Interview with Sean Chou From Catalytic

On this episode of the podcast, we speak with Sean Chou, the CEO of Catalytic. Catalytic is a platform of true no-code workflow automation. We talk to Sean about his background, the genesis of Catalytic and where the company is headed.

On this episode of the podcast, we speak with Sean Chou, the CEO of Catalytic. Catalytic is a platform of true no-code workflow automation.

Interview with Sean Chou of Catalytic

• 47:07

SUMMARY KEYWORDS

automation, rpa, people, process, catalytic, workflow, person, platform, thinking, build, started, talking, company, documentation, centric, task, automated, world, entrepreneur, technology

SPEAKERS

Mark Percival, Sean Chou, Brent Sanders

 

Brent Sanders  00:06

So, Sean, why don't we start at the top? I mean, can you give us the origin story of, you know, Catalytic, how you got involved in the automation industry?

 

Sean Chou  00:14

Yeah, sure. So, I had helped start this other company called fieldglass. Back in 2000, which, you know, we grew from basically nothing to a company that we ended up selling to SAP in 2014 $4 billion. So very successful story, very successful outcome out of it. But I learned a number of lessons along the way, I actually ran most of the moving parts of fieldglass. So everything outside of sales, and the back office functions ultimately reported to me. And what I found myself doing in a lot of the different groups was what I think of as basically obsessing about efficiency and operations. And obviously, being a technology oriented person, I push for everyone to adopt different technologies. So all the different groups, we had different types of systems that we adopted, to try to help us improve our processes. And that's, that's, you know how that's actually how I come to the world of automation, I don't actually think about automation. First, I think my process is first. And so in the back of my mind, had always been this kind of obsession around processes. That was just part and parcel of growing the business and seeing us evolve from people who've made everything up as we went on to really building a business that was going to have a sustainable value added staff and making sure that we actually thought about how people were able to do things reliably, and do well. And then eventually under audit, and so forth. So you know, processes became a really important point, it became a real lover of our success, like being able to have well defined formal processes allowed us more efficiency allowed us to have less expensive resources, being able to operate at very high levels of performance. And so I walked away after we sold to SAP, no, at first, just like not really sure what I wanted to do, and then spend probably a good year and a half thinking about what I want to do, reflecting on different things, kind of dipping my hands and a lot of different types of situations. You cannot even do I want to go to big company to midsize company try to grow big. And of course, everyone's like, you definitely whatever you do, do not want to do another start. So I was like, yeah, that that sounds about right. Startup was so painful. And so I think I can resist it for you know, 18 months, before I finally threw in the flag and said, Ah, damn it, I just, I can't help it. I love startups. I am a tech guy. I love product. I love building things from scratch. And the thing that always stuck in the back of my mind was this idea of processes, right? I always thought about all the different products that we had implemented, all the different solutions that we all that we had put in place, I just felt like it was never really that good. I felt like if I looked at collaboration software, if I looked at project management software, there were all these really great stories that were coming out. So you had Slack, you had Asana, and so many different work categories are really modern view vendors that were coming to the forefront when it came to processes, it just kind of seemed like it wasn't there. So when I started catalytic was actually with a question. And the question was, Why is there this kind of void of modern software? Why is everything? So have you wait, you know, Why is everything so hard to implement? Why do I have to go and hire all these extra consultants to do all these things? Why do I in fact, have six different products that all essentially do the same thing? Right? So catalytic, was really just born with that as a question and said, I just I want to create software from ground up designed to solve this problem. I know very well. I feel like it resonates with a lot of the people that I talk to, and I spent, like, first part of catalytic, which originally I was bootstrapping, talking to different people saying, How are you solving this problem? What are the products that you're using? What are the different ways you're using, you know, the products that you're using? What are the gaps, and we started to put together a platform based on what people were telling us and again, like person very, very customer centric. So we're automation enters the picture is, as we started putting together a platform to help people be able to work things, you know, to be able to work better with each other, which, in many ways, kind of looks like Chi, you know, like, it's the world of workflow. So it kind of looks like a supercharged to do list. But as we started working through that, with a focus on Well, we want to make it extremely easy. Why? Because people can kind of build their own workflows. We want the workflows to be very valuable, very agile. We want to be able to have a lot of good data capture and handoffs. So we started doing as we were modeling this, working with some of our early customers, being engineers, you know, we looked at some of the things that they were doing, and we were just kind of like horrified by we're like, Wow, you guys really do all these things, you know, like, the first thing we would do is automate half of these things. And they said, yeah, these are really what we do. So if you have any ideas, we'd be all ears. So we went back, and we said, okay, well, you know, what we have here is an orchestration tasks, right? It's just, again, workflow, what if we created a new concept, new tasks that we called an automated action. And actually, we originally call it an app step, which you know, isn't nearly as exciting sounding as automation. But, you know, now we think of it as an automated action. And we went to our early customers at that point, I wouldn't even call them customers, because they weren't paying us this was in the very early days. And we told them, hey, what if we gave you a couple of different automated actions that you can insert into your workflow, and instead of actually, your people doing all these things, you can just insert these automated actions. And of course, everyone's like, that's awesome. You know, give us more of that. And so we just started building out more and more and realized, hey, we really just have an opportunity here to think about an orchestration engine of automated actions, of which taps are just kind of automated action. And then we realize, well, when you don't even have to have it all the tasks occurring on the catalytic system, it can be a task in JIRA Service. Now, it can be a task in Service Cloud. So we really went from thinking about a task centric workflow to more of an API centric workflow of which we can talk to a wide variety of different systems, we can talk to a wide variety of different, you know, API first capabilities. So we can incorporate things like OCR, we can incorporate things like notifications, we can incorporate things like sentiment analysis, all seamlessly into this orchestration. So it's kind of a long answer, probably.

