This week, I caught up with Alastair Andrew, Co-founder of Airts, who have created Braid to make scheduling simpler. We talked about what it's like working with corporates, how vital UI is to the customer and how they were told off by the panda keepers on a team trip to Edinburgh zoo.
Tell us a bit about the founders - who they are, what's their background.
We [Alastair and Andrew] met at our first developer jobs after Uni, went our separate ways but kept in touch. I’d gone back to do a PhD looking at combinatorial optimisation and Andrew went to train as a CA. I could see all this great research that didn’t seem to be making it out into the real world and I also realised I didn’t want to spend my life churning out unread papers. Whilst I was finishing up, Andrew was at RBS doing some lean management projects and saw an opportunity for supporting those process changes with the sort of software I was studying. That’s where the initial idea for Airts came from. So we took the plunge and set out to find organisations with challenging decision problems where we could help. At the heart are crafty algorithms but wrapped in a user-friendly piece of software - ideally the end user doesn’t need to realise something clever is happening behind the scenes. We also explicitly didn’t want to be a consultancy - we wanted to do something more scaleable.
What is it that Braid does?
Braid is an intelligent enterprise resourcing platform that supports staff scheduling in large, dynamic environments. It’s for scenarios where there’s a large number of tasks that need to be allocated to a pool of staff. Each task can have its own deadlines, skill requirements, priorities, and restrictions. Braid considers all these factors whilst automatically allocating tasks in the most optimal way. As new work arrives (or doesn’t!), staff availability changes or manual decisions are made, then the schedule is continuously reconfigured to take account of this.
Clients can decide what their own “best” schedule looks like and Braid optimises toward their own strategic objectives. By automating the scheduling process Braid frees up staff time, gives greater flexibility to unforeseen changes and allows staff utilisation to be forecast over a greater time horizon than would be feasible manually.
We say it’s like thousands of resource planners working in the background 24/7, only much faster!
What benefits to being based in Edinburgh do Airts get?
There’s just a general buzz about what’s going on in the tech community here. We were originally split between Glasgow and Edinburgh. I lived there, and Andrew was here. As we started hiring staff and expanding, the whole gravity of the business shifted to here. It also helps that it’s a nice place to live and work with great transport links!
What are some of the biggest challenges you're facing?
Scaling - getting all the bits aligned, having the people and processes in place to deliver large projects.
You’ve bagged your first big customer (PwC) - what is it like working with a larger corporate?
Dealing with PwC specifically, it’s important to realise that there’s no such thing as PwC per se - it’s a collection of autonomous entities under one global brand. We’ve had interactions with the UK firm, the US firm, some of the Polish offshore centres, etc. - it’s like working with multiple companies. In some cases, we even bridge knowledge gaps within their own business, which we love because it brings us closer together with our clients and they rely us on as a trusted partner, which is always what we’re striving to be.
What advice would you have for people setting out to sell to companies like the Big Four?
Finding the right person is key. I think they’re getting better at having people who are in charge of innovation and have the remit of working with smaller companies. If you’re doing something that they can see as genuinely beneficial to them then even if you initially reach the “wrong” person, they’re usually happy to point you in the right direction. PwC and other Big 4 firms we’re working or engaged with have been very supportive in that way.
What’s important to realise though, perhaps when selling to the enterprise more than anything else, is the need to 10x your efforts. Reaching out to a few people in one country is never going to cut it; you need to map out the global organisation in detail, and identify the many decision makers and influencers you need to engage or have speaking about your product in the corridors or at their weekly meetings. Outreach has to be very proactive, and the message needs to be tailored to each audience.
In one example, we got the message out to 30-40 people in a country, and only one person ran with it - fortunately, they connected us to the relevant person in the UK, who was able to facilitate a meeting in London with one of their Partners! But we didn’t know who of those 30-40 people was going to do that, if any, hence the importance of a 10x approach.
Why do you think a corporate should pay for a tool like Braid instead of developing an in house solution?
It’s really about focus - we’re not trying to be an accountancy firm, we’re dedicated to making the best scheduling application we can. There’s also the risk angle. It’s much more straightforward (and cost effective) to buy an existing product rather than trying to write their own. For example, they wouldn’t develop their own version of Excel!
When we initially pitched Braid they undertook a due diligence process to assess whether they had the capability to deliver something similar (and that highlighted they didn’t). By buying from us they are gaining access to all the experience we’ve built up from previous clients and avoid all the challenges that we’ve already dealt with.
Headcount: 8 + 2 non execs
Investment raised: £285k + £50k ScotEDGE award
Number of times chastised by panda keepers at Edinburgh Zoo: 1