What are the important steps when automating your business?

Business Automation with Low Code

In this episode, I had the pleasure to talk with Matt Bourn. He is the owner of the company fivexfive. He is an absolute expert when it comes to business automation and process optimization with low code tools. In this episode, Matt gives very concrete use cases when business automation makes sense and how a company should start automating its business.

In addition to that, we were talking about the required change management. When it comes to business automation, there is not only a technical perspective. The more crucial is how to involve the people affected by these changes. Matt is sharing his very helpful experiences on that. 
On top of that, we talked about the fear of selling your own services and make yourself vulnerable. Especially when you just started your own company and have no selling experience in your previous career. 
 
Matt is using the following low code tools:

He is a big fan of the company Documint.me.  Maybe we will have the owner in of our episodes in the future 😉

This episode is for everyone who thinks about automating their own business processes. It is not only on a technical level, mostly on a strategical one. This episode is also interesting for everyone who started their own business and struggles with the selling processes. 

If you have feedback or ideas on which topics need to be covered at this podcast – you are more than welcome to get in touch with me.

You can find more information on www.lowcode-founders.com, or you can drop me a message at sarah@biberei.de 

Enjoy and keep on building new digital products. 

Sarah 

Support the show (https://www.buymeacoffee.com/lowcodefounders)

Transcript of the episode: What are the important steps when automating your business?

Intro Matt

I think you know often the most important thing is not just what you want to do with your working life. But also what you don’t want to do. Those are very important questions to ask. And I think that putting yourself out there is a very difficult thing for most people. Not everybody, but for most people. And certainly, I still find out now.

Speaker Sarah

Hello, everyone. Today we have a new guest with us. It’s MAtt, he is the owner of a company called Five x Five. And he is helping companies in automating business processes. I’m very happy to have him here today. And today we will learn about all the benefits companies can achieve by automating their business processes. Hello, Matt, welcome!

Speaker Matt

Hi, Sarah. Thanks for having me, happy to be here.

Speaker Sarah

Of course, maybe you can introduce yourself a little bit to the audience and tell me more about your company.

Speaker Matt

I’m Matt. Matt Bohn, I currently live in Hong Kong, but originally from the UK.  Five by Five was an idea that started out a couple of years ago. Over the 18 months or so. It has sort of transformed into more of a focus on the automation space and especially dealing with no code tools and helping businesses to build what they need, especially in operational terms, by using no code tools. So that’s really been the main focus of our activity for the last 18 months.

Speaker Sarah

18 months, how did you come up with the idea of your company?

Speaker Matt

Originally, I set up the company because I needed to do some consulting work for a business in Singapore. At the time, I was still on an employment visa. So I set up the company in order to get an employment visa through the business so that I could do the consulting work for this company in Singapore. Subsequently, I got permanent residents in Hong Kong, so I no longer needed that, but that was kind of the origin of the business. And then from there, I went through that consulting programme with them, and when that came to an end, I started focusing more on the no code space in the automation space.

Speaker Sarah

So while you’re doing the consultancy work, it was kind of the same work you’re currently doing, the same kind of topics.

Speaker Matt

Very similar. Mainly, my background is really on the operational side of supply chain business. I’ve worked for companies that do a lot of marketing sourcing for large organisations, so sourcing products from China as well as locally.  It requires a lot of operational systems in place to ensure that the product is ordered in a timely way and is delivered through the supply chain in a timely way. So I’ve always been in the operation space and have been using similar tools for a number of years. But now I guess I’m sort of transitioning to focusing more on how I can help more businesses kind of achieve their goals regardless of their industry.

Speaker Sarah

Absolutely, so the transition from being a consultant to starting your own company. You had the benefit of having a client already in your hands as most of the start ups or most of the freelancers don’t have that. If  you go back in time, 18 months ago, what was the biggest challenge you experienced? At the time, what were your biggest fears?

Speaker Matt

It’s a good question. I think I still have the fear, to be honest. I think, probably, like with any challenge like that. Yes, I had some initial contracts already. But, finding new clients, getting the word out there, I guess putting yourself out there for acceptance or rejection depending which day it is. It’s kind of the biggest step, and there’s definitely some fear attached to that for sure, and it still happens. Finding those clients is always the biggest challenge, what sort of clients do I want to work with? Where are the problems that I feel like I can contribute the most to? And where do those people hang out? How can I contact them and connect with them? That may have been outside of the industry, the network that I was very familiar with. That’s probably the biggest challenge and an ongoing challenge to be honest.