 

Brent Sanders  07:16

No, I'm enjoying the details. I'm going back to you know, your first customers, I'm, I think, you know, the entrepreneur in me wants to know, like, how did you kick those conversations up? It sounds like, as you mentioned, you know, they weren't necessarily paid at first. But, you know, for those that are, that are, regardless of being automation related, but like, how did you convince them to spend time with you? How did you, you know, once you've had a product that you could serve? How did you convince them to get bought in?

 

Sean Chou  07:48

You know, I think part and parcel of every automation, so just like superhero stories, I'll have like, a thing that gave him the superpower. You know, every origins story of an entrepreneur has to start with some sort of break, I like something happens that accidentally break and in the case of fieldglass, so So in the case of catalytic was really touching the attention of the right person, at the right time, who then was able to and willing to expend their political capital within their companies to champion your cause. And nothing more than really resonating with you as a person and your vision. And so catalytic, you know, I think a lot of it actually came, I would say, from a customer perspective, I think these breaks kind of have to happen, multiple fronts, you know, from an investor side, as well as from the customer side, obviously, the customer side is the most important in many ways. And so our big break actually came from one of them. I had an opportunity to pitch at an annual conference for one of our investors. And I remember pitching and I was just kind of talking about the vision of catalytic talking about the problems that drove me to want to create catalytic talking about what the opportunity was. And again, time is very, very process centric, as it still is today. Like we're still, I would say, you know, we're still more process centric, automation as an outcome and we are efficient company. But at that time was very, like almost six sigma process centric, talking a lot about waste and processes, talking a lot about levels of process maturity, and Capability Maturity Model. And I remember I was explaining the story, and kind of talking about my experiences and talking about how our product was evolving. And there was this gentleman and about and he was like, taking pictures with his, you know, phone, the slides, and he was like, definitely nodding. I could tell I was like, this is a person who agrees with what I'm saying, you know, and afterward, she came up and he's like, Shawn, I really enjoyed your conversation. It was great. I totally agree with what you're saying about processes and importance of process. He's, you know, I'm Keith Williams, I'm the CEO of underwriters lab, which is a big, you know, textured lab here in the Chicago area. And so he's like, I would love to have you come speak to my executive team, about what you're doing, and I want to support, you know, what you're doing, I want to support your company. And, guys, you know, not every startup gets that lucky, right? So like we lucked out, we pitched at the right time, got an amazing sponsor, right CEO, not like an obnoxiously large company, but a large company, who really, really resonated with what we wanted to do. His own background was very Six Sigma centric, he came from GE. So you know, he understood the power of processes, and he had been going through was transforming underwriters lab over like, an eight year period. So he kind of had the right DNA of transformation, obsession around processes, and you know, was just like, the right.

