Hi SAAS NORTH Community,
Everyone thinks automation means robots taking over, but that’s not the case. In reality, humans need to work with robots and other technologies to solve problems. This is something Mathieu Rebeiro, the VP of Automation Solutions at Wrk, knows well. Speaking with SAAS NORTH, Mathieu shared more on what he feels are the critical elements of startup success.
- Your goal as technology builders is not to build tech, but to use tech to help customers solve problems.
- All processes are a function of speed, quality, and cost—ensure you know your customer’s priorities.
- Focus on identifying root problems before brainstorming solutions. Otherwise, you waste time and resources.
Co-Founder/Producer, SAAS NORTH Conference Editor, SAAS NORTH NOW
Mathieu Rebeiro always thinks about the processes that bring goods to market—even when ordering a coffee. As VP of Automation Solutions at Wrk, Mathieu uses that mindset to help design technology and human solutions to client challenges. Through this experience, he’s developed a frame of reference for what it takes to succeed and grow a business. Speaking with SAAS NORTH, Mathieu explained what he sees as the linchpin of startup success.
Make it easy even when customers mess up
Mathieu describes automation as the process of making life easy for the end user to achieve their stated aim. That might mean entirely with bots or technology, it could mean entirely with human effort, or it could be—and most often is—a blend of the two. The real value is not necessarily the tools you use, but the outcome you achieve.
To illustrate this, Mathieu used the example of creating a presentation deck. As of right now, a computer can’t do all of it—you need a human to do things like upload files and place them in the right position on the slides.
But these platforms can cause problems for users. For example, platforms like Google Slides only allow certain image types to be uploaded. If a user tries to upload the wrong type of image, they get an error.
This, to Mathieu, is where technology comes into the automation process. Instead of giving a user an error, there’s an opportunity for a piece of AI to sit on top of Google Slides (in fact, it’s a solution Wrk built for one of its clients). When you upload an image, it checks if it’s the right file type. If it’s not, it converts it before uploading. That way even when the end user did something “wrong,” they get the outcome they need.
“The one thing I can always count on is some people follow processes and others don’t,” said Mathieu. “But you can make this irrelevant by designing around the customer or anticipating the errors someone might make and then make it easy for them to still accomplish their end goal. Just keep in mind: if it’s simple on the front end that usually means it’s complex on the backend.”
It’s humans and tech, not humans or tech
Across the broader business outsourcing world, Mathieu identified four distinct camps:
1. Integrators: technology companies that connect other processes or platforms (e.g. Zapier or ATS Global).
2. Robotic process automation: companies that sell artificial intelligence tools to customers who can build their own robots for specific tasks (e.g. IBM or SAP).
3. Gig platforms: platforms where customers can hire humans to do manual tasks for them (e.g. Fiverr or Upwork).
4. Consultancies and business process automation companies: customers hire a single firm to get the job done, then the firm manages any required technology or staffing (e.g. Accenture or Tata).
But Mathieu hopes to draw outside all these lines. Where integrators and RPA focus on technology only and gig platforms or BPO firms focus on tech-enabled human work, Mathieu and Wrk want to combine the efforts of both humans and technology.
By way of example, Mathieu talked about audio transcription: it can be done by both humans and technology. Recently, AI-based platforms have swept the market and left many wondering if humans will be replaced entirely. For Mathieu, it’s a question of customer needs. If you need it fast and cheap, AI is the way to go. But if you need undeniable quality, you need humans. While AI is getting good—around 90% on average—some documents (like legal proceedings or international political treaties) must be completely accurate.
Mathieu said the Wrk approach is unique because they think about end goals first rather than inputs. By asking what a client needs to accomplish—and what mistakes or not-following-processes might get in the way—Wrk can build solutions that pick the human- or technology-based option that gets the job done with the right balance of time, quality, and cost needed by the customer.
Identify end goals and root problems before building solutions
Mathieu’s advice for founders and technology builders is to focus less on what you’re merely capable of and identify first what you want to do, then the root cause of what’s stopping you.
Being able to build novel technology is powerful, but only if you are solving the right problem and helping people get to the right outcome. In the Google Slides example, the goal was getting an attachment into the presentation; the root problem was Google’s limitations. In the transcription example, the core outcome and root problem were context-dependent.
To get a better sense of root problems, Mathieu loves the Five Whys framework and the DMAIC framework, both of which help uncover what’s hampering success so you can build the right solution.
For anyone thinking about skipping these steps in favour of working more quickly, though, Mathieu warns that your work might begin to feel more like a can’t-win arcade game rather than a business
“If you only fix symptoms of problems, it’s like playing whack-a-mole,” said Mathieu. “Problems will keep presenting themselves unless you focus on identifying the root issue.”