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Hello, everyone. I'm Brad Hairston with SS and C. Blue prism. Welcome to the transform now Podcast. Today, I'm happy to have as my guest, John darbishire, the CEO and co founder of smartsuite, a collaborative work management platform, John, and I will be talking about the evolving future of work and how that impacts his thinking as an entrepreneur, and a company leader. John, welcome to the podcast, why don't you tell our listeners more about yourself? Thank you, Brad. It's a pleasure to be here. Yeah, let me just tell you a little bit about my background, I kind of started my career. My first really big job out of school was with Price Waterhouse, I ran a consulting division for them in the Midwest, I was based in Kansas City, kind of the Midwest territory, about three years into that Ernst and Young started recruiting me to come in and run their Global Practice, and really begin to build that practice inside the states. And then to launch it globally. So did that about four years, we had about 1500 people that ended up being in that, that overall practice for us had the chance to travel the world and meet lots and lots of great customers and hear their stories and understand their backgrounds from a business perspective. And then left Ernst and Young and started a company called Archer technologies, we were helping organizations manage cybersecurity issues. And that really turned into what is known today as governance Risk and Compliance space, and sold that company in 2010, to EMC. And then, after that, retired for a few years, just kind of regrouped, ran a family foundation that we had started did that for about eight years. And then just a couple years ago, I had an idea for a new company in the work management space smartsuite. And I started that, and as of today, we're kind of heads down working on that. Excellent. So John, why don't you start us off by just giving us an overview of smartsuite. And the space that it fills in the market. smartsuite is a product that's in the work management space, we can help organizations manage any project or process inside of their organization in a single platform, kind of the genesis of of smartsuite was when I had the chance at Ernst and Young. And then in the Family Foundation to meet with lots of entrepreneurs, one of the first questions that typically came up is, what systems do we use internally to kind of manage the business outside of the product or service that they offered. And most of the time it was we were selected four or five different products with each customer or each client to do that. And the thought process was, why don't we build a platform that allows you to manage any business process on a single platform, I only have to pay for one time, I only have to onboard people one time, as opposed to having, you know, five or six different products that we're using. So the kind of the genesis of smartsuite was to solve that problem. It took us about two and a half years, about a little over 100 developers to build the core platform. So pretty big lift, it wasn't something you just build in six months at opera. And today we compete against teams kind of in the project management space, maybe like a clickup a Monday Asana, right. And then also, that's, that's really project management. And then we're in more of the process management kind of level above those players. And when it could be more directly with organizations like ServiceNow. So we're trying to fill the void between a project and a real high end process inside of a single platform. Okay, thank you for that background. So So John, what exactly led you into the software industry? After a career in consulting? I'm curious what kind of drove that, you know, it mainly started when I was at Ernst and Young, I had the chance to meet with hundreds of hundreds of clients, all different types of industry segments. And we provided a service to come in and basically help secure their systems in a particular area, mainly, so they could have an online presence. This is back in 2000. This Yeah, 97 to 2001, kind of in that timeframe, kind of what I found was that we were coming in every three to six months and providing the service. And then we would leave with the list of recommendations on things that they needed to fix. And then they would call us back in six months and ask us to do the same thing over and over again. And the reason for that was they didn't have a process to manage
these things around technology that needed to be there. So my original idea was, hey, we need to manage cybersecurity type processes in the same way that you manage other mega processes in an organization like accounts payable, accounts receivable payroll. So I took three or four months, and it took me a while to kind of put all the pieces together and figure out what those processes should be. But I took two or three months and just sat down and worked on just that. And then the light bulb hit me, I finally figured it out. And then had the opportunity to start Archer Technologies was the company that would help manage those processes.
That was your move to the dark side, as they say, going from consulting to software. That's what they said about me when I did the same thing. was the first company you founded, you said was Archer, which was Integrated Risk Management? What are your thoughts on ESG? In general, and just how it seems to be increasing in importance with both regulators and investors?
Yeah, great question. I think that's the new hot buzzword. Today, almost every customer that we talked to at smartsuite is asking us about ways we can help them manage better manage that get their employees more involved in their local areas that they may be in with providing service back to the community and such and then a way that they can track and report on that, as well. And, you know, at Archer, we did something very interesting to help kind of promote that before it became this ESG concept was, we gave our employees three days off per year to get involved in a local community paid, that was just part of our overall plan. And we had a community director that actually joined the company that manage just that keeping us all engaged and involved. And that involves us working with companies like Habitat for Humanity, where we'd have groups of people that maybe 20 People from the company on a single project, to people getting involved with just one on one with the kids in the school that their their kids maybe attend that was there. And what we found it we just kind of stumbled on this film that we just wanted to be more involved. But it built a really unique culture in the company, of thinking about ways we could do things outside of work together. And it also helped the employees like build relationships from department to department, because they were spending a day doing activities outside of work with somebody getting to know them in a different type of setting. And that's really what ESG is all about today is helping keep people you know, involved. And you know, it's about diversity inside the organization as well, and tracking that diversity and reporting on that diversity. But it all starts with the connections with the community. I
think I could not agree with you more, John. So let me ask you, what is your perspective just on the future of work? And how has that influenced your direction and your focus as a work management software? CEO?