 

Mark Percival  11:05

That's a great story. You know, looking at, like, luck is almost a way I think about a lot of these things. I mean, it's obviously you have to put yourself in the position, and you have to have all the right things sort of in place for that to happen. But it is I think about I know, it almost sounds like you're diminishing it, right? It's like, oh, you're just lucky, it's like, yeah, you know, you have to get all these right things and be in the right position and have done all your homework and have the pitch that resonates in order to get in front of the person. So I don't want to diminish it by saying luck, but there is an element to that. So it's always fun to hear those origin stories.

 

Sean Chou  11:42

It's very, I mean, I, I'm not willing to kind of retroactively, mythological allies, you know, like, you know, what happens with a lot of founders, like the mythology grows in their own mind. Their origin story is part of the picture, though. And it said, you know, when you're a serial entrepreneur, like me, it, you know, like, it works in your favor, at some point of people think that you're just, you know, you kind of know exactly what you're gonna do. But I just, you know, it's never really been part of my DNA. And so I've always said that luck has a huge role. But you're, what you can do as an entrepreneur, and part of your job as an entrepreneur is to kind of extend your runway as much as you can for that luck to be able to hit you. Because obviously, the longer you can survive, the more opportunity to get out there, more likely, you're going to kind of get this lucky. You know, this kind of lucky moment. And then like you said, there's so you have to maximize the odds of you actually resonating with someone so that storytelling and your own ability to really be able to talk about what you do talk about what your mission is, especially when you don't have a product, you don't have you know, that's kind of that's all you have. And so you really have to make the most of.

 

Mark Percival  13:04

So when you are part of the origin story, as always, I think if you're an entrepreneur, you're starting out, you're going out and interviewing people talking to people about these problems. Obviously, you must have looked at the existing market and said, you know, things like UiPath, things like these other automation tools, they don't solve this problem, because there's something that you felt passionate about doing it differently. What was kind of that impetus? And where did you kind of make that point where you said, Oh, this is this has got to be a different way.

 

Sean Chou  13:30

Yeah, you know, the competitive landscape, I like to start thinking about your space, especially being an experienced entrepreneur, I kind of know, like, I got to think about my total addressable market, I kind of know about my competitive landscape. And the interesting thing is, when we started catalytic, this was back at the end of 2015. Right. And so I did not really know the RPA market at that time. Like, if you looked at my original competitive landscape, it was really more along the lines of bpms collaboration platforms, and project platforms, and then a little bit of AI thrown in there. Right. But RPA was actually not my radar. And when I first came across RPA, the first RPA company, I think I came across was workfusion, you know, as some place that was, I don't remember what was happening. But I was like, again, pitching and talking about what we do. And someone said, Hey, and at this point, we had automated actions. And we had awesome incorporating machine learning, because one thing that we built into our platform was this kind of data engine so that people wouldn't have to manage a separate database. Because when you think about process, a lot of times you're exchanging data. So part of your handoff is actually data from one person and files and inputs, those serve our outputs, those serve as inputs, the next person. So we built up this data core, which realized, oh, by the way, now that we have this data core, we can actually use machine learning to try to actually predict what can happen from one process to the next. And so I'm kind of like talking about the story of how we have this workflow engine that helps process these. And we have these automated actions of this data for with this machine learning capability. And someone was saying, that kind of sounds like a company that we looked at a while back called workfusion. And I remember I looked at workfusion. And, and I was like, Hmm, this company said, does say a lot of similar things to what we're saying. But I at that time, I was, I still didn't quite understand what they were doing. And then I remember coming across the prism, because I was doing more research on the word fusion, and I stopped blue prism and looked at what they did. And my first reaction was, we don't do anything like these people, like, you know, they, what they do is I my immediate reaction was to relate it to the rational robot, like I just thought of, I saw blue prism, I was like, Oh, that's kind of like, how we use rational robot, right? It was like the screen time playback mechanism. And so for a long time was like, we're not even in the same space. You know, they're saying, we're saying, vision, but we really mean two different things. But then, as that industry continued to evolve, as it continued to just raise funding, and really, I think I just kind of, I learned about it, just as it was about to break the surface and become like, really massive, right? And as it starts to become massive, I started to think about, well, what is the intersection of our story? Like, how do we actually relate to each other. And obviously, a lot of it is around this, our, our choice of the word and automated action with automation. And so I do think that now, there's a whole bunch of companies that are what I would think of as mission that we're all trying to accomplish the same things. And part of the confusion of this industry is that you can accomplish the same things in many different ways. And it's not clear what the best tool is for certain tasks. And I think that's created a tremendous amount of confusion. Now, what I do is, when I think about where, where we started, what our origins are, we're still fundamentally more focused on the process. So I'd rather have someone whose main mission is an automation, but whose outcome is automation, or who's outcomes efficiency, but their mindset is one entirely around, I need to make a better process, I need to have the ability to see why my processes work, why they don't work. And then I need to continuously improve my process. And by means of continuously improving my process, is by taking some of these activities. And then I'm going to automate the tasks. Now the way we do automation, so a different know, the way we do automation, the way you're obviously very familiar with RPA. And the way they do automation, with surface automation, the way we do automation, is really like add a task level. So again, thinking about a process, you know, Shawn, send out an email to such and such person. For us, that's just an app called send an email. And so the way automation is done on the platform, we have hundreds of these different actions, and you just stitch them together, kind of like Lego building blocks, but they're not Lego building blocks of your software robot, go click this button, and then you know, go pick up this field, which is also very powerful, but just a very different thing than what we did.