Speaker Sarah

Absolutely. I think that this fear of selling someone, like yourself. I think it is very hard for entrepreneurs at the beginning, because if you’re working in a normal company being employed, you are not forced to do that. If you’re working in the States organisation, of course you’re familiar with that. But especially if you are more in operations and in technicians like if you, for example, develop software, you’re not used to going outside to the world and selling yourself. And I think that’s a big, big hardship, I can only tell you experiences by myself. And that’s why I often think maybe, when we are younger, when we are starting our career, maybe we should do some kind of sales job to get used to this feeling. Also, that acceptance and reaction is nothing you have to take personally, I think this transition is very important.

Speaker Matt

It’s funny you say that because I did when I started my career, I did obviously a few different jobs. Tried a few things as people do. And one or two of them were sales jobs. And I promised myself after those finished that I would never do it again because I was so terrible. Then I end up putting more pressure on because it’s now for my business. I guess over the years you learn. I think often the most important thing is not just what you want to do with your working life, but also what you don’t want to do. Those are very important questions to ask. I think that putting yourself out there is a very difficult thing for most people, not everybody, but for most people. Certainly, I still find out now.

Speaker Sarah

We talked about the sales perspective or the sales aspect, which is tough. Were there any other things you say now, 18 months later “Gosh, I wish you would have known this before? saybe I wouldn’t have made this decision”, “maybe I would have prepared myself a little bit better”

Speaker Matt

Yeah, Yeah. I don’t know quite where to start with or what. I’ll have to keep it short enough, for your podcast. Plenty of material there. I think, the strategy of how you’re going to approach finding clients, but then sort of engaging with them. What kind of clients do you want to work with? It’s very tempting at the beginning. And we’re still in an early stage, you know? So we’ll go through lots of evolution from here, what sort of clients do you want to work with? Not necessarily just in industry, but finding the right fit. It’s very tempting in early stages to work with businesses, organisations, individuals where you know deep down that is not a good fit for your organisation or for your style of working. But you do it anyway because  you want to get some wins under your belt and show people what you can do. I think sometimes it’s very difficult to say no to things when you probably should do, and it’s hard to negotiate that, and I’m definitely still learning that as well. Knowing what I know now, I would have made some different choices with my early projects. I try to apply that logic for future engagements.

Speaker Sarah

I think that’s a very important lesson, you said. And I think that’s why it’s also very important to have freedom, also financially when you start a business, when it comes to planning especially in our field. Yeah, I will get my first money, I don’t know after two or three months after I launched my company, but rather planning for the worst case scenario. Now you are having a couple of months with no revenue because then you’re not in a situation where you’re first to say yes to your project, where you initially should say no to this project. Absolutely. So we’re talking about clients. What kind of clients do you have? Can you give some examples if you can share them or which kind of companies do you help?

Speaker Matt

Yeah, sure. So at the moment, we’re really focused on the kind of small to medium sized businesses. We don’t target specific industries. Currently, there’s definitely some trends emerging, but I wouldn’t say that we’re targeting specific businesses, I think where we believe we can have the most benefit is where people teams as well as whole organisations. Reliant on very administratively heavy processes. So there are obviously industries that fit very well into that category. We work with a number of recruitment type companies. We work with a supply chain business. One of our first clients is based in Taiwan. Just a great great group of people. We just really love working with them and solving some of those problems. I don’t think we focus on a specific industry, but we want to focus on where there can be a high impact of delivery. So people really notice the Cange and the improvement. And I think that’s where our sweet spot is.

Speaker Sarah

Do their clients normally approach you until they say “hey, I have some problems with my processes and need improvement?” Or is it kind of, uh, you show them? “Hey, I can show you how you can improve and show some use cases and examples” where the company didn’t say yes but that might also be a fit for the organisation. Or how does that work?