Yeah, I think that, it and when you talk about people that actually do work in companies, it's our belief that people ages 23 to 30 are the core audience for our products, that work management platform, because they're the people that are doing the work, then you have managers and those managers typically started at 33, or 34, where they manage people doing the work, right. And then you kind of have this hierarchical structure, but the people doing the work, are the millennials Gen Z years, today's. So the software that they work with, again, our perspective is the software that they work with needs to coincide with their views, you know, people 23 to 38. And not just around work, but around the collaboration at work and the social aspects that they're used to with Facebook and Twitter and some of the other social products that maybe they use that blur the lines between personal and professional. So inside of our core platform, we spent a lot of time interviewing and discussing mainly with millennials. What they want to see when they work, what colors they like this the presentation of information on the page, because there is a stark difference between a 38 year old and a 45 year old when it comes to those platforms. And that's just because the 38 year olds and below have grown up with technology and and they're kind of the first generation that's been from day one, they've had technology available in their hands. So from a work perspective, all the process flows and pages and the way we show things is really specific to that type of audience.
Interesting. Yeah, it's amazing how much importance there is around the experience, the user interface, I think back to when you and I started our careers, and it was all green screens and mainframes and that kind of stuff. Today's generation, in some cases has to deal with some of that still, which is amazing. John, which technology trends do you think will have the biggest impact in shaping the future of work over the coming years?
Yeah, I think you know, just coming out of COVID. It's pretty interesting to see the shift that's already happened with the customers that we work with, including our own company, as well. We have employees, I think now in 11 Different countries that work remotely. Some of them work remotely from home. Others work remotely through offices or we work facilities, and we use video for hours and hours each day to do our scrum meetings and just to catch up just like we would do in a regular office. And Steven, some of the larger companies that we work with today have now decided not to go back to a mandatory five day work week, a lot of them are just three days, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Monday, Friday, people can work from home. And I think that's because the technology has caught up with us being able to work from home in a way that you feel that employees are still getting things done. Like they are working from eight to five, you know, I can click one button and have a video call like we're having today and discuss the topic and you can, you can see if things are working. And then inside of products like like smartsuite, we actually track every change to every field and every record. And if you needed to see what somebody was working on, you just look at the activity history, and you'll see all these great things, everybody in the on the team might be getting done. So from a technology perspective, I think it's a combination of the video and the products that have been built with these activity streams that help keep people in the loop that make management more comfortable about having employees be remote.
Yeah, it's really interesting how the pandemic kind of forced our hand on this whole topic, right? I mean, validating that we could work remotely in a lot of cases where companies in all industries said it just couldn't happen. There's just no way you can do it.
Yeah, from a young company perspective, like smartsuite, when we first started, our idea was we wanted to find the best people possible to perform the activities that we needed to have done, and to not be constrained by a 30 mile radius around where our corporate office might be, which is pretty critical. We didn't expect to be so international so fast. But the technology allowed us to do that. And we thought we were pretty innovative two and a half years ago with having a far removed type of team not based on one location. But when COVID hit, it's like that everybody had to move to that model, you know, very quickly. And then you see companies like zoom, WebEx and Google meet kind of stepped up and gave us even more capabilities to enable that.
Okay, so we've talked about technology trends, what about some non technology trends that are changing the way we work? Could you touch on that,
I can share with you that, you know, in our, our interviews with millennials, and Gen Z years, mainly outside of the US, the concept of travel, comes up quite often. And that like take our teams that we've had in the Ukraine for years, they're based in the Ukraine, but they travel all around Europe, sometimes three or four months at a time, staying in Airbnbs, working all day, and experiencing that part of the country as part of your life. It's part of their culture that's there. And it's important to them before they would accept the job that they're able to continue to do that. So at first, I was a little hesitant when people would say, Hey, I'm traveling to Bali for two months, right? And were they really going to get things done. But that's, that's probably the biggest trend that we're seeing. It's just catching on with a few people on our team here in the US that have relocated to different cities for that same reason, like they, they realized that work isn't what dictates where they live, maybe. Maybe the personal life is dictating it and the work allows them to
John, we're still very much in the middle of what people are calling the great resignation, significant churn in jobs, people that are in jobs seem to be leaving more frequently and in greater quantities than ever before. What impact has that had on company leaders like yourself?
