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Debenu - Document Management Tools for your Desktop

Today we showcase the story of an exciting venture, from Melbourne, Australia, Debenu Pty Ltd, Document Management Tools for your Desktop, co-founded by Karl De Abrew.

In a recent email-based interview with us, he gave insights into how he is managing and juggling. This is what he has to say in his interview with us:

• Please tell us about yourself, your background and interests?
I've spent time in my earlier years in the UK, Australia, the US, Ireland, and then back in Australia. I'm an avid technologist and have been for as long as I can remember. Back to the times when people would laugh at me for using a keyboard when they had their trusty ball-point at the ready.

I enjoy working with my friends, and consequently, I try to involve them all at some stage in my businesses.

I have managed to create a working environment that doesn't feel too much like hard work. Sure, the hours are long, but as an entrepreneur -- well, I've got a great boss. I also get a lot of freedom and satisfaction from that. Having said that, I do always keep an eye out for some more diverse activities! For example -- this week I'm heading up to Sydney to visit some close friends, do a little surfing, and watch some AFL.

It's hard to beat a cold beer and a bit of kick-to-kick with your mates.

I've funnelled large amounts of cash up via iTunes to Steve Jobs and I like my movies -- having gone through almost everything in the store (of course, with time spent reviewing first via IMDB). This said, I'm not quite as fussy as some of my compatriots which leads to renting some pretty low-budget movies that I really shouldn't bother with.

Basically, I've been "working" as an entrepreneur for (almost) all long as I've been working ...

• Please tell us about your venture/company?
Debenu is positioned squarely around "digital documents" -- we've one product, Benubird Pro which is a personal/desktop document manager for home and business users. It is designed to provide an easy way to archive, manage and retrieve documents. It has an iTunes-style interface that targets your documents, instead of music. Secondly, we have a product called Quick PDF Library, This is a royalty-free component that application developers can add to their products to "power" them up to operate with PDF files.
• Who are the people behind this and how it started?
Myself and Rowan Hanna, my brother.
Basically all my working life (and the time before it), I've been working toward the goal of building a paperless office system. Or at least, a less-paper system. Why? I'm not sure, it might have been the result of my really early years working a paper round to distribute newspapers at 5AM each day -- or perhaps the 5+ years I spent operating a fax, telex and photocopier at stockbrokers distributing their information to each desk in the organization.

After talking with all our customers for years, we established that there was a real need in the market for a lightweight yet powerful desktop document management system -- that explains Benubird Pro. Re: Quick PDF Library, we've been working with PDF for well over 15 years, In the beginning, I used to pitch PDF as being the "defacto" standard for electronic documents. Well, now, it actually is... so there's a huge demand for a product that can power up any application with true PDF capabilities.

• How long it took before it was up and running?

From my experience, I know that it takes around 12-18 months of solid work before a startup will realistically start making money. This being the case we put aside enough money to last us 24 months -- but luckily, it only took us 12 months. Starting a successful business rarely happens overnight, so you need to keep at it over a prolonged period and have faith (and a good idea!).

• What is the main objective/mission behind your venture?
We're looking for Benubird to become the main application of choice for SOHO users who are looking for a more intelligent way of working with their files (mostly documents, images, spreadsheets, etc...).

As for Quick PDF Library -- we're looking for it to become the #1 library of choice for developers around the planet. We've got a healthy start here...

• What type of customers/people you are targeting?
Benubird Pro targets the desktop professional -- so pretty much your SOHO users.

Quick PDF Library is focused on software developers, both enterprise customers and 3rd party applications. Quick PDF Library is royalty-free which is a big selling point. To be clear, this means we do not charge you "per seat" if you compile Quick PDF Library into your application -- it's a one-time low-cost payment. Less than a couple of hundred bucks.

• What sort of marketing you are using to spread the word?
  • Online marketing.
  • User-to-user communities
  • Demonstrating the capability of our products by providing free versions (Lite). As distinct from a demo version of the software, a lite version can be used forever, however, its features are reduced from the commercial edition.
• How are you measuring the success of your venture? Are there any special mechanisms/tools in place to monitor the progress?
I suppose the biggest and most significant measure is a) the online 'buzz' about our business and products as well as b) the fairly obvious method, which is simply sales.

