As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Rich Waldron.
Rich Waldron is CEO and co-founder of Tray.io. He believes strongly in democratizing the use of software and data for anyone — not just for engineers. He helped create Tray.io to lead the low-code general automation movement so that any business user can have the power to integrate their tech stack and automate mission-critical business processes by themselves. Rich received his Bachelor of Science degree from Bournemouth University.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I co-founded Tray.io with two of my longtime friends: Alistair Russell, the company’s CTO and a research fellow at the University of Southampton working in the lab of Sir Tim Berners-Lee, and Dominic Lewis, the company’s CRO. Dominic and I had briefly founded a media agency together to try to fund the company that would later become Tray.io.
Together, we began building a product that built email-type workflows. When we moved to San Francisco in 2012, we were outsiders. We had no obvious way to tap into the VC community, so we leveraged the technology used in our email workflows and other APIs to find VCs for us. Ultimately, we were able to send emails to these VCs and book meetings all by using automation. It was then that we realized how valuable using APIs and automation together could be, particularly to help businesses that were lacking resources. This is where Tray.io comes in.
Tray.io enables people that are technically savvy (but not engineers) to power their business with little to no knowledge on how to write code or scale solutions. This allows anyone in the enterprise to take advantage of the power of automation.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Our vision for a high-tech firm starting up in South England was ambitious. South England didn’t have much of a venture capital community back in 2012, so we had to be creative in our fundraising. At one point, I literally sold footwear, Wellington boots, on eBay to keep the company afloat. This experience gave us a deeper insight into how difficult it is to start a company and how much harder it is to actually stick with our vision and keep it funded. As a result, we don’t take anything for granted.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
Two podcasts I enjoy listening to are “The Twenty Minute VC” hosted by Harry Stebbings, and GGV Capital’s “Founder Real Talk.” In full disclosure, the latter podcast is hosted by our advisor and board member, Glenn Solomon. These podcasts contain very candid admissions and authentic learnings shared by fellow startup founders.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
Our vision for Tray.io is to democratize software and engineering by way of low-code automation and integrations. Our original use case that we discussed earlier was automating email outreach to venture capitalists. This turned out to be a surprisingly sophisticated process, requiring email and data manipulation at scale. At the time, you’d expect most companies to solve that sort of challenge with a small army of engineers. But we know that engineering help is usually in short supply. The power to perform important work like this should be made available to anyone with a willingness to dive in and improve processes, even without engineering knowledge.
As a result, we developed the low-code Tray Platform to empower business users to take full advantage of APIs, enabling them to sync any stack, automate any process and take full ownership of critical business data — without needing development resources. A user-friendly, visual front-end like the Tray Platform lets builders integrate and automate easily.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
We strongly believe that having a world-class team is an unbeatable competitive advantage. Companies can create interesting applications or secure impressive amounts of funding, but that comes and goes. Assembling a team of some of the best people in the world and being able to collaborate with them daily will always put an organization head and shoulders above the rest.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
The health and safety of our Tray.io team remains our top priority. We have been carefully monitoring the COVID-19 situation from the start. Unfortunately, one of the earliest challenges which still remains to an extent, is the lack of official information on the pandemic as well as best practices on how to best deal with this global situation. There are a lot of suggestions and guesses available on how to stay safe, but we realized that misinformation could put our team members and their families at risk.
To counter this, our company has strongly recommended that our team members focus on official sources like the CDC and the NHS. We have also proactively adopted shelter-in-place policies to address possible health risks and are fully supporting all team members to work remotely.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Like many SaaS companies, we had planned to participate in a variety of trade shows and field events, many of which have either been cancelled or converted into virtual events. We addressed this challenge by attending relevant virtual events and sharing as many valuable, customer-centric insights as we could in panels and virtual speaking sessions.
