InboundMuse Founder and CEO Tyron Lloyd Baron describes his entrepreneurial journey as “a weird and wacky story.” In fact, entrepreneurship wasn’t on the cards at all when he first started out.
Right after completing his A Levels and fulfilling the entry requirements to study medicine – his goal at the time – Tyron had a timely realisation. “I quickly realised that being squeamish and being a doctor don’t really go together, so it was a very short medical career of about a week,” he laughs. Instead, he recalls how he “fell in love with etymology” through his studies in science, which led to a decision to pursue Classics.
“I studied Classics at Undergraduate level, followed by a Master’s. I then started teaching Epic Greek Hexameter at Junior College and University,” Tyron continues. However, a year in, it became clear that this wasn’t his ideal route either, and he needed to make a change.
“During that time, a friend drew my attention to a new Business Incubator, TAKEOFF, which was being launched – it was the first of its kind and he suggested that I check it out,” he recalls, describing the start-up development space aimed at helping innovators and aspiring entrepreneurs create thriving technology and knowledge-based ventures.
“I spoke to TAKEOFF Manager Ben McClure, and I would definitely say he changed my life. He suggested that I might be ‘an entrepreneur in waiting’,” Tyron smiles, reflecting on how he began working on developing an idea with a friend, before pitching it to Ben.
“We were a classicist and a junior IT person looking to build an AI that’s going to change the world. Ben encouraged us to apply for funding, and we did. It was hard, but I’ve always been drawn to the challenge of doing something that is worth doing,” he continues, referencing the TakeOff Seed Fund Award, Malta’s first funding programme designed to support early-stage technology and start-up company development.
“We received first place, and this was an extremely pivotal moment for me. At the time, I was at a crossroads between applying to do a PhD in Oxford or starting a company, both of which are resource-intensive activities. Receiving the most funding of all the applicants was the tipping point.”
Tyron went on to start his company, InboundMuse, with his first partner in 2015. “We started off doing something very different to what we do now, based primarily on a marketing idea. I was tasked with putting the structure in place – so I began recruiting, prepared an internship scheme, sourced the clients and got the funding,” he explains, describing the gradual realisation of the magnitude of their undertaking.
“Around a year into it, we really began to understand how difficult the thing we wanted to do actually was, and how a classicist and a marketer may not be the best equipped to build this high-tech solution, using a force of interns, while funding it through our marketing services,” he says.
“It was fun for a while, and we learned a lot, but I knew this wasn’t what I ultimately wanted to do. It became very much a service-focused company, and I wanted to build a product. I’m a geek for systems, and I wanted to automate everything – which is why I’m drawn to software – and my partner wanted to focus more on the human side of things,” Tyron continues. This led to the pair going their separate ways.
Then, in 2016, Tyron met his current business partner, Mark Mallia, and it was a match made in entrepreneurship heaven. “We more than hit it off – it feels like we’re two halves of the same complete person,” the CEO explains, describing the winning combination of Mark’s deep IT skills with the skills Tyron himself had acquired in taking SaaS products from idea to revenue.
“Between the two of us, we built the company from two to 12 people in six years. Today, we have three departments: products, projects and R&D.” Delving into these, he describes projects as largely self-contained, like, for example, developing an app for a particular business. Products, then, refer to company-owned software products which the team builds and sells, he explains, referencing one such product they’re currently working on: a complete solution for the hospitality industry – but more on that later. All the while, the projects the company works on are used to further fund its R&D arm, re-investing into its own technology.
“As our products grew, we became much more selective when it comes to the projects we take – they have to be strategically important to us. The team is split down the middle in terms of web development, which we use to build our products, and what I call the nerd squad – which I am a part of – which is more focused on data science,” Tyron goes on to explain.
The first standalone product they built was Kraken, an AI-powered tool for online advertising. From there, others followed, in ecommerce and crypto-trading. After that, Tyron recalls how the team “serendipitously” got two or three projects in the hospitality sphere. “We suddenly had so much knowledge in this sphere and the workflows involved in the different aspects of it that it opened up so many questions that we suddenly had the ability to gain answers to. From there, it was a no-brainer: this was going to be our next product.”
The vision, he says, was to create an enterprise level solution that would let any restaurant franchise or chain have one integrated software that would take care of all of their needs – online ordering, delivery, loyalty apps, reservations, A.I. powered marketing and even point of sales – one system to train staff on, one account manager, one bill and one support line. “That’s what we’ve been building since 2019. It’s called Celery, and its flying – we’re even managing to attract foreign franchises/brands to open up shop locally running on Celery,” Tyron reveals.
In hindsight, it was perhaps not the best time to launch a hospitality product in 2019, but it gave us the kind of tough love that we benefited a lot from. We doubled down while our competition was struggling and poured a lot of our resources during the pandemic into developing this beast of an ecosystem of software that is showing results that speak themselves,” he smiles.
Bringing things to the present, the company has recently launched Celery’s last keystone module, which is the point-of-sale, and it’s already proving popular. “It has been a massive undertaking and a very involved process to qualify for VAT certification (which has a lot of requirements), while ensuring that everything else we’ve built integrates into it as the hub for any restaurant. It’s a lot of power, not just a POS like our competitors’. This has enabled us to really compete on an international level – we’re winning bids against software that has been on the market for years, software produced by publicly listed companies.”
And as Celery begins to pick up speed, the team has cut down on other projects. “Unless something is really interesting, I don’t want the distraction. Celery is certainly keeping us busy – we’re growing the sales team and the marketing teams, and working on fundraising. We’re also in the process of designing and trademarking a physical object that brings elements of the software into the real world, so IoT, though I can’t tell you much more about that,” Tyron teases.
Hinting at a physical restaurant experience that links to the software, he reveals, “I don’t know of any other company who does anything similar, so that’s going to be quite an exciting reveal.”
It stands to reason then, that as things stand, all the focus and investment is on Celery. “I really believe that we’ve built an amazing starting point where the trajectory has a very high ceiling. I believe that by the end of the year we will be competing with the global players in the industry,” Tyron affirms, adding that his plan is to saturate the local market first, in order to gain feedback and iterate on it before delving outside of Malta’s shores.
“In 2023, the plan is internationalisation. We are already starting that long slog of research of reaching out to international partners to set up potential reseller opportunities,” he continues, referencing existing contact networks in Ireland and North Africa.
Closing off our discussion at this exciting juncture for the company, I turn Tyron’s attention briefly to thoughts on leadership, asking the young CEO what he considers the qualities of a good business leader. It is perhaps no surprise that Tyron muses, “vision and decisiveness. If you’re leading, you need to see where you’re going.” However, he notes, it’s not just about the leader. Speaking of lessons learned along the way, he adds, “none of us is as smart as all of us. It’s about being humble enough to accept an idea or criticism from anyone – ideation is very meritocratic.”
Ending things here with one final piece of advice to aspiring leaders, Tyron laughs, “a man with a ‘why’ can bear any ‘how’. I’m a man of aphorisms as they condense how I feel, and this one is very true. You have to be insanely passionate about what you’re doing and believe in your cause.”
This interview forms part of the 50 Business Leaders 2022 project. The new online serialisation on MaltaCEOs.mt will feature 50 distinguished business leaders, CEOs, and emerging business minds to create debate and encourage business leaders to share their journey with our readers.
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