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Startup Spotlight: Octopi making waves in maritime industry

Cetus Labs 01 EKM

Company: Octopi (formerly Cetus Labs)

Headquarters: Venture Hive, 1010 NE Second Ave., Miami

Concept: Octopi builds and sells a modern and smart Terminal Operating System (TOS) that helps seaport terminal operators manage operations, track cargo, and communicate electronically in real-time with their commercial partners.

Story: Ninety percent of everything around you was carried over on a shipping container before it reached you. It’s the industry that puts food in your plate, clothes on your back and enables the success of e-commerce globally. Yet, very few companies are trying to solve the hard problems facing this industry, says Octopi co-founder Luc Castera.

“Our company was built with the mission to help the key players in this industry operate more efficiently using modern software. We are a team of software developers with lots of experience in developing modern software tools,” Castera said.

According to the International Chamber of Shipping, about 90 percent of world trade is carried by the international shipping industry, and the United Nations estimates that the maritime industry contributes about $380 billion to the global economy. It’s also one of Miami’s dominant industries.

“When we started learning about the shipping and maritime industry, we saw that there was a big opportunity to help companies in that space be more efficient using technology,” said co-founder Guille Carlos. “Everybody is impacted by the shipping industry so we feel like we can have a meaningful impact in the world by helping the players in this industry be more effective.”

Launched: Octopi went live with its first customer in October 2015.

Management team: Luc Castera and Guille Carlos [pictured above], who have more than 20 years of combined experience developing software. Previously, Castera was CTO of Intellum and Carlos was the first tech hire of FiveStreet, which was acquired by move.com in 2013.

Website: octopi.co

Financing: Bootstrapped. The co-founders said they are not in need of funding now but have had conversations with local investors and are building relationships with them in case they decide to raise funds in the future.

Recent milestones reached: In October 2015, Octopi went live with its first customer. In May 2016, the company signed a contract with Caribbean Port Services (CPS), which manages all the terminals at the port of Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. With that contract, about 85 percent of all containerized cargo going to Haiti now goes through Octopi. In June 2016, Octopi completed its billing module, which allows the software product to interface with accounting software such as Quickbooks Online or Microsoft Dynamics GP.

Octopi (then called Cetus Labs) was also the winner of the 2016 early-stage Startup Showcase competition at eMerge Americas in April, winning $50,000, and it participated in the 2016 Venture Hive class.

Biggest startup challenge: Focus. Carlos says: “We see so many problems we could solve in the shipping and maritime industry but we must remain focused on the problem we are currently solving for terminal operators, and not get distracted by other product ideas.”

Next steps: To continue improving the product. “We love to work closely with new customers and involve them early as possible as we develop our product. This ensures that we are solving their problem and we are not developing software in a vacuum. As such, we are always looking for container terminals that have a forward-thinking executive team and that are willing to build a strong alliance with their software vendor. It’s a win-win situation: They help us build a great product, and they get a better software at a better price,” Castera said.

Mentor’s view: “This is exactly the type of startup we need more of in Miami,” said Mike Lingle, who mentors the team at Venture Hive. “My favorite thing about Luc and Guille is that they've built a sustainable business with real revenue and customers, and they don't need to raise money. They both write code, but they also take the time to learn how to run the business, drive sales and marketing, etc. ... The next step is to focus on sales and build a predictable revenue stream. B2B sales cycles are often long and involve multiple stakeholders, so it's important to focus on this sooner rather than later.”

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