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Maestrano plans the next move

Australia is becoming a hot place for tech startups. One you are likely to hear more of is Maestrano.

Maestrano was started in Sydney two years ago by twenty-something French-born Australians Stephane Ibos, a project manager at Thales Group, and Arnaud Lachaume, an operations analyst at Macquarie Bank. Ibos is CEO, Lachaume the CTO.

The company provides integrated cloud services to small business. It puts a common interface – a dashboard – in front of widely used cloud applications, making it easy for users to integrate different applications.

Ibos and Lachaume started the business in 2013 with $1 million in capital – their own money and some from angel investors. Prominent amongst them was well known industry figure Gary Jackson, formerly CEO of Microsoft, Cisco and EMC in Australia. Chairman is Ian Buddery, founder of the multinational payments company eServGlobal.

There was another funding round for of $1.7 million in July 2014, which enabled iMaestrano to open an office in San Francisco. It has just opened another in Dubai. With 4000 customers in 17 countries (40% Australia, 40% US), things are starting to happen, and Maestrano is now looking at a further round of funding to take it to the next level.

Ibos told iTWire he wants to find the money in Australia and keep Maestrano based in Sydney. “Things are looking positive,” he said, though he laments the difficulty of raising venture capital in Australia. “Up to around half a million it’s OK, but then there’s a big gap to the multimillions.

“But we want it to be funded and maintained in Australia. That’s very important to us.” Ibos became a naturalised Australian only in 2012 after coming here out of university (the Grand Ecole Telecom in Paris) on an internship with French engineering services company Thales. He was soon running one of the company’s Australian business units, and is proud of his adopted country and the opportunities it has given him.

“I love that everything is new in this country. It’s a land of opportunities in so many areas – technology, food, fashion, sport. Everything seems to be possible in Australia.”

Ibos is from Toulouse in the south of France and loves Australia’s sunshine and relaxed lifestyle. But there is little time for relaxation in this stage of his life.

Maestrano is at that critical stage reached by every successful startup when much of the hard work has been done but much more is needed before it becomes self-sustaining. There are just 14 staff – ten in Australia – and the next stage of growth is critical.

We asked if the company was cashflow positive yet. He laughed, gesturing around at the company’s modest office in Sydney’s inner city suburb of Surry Hills. “You wouldn’t believe how little we pay ourselves. We buy the cheapest airline tickets and stay in modest hotels.”

But Maestrano has secured US and worldwide patents for its vision of creating a one stop hub for all cloud based business management tools. It all began with the simple observation that cloud services are difficult to access for many businesses, especially small ones, and that using the standard proprietary application model led to silos of functionality with little or no sharing of data.

“One service offers ERP, another sales management and yet another human resources,” explained Ibos. “No-one delivers a full suite. The huge cost of building and maintaining competitive business software precludes integration.

“Meanwhile, the same cost base dictates a charging model that quickly climbs into thousands of dollars per year. 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, no complicated plans and subscriptions.”

Maestrano finds appropriate cloud applications, ‘curates’ them to ensure they can easily be integrated with the dashboard, then offers that dashboard free to its users. 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 39 cloud apps that work with Maestrano, soon to be 46. They include Microsoft Office365, accounting packages MYOB, Xero and Quickbooks, CRM package SugarCRM, and project management tools Projectpier and Collabtive.

Maestrano’s underlying technology is called Connec! It was developed by CTO Lauchame to enable ensuring data sharing between applications from diverse vendors. He has also developed Nex!, a platform focused on the automated deployment and hosting of web applications.

But technology is not enough. Maestrano’s success will now depend on its ability to properly manage the next stage of its growth.

“We’re fighting on lots of fronts,” said Ibos. “But we feel we have the right product at the right time in a very demanding market.”

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Graeme Philipson

Graeme Philipson is senior associate editor at iTWire and editor of sister publication CommsWire. He is also founder and Research Director of Connection Research, a market research and analysis firm specialising in the convergence of sustainable, digital and environmental technologies. He has been in the high tech industry for more than 30 years, most of that time as a market researcher, analyst and journalist. He was founding editor of MIS magazine, and is a former editor of Computerworld Australia. He was a research director for Gartner Asia Pacific and research manager for the Yankee Group Australia. He was a long time IT columnist in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, and is a recipient of the Kester Award for lifetime achievement in IT journalism.