Lessons on Taking the Leap into Entrepreneurship with Amaresh Ray

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Amaresh Ray is someone who leaves you feeling inspired, energized and motivated to change the course of your career when you first meet him. We sat down with Amaresh, co-founder of Multiplier and active member of the Atlassian developer community, to understand what it's taken to launch a business on the Atlassian Marketplace with the support of Atlassian Ventures, his advice for developers considering going down a similar path, and why achieving success on the Marketplace is closer within your reach than you may think.

Grab a cup of coffee or tea and take a quick break to get to know a fellow community member!

What motivated you to start developing apps for the Atlassian Marketplace?

For 3+ years, I was a product manager on the Jira Service Management team at Atlassian. Part of my role was actually to pitch to developers why they should build apps for the Atlassian Marketplace. Through that experience, I really started believing that [the Marketplace] was an incredible space to be in with a massive opportunity. I've always had an entrepreneurial itch, so I knew eventually I'd want to drink my own Kool-Aid. 

Atlassian provides a solid foundation and does a lot of heavy lifting for you (for example, with programs for founders like myself to help us build a marketing muscle), so to me, choosing the Atlassian Marketplace to launch my company, Multiplier, was a no-brainer. I am constantly seeing ways in which Atlassian really cares about the ecosystem and is willing to support developers within it.

The thing I loved the most as a product manager was when customers came to you with a problem, you could solve it for them, and visibly see how it made their life better. Already familiar with Atlassian customer problems, I was inspired to build our first Connect app: Access Management  Workflows for G Suite, Azure AD & Okta. The app provides identity & access management built into Jira to seamlessly onboard, offboard and provision apps, and streamline approval workflows.

Speaking of customers, how do you come up with app ideas, get validation from customers, and figure out what is going to work?

A lot of it has been us reaching out cold to members of the Community, pitching what we are doing, and asking them if what we're creating would improve their day-to-day. It's taught me to embrace rejection because ultimately, having open communication with your target audience will enable you to find out when you are on the right track. 

Starting out, we continuously iterate on our positioning and change how we talk about [our app] to discover what's really resonating with people. Because we've gone out of our way to seek customer feedback, we now have a group of early adopters who are super engaged with us.

How did you know it was the right time to bring on a co-founder, and how did you bring them on board?

My co-founder had a full-time job when Multiplier started, and I was still speaking to potential app customers. I had enough of a signal that this would be an interesting area for us to explore and so I pitched the idea of him joining me.

At first he was working nights and weekends. Once we secured investment from Atlassian Ventures, it was possible for him to leave his current job and join me full-time.

How would you describe the process of gaining funding from Atlassian Ventures?

I've always wanted to go the bootstrap route, so initially raising venture capital wasn't something that appealed to me. However, when I did some research into Atlassian Ventures, I discovered how well their incentives aligned with the type of company I wanted to build.

The Ventures funding route definitely took some of the pressure off because it gave us a longer runway to experiment and hone in on what we feel is resonating with customers. As part of the process, we had to legally incorporate and do a lot of the heavy lifting upfront that we needed to turn our app into a business. As part of our evaluation, Atlassian researched the space we were in and really took the time to understand what we were trying to accomplish.

It was probably around two months from the time we applied to the time we had the money in our bank accounts. We had one meeting with the Ventures team where we pitched our concept, and they got back to us in 2-3 weeks. The amount of money we raised is enough for us to build a good, sustainable business right now. 

What advice would you have for a developer looking to take a similar path and launch a business?

Looking back on my own journey, I'd have three main pieces of advice:

  1. Talk to potential customers before writing any code: Before you start building an app you think would solve a customer's problem, I'd recommend talking to  at least 5 people in your target audience. Before you even pitch them your idea, try to learn a little bit about the problems they're currently struggling with. If you keep your ears and eyes open, you will be able to find something that adds value and solves a problem for them.
  2. Seeing competitors for your potential app is a good sign: Think about your app's competitive landscape. Whenever I look for competitors and don't see any, to me, that's a bad sign. If I'm doing something that's completely new that no one has ever done before, I question if it's truly a problem that people are looking for solutions to. Even if there aren't similar apps on the Atlassian Marketplace, you can take a look at other SaaS apps and reports from market research firms like Gartner to get validation for your idea.
  3. Small business strength = speed: When we've gone up against more established competitors, we've been able to show customers that we (the smaller competitor) are more responsive, nimble and agile when it comes to developing features they need, or getting back to them on questions or support. Don't be afraid to play up this strength.

What has been surprising to you about entrepreneurship?

I had an assumption that our ideal customer would be someone more mid-market, around 200 employees, and that's the size of the company we were targeting and trying to sell to. We've actually learned that we're increasingly able to sell to bigger customers than that. In some cases the sales cycle when dealing with larger organizations can sometimes be a bit of a challenge, but it is still a lot more streamlined because we are part of the Atlassian Marketplace. We've benefitted from selling into some of these larger organizations and I never would have expected that to happen this soon.

Our product also has a lot of security implications, and that was something I hadn't realized was going to be so critical for these larger customers. We now have the cloud security badge, take part in Atlassian security programs, and are going through our SOC2 audit.

Where do you go for advice and support?

The Atlassian developer community is made up of established Marketplace partners that have been around for a while, and a bunch of small early-stage startups like ourselves. We're a close-knit community and enjoy sharing knowledge and best practices. For example how to use LinkedIn to prospect customers or how to use Google Ad Words and track whether the money you're spending is directly impacting your ROI. It's been a wonderful experience being a part of these supportive groups and events with other people who are passionate about what they do.

Everyone in the community is in different stages of their journey and has gone through their own interesting experiences. Every member can help lend a hand to someone new starting out to prevent them from making the same mistake they did, or share the things they learned to watch out for.

What does success mean to you?

Within our business: how much time and money we save our customers. We have saved customers over 500 hours of manual IT work through our automation workflows! 

Outside of our business: being able to control my own day and schedule (I have the freedom and flexibility to go for a run in the middle of the day or go to the gym more often, for example), and learning things I never would have been exposed to in my previous role—like learning sales and marketing, how to manage a team of freelancers, or raise investments.

Atlassian is rooting for you, Amaresh!

Whether you're an experienced app developer or just getting started, we hope you took away valuable insights from Amaresh's story. Being an entrepreneur takes empathy, resilience and perseverance, but we learned from Amaresh that the risk is worth the reward. Are you a developer looking to build your network, or meet like-minded builders and entrepreneurs? If so, we'd encourage you to connect with Amaresh on the developer community.