Speaker Matt

I guess it can be a mixture that we certainly have inbound inquiries, more so now than in the early days of course, as you might imagine. But we still do a lot of outreach through various Cannels. Through referrals as well, which is great when people pass on our details and get in touch that way. In many ways we’ve caught a bit of a following wind with the uptick in people learning about no code tools and what a difference that they can make to their organisations. And whilst the market is growing, there are definitely some gaps. People may not know where to go to ask about things like that and, hopefully, we’ve done a reasonable job of putting ourselves out there enough so if people are interested, they will come and talk to us about what’s possible. But, I think a lot of what happens is that thing that happens to all of us in jobs that we’ve had in employee jobs in the past where we go through a process that we inherit from a a team or from from somebody else we sort of look at the process and say there’s got to be a better way to do some of this makes no sense. I think everybody goes through those steps at some stage and we just try to be available and just to help people through those steps when they’re ready. I mean, I think that’s an important point to make. As well as not every organisation or group is ready to make the Canges required. And it only really works best when they’re ready to go through that process, it can be quite time consuming and difficult. Process Cange is always hard for everybody. I guess we see ourselves a bit more like sort of process counsellors. In some sense, we provide a technology solution kind of at the end of it, rather than trying to fit a peg in the hole. That’s exactly the right size, because there’s always, always an opportunity within any organisation to make improvements, and it requires sort of two parts and cries of the willingness on the client’s part, to go through that Cange process and it on our behalf. It also requires us to, I guess, help guide people in the right direction and make suggestions and be sort of proactive about what we feel might be helpful because they may not know what they don’t know, right? So I think we see it much more as an advisory capacity than just “this is what we do, you take it or leave it”. There’s definitely a lot of grey area where we find success.

Speaker Sarah

I think it’s always very important to look at the process as a whole first and see whether we’re out there, the improvements, regardless of the technology being used at a later stage, or even to think about. Do I need this process at all? For example, when it comes to monitoring my employees or whatsoever where maybe you should think about your whole organisation? Where can I reduce the processes before I use any kind of technology? Because what I often saw in companies while I was employed is that and you have now digitised a process. But it’s got even worse because now you may have more steps, or it’s more complex for the people to use this process. And that’s why I really like your approach, that you are seeing yourself as an adviser because an adviser like and also a long term partner, helps the overall company and not only delivering technology where it’s needed. That’s a point I really like.

Speaker Matt

Yeah, thank you. Yeah, that’s a really good point. And I think in the long term, just to echo your words on the long term partnership, going back to one of your previous questions, that was something that I wish I’d have implemented perhaps a bit sooner. Is that partnership style longer term approach so that we don’t just want to do a small project, and that’s finished and everybody moves on, and it does happen. But, ideally, we want to have a much longer term relationship with clients and really help them through those areas that they may need some advice on. So, yeah, that’s a really good point.

Speaker Sarah

Yeah, and we talked about willingness, and I’m pretty sure that in your projects you always have some kind of employees in your organisation who are not so happy about your work because it touches their current working experience in the current work. So how do you handle such situations? But what advice do you give to the companies?

Speaker Matt

Yes, it does happen. Before I get into that, I think it’s important to recognise that, as you mentioned before, about “should the process even exist?”, “are there processes sort of unnecessary or whatever”, or “do they become more complicated” I think boiling that down where else is also about saying, the people still have to do the process. It’s about sort of humanising those steps as we go through to say, What are the things that people do really well and people are intuitive and they’re empathetic. And they have all of those kinds of emotional responses which maybe they’re not always so helpful sometimes, but they are emotional responses that a machine cannot replicate. We always try and approach any of those problems by saying: “Where is the value in this process and what should be different from it the way it is now or what shouldn’t be” so allowing the machines to take on the part that is very easy and straightforward, like copying and pasting information from one software to another or synchronising data points. All of those things are easy for a machine to do, but they’re very boring for a human to do, and actually allowing people to have some of their time freed up from those more mundane aspects of their work, which they may see as a threat initially, often ends up in them finding a much more rewarding and fulfilling piece of work. That is really what they were employed to do in the first place. So there is a balance for sure. I think, talking about that willingness is where we’re engaging with the major stakeholder. We try to be sort of very transparent and clear up front and say, “are your team members ready for a Cange like this?” “What happens if we automate half of somebody’s work load?”, “Is that the right thing to do?”. So I think there are lots of those kinds of very human questions that go alongside the sort of machine led solution. If you like that, people like to focus on it because it’s kind of shiny. Ultimately, everything that happens is about individuals and how do we improve those individuals‘ working conditions and their lives and free up more time for them to focus on the rewarding parts of their job? And the things that are much more measurable, hopefully, most businesses don’t measure people by how many emails that they’ve sent that day. I mean, I guess some do, but hopefully they don’t, but that’s what most people spend their day doing is sending hundreds of emails. There’s just a much smarter way to do it and allow people to focus on where they have the real value. So, I don’t know that’s really answered your question, but I think it’s having that kind of slightly more empathetic approach and being just transparent from the beginning about the expectations that we’re setting and again finding that right fit. If a business were to come to us and say, “we want to cut five headcount by going through this process”, that might be something that we wouldn’t want to do. I understand that there are commercial reasons why these things happen, but I think we want to find the right fit for organisations and individuals to grow rather than shrink. If I can sort of put it in those rather simplistic terms.