Hybrid setup of:
  • Google Analytics - Allows us to track our traffic levels, where our visitors are coming from, results from AdWords, keywords used to locate our site, etc...
  • Alexa - gives us a rough idea of traffic levels
  • UserVoice - allows us to gauge interaction with the user community and thoughts on new ideas
  • Constant Contact - Talk to customers via newsletters, and receive feedback (more traditional "broadcast"). The larger the number of subscribers, the greater our success in intriguing users as to our progress.
  • SurveyMonkey, Again, for us, this can measure success in two ways, if we ask direct questions about our products and position in the marketplace, we can garner a clear idea about our progress, secondly something as simple as the number of people who take the time to complete our surveys -- again shows that people really care to contribute their ideas and feedback.
  • # of downloads, Pretty clear, no need to explain.
  • # of sales, Another obvious one.
  • Direct feedback from users... Likewise, with SurveyMonkey, the fact that our customers, or potential customers take the time to write us direct emails shows that they do care about our products and business.
• What is the monetizing/revenue model? Is there any new model, that is being tried?
We're based around the traditional product sale system. Our products are all software-based hence, for the most part, the costs are (fairly) mixed as revenues increase. Increasing our sales is directly correlated to the number of visitors/trial users that we have.

We have a short-term and long-term financial strategy - with products that will sell from day one, and others which -- as a result of their innovation, will take a lot longer to communicate/educate our users.

Our PDF library is based around a royalty-free sale model which is the very compelling benefit of a high-quality component to within an application.

• Which are the main competitors or major players in this market segment?
There are a variety of PDF library vendors and a few small document management companies.

• What are the main technologies used behind this venture?
Regarding our document management product, Benubird Pro, we used Visual C++, SQLite and BCG ControlBar Professional.

Basically,: our PDF component, Quick PDF Library, involves most development environments such as Visual C++, Delphi, ActiveX, basic Windows development, and PowerBasic..., however, the main technology was Delphi (surprising, but yes, true).

• What has been the easiest to use, out-of-the-box and helpful technology?
Visual Studio, BCGSoft. Delphi -

Note -- this is primarily due to experience, not necessarily due to use of use. As in, there may be a "better" method for working through to reach our goals, however, we must make use of our competencies and experience.

We also use, standard open-source online web-hosting, marketing and forum tools

• Are you using a lot of open-source tool sets for this?
Not really -- excepting SQLite. Again, this is based on a) experience and b) the relatively low cost of these tools when measured against the price of our applications. It makes more sense for us to utilize applications.

• What is your operating environment (operating system) and what type of database you are using?
Windows XP/Vista + SQLite.

• What's your thought on being an aspiring entrepreneur?
Choose your goal first. Don't worry about how lofty it is, or what other people think about it. Make it your goal.

After that let everything else fall into line. If you can't get money -- use your own, if you don't have it, don't pay yourself, if you need money, get a 2nd, 3rd or fourth job. Remember, there's always someone doing it harder than you are -- and most likely for a lot less.
Just get on with it...

• What's your thought on the start-up culture and innovation coming out of Australia?
To be honest, I really don't know -- our customer base is primarily from the US for Benubird (and our previous entity, Nitro PDF) -- with Quick PDF Library, our most significant base is from Europe. As a consequence, we've had little need or requirement to involve ourselves in the local environment.

I'm certainly not saying that wouldn't be an exciting and dynamic place to be starting up a business, I just can't really provide any useful feedback.

• What do you think the government (federal and state) should do to improve the culture of innovation?
From a technology perspective, I'd say that there are a few additions that could help. Firstly, since it's the technology and innovation that are important, in the early years, take the focus off the standard business operating procedure. Provide early-stage support for new startups that handle offices, accounts, taxation -- basically your day-to-day stuff. Let the innovators focus on what they should be good at -- innovation. Sometime during years 3-5, they move out (or you boot them out!), either out into the wide world, or back home to think of the next idea.

• Do you have any advice for people who want to start their venture?
Work out the best way to move ahead, don't waste your time, do it today (not tomorrow). I mean, literally, stop right now, Don't read the answer to the next question, send your boss an email saying that you've decided to move on. Then come back and keep reading...

• Do You have any business advisor/mentor?
No. But I should have. Not having an advisor meant that I "learned" a lot of lessons. That in itself isn't a problem. The problem is learning the same lesson, over and over ... and over. Of course, learning from experience has its merits too.

Ongoing coverage on Australian startups, innovation, business and tech trends, and interviews with experts in various domains can be found here


Anonymous said…
good interview - I bought the product 'benubird' a couple of months ago and I must say I've been impressed with it - has made life a lot easier for me and my business.

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