 

Mark Percival  18:32

You that make sense. I mean, that is certainly at a higher level, it's a, it's a big differentiator, because but to some extent, you do have to have all those Lego options. So now that, you know, it's on you to kind of build the more of those options for the customer. But I'm sure at some point that customers kind of coalesce around, you know, a popular solution, or one that you kind of get to see built versus the UiPath in a world where I think it's the same thing built hundreds of times, you know, yeah, by different developers.

 

Sean Chou  18:59

Yes, yes. Yes. Yeah. You know, it's a fascinating industry. I mean, you know, you have a, you have a whole podcast focused on automation. So you have a ton of people all coalescing around the space. I like the word has gained a lot of power in the past two years.

 

Mark Percival  19:19

Yeah, it's good and bad, right. I mean, people have had good experiences with it and bad experiences with it. I mean, you know, I guess the next area that seems to be drawing into is the SMB and medium sized companies. There, they're looking at it as well. Where do you kind of see that going? I mean, obviously, that plays a big role as a catalyst, right. Because, you know, I think of large companies as being able to afford the idea of throwing at you know, throwing at RPA developers at the problem to build these solutions, but obviously catalyst, you know, for medium sized company would see more compelling.

 

Sean Chou  19:52

Yeah. So, our company which is catalytic, by the way, sorry, sorry. To say that, but it's so catalytic, because of our focus on no code, we are definitely think well suited for smaller companies. But because our focus, I mean, if you think about the basic building blocks of all the platforms, our basic building block is actually at the activity level. So it will be sending email, versus the building blocks of, let's say, project management, which is kind of malleable blocks that you can kind of manually shift around, versus RPA, which is their building blocks is kind of movement on the screen being enough that we can do things, right. So the different building blocks, you have to kind of make it easier to build out certain things versus others. And they're going to be easier to map onto different people's mindsets. And so with RPA, I think that it's really focused around being able to allow our paid developers to build our pay bots with us, we're really focused around the idea of allowing business users who naturally think in terms of processes, I mean, they may not even call it a process. But if I go to, you know, an average business user in here, you know, realistically, we still want people to be at least comfortable with technical concepts, like comfortable with Excel spreadsheets, and functions. You know, if they're like just technology averse, they're not going to do very well on our platform, either. But assuming that they're like, reasonably comfortable with technology, like most of today's modern workforce is if you go to the average user, and you say, build me an app. That's, that's tough, right? Yeah. No code is in that space of like, let's help people build apps. And if you've ever given a piece of paper, and pencil to a business user, and you just said, Hey, just like build me an app for the time that you have, you're gonna end up with horrible apps,right? tells you, they'll probably say, this was a horrible app. And I hope to God, no one ever creates it, because I would not want to use my own app. Because app design is hard. I've been building apps professionally for over 20 years now. And it's really hard. Right? And likewise, if you give the average business user, you know, a robot, say, hey, build out a robot, that's also very hard. Yeah. But if you go to an average user, and you say, what do you do, when you have to go build out this financial report? What do you do when you have to upload this spec? You know, what do you do when you create this deliverable? They can describe it. And so that's the approach that we've taken is when what is someone able to actually describe the way they do their work. And because we're really a process centric company, that's very natural for us. And so when we talk about no code, when we talk about being able to build out these no code workflows, it really starts with that description. And what we've done is, rather than try to get people to learn 300 different actions on our platform, which is growing