We had an interesting chat with Mr. “Sharif Aly”, Aly of the California – USA based start-up “ApprovalQ”
Below is the interview we conducted with him:
1. What is it exactly that you do and what your start-up is all about?
The world’s easiest approval queue. Many companies struggle to manage workflow with email distribution lists or complicated project management platforms that take too much time and effort. No more. Create queues and add items to the queues by email. It fits with existing behavior and requires no integration.
2. When has your startup been founded? And what stage is your startup currently at?
The project was started in early March, 2015. The first MVP version was released after only a single weekend. Of course there is still a long product roadmap ahead, but I don’t believe in wasting time. Figure out what you want and go get it.
3. What is your startup’s business model and how does it work?
Freemium. I have always believed that companies should be brave by pricing aggressively and going for volume. That’s how to ensure you leave your mark. The cost of allowing people to use a full featured queue is minimal, but the benefits to everyone involved are tremendous. If you are looking to use more than 1queue, we charge a minimal fee based on usage.
4. How did your team meet? And who in your team does what?
This project was conceived, designed and developed by yours truly. I have spent my career working in industry and have developed applications that generated tens of millions of dollar, managed applications that processed billions of dollars. If I can do that for someone else, surely I can do it for myself.
5. What, exactly, makes you different from existing options, what will make your product and/or service stand out in the marketplace? In other words what’s unique about you and what’s new about what you make?
There are many workflow and business process management options, but existing solutions are all over-engineered. As a result, in my opinion, the majority of the market is shut out by the risk, uncertainty and complexity of integration and the need to train employees to modify their behavior. People like email. It just needs to be more structured. I started from there and concluded ApprovalQ is the solution.
6. What is your growth like? And what milestones has your startup achieved so far?
This is a brand new company, but it’s generating a lot of buzz. Obviously having an enterprise focus is both a blessing and a curse – you can name and call your target customers, but they also tend to be slow moving and highly skeptical of startups. The product is enterprise quality and ready for business today, but as the product matures I expect growth will be phenomenal.
7. Who are your competitors? And what is your start-up’s competitive advantage over them?
I believe ApprovalQ is reaching a new market in an existing category. We didn’t invent workflow or email, but nobody has put the two together before. If you’re willing to invest tens of thousands on integration, deployment and training you will find many tools on the market with similar capabilities. But for customers who are attracted to this product there is no competition.
8. What obstacles did you face and how did you overcome them?
The only commodity without a price tag is time. Everybody has it but nobody has enough of it. This idea has been kicking around in my head for a while but I was actually inspired by a recent Hackathon competition into action. I was shocked by the quality of output from these kids working for just 48 hours and I challenged myself to build the MVP in a single weekend.
9. What are the key things about your field that outsiders don’t understand?
Many people who target the enterprise love complexity. There is a correlation between complexity and professional service opportunities so the incentives are all wrong. I look at the market differently. At the end of the day, companies are run by people and in the smartphone era everyone in their personal lives have become accustomed to simplicity. Expectations have changed. It’s a new world and many independent software vendors are struggling with legacy products.
10. Why are you going to succeed?
I’ve been working for companies of all sizes at many capacities in many industries for many years. Anybody can have a good idea, but very few people can execute. I know this space and everyone who has run anything knows the real differentiator is people.
11. If your startup succeeds, what additional areas might you be able to expand into?
This company will own the market for simple cloud based workflow management. This is a dangerous question, there are always opportunities to move up the stack and go after higher value problems, but it’s important not to be distracted away from the mission.
12. Why did you choose this idea and concept to build your start-up based on?
This is an unserved market. I believe in order for companies to become great they must either invent something new or reinvent something obsolete. There are many workflow and business process management tools on the market but very few companies that should use them are using them. There is a product-market mismatch which means there is an opportunity.
13. What have you learned so far from launching your idea?
Everybody has an idea, they aren’t worth much if you can’t deliver a product and get people to look at it. People tend to specialize in one area, whether it’s engineering or marketing or sales. You really need to be an expert in everything or partners with people who fill in your gaps.
14. Six months from now, what’s going to be your biggest problem?
One of the most important responsibilities of any company leader is recruiting quality talent to join the team. Sitting on a unicorn obviously helps, but there is no reason to expect my experience will be any different.
15. What’s the benefit for the customer/user?
All the features without any of the headaches. Customers using ApprovalQ will finally have the ability to benefit from a structured queue of tasks without behavior changes or training. The cost is a game changer, it’s tough to beat free for your first queue and they can literally be up and running in seconds.
16. How did customers / users find out about you?
Conferences, bloggers, mailing lists, social media. First you need to exploit your existing network, then you branch out from there. I believe a good product speaks for itself. If people see it, use it and love it, they will talk about it.
17. Who are your current customers / users? Who are your target customers / users?
This product targets businesses of all sizes. Startups or any company employing an agile development methodology will love the ability to test features without having to implement them by triggering a task item for manual provisioning. SMB’s will love being able to implement this solution in seconds, which is so rare and refreshing. Large enterprises will love the ability to add many users and manage approvers.
18. Where do new customers / users come from and what makes new customers/users try you?
Word of mouth. Every sales organization suffers from high turnover and one of our best use cases is managing workflow over email for remote employees.
19. What do your customers / users say about your product and/or service?
Sometimes the most obvious things have the biggest impact. ApprovalQ is not the first service to use email as an input for data, but it’s the first in this market. It’s really something different and our customers love it.
20. How are you going to scale?
The best part of this model is that internet infrastructure is already built to deliver enormous quantities of email. There are many companies that provide email services and of course we don’t intend to reinvent the wheel.
21. What’s the biggest missing feature? The one thing customers/users keep asking for?
The larger the customer the more likely they are to have an interest in Single Sign On. Given our price point and value proposition (no integration, get started in seconds) it’s not high on the list, but it’s definitely on the roadmap since there is no denying the benefit.
22. Are you going to internationalize? And if yes how are you planning to expand your start-up’s operations accordingly?
The application is already built with internationalization in mind. Basically we just need a translator and we’re good to go from a technology standpoint. The financials are a bit more complicated. We will get there.
23. How big do you think you can get? Why? And how you are planning to achieve your goals?
Every company needs some kind of project management, workflow or business process solution. It’s an enormous multi-billion dollar industry. Every company is a potential customer so the market is huge. Since our entry point is so low, in terms of effort and money, I expect employees will find ways to use ApprovalQ surreptitiously and over time it will become adopted broadly.
24. Are you looking to hire a new workforce? And if yes, what job vacancies do you currently offer and where can potential applicants contact you at?
Great talent is always welcome. If you can’t figure out my email based on my name and company then you probably shouldn’t be working for me anyway. Everybody already knows the trials and tribulations of startup life so no need to repeat the obvious, if it’s something that appeals to you I would suggest you reconsider. Sleep on it. If you’re still game give me a shout.
25. Are you looking for partnership opportunities or funding from Venture Capitals (VC) or other funding sources? Or your business is self-sustainable? And if the first option applies where can potential partners / investors contact you at?
Today the company has everything it needs for the foreseeable future, but compelling arguments can be made and I’m always looking for opportunities. People often say the only guarantees in life are death and taxes, I would also add failed plans to the list. Creating 7 years plans in an industry that changes every 6 months is crazy. I’m always open to new ideas.
26. What advice do you have for fresh entrepreneurs?
Stop talking and just start building. Every time you fail there will be a lesson for the future. Consciously look for those lessons and actively take steps to address them. Don’t make excuses.
27. Finally, do you have any other comments that you would like to add?
Try the product, it’s free, give me feedback.