Ian Gosling tells Business Matters what was the motivator to co-found office automation company Autto and what advice he would give to anyone looking to follow his lead.
What do you currently do at Autto
I am the co-founder and CEO of the recently launched tech start-up, Autto. Autto is an easy-to-use office automation platform aimed at the SME, legal and professional services market. The platform facilitates the automation of many short, low-volume, repetitive and routine processes that waste up to 40% of highly skilled professionals time in the workplace.
It works by breaking down automation into configurable Lego-like building blocks, allowing users to simply link blocks together to build automated workflows for routine office tasks (e.g. contract creation, approvals, standard emails).
Every day at Autto is different, but predominantly I spend my time on three main things. The biggest part of my job is to talk to customers and make sure that we are delivering a great product which they love. Secondly, there’s the operational side of the business – that’s hiring the right people, making sure we have the right finance in place, aligning the Autto team behind our vision for the business and using our product to automate the ‘business as usual’.
Finally, as building technology platforms is an expensive business, the other chunk of my role is around securing funding for Autto and nurturing relationships with investors. To date, valuable funds from the UK Government and EU, have been secured, and recently Innovate UK has awarded Autto, and its partner The University of Exeter, a £375k grant as part of its ‘Next Generation Services Challenge’.
What was the inspiration behind your business?
Back in 2013 my co-founder Max and I started a business to automate a piece of paper – the last will and testament – so that people didn’t have to go to a lawyer. When we were out talking to people about this venture we kept being asked if we could go beyond online wills to automate all sorts of other processes and bits of paperwork that were in people’s businesses.
That was a real turning point for us and the moment we realised that this could be an even better business than the one we are in. So in 2016, we sold the business and started building Autto. We haven’t looked back since.
Who do you admire?
From a professional standpoint, you can’t deny the business acumen of Jeff Bezos. He has effectively built an internet titan with two distinct platforms. He started off selling books and CDs but quickly evolved Amazon into a go-to household brand, bundling retail, audio, music, video and groceries into one easy to use platform.
What is, however, even more impressive is the second strand of his business empire. Bezos looked at his experience in building his brand, and the sheer operational efficiency behind it, and applied it to sell on as a service to other people in the form of Amazon Web Services (AWS). Today AWS, powers a multitude of other businesses, including our own.
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?
Absolutely! The reality is that if you are doing something innovative and entrepreneurial in business you are essentially improvising your way through it. Mistakes are a natural part of the process. So if you can’t look back and say ‘I wish I’d done things differently’ then you’re not doing it properly.
I used to think that business was like engineering – if you followed a plan then you would be fine. I now see it differently. Business is like jazz – it’s all about improvising with the team around you and making a new score as you go. The fun is in listening to each other and developing new ways of doing things.
What defines your way of doing business?
Quite simply – clarity. We want our customers to be with us for a long time and so the foundation of our relationship hinges on honesty. To that end, I always define a clear set of business expectations with clients, partners, suppliers and customers, so that everyone is clear on what is expected from the get go.
What advice would you give to someone starting out?
The best piece of advice I can give is to talk to customers and then talk to them again. Contrary to some people’s expectations, the starting point of a technology business shouldn’t be to raise money, but to understand your market.
Look at the problem you are trying to solve from a customer’s perspective – ascertaining who your customer is, what, and if, they are prepared to pay for a solution and how they are going to buy your product.
This part of the process took Autto a year to do, however, the value in laying these foundations was undeniable. Before we had even begun we knew that there was a market for our product and that people were prepared to pay for our solution – information which made our bid for investment much smoother. It’s an ongoing process though, and we continue to speak to our customers every day to further enhance our product to meet their needs.
In addition, I would recommend that any entrepreneur should look to strike a healthy balance between optimism and realism. If you’re not an optimist then you won’t ever start a new venture. However, too much optimism and you close your eyes to the reality of business. Balance the two, and you’ll be off to a good start.