constantly, what we do is we go into reverse, we say, you don't have to learn all the different capabilities of our system, because that's constantly evolving, constantly changing. But what you can do is you can use a language that you would normally use and describing what you do. And we're going to use natural language processing to try to match our capabilities to your normal words, and the normal things you would say. So I don't have to say, I'm going to use this command, I can say, for this step of this process, I need to send out an email. And we'll automatically map that up and say, Hey, we think you're trying to send out email. So you can just imagine, now I'm doing this 15 times to describe my process, I don't have to go learn all the different actions that might impact the process. I get them suggested to me, now it's, in reality, you still have it. And this is where the bar is, you know, a little bit higher. And there's still this technical aspect, because then you get into things like workflows, and splits like, Hey, you know, what happens here and conditionals and iteration. And so there's a little bit to learn there. But it's really not that we produce a lot of the fourth is arts and that's what we're obsessed with. So if you're obsessed about it, just kind of grown up people had on the user side, and then you kind of have the mindset that we're going to make this easy. We're going to make it easier, version after version, you're going to get pretty good at it. I think at this point, we figured out a number of the ingredients necessary to get good at. And it's not just its product. It's your documentation. It's actually just about to announce a new offering that we've been using for a while called Academy, which is all about education. So you have health education, community and the product and all of these are central ingredients, and really launching what we call you know, I think most people nowadays are saying what we think of as citizen development If you're going to launch versus development effort, you have to have all those ingredients.

 

Mark Percival  25:04

You mentioned, one piece that I'd love to just dive into really quickly is documentation, because I feel like that is often really left out of a lot of these implementations. Very true, very true. And, you know, and that really tripped us up initially.

 

Sean Chou  25:17

Because we being engineering types, and having this natural language processing engine, just kind of thought, well, like, you know, it should just explain itself, video games still come with manuals that come with the manual anymore, so our products should come with the manual anymore. But as it turns out, it's a little bit harder to build a workflow and a process is to play a video game. And so, you know, documentation was something that we did realize we need, we need excellent documentation. And we also need this kind of playground, people can read something, and then they can kind of play around with this. So we also have this playground concept, which is important, too. But the documentation is so key. I mean, you know, what, we are pretty proud of how far we've come on our documentation. It's like, I think really well done. It's publicly available. So anyone can just go and browse the documentation that we have, kind of do pretty far on the platform, just like the documentation alone. Oh, wow. That's great.

 

Brent Sanders  26:20

Yeah, that's a big step we see, you know, we're we talked to a lot of early stage companies, and that generally, you know, a great way to sort of measure how far they are along. And as you mentioned, you're you're five years into this now. And you know, that it takes that much time. So one of the things that I heard and kind of talking through this is around or at least in my mind is around like elicitation of requirements elicitation of a process, it's like, who's who's the right person, to add a company to be sort of like the key or the main user of catalytic? That is, one thing we hear in talking to automation professionals, you know, using that vague term, abstractly, is they look at a process. And it's usually the right time to look at improving that process. Before introducing automation. So are you usually working with somebody whose sort of job at the organization is to improve the process and automate it? Or are you working with consultants that come in to do a digital transformation? Like who's the right person to be the end user? For catalytic?

 

