Cloud integration company Maestrano is one of the success stories of Australian tech over the last few years. Its founders want to keep it in Australia as it grows, but admit that this may not be possible.
Maestrano CEO Stephane Ibos is French by birth – and accent – but very much Australian by outlook and inclination. He came to Australia in 2007 as an undergraduate systems engineer with French engineering multinational Thales Group.
He teamed up with compatriot Arnaud Lachaume, an operations analyst at Macquarie Bank who he had previously met at Thales, to launch Maestrano in 2013. They had an idea to develop a common interface – a dashboard – in front of widely used cloud applications, making it easy for users to integrate data across systems.
They started the business with $1 million in capital – their own money, and some from private investors. Prominent amongst them was well-known local industry figure Gary Jackson, formerly CEO of Microsoft, Cisco and EMC in Australia. Its chairman is Ian Buddery, the founder of the multinational payments company eServGlobal.
“Don’t call them angels,” says Mr Ibos. “They are not part of the angel community, and they don’t necessarily want their identities known. They are private individuals who would prefer to stay below the radar, and who saw the potential of what we were doing.”
There was a second round of funding from these investors of $2.2 million in 2014, which enabled Maestrano to open an office in San Francisco. It now also has offices in Seattle and Dubai, and has just opened in London.
It also has a significant joint venture in Singapore, with local company Alpha7. The next office is planned to be in New York.
“You need to be on the ground,” says Mr Ibos. “We are low-touch, but a local presence is essential. There is a world of opportunity out there.”
Maestrano is growing quickly. It recently moved into new offices in Sydney’s CBD, across the road from the Queen Victoria Building, from less salubrious digs near Central Railway. Mr Ibos says things are going well, but it will be the next stage of growth that will be critical.
“We are growing by the month. Our product is now robust and stabilised – I think we have hit a sweet spot in the market. But we need to be very careful with the next round of funding. Timing is very important – our initial shareholders took the early risk, and they need to be rewarded in the longer term.”
He says he wants to keep Maestrano based in Australia. “It’s a brilliant place to innovate. Australia is a land of opportunities in so many areas – technology, food, fashion, sport. Everything seems to be possible in Australia. I love that everything is new in this country. And the quality of life is fantastic.”
Mr Ibos, now an Australian citizen, says Maestrano received assistance from the Export Market Development Grant and the R&D Tax Incentive, but was unable to access the recently closed Commercialisation Australia program.
“They said we were too technical, that our product was too advanced because it was already in existence – right at the time when we needed their help the most.
“Australia does reasonably well at helping startups, but there are problems when you grow a bit bigger. We will do whatever we need to make Maestrano a real Aussie success – we want to put back what Australia has given us – but it is reaching its limits.
“The level of business taxation in Australia makes it very hard for companies like us to make the transition. I can understand the taxation of the mining sector and large companies, but they have ways of optimising their taxation.
“Every cent we make we re-invest, yet we are taxed the same as large and mature companies. Any money we make doesn’t go to our shareholders, it goes to creating jobs and expanding Australia’s exports. We are fighting day and night to grow the business.
“There should be some sort of tax rebate or change to the existing system for fast growing companies that re-invest money form growth. I would gladly submit to some sort of audit process that would prove the money was reinvested.
“Australia needs to step up and take advantage of its resources. Education is another area where things could be better. Except in mining, the general standard of engineering, including software engineering, is still comparatively low.”
Maestrano has secured US and worldwide patents for its vision of creating a one stop hub for cloud based business management tools. Mr Ibos says the idea began with the simple observation that cloud services are difficult to access for many businesses, especially small ones, and that the standard proprietary cloud application model led to silos of functionality with little or no sharing of data.
“One service offers ERP, another sales management and another human resources,” he says. “No-one delivers a full suite. The huge cost of building and maintaining competitive business software means integration is hard.
“Maestrano breaks the silo model by aggregating a broad range of business applications, both open source and cloud commercial. We offer simplicity and ease of use, with no hidden costs, no need for expensive technical assistance, and no complicated plans.”
Maestrano finds appropriate cloud applications, ‘curates’ them to ensure they can easily be integrated with the dashboard, then offers that dashboard free to its SME users, along with an easy ‘try before you buy’ introduction to most of the major applications it interfaces with. The curated products pay a small fee to Maestrano for the customer’s usage of their product through the Maestrano cloud dashboard.
There are currently nearly 60 cloud apps that work with Maestrano. They include Microsoft Office365, accounting packages MYOB, Xero and Quickbooks, CRM package SugarCRM, web development tools WordPress and Drupal, and project management tools Projectpier and Collabtive.
Maestrano’s underlying technology is called Connec! It was developed enable data sharing between applications from diverse vendors. The dashboard is called Impac!
As well as making the product available to SMEs, Maestrano has an enterprise edition which enables its partners to provide a similar service to their customers. Mr Ibos says that is a growing part of the business, but he is not at liberty to disclose the names of any of them.
“They are telcos, banks hosting firms. We have enterprise technology partners in Australia and internationally, and we expect we can make some announcements in early 2016.”
In the meantime, it is the hard slog of the tech entrepreneur. “I don’t seem to do anything but work,” says the 30-year-old Mr Ibos. “But I seem to be doing different things all the time. My job is very different now than it was 20 months ago, and 20 months from now it will be very different again.
“People say that’s a nice problem to have, but it’s still a problem. But it does give me enormous personal joy, seeing our dream succeed.”