos served in a variety of project management positions.

In 2009, Lachaume relocated to Australia, where – prior to a three-year stint with Macquarie Bank as an operations analyst – he joined Thales’ Integration Business Unit, which was being overseen by Ibos. Working for a government contractor, Ibos and Lachaume came in contact with SMEs during the tendering process and witnessed, first-hand, the challenges they faced.

“We saw SMEs struggling not only with handling large or complex contracts, but also the daily management of their operations, resulting in the loss of significant, life-changing opportunities,” Ibos said.

“While large corporations spend months and millions of dollars to get advanced, integrated systems, SMEs are falling behind on the cloud journey. Aside from being unfair, Arnaud and I knew this disparity was crippling businesses and, as a direct result, countries’ economies.  We conceived the idea of an integrated platform of business applications to equip SMEs with the tools and systems that are increasingly important for success.”

“It was always our intention to operate globally”

This idea, of course, became Maestrano. In the three years since launch, the company has grown from five staff in Surry Hills to a workforce of 40 employees plus 15 contractors, across six offices worldwide: two in the US, one in London, one in Dubai and one in Singapore with their headquarters in Sydney’s CBD.

Consequently, Maestrano has become, Ibos noted, a 24/7 operation: “At any one point in time, our people are selling, developing and supporting customers.” Crucially, the company boasts an enviable line up of enterprise partners including PwC, Injazat, Sage, Microsoft, Westcon and QuickBooks developer Intuit.

Maestrano owes its rapid growth to a combination of factors, Ibos explained: “Trust and strong support from our shareholders from day one has been absolutely essential, as has the commitment and work ethic of our team members – everyone is incredibly smart and willing to go the extra mile at all times, not only to bring success to Maestrano but to our customers too.

“I should also point out that it was always our intention to create a global company – we opened our first US office just six months after launching commercially and while this rapid geographical expansion came with some level of risk, it has helped facilitate subsequent growth spurts and expansion plans.”

“We’re on a journey from being great to life-changing”

To date, Maestrano has held three rounds of funding, each driven by a clear strategic objective. The proceeds from the initial round ($1m, December 2013) were used to build the core team, technology and offering prior to launch, while capital from the second ($2.4m, August 2014) was invested in expanding its global reach, including offices in the US, Dubai, Singapore and London. The most recent round, which closed in June, saw Maestrano raise a whopping $4 million, which is bankrolling a second wave of core products, with the aim being to accelerate the company’s market penetration. Raising $7.4million in under three years is no small feat – but Ibos doesn’t lay claim to having the ‘Recipe for the Perfect Pitch’.

“Maestrano has resonated with investors due to our clear vision,” he said. “Ours is a continuing journey from offering SMEs a great experience to having a truly profound, life-changing impact on their businesses and our enterprise partners. Being frank with potential investors has also been crucial: we’ve never downplayed the challenges we face and we highlight when a plan is still a work in progress.

“Once we onboard investors, we strive to exceed their expectations in terms of what we deliver and our growth trajectory. Demonstrating that our leadership is reliable, serious and committed is of prime importance. At the end of the day, our investors deserve our utmost respect because we wouldn’t be here without them.” 

“Australia is the best place to launch a start-up”

Despite Maestrano’s success in the investment stakes, Ibos is concerned by a ‘funding gap’ in Australia’s start-up ecosystem. He explained, “Raising seed funding is relatively easy compared with landing bigger investments around the $5m to $25m mark. Although a number of VCs have emerged in Australia, with a view to closing this gap, a lot still needs to be done to incentivise major investments in tech start-ups.”

Nevertheless, Ibos is adamant that Australia is “the best place on Earth” to launch a start-up.

“Not only is Australia the gateway to Asia, which is an amazingly vibrant market, it is a wonderful melting pot of cultures, meaning an entrepreneur can test an idea locally for a hint about how it will resonate globally,” he said.

“Although the Australian start-up ecosystem is small, it’s populated by some truly creative, innovative people who are happy to lend a hand. It’s no wonder that an increasing number of start-ups are being watched by American VCs – they’re acutely aware of the great talent and ideas this country produces. It’s an exciting place to be.”

Not withstanding Ibos’ deep admiration for the local start-up scene, his heritage begs the question: did the co-founders ever considered launching Maestrano in their native France?

“We’ve always been a 100% Australian company but the idea of having a presence in France did cross our mind when we were looking to open a European office,” Ibos said.

“It was quite a natural instinct for Arnaud and I to consider our motherland but the economic realities meant opening in the UK was the better strategic move. Still, we’re keeping an open mind when it comes to opportunities – France isn’t off the hook yet.”

“The most exciting chapters of our story are yet to come”

Ibos said it has been forecast that around four million SMEs will be ‘exposed’, i.e. have access to, Maestrano’s technologies by July 2017. That said, the CEO isn’t planning a ‘mic drop’ just yet.

“For the time being, there’s no other future for me other than Maestrano,” he said.

“Although we’re proud of what we have achieved, we’re just getting started. While four million as an addressable market will be a huge milestone, for us, success is defined by millions more benefitting from our technologies. We’re humbled by the journey ahead of us. Our story’s still being written and I’m certain the most exciting chapters are yet to come.”

Ibos identified two key cloud trends that SMEs stand to benefit from as the technology evolves:

  • Internet of Things (IoT): “It will give SMEs the opportunity to provide a better customer experience at a very low cost, while providing them with useful, relevant data about their customers, staff and business. IoT should be seen as a way to improve experiences whilst collecting more and better data, which will become gold in the decades to come.”
  • Machine Learning: “Business is only getting more competitive. In order to survive and thrive, SMEs must increase their efficiency and agility  – become fast-movers. Machine Learning (dare I say ‘Artificial Intelligence’) will be the trend that transforms systems, software and machines into entities capable of learning, anticipating and optimising. It is also what will provide SMEs with insightful data, not only looking back into the past, but also looking forward into the future. Thanks to Machine Learning, SME operators will be able to simulate events or situations based on key factors and, as a result, make more educated, data-driven decisions. We are working very hard in our R&D teams at Maestrano around this concept.”

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James Harkness

James Harkness

James Harnkess previous editor at Dynamic Business

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