Speaker Sarah

I think you use that really interesting point in showing people that you’re not getting rid of your work completely but while they’re getting rid of the boring part of your work so that you can focus on the more exciting part and, honestly, who on earth would say no? I want to stick to the borrowing problem because I like to do boring things.

I think it’s the same with no code or low code tools as I see it in the corporate development industry. But maybe some developers are kind of afraid, because in the past years they realised the highlight of the job market and everyone wanted to employ them. And he was in a very attractive position, and now maybe they feel they’re not useful anymore. But while they’re seeing it as a possibility to solve problems which are not solved yet rather than spending their time on things which they have done so many times before and problems that have been, they have solved. So I think it kind of has some similarities in this area. You also said that clients are approaching you more and more. Clients are approaching you because the attractiveness of no code or low code tools is increasing. So what are the tools? You are used most of the time in which one is your favourite?

Speaker Matt

It’s like choosing a favourite child. But we all have one. Right? We use a lot of different tools or clients have a lot of different tools that they work with. So inevitably, we sort of come across a lot of different types of tools. Most clients are either working in the Microsoft ecosystem or in the Google ecosystem, which is sort of universal. Below that, there are sort of very specialist requirements. The great thing about the no code space is that just within the last six months, there are tools available for you to create solutions that were just impossible to do unless you were a very talented coder just even six months ago. So it’s just moving at such an incredible pace. It’s sometimes hard to keep up. I feel like half my job sometimes is just looking at product hunt and trying to find the next tool that we could implement. Back to your question, mainly, we work with Airtable, we use Airtable as the base for the majority of the activity that we do. It’s just so flexible, it’s familiar, it’s very spreadsheet-like and everybody kind of understands a spreadsheet. That’s why they create so many of them. But it has that kind of relational database element to it, which just makes it so much more powerful, but it’s super configurable. And when you team that up with something like Zapier or Integromat, to any number of other software apps that you have, you have something truly incredible that you can create in very, very short order. So I would say, you know, Airtable is probably my favourite child, Zapiera and Integromat kind of bring all of these pieces together, and they fit in them with the Google suite or with Microsoft Suite and ecosystem. But there are some others really, like one of my favourite ones. Actually, probably in the last couple of months there has been a Parabola, which is very similar in a lot of respects to Zapier here as an Integromat, but it will handle bulk processing of automation. And honestly, it just blows my mind some of the stuff that it can do, a very intuitive way of building those flows and how you test it and work through those processes. So I’m kind of a big fan of Parabola at the moment. So, yeah, I’m sure there’ll be others that will come down the road, for now, those are the favourites.

Speaker Sarah

And which tool is currently missing?