Sean Chou  27:25

So this is a great question. And I suspect that it's so dependent, based on both the company as well as the technology. So not speaking for other technology vendors, you know, for us, if I'm just kind of thinking about the kind of tool players are, and then and then, you know, I'll talk about the pool, but then I think, who does what can share, depending on the organization that you're talking to, but ultimately, you need someone who's, who is what we think of as the process of owner, pride, or like just the business champion, the person who kind of cares about output and the results in the improvement. And it's really, really business metric focused by the sponsor, if you will. And then you also need someone, at least in our world, you need someone is going to act as the builder. So you need that citizen developer who's going to be the person who's actually going to learn the platform is going to invest time in the platform, and therefore also going to be able to continue maintaining the platform. And I think that's one of the big, big pitfalls that a lot of companies have, the minute they start talking about automation, there's not really a lot of thought, but it's an ongoing maintenance, which is one of the reasons it hates automation, in many cases, because it'll just kind of ends up in their plate. You know, they're like, Hey, we didn't sign up for this. In fact, we kind of signed up for anti this, you guys when I bought it, and told us you didn't need us. And then you could do it. And now it's ours, right? So like, the builder is really important for us, because the maintenance problems are real, and I sympathize with them. And then the third one for us is actually it. And for us, it is really an important part in the very beginning. Because with citizen development, if you think about the pitfalls and the risks of citizen development, the challenges, you know, again, kind of a catalytic workflow perspective is that citizen developers understand the business but they don't understand a lot of the professional trappings of development. So they don't understand version control. They they're they're not necessarily as aware of data governance. They're not aware of like publication process that they should go through. So we bake that into our platform, we allow it to essentially control how they integrate to key IT systems. We allow them to impose data governance rules to pose publication rules so that they it's not a freefall. There's centralized command, and there's centralized visibility. And I think that's actually really important. So for us to have it engage, isn't that when, because I think they actually view us as, you know, good way to introduce automation and citizen development to be very process centric, and then to allow them to maintain some levels of control. Now, then, depending on the organization, it's kind of a, you can almost imagine like one of those vz balloons, you know, like, demand organization difference, you're just kind of squeezing from one to the other. And so like different parts of this three legged stool end up being more engaged, or more important, or driving the bus. But all three ultimately need to be engaged. And sometimes they're the same. Sometimes process owners, especially into smaller companies, sometimes you see situations where process owners are the same as builders, and there's no it to speak up price. There, it kind of varies depending on the organization. But all three really do like even if they're not present, even if there's no IP to speak of, there's someone who owns the system, there's still someone who's going to say, Hey, we have to like careful about the way we deploy these. We can't just throw this out to the wind, we have little things like GDPR and HIPAA. And PCI, there's no shortage of regulatory requirements to adhere to today.

 

Brent Sanders  31:36

Yeah, it's, it's interesting, and correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems like catalytic a platform like this, you're going to avoid some of that the long tail costs, like, for example, I've heard of companies that have jumped headfirst in automation, have built out their own sort of IT department or sort of using that weird term that automation has created a center of excellence, right? And you hear about these centers of excellence get spun up and slowly over time, start to erode the ROI erode the value, because you now have a you may have eliminated, you know, a lot of dumb work or robotic work. But now you've created a bunch of maintenance jobs for high paid it, workers that have to make sure that those jobs still continue to get done. So am I correct in saying that catalytic avoids that by being a sort of low code platform?

 

Sean Chou  32:29

You know, I certainly think so. Like, but I'm biased. But you know, it, you're the only other person who has said what I've been saying all along. Or not all on, but like what I've said many times, which I just kind of puzzles me that people haven't thought about it more, which is the core value proposition of RPA, specifically, is essentially wage reduction, right? Like, it's kind of the next evolution of offshore. So instead of my $25, an hour is less work or going to a $15, an hour worker in India, to a $6 an hour worker in the Philippines, now I can get a buck 50 an hour RPA to do my work. So it's kind of like the logical progression of progressively cheaper and cheaper labor. Although at least up until you get to box, you still have kind of a human flexibility and agility. When you get to boss all sudden, you lose that you lose this kind of flexibility, ability, the ability to adapt, you end up with essentially the dumbest worker you can possibly have, right? But it's really cheap. So depending on your task, it might be perfectly well suited for it. But you've made exactly that sacrifice that you just mentioned, which is you have got a really cheap worker, but the cost of training that worker is now extremely expensive, because it's unadaptable. And it's not just extremely expensive, it's very hard to get the resource. So you know, you're paying suddenly to come in at two 300 bucks an hour to come fix your budget in our worker by and you're losing a lot of agility when you do it. So your folks are kind of locked in so many ways. Why view again, I'd like I don't not RPA I think it's an amazing story. I think that if you have a process, and you have to fix it in place, and you have desktop applications, there's actually no better. It's amazing in that way. But people have overused it. And in catalytics case, I think of us as many, many ways the antithesis of RPA. Right? Because we're focused on continuous improvement. We're focused on actually modeling process. And through that modeling out of the process and showing and using data to show where the weak parts are in the process. We're encouraging the evolution of that process and work through Kind of tactically, inserting automations, and also being able to rip them out when they don't make sense anymore. So for us a workflow is a living thing, right? Whereas I think with RPA, you have to necessity Think of it as a fixed thing, like you build it, it's fixed, and then you don't want to change, you want to like, minimize the changes surrounding it, because any change could break it. Right. So it's a very philosophy. And again, going back to the idea of picking the right tool for the right task, I think that's actually one of the big challenges that someone who has automation the title, or what to say, the Center of Excellence for automation, that's one of the challenges that they have. Yeah,

