How Aussi, an app for small businesses, dribbled lack of resources with creative partnerships

Young entrepreneurs and Aussi app founders Marllon Calaes, Daniel Ushida, Antonio Cardo and Felipe Ferraz invested 50 thousands reais from their own pockets to launch an app to provide consulting to micro and small entrepreneurs

Source: Projeto Draft, 17 February 2017

Sound consulting services can help put a business on the right track, right? However, these services are not accessible to all entrepreneurs, especially someone with a start-up company. Targeting small companies with a big growth potential but lacking funds for personalized consulting services, Marllon Cales (28), Daniel Ushida (26), António Cardoso (25), and Felipe Ferraz (24) from Rio de Janeiro, developed the app Aussi. It’s a mobile app, in the format of a virtual wall where the entrepreneur can post any business-related question, called “challenges” – and get replies from other small business entrepreneurs  (as text, voice clip, video or image). Currently, the platform has 2,500 active users.

Once question is posted, the user chooses between seven categories – Marketing and Sales, Innovation, Finance, Planning, People, Law and Rules and Sustainability – and can opt to make the post public or private (as Facebook). Marllon, business director of the company, tells us that most of the questions posted don’t demand a rather complex consulting study- therefore, it wouldn’t make sense that these small-scale entrepreneurs should pay a lot for the answers:

A consulting study in the traditional format, charging per hour, would be unfeasible to the entrepreneur at the bottom of the pyramid

Aussi’s business model is freemium formatted. There is the standard free option, where you can have simple questions replied, and the premium paid one (199 reais per consulting study/around 60 US dollars), suited for more complex questions. At the end of the study, the user gets an action plan and the consultant (which is an entrepreneur of that same platform) just gets paid if and when the “client” assesses the service positively.

Aussi’s main concept, as in many start-ups, stemmed from the desire to transform a frustration in a business opportunity – and everything started as a coworking. Marllon is a partner at Experimental, a consulting management enterprise that created the Experimental League, a coworking space in Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro. Antonio was his partner at the League and Daniel worked in one of the enterprises that utilized the space. The coworking space closed in 2015, but the group continues as partners in Experimental.

Felipe, who was Marllon’s friend, arrived last, coming from the Computer Engineering course at the Militar Institute of Engineering and a period of working experience at the BTG Pactual bank. Together, they started to design the Aussi project. Marllon speaks about that phase. Since the beginning, the objective was to provide quality service in a financially feasible way to small and young entrepreneurs, who are the ones showing fastest growth, but facing some of the greatest management problems.

In addition, they didn’t want to compromise the routine of these small entrepreneurs – as it may happen in traditional consulting, which tend to last for various days. Because of that, the idea of providing the service via app was the most appropriate since they can use it out of commercial hours. In fact, that’s mainly what happens. ‘Today, our peak access is between 10 pm and 2 am in early morning’, he says.

A PARTNERSHIP TO BRING THE PRODUCT TO THOSE REALLY IN NEED

While the partners were searching for approvals to Aussi, Sebrae-RJ invited them to participate in one of their rounds of credit. From this point on, they could also count on experts from the entity to answer the entrepreneurs’ questions from the platform – and it worked out. Sebrae, due to its consolidated branding and reputation, helped Aussi reach the target audience.

Through the app, the user raises business-related questions in public or private conversations

The support also placed the app in rounds of credit in the suburbs of Rio, including favela Jacarezinho, in the North Zone of the city. Sebrae complemented the project’s activities connecting entrepreneurs with financial institutions. Because of this, the users could get the loan at the same time as they learn how to manage the financial resources. In these communities, people have amazing businesses and a great willpower; this is, therefore, a really big responsibility we want to assume, says Antonio from Aussi.

In December last year, Aussi was selected as one of the 100 most innovating initiatives in the world by Startup Chile and the partners travelled in February 2017 to the country to engage and present the product to local investors. Before that, Aussi was elected as one of the 60 most innovative businesses in the state of Rio by Startup Rio, from whom they received 60 thousands reais as investment.

Still, with the ongoing economic crisis the state is facing, they have not seen any money at all. Marllon says that even though frustrated, they have thought of an alternative: We dealt with the situation by opening a selective process for voluntaries, so that we could hire people to team even without receiving financial help.

However, it wasn’t as easy as it seems. To take the project forward, they have invested 50 thousands reais from their own pockets. To date, Aussi does not profit – this is a common burden for most of the businesses that chooses to use the freemium model, but Marllon says the expectation is that this year 350 thousands reais enter the balance sheet of the company and that the focus is to now make use of the opportunities that have already appeared.

HOW TO KEEP GOING WITHOUT THE DREAMED INVESTMENT

From 2,500 users registered in the platform, around 500 already had their doubts published and answered. The version of the app that was being initially tested went live in May 2016. Step by step, the co-founders created mechanisms for the tool to bring quality content for entrepreneurs who needed help – ensuring that it wouldn’t end as a chaotic array of low quality hints and useless comments. Anyone registered in Aussi can become a consultant, however, to get to this level you must have offered help more than seven times and must be ratted 4.8 (out of 5). “Entrepreneurs shall not provide advice when they do not know much about the topic”, says Marllon.

Through another programme, the UNDP RIO+ Centre offered during the month of February 2017 a space for entrepreneurs that want to make their businesses more sustainable to receive orientations from experts, Aussi fixed another valuable partnership, with the United Nations. “The organization understands that Aussi can collaborate with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), because it gives economic power to micro entrepreneurs”, explains Aussi’s director of businesses.

In the future, they want to produce content in the format of lessons from entrepreneurs that maintain themselves in their local markets, in order to have a global impact – the “glocal perspective”, as it is known in the startup world. Antonio explains that, “a lot of people do not mind democratizing their own knowledge because they know sometime they will also need help and will probably have.”

In order to make their business more profitable and provide the Aussi app’s service to more people, the partners aim large enterprises that include in their portfolios investments to bring innovation to the clients.

“The idea is that Aussi becomes, in the near future, a big platform and a big reference for small entrepreneurs”, says Marllon.

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