Speaker Matt

Yeah. Ooh. okay. That’s a very, very difficult question that I don’t I don’t know that I have an answer to. I’ll answer in a slightly different way. One of the most exciting things about low code space at the moment is that there are so many new tools coming out every day. But there are so many ways to get them to talk to one another that you can hack a solution together, using two or three tools to get the solution that you want. I don’t think we’ve come across a situation where we just couldn’t find a solution to it. With the tools that we have, I’m sure it will happen. You really caught me off guard with that one. I don’t know that there’s one that I just kind of lay awake at night praying to somebody to build that. But I I can come back to you on that one over the next few minutes if something pops into my head,

Speaker Sarah

No problem. I mean, it’s also a good sign, actually, that you don’t come up with an answer right away so that shows that the landscape for a no code tool is pretty big. I think is also the challenge, because you also said that you’re spending quite an amount of time on product hunt to see what’s currently out there.  I think that’s also a problem for the companies because you and I, we are thinking about no code tools all day long, because it’s our job. But if you and I are in a team need for IT and innovation need whatsoever and you’re thinking about “How can I improve my process?” “ How can I develop new stuff in a short amount of time?” You don’t have time to go through what kind of tools are out there. And “which tools are currently the best for me?”. That’s why I think you’re you and alike are helping the clients not only to implement the technology, but going one step before identifying which technologies might be useful for you and how can you use them best for your company? I think this is going to be more and more important in the future as more tools are coming up, like every day.

Speaker Matt

Yeah, that’s a great point.

Speaker Sarah

What’s what’s next on your list? Do you have some projects to share with the audience? Are you secretly developing the two you don’t want to mention which is missing or … ?

Speaker Matt

Well, it’s funny that you should mention that because we’re big fans of Airtable ecosystem. So we’ve just launched a document creation tool,  an automated document creation tool called Documint. And that was one thing that actually had been sort of missing for some time within the Airtable ecosystem was a way to get records into an output of some kind in a nicely designed, aesthetically pleasing way. So we’ve been working pretty hard on that in the last few months, and we just released that, into the Airtable App store. And there’s also a Zapier integration and some other integrations coming. There’s an integration with Stacker as well, which is another great tool that sits on top of Airtable that we work with a lot. So we’re big fans of Stacker. We like it in the Airtable space at the minute and playing with some other ideas, Documint is something that we’re pretty proud of at the moment. We’ll keep pushing that forward and seeing where that one goes.

Speaker Sarah

We’re helping with that by putting it in the show notes, of course, everyone who is interested can just look at the show notes and find it. So I have one last question for you, and it’s a secret one. So I’m going to ask everyone, every guest on my podcast. I need to Cange it once all the episodes are out there. So that guests can prepare in advance. Okay, so if you could start any kind of company without any limitations timewise, budget wise, money wise, whatever, which one would you start?

Speaker Matt

Good heavens, you really have caught me off guard there? So I’ll answer it in two parts. The first part is, and this is going to be kind of the sentimental answer first, I’m really pleased with where we are at the moment. And I’m so pleased I took the leap with Five by Five. And just working with the clients that we have is just such a rewarding experience, you know, hard work, frustrating sometimes, but ultimately a rewarding experience, for us as a team or a small team. But for us, as a team with those clients and those projects. The practical answer is that I feel like I’ve kind of started the company that I wanted to start. So, you know, that may not be a very exciting answer and maybe slightly sickly. It’s genuinely how I feel at the moment. So it’s nice and something that I’d always kind of strive for was to get that joy back about your work again to really love what you do. And I feel like I’m in that space at the moment. So I don’t have any complaints about that. The second half, I guess the more the fancy for half of that question would be not related to the tech industry at all. If there was no covid, if there was unlimited funds available, then I would, I’m a big cinema fan, when I’m not working, I used to enjoy going to the cinema when it was allowed, and I would always have loved to have had my own cinema and like, put on small film festivals and things like that. So nothing to do with tech, you know, just purely, I guess. Ah, a fantasy job to have. That would be it.

Speaker Sarah

And maybe you can automate your process there as well. So maybe you can use your knowledge from your previous job.

Speaker Matt

I think Netflix is in that market already.

Speaker Sarah

All right, I think, man, you really said there would be a good phrase, is “find the work you love to do”. I think that should be really the goal. Also, if you start the adventurous journey of being an entrepreneur that you find something you don’t have to you don’t need to have external motivation, because what you’re doing is so satisfying for you. I think that’s a very good way to end this episode. Matt, thank you so much for spending your time with us. Like I said, I put everything in the show notes and thank you so much.

Speaker Matt

It’s been an absolute pleasure. Sarah. Thank you for having me.