 

Mark Percival  35:44

I mean, we've heard a couple of stories where, you know, a company brings in automation and trying to look at like the change in, you know, the actual impact of the business ends up getting washed out after a while. And so, with that, like the way I think, you know, we do a fair amount of automation consulting, and the way that we try to think about her consulting engagements is that we really want our clients and a lot of our engagements are these sort of stock gaps, we really want our clients to evolve out of using our services, which is not a great long term business model. But it in in looking at catalytic, like, would you be happy if that happened, in a sense, where this is sort of a catalyst in a sense to improve processes where I don't know I look at automation, and specifically RPA is a stopgap to fix or deal with things like legacy software, or broken processes. And I guess I look at it as a temporary, you know, maybe this may take a decade, but ideally, our clients, they move off, and they fix the eventual state, and they get to a point where they don't need these automations. Do you share that vision?

 

Sean Chou  36:58

I do. I mean, the way I would, I guess capture it is that I really think of automation as kind of a benefit or an outcome. And it's, I don't view it as like, your purpose of, you know, being like if your, your entire existence revolves around automating things that I think, almost by definition, you're thinking about the world in a band aid type, in a band aid type way, you know, even when I think about the most exciting workflows, that our customers to the ones that are just kind of more automation focus where and when I think about automation focus I needed to go into what you're really trying to do is this equivalency between what a person does today, and what a lower cost computing device can do. So that's kind of the world of automation. But that to me, becomes a lot more exciting when it's not about this one to one trade off, but being able to do things that you wouldn't be able to do at all other lies. And as an example, you know, if you're analyzing financials, for example, like a line by line analysis of financials, because you're trying to compile information for report, right? Humans doing it would do spot checking. And because you can't possibly process millions of records and 1000s of different files, and a bot, maybe you can get to do it, but you're still kind of limited at the speed of the operating system and application stack. And if you actually just process it as a file, it suddenly becomes trivial to be able to process millions of records. And that actually allows you to do things like hey, instead of, you know, a monthly report, compiling all this data, now we're gonna do in real time, not only in real time, but we're gonna build up in real time the machine learning model around it, and we're going to build up actual mechanized responses to anomalies that we discovered, right? So those are things and capabilities that we can create through actual digital technology like ours, that is actually a lot more exciting to me than being stuck in kind of a world of, you know, one to one trade. Right? Because the one to one trade off is still that's like, that's labor arbitrage. Yeah, that's, like, I appreciate that. And I understand why people seek that, especially if you're in a mature industry, where it's easier for you to drop $1 to the bottom line, cutting out your expenses and to get another dollar of revenue. But you know, as technologists and as entrepreneurs, I think what really gets us all excited is, you know, the idea of being able to have new capabilities that you've never done before. I mean, that's cool, right? Like, yeah, the CD, the tape to the CD job was nowhere near as exciting as CD to streaming. Right? Yeah,

 

Mark Percival  40:01

that's a good I like that analogy that I, you know, in looking at how you frame automation engagements or potential clients, you know, talking about cost cutting versus adding value, like, how do you frame that conversation, when preparing somebody who maybe is coming into it thinking, you know, the typical way that I feel like this industry has pitched it services is, hey, we're going to reduce this headcount. And we're paying the people this much, and they're spending this much time. So we're gonna, we're gonna clear off a million dollars off your, your, you know, expenses for the year. And I feel like it's been falling flat, at least I've had a lot of conversations where that it's not really the case. And to your point, how are ways that you can either be improving customer experience or increasing revenue rather than cost cutting? Like, how do you frame that when somebody sort of getting introduced to catalytic?