We are dealing with uncertain times and our customers are looking to do more with less in this changing economy. We’ve been doing our best to provide as many actionable, high-value tactics and tips as possible to help our customers navigate these times. We ourselves are ramping up our customer support to ensure all of our customers are successful and gaining value from using the Tray Platform.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the corona virus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Our response to the pandemic is probably similar to most families — we’re trying to get on with our lives while making sure everyone is staying safe. A common concern among both my family and my colleagues has been the veracity of information available. The pandemic has been a fast-moving story and there has been no shortage of reporting, ideas and “expert diagnosis” from different sources. Some of these sources I’d consider to be more credible than others, such as the National Health Service or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To ensure everyone’s safety, we’ve been encouraging everyone to keep up-to-date with the latest official information from credible news sources.
Another important action is to stay connected. Not being able to travel freely and the limiting of face-to-face contact has definitely been a challenge for families everywhere.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
There will be a greater reliance on virtual meetings and teleconferencing among distributed workforce, which was already happening. It’s clear that the future of business must be cloud-based. We’re already living through the ongoing SaaS explosion, an enormous proliferation of business software for just about any line of business, which, as of 2019, saw the average enterprise firm using as many as 1200+ different cloud services.
However, companies that still rely on legacy on-premise systems are feeling severe pain as they try to resolve the significant sunk costs of pricey software installed on office workstations against their teams’ sheltering in place at home. More adoption of cloud-based software will lead to a demand for more cloud-specific security and privacy regulations, as well as smarter ways for everyone in a business — not just engineers — to make the most of cloud-based tools.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
It’s hard to make broad predictions about this, but on the business side, the pandemic has called into question the relevance of large-scale field events, and whether there will even be a market available for it in an age of social distancing.
The pandemic also emphasizes the importance of being nimble, adaptable, and able to support a distributed workforce. In the short term, companies are favoring teleconferencing and chat services. In the long term, this situation will accelerate digital transformation initiatives. Companies will be forced to pivot away from on-premise solutions in favor of always-on, always-accessible cloud software that their teams can access even while sheltering in place.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
We’re taking this situation one day at a time. Fortunately, we are in the position of having a product that accommodates both companies that are looking to focus on efficiency as well as companies that are in high-growth mode. We are continuing to provide meticulous service to our existing customers and selling our products to companies that are now looking for efficiency boosters as well as a growth engine. However, we’re doing so on the understanding that we’re in a different market now than we were just six months ago. Our customers and prospects have changing needs — this means we need to change our approach, too.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
I encourage companies to get as efficient as possible, and consider streamlining processes with automation. Since the economy may not improve for some time, companies may have to do more with less for the foreseeable future. Now more than ever, it’s imperative to retain customers, particularly for SaaS companies generating revenue on an annual recurring revenue (ARR) basis. Churn can be absolutely catastrophic to an SaaS firm’s bottom line. 2019 may have been all about raising more funding and acquiring more logos, but in 2020 and beyond, retention might very well be the new growth.
There will also be a shift in technology needs. As I mentioned earlier, shelter-in-place policies make relying on on-premise software even more untenable, so enterprises will need to dramatically accelerate their digital transformation to migrate to modern cloud-based software that teams can use anywhere. The pressure to accelerate digital transformation will require more technical expertise across the organization. And not just from IT departments, who will be focusing even more of their energies on essential tasks such as process and change management as well as data security and privacy issues.
Meanwhile, non-IT teams will continue their eternal struggle with software, given that research suggests 66% of companies have software-related skills gaps, particularly in revenue-specific disciplines like marketing and sales. In other words, line-of-business users will keep grappling with the challenges of implementing new processes to drive efficiency with software that silos all their data and makes it challenging to orchestrate processes at scale. The smarter teams will take it upon themselves to learn alternate methods to take full ownership of their data, such as using low-code solutions that don’t require an engineering degree — or the support of an already-overburdened IT department.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
If I had to choose one, it would be based around risk. “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take,” by the legendary athlete Wayne Gretzky, is a great quote to frame that outlook. Throughout history, we’ve consistently seen incredible progression in many areas, and ultimately, I think much of this progress comes down to someone, or a group of like-minded people, deciding to take a shot.
How can our readers further follow your work?
You can follow me on Twitter at @richwaldron and the adventures of the Tray.io team on Twitter at @tray. You can also learn more about Tray.io at https://tray.io/.