This week I am writing about 5 companies that I expect to see making waves this year on the London start-up scene. Right now, London is the most popular destination in Europe for Tech founders. Favourable tax breaks, state of the art facilities, enthusiastic government support and an increasingly entrepreneurial mind-set are the major reasons we are seeing such an influx of talent into the accelerators, incubators, co-working spaces and coffee shops of East London.
That said, the company I am writing about today are outstanding in their field because they have created a site which is like a superstore for start-ups, a one stop shop for apps that will help you build your business from scratch with almost no budget. Just like you can go to an Ikea store and make a home in a day, you can visit Maqtoob and build a business in a day. Maqtoob are helping to create a new generation of entrepreneurs from both the developed and the developing world where money is no obstacle to opportunity and success.
Maqtoob is an app discovery platform that makes it easier for founders to access the tools they need to get their businesses up and running. Founder Kristyna Zapletalova was working as an editor on a popular print magazine in the Lebanon when she began to notice a huge spike in traffic to her personal blog site. She quickly discovered the spike was related to a feature she was running, recommending helpful apps built by techies for non techie founders.
“Essentially, app discovery sucks”, says Kristyna, “ask any friend with a business. You know the tool you need is out there but you don’t know where to find it. You can search for it and find it in a few minutes using Maqtoob, plus you can do it in a social way and share it with your business partners and friends”.
Kristyna feels Maqtoob reflects a global trend towards self-employment and entrepreneurship, but not just amongst those well connected and college educated white males in their early 20’s, with unrivalled access to the best resources, for whom entrepreneurship appears to be a birth right, but also a new emergent demographic who were, until recently, hampered by a lack of technical expertise and the financial resources to bridge the learning gap.
The facts certainly support Kristyna’s argument: micro-enterprises, i.e. firms with fewer than 10 employees, account for between 70-95% of all businesses worldwide; 18% of adults worldwide reported being self-employed in 2013, including 14.4 million people in the US alone. We live in an age where it is rare for a credible business not to have an online presence, and indeed where a significant percentage of businesses rely on online to reach their target audience and generate sales; ecommerce, for example, search marketing, content delivery, design, travel and advertising, and many others besides.
Apps have become the building blocks founders use to create sites to firstly launch and then to provide ongoing support to their business. Why pay for a technical design team to build a user interface, payment processor or accountancy tool when there is very likely a template already out there which, with a little tweaking, will do a more than satisfactory job? The trouble, until now, has been knowing where to find them.
The team at Maqtoob personally curate all of the apps they add to the site, having put together a library of more than 1,000 tools which is categorised and searchable, making it far easier to find useful and relevant apps than it is by, say, using the Apple store, which can be hard to navigate and over saturated. It’s a social site too; once users have registered and set up an account with Maqtoob they are free to create lists of their favourite apps, follow others to see what they are using, and rate and discuss different apps as well as benefit from advice from serial entrepreneurs like Guy Kawasaki, and MJ DeMarco, author of “The Millionaire Fastlane”.
Current demand for business apps comfortably outstrips supply, making developers a highly prized commodity and software houses favourable acquisition targets. The app economy is growing at an annualised rate of 27%, with global revenues from apps and app related products forecast at $86 billion for 2014. That should give you an idea of how popular a site which you can join for free and find apps that have been pre-vetted for their usefulness and reliability could become.
“Maqtoob is about inspiring people and helping them to be more confident about getting online and launching a business”, says Kristyna, “barriers to entry in the online space are being broken down and we are seeing more and more founders taking responsibility for the technical side of things. The top developers will always work for whoever bids the most for their services, but very few people need the cutting edge stuff, they need the tools that are reliable, robust, and affordable, which is what Maqtoob gives them access to.”
Maqtoob’s intuitive user interface
The team relocated to London last year after being accepted onto the Oxygen Accelerator programme whose offices are at Google Campus right in the heart of Tech City. The next step will be securing the funding they need to scale the business and the fun and games will begin in earnest at Oxygen’s demo day early next month. Maqtoob only launched in July 2014 so the growth to date has been impressive and the motivation to make a difference to people’s lives is one that tends to resonate with investors looking for more than just a solid business plan, although Maqtoob has one of those too.
Last week, even though they did not exhibit, Apple managed to steal the show at the CES conference in Las Vegas by announcing that the first week of January had set a new record for billings from its app store, as customers spent just under half a billion dollars on products. The company also revealed that more than 40 billion apps have been downloaded from its iOS store to date, that there are 500 million active accounts, and over 775,000 apps to choose from.
Now obviously just because you run a burger store that does not mean you should start comparing yourself to McDonalds, but the popularity of apps and the astonishing amount of choice out there means that consumers are crying out for guidance. If Maqtoob can help even a tiny percentage of those looking for business based apps but finding the whole process just a little overwhelming and sucky, for want of a better word, then it would be foolish to put a limit on how much Maqtoob can achieve. Grab yourself a trolley and have a browse!
Recommended article: Chomsky: We Are All – Fill in the Blank.
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