 

Sean Chou  40:54

Well, so I think you have two different types of, I'll say, company, you know, mindsets that have converged on this idea of automation. On one hand, you have the world of RPA, which really, I would say, kind of drove and owned and re, you know, resurrected, and then like, you know, made prominence of the word automation. And their heritage is like set offshore. I mean, that's, that's actually the original and like, the kind of original purpose of RPA really began around outsourcing. And so a lot of the folks and jobs that got outsourced or sent over to India, and then they're suddenly on the hook for finding these ongoing year after your efficiencies. And so the way they did it was, especially given the tasks that they were doing, oftentimes on a computer, through a VPN, dedicated VPN, it kind of lends itself really well to the sort of technology, I think the technology grew up there, it kind of sparked to there, and that, you know, drove its heritage and its messaging to prominence. Now, on the other hand, you have another set of players of which I kind of relate ourselves more to, which are adding automation into their platform as kind of power. Right here, you have the likes of Smartsheet, or Asana or air table where they're also talking about automation, but they're really coming at it from the world of we have software, it's super logical to attach these sort of automation powers to our platform. That's the way I think the boss, so I think losses fundamentally addressing a workflow problem. And we're attacking what I think of as a space that had amazing promise that fundamentally failed, which is the BPM space by like the BPM space, in theory should have been, like insanely large, because who doesn't have a process everyone? Right? Right. But why did it fail? Because it did relative to its opportunity. I mean, you can't obviously, there are big players in the space like pega, you know, and you can't call that company a failure. But the space and total kind of failed relative to its promise why. And part of it, I think, is very similar to why the AI space failed relative to let's say, it's because it was just too heavyweight. So with BPM, it's too heavyweight, you have to learn too much, I have a huge cast of characters. And so your commitment in your upfront kind of investment was very hot. And so it never really scaled down to you know, you mentioned the longtail never really scaled down to, you know, smaller ROI use cases. And so our original thesis was really focused around that idea, how do we actually make processes better? And so with our customers, you know, I tend to spend a lot of time talking to them with prospects, I tend to spend a lot of time talking more about what would you like to do with your business that you can do today at all? Right and less about and now of course, there are some people who like, don't want to hear and they're just like, tell me how you can save me money. But when I have the opportunity, I do like to and I think more people get excited about the idea of what are the things what's your list of could be doing should be doing? If only we had the ability to do it. What are the things that could really reinvent your customer experience? What is your Amazon Prime experience because that's all about speed. That speed only comes because the efficiencies their price? That is to me kind of the ultimate example of a customer experience story that basically boiled down to being faster and cheaper.

 

Brent Sanders  44:55

Yeah, that's great. I like that answer a lot. Mark, did you have anything else you want? Before we wrapped up?

Mark Percival  45:04

No, this has been really good. This is yeah, this has been excellent.

 

Sean Chou 45:06

Got about automation for a long time. Sure. Yeah.

 

Brent Sanders 45:12

Before we wrap up? Sean, is there anything you want to mention? Are you guys hiring anything that you want to throw out there to our audience?

 

Sean Chou  45:20

Well, look, I know, we introduced a trial concept a couple months back, and we're introducing rolling out formally catalytic Academy. So I really think of the Academy trial and community as a great way for people to come and learn more about these kinds of platforms. A lot of people's ideas of automation are either completely, you know, unformed, because like, as automation geeks, like the three of us, we think everyone knows about it. But if we just kind of go out to the regular world, most people are still like, I have no idea what you're talking about the robots that are like moving things around the line, like, No, no, that's what we do. But, so a lot of people don't know about it at all, if you don't come learn on our platform, as well as in the academy. It's a great way to learn about new technology, if you do know automation, but it's primarily focused around RPA. You know, I would definitely encourage people to come and learn the way we do it, which is very different. I, I, you know, welcome the two of you to come happy to do a demo for you and walk you through. It sounds like you do a lot of consulting in the areas. Be great to show you what we do.  

Brent Sanders 46:30

Yeah, we'll take you up on that. We are always interested in checking out new platforms. It'd be awesome. Yeah. Sean, thank you so much for coming on for spend the time talk to us. And it's been great to catch your insights on the industry at large and yeah, thanks again.

 

Sean Chou  46:44

Okay, great to meet you guys. And stay tuned.



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