Standing in a queue is no-one’s favourite pastime. Around this irksome necessity, entire national stereotypes were built: while the English, for instance, are said to be obsessed with queueing, the Italians are not supposed to be very good at it. It might have been an overwhelming desire to avoid queues at all costs or simply the proverbial stroke of genius that prompted Roberto Macina, CEO of Qurami, to come up with a revolutionary app that might make queueing a thing of the past. Imagine not having to stand in line for hours on end to get into concert venues and museums, not having to waste your mornings at the post office or reading old magazines in your doctor’s waiting room. Imagine getting all that time back. Qurami aims to do just that and the idea behind it is brilliant in its simplicity.
Let’s start with your background. You majored in computer engineering, worked with a major firm and shortly afterwards you launched your own app. How did you transition from engineer to entrepreneur? What prompted your choice and how did you adapt to your new role?
May way to entrepreneurship was rather peculiar, but it all came together quite naturally. The time between the original idea and the making of the app and the founding of the company was actually rather short. Looking back, it was vital to have the right team on board straightaway: people I could trust, with very different skills and business backgrounds from my own and a solid commercial experience. Qurami was always the product of teamwork. I would not have gone very far on my own.
Sum up Qurami for someone who has never heard about it.
Qurami is a free smartphone app that allows you to queue remotely, as long as the establishment you are queueing for is using our technology. Users get an electronic ticket number on their smartphone, so that they know exactly how many people are queueing ahead of them, and they can be notified when their turn is approaching. We have also launched a new service recently, called Qurami Agenda, allowing users to book appointments in advance, such as medical exams, hairdresser’s appointments or tennis matches.
You seem to have a small but highly effective team: how do you choose the people you work with?
Diverse skills, passion and commitment are vital to our project. I was clear from the start: those who agreed to be a part of this project were well aware that I was not in a position to offer them any certainties. Still, I got everyone involved in a collective project, which is proving to be a highly educational experience for all of us.
What constitutes the perfect startup team?
As I have already said, the idea mix includes the right skills and being prepared to take risks and commit your time and energy to the project. One also needs to generate a positive vibe through the team. At Qurami we managed to create a stimulating environment, we keep casual and informal, but we are extremely driven. Many a good idea came to us over a pizza, rather than in the boardroom.
Talking about startups: how did you launch Qurami and what tools did you use to get it started? (Accelerators, Incubators, Bootcamps, Angel Investors)
Good ideas alone are not enough. You need to share them with the right people and pick the best partners to turn them into business projects. We firs launched Qurami in 2010 at the Rome Startup Weekend and we then entered Luiss-Enlabs, an incubator that provided us with our initial funding and a mentorship plan. Since 2014 we are also a part of Level39, a London accelerator and one of the largest in Europe. We also have a few Angel Investors.
Before launching your own projects, I am assuming you studied what was currently on the market. What projects inspired you? Whose business model, if any, would you like to follow?
Since we wanted Qurami to be brand- and service-focused, our best bet was to make it a Saas (software as a service), so that we wouldn’t be initially perceived as just another app-developer. We were very straightforward with our clients: “Do you like Qurami? Great, then you can use it by paying for a subscription”.
Before setting out to write the questions for this interview, I showed your presskit to a friend and the response I got was something along the lines of “that’s awesome! When will I be able to use it?”. Now, bearing in mind the fact that this happened in Berlin, I’d like to forward you that question. Let’s rephrase it: how is your expansion abroad going?
Queues are usually perceived as a specifically Italian phenomenon, but that is not the case. We started working with the British Royal Mail and things are going extremely well. Other markets are also showing an interest in our services. Negotiations are currently open in Spain, France and several South American countries.
The aforementioned reaction clearly shows that Qurami has what is known in the industry as “the WOW effect”. How is that achieved? What characteristics should a startup have, in order to generate “the WOW effect”?
I think that, in essence, the “WOW” effect comes from effectively meeting the public’s real needs. Qurami does that, because it helps us get back one of the most important commodities in our lives: time. When we describe our services, people immediately imagine situations in which they would like to use Qurami: in a public office in their home-town or at the museum where they had to stand in a queue for an hour before they could get in.
What are the pros and cons of starting a business in Italy nowadays?
We managed to launch our company and gain market shares, but we had to overcome a number of obstacles. A young person’s journey to entrepreneurship is not a particularly smooth one, particularly in the new technology field. Existing laws struggle to keep up with the pace of innovation, bureaucracy slows you down and gaining access to credit is not exactly easy. On the other hand, in recent years a lively ecosystem has been growing, made of young entrepreneurs, researchers, public administration innovators and visionary investors. For all this, Italy is still a country where entrepreneurs can flourish, without being forced to move to the Silicon Valley.
What would you change about your entrepreneurial journey so far?
So far our journey has been so good that I sometimes find it hard to believe all this is real. Of course we made mistakes, but I wouldn’t change anything, because from those mistakes we have learned the most valuable lessons on how to improve and build Qurami’s future.