Melbourne start-up goes global with NASA deal

By Oliver Milman
Tuesday, 20 September 2011

A solo Melbourne-based entrepreneur has credited finding a neglected niche and search engine optimisation for luring global clients such as NASA, Peugeot and LG.


Despite operating by himself in a start-up that is barely two years’ old, Marcus Tarrant has managed to secure a dominant position in a niche of the software industry.


Tarrant’s business,, offers an Excel-based adaption of Gantt charts. The charts are project plans that offer a visual map of working time.


Despite Tarrant being the only employee of the business, and with no marketing spend, the product has been purchased by more than 400 businesses in 43 countries across the world.


Tarrant came up with the idea while working at Deliotte. He realised that the established industry leader, Microsoft Project, could be improved upon.


“I realised there were a lot of deficiencies in Microsoft Project, so I wanted to build something that was more flexible,” he says.


“It may sound simple, but the flexibility is things like being able to insert a column wherever you like and being able to plug into existing processes.”


“All the sales have been via Google searches. I haven’t spent anything on advertising. I built it not because I wanted to make a lot of money, but because I felt the market needed it. I have been surprised, however, by the large corporate clients that have wanted it.”


After spending three years developing the software, Tarrant launched the business two years ago. Since then, he has attracted a raft of big name clients, even spending two weeks building a customised version for NASA.


He says that the small size of his business hasn’t significantly impacted his ability to lure major clients.


“I haven’t really encountered any problems, as I did when I was in consulting,” he says. “When you move into the product domain, it’s a lot easier.”


“We have found a niche with no major players. It is sometimes an issue internally for large companies – for example, HP stamped on the head of a deal as they don’t use Excel-based solutions.”


“I’ve made sure that price hasn’t been a barrier, so that the product gets out there. I’ll then find the right price point for it.”


“The best thing for start-ups is to find a niche in an area that isn’t huge volume and is overlooked by the major players. Put the effort into SEO and design your business for a global market – my product is sold in US dollars, rather than Australian dollars, it is customisable in another language and it is an instant download online, so I don’t have to be there at 2am.”


Meanwhile, another of Tarrant’s businesses, Business Planning HQ, is holding what it claims is a world first – the creation of business plans for 50 start-ups at one event.


The feat, using the HyperQuestion technology, will be attempted on October 6 with members of the Business Blueprint networking group.

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