The Malta Independent 24 June 2018, Sunday

EY ‘Rising Star’ shares his experience and its impact on fast-growing business

Sunday, 14 January 2018, 12:00 Last update: about 6 months ago

David Vella, CEO of Altaro, the software developer of back-up solutions for small and medium-sized businesses, was named ‘Rising Star’ at last year’s inaugural EY Malta Entrepreneur of the Year awards. With the opening of nominations for the 2018 award, Vella shares his thoughts about last year’s experience and its impact on his fast-growing business.

We initially asked Vella to provide some background on the reasons behind Altaro’s growth. He explained: “Altaro has been on a fast growth path for a few years. I think there are a number of reasons for this, among which I would also include the fact that we are a Maltese business. Malta in and of itself offers a number of advantages, primarily due to its small size. This allows you to work longer hours, time which our international competitors spend on long commutes, without putting excessive pressure on your domestic life.

“It also means that you can fit many more meetings into a day. This is a particular advantage at the moment, as there is a big community of entrepreneurs and mentors in Malta, many of whom are willing to provide advice and support to new ventures. So essentially, you can accomplish a lot more in a day in Malta than you can elsewhere.

“Another advantage of being Maltese is the tight family and social networks we still enjoy to a large extent. In most cases, if you fail in Malta, your family is right there to help and support you. This is a great advantage compared to other countries, where setting up a business normally means moving hundreds of miles away from home to another region or city.

“In addition, we have built a fantastic team. We always aim get people on board who are better than we are in their areas, to continually help us grow and improve together as a company. As of today, we have over 60 employees worldwide and all of them have contributed to making Altaro what it is today. We wouldn’t be here without the hard work from all the team. Another important ingredient we have is focus. We are firm believers in choosing our battles and then laser focusing on them.”

This growth path continued in 2017, a year in which Altaro increased its network of partners from 4,000 to over 7,000 worldwide. The company also released a new major version of its technology through which customers can save data storage space as their back-ups are smaller. As a result, Altaro reached 40,000 customers around the world and grew to over 60 employees.

Vella continues: “Our product updates in 2017 have given us a distinct advantage over our competitors and have been very well received in several key markets, including the UK, Germany and the United States. But growth has brought with it a particular challenge when it comes to recruitment. To be honest, this was the main reason we decided to submit a nomination for EY’s Entrepreneur of the Year award. We have never taken part in anything like this before so it was a completely new experience. We felt, however, that being associated with EY, which also has a great reputation for being forward-looking and for their understanding of how technology is affecting the business landscape, could give us a great platform with potential employees. The fact that we ended up winning the Rising Star award was a fantastic outcome.”

While many people find the thought of entering such an award a daunting prospect, Vella is clear about the benefits.

“Of course, actually winning the EY Rising Star award was great. But even if we had not won, the experience of participating was still extremely useful. Meeting the high calibre judging panel, consisting of some of Malta’s top business owners, was actually a very friendly occasion. They asked the right questions, not just about financial performance but also about our vision. The questions, which you could also interpret as advice, were also really helpful and had a direct impact on our strategy which, of course, is always being reviewed and refined.”

For both the winner of the EY Entrepreneur of the Year award and the Rising Star award, a trip to Monaco and the EY Global Entrepreneur of the Year award awaits. “Monaco was an amazing event”, Vella recalls. “It was packed with opportunities to network with – and learn from – some of the world’s greatest entrepreneurs. While there I also got to spend a lot of time with the great team from EY Malta and also with Alfred Pisani, who won the Malta Entrepreneur of the Year award and Joseph Gasan, who chaired the Malta judging panel. Their knowledge and advice was also very inspiring.”

With nearly a decade of success behind them, Altaro are looking to the future with optimism. “In 2018, there’s going to be a lot of discussion about – and media interest in – artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things, although these probably won’t have any immediate impact on our business,” said Vella. “But we are still looking forward to an exciting year. We’ve made lots of improvements in the last couple of years, both from a technical aspect as well as from a sales and marketing point of view, in order to be able to better target global Managed Service Providers (MSPs). In 2018, we will be seeing more and more small and medium-sized businesses making use of MSP services for their infrastructure software. Altaro’s main objective for 2018 is to be recognised by the international MSP community as one of the best providers of MSP infrastructure solutions.”

As one of Malta’s most successful entrepreneurs, Vella has some concluding advice for anyone thinking about setting up their own business. “Build a minimum viable product first. Make sure to test the idea by talking to potential customers and partners. If it’s a software solution, make sure that you release the solution in increments and don’t wait until it’s perfect. Focus is critical: identify the top things that increase the chance of generating revenue and focus solely on them.”

Nominations for the 2018 EY Malta Entrepreneur of the Year award are open until 9 February. More information is available at www.eoymalta.com

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