Sure, yeah, I think the what people begin to understand through COVID was work life balance, and having the chance to work from home and interact with their families and be closer together and, and then still get their job done was, you know, interesting for them and important and in the US, we're not ever really been in a situation at this scale, to have that happen. Before and again, I'll come back to the Gen Z. And the millennials, you know, outside of the US, that's very common for them. But in the US, it's it kind of just happened for the first time because of COVID. And there's products like smartsuite that really help enable remote work, right, like, because we were just talking about the obvious people understand and, and understand, you know, the key objectives of the company and maybe the KPIs by quarter and the work that they're doing and how it relates back to those. And then the tasks that they complete kind of roll up to that so management can see, you know, what's been accomplished in a period of time, and then all the way down to just the personal side of one person being able to see, you know, maybe everything that their team or their broader team has been working on during that period. Like, all of that kind of had to come together for people to get comfortable with remote work. And I think that's why you've seen people resigning from positions where they don't feel they have that, that latitude or that capability that's there. I can tell you in our own local economy here in Southern California, a lot of our favorite restaurants that we'll go to have the sign on the door. We just One last week that says we don't have enough staff for today we have to close, right. And when I, those are being hit the hardest, right? Because the people that are working are wanting to find jobs where they can maybe not have to go to the office. So that part of the segment, I think, is probably struggling more than the SAS or tech space that I'm in today.
My wife and I went to Maine for the first time last year in September. And we went to this famous lobster restaurant that is really well known on the coast off Acadia National Park. And we were so looking forward to that. And we drove up to it, and it had that sign on the door that didn't ruin the trip. But it was a major letdown. I read something from Gartner. That said, when employees are given radical flexibility over where, when and how much they work, more than half of them say that their performance is dramatically higher than it is in traditional kind of nine to five jobs in the same location. So yeah, I think I think a lot of those things are changing the perspective, especially of the younger generation, if they can't get that there's 1000 other jobs. They can go pursue to get that. And I think, you know, that seems to be one of the things really driving this churn that we're seeing. And so we'll see how long it continues. Yeah, I
think if you're, you know, if you're in the technology space, you're a developer, customer success, you know, account managers, sales, all of those positions have radically changed over the last four years, right? Yeah, and you know, most customers on the sales side, we spent all day on video calls. Now, instead of traveling to customers, we may do five video calls a day, whereas before, we only visit one customer because we had to get on a plane to travel somewhere. So things are even more efficient, working from home in cases like that. And then software developers, you know, are notorious for, they just need to get in a groove and not have a bunch of distractions and just get their stuff done. And they enjoy working from home. But they do enjoy, you know, the daily stand ups where they get to hear whatever everybody else is working on, and have a little bit of interaction, but they would rather have less interaction or just get work done, you know, time. So I think it's kind of position by position on how this is working out. Yeah,
yeah, definitely. Well, one other interesting thing that I recently read about that, for the first time in history, we've got five generations that are working together. And in most work environments, that's if you take the baby boomers and break them into two, there's kind of two segments of baby boomers. And a lot of the baby boomers, as you know, are soon to disappear from the workforce, and the Gen X's are retiring earlier. I wish I was one of those Gen Xers but I'm not. So what do you think about that? Just the this whole, you know, having five generations working together? What are your thoughts on all of that? Yeah,
from, you know, we're a software company. So everything that we think about is the design of the software itself, right? And the features got to fit inside of the design. But to do things, right, you have to really understand your audience, like who was that particular software for? Especially if you want that person to use that product to do their job? Eight to 10 hours a day, right? It has to have certain characteristics that make it as interesting as it could be from a work perspective, right. So that's why instead of us trying to focus on we've always thought about for these different generations, it's interesting, you're looking at it from five, but we decided to just focus on two of those, for the interface portion. Knowing that, you know, the baby boomers now are in positions where they're managing things, looking at reports, dashboards, you know, they're analyzing the work that's getting done, more so than actually doing work that's there. So our, our dashboards and our reporting capabilities are meant to solve that problem above the millennial piece. So we spend more time with those groups of people say, what information do you need? What's most important for you to run the business or division, you know, that you're in? But don't don't get so worried, you know, in the day to day activities of how the team does the work, but you're one of the first people that's actually asked me that question. And it's something that's kind of at the top of our mind every day is we think about every feature like who is this features? primary audience? Okay, what's the secondary audience? Okay, when we do the design, we have to think about the primary audience
first. That makes a lot of sense. John, last year, McKinsey research found that work environments with the highest levels of human interaction are likely to see the greatest acceleration in the adoption of automation and AI. Is that consistent with what you've seen?
It is for sure. I think that when you talk about that The interaction between employees and the collaboration that's there. That was so evident when we specially met with the Gen Z years, and then the next level up being the millennials. But then it fell off kind of after that the older folks didn't feel that they needed as much interaction as this younger group. And it forced us to actually build another piece of software into our core software just to allow that because that was such a need for organizations, and we call it a member directory. Sounds pretty simple, but every person that that has a license to get into our product in a company that has their own personal profile, it's very similar to like a Facebook profile where I can share my hobbies and my interest, I can give emojis and pictures to show how I feel that day, I can take background images that when my profile is see, and it's because they felt that was so important in that side of the company, to build a positive culture and to keep things fresh and energized amongst the team because they were so spread out, you know, what was happening. So simple things like being able to do a single click and see a list of people by department or by team or fun things that came out of those, we just want to see a birthday scheduled by month, so that we can celebrate birthdays with an emoji and just click and give them a high five or something. And it lets them know, but those little things like that is what we found helps promote that culture and really drive that collaboration inside of companies.
Interesting. So So John, I have one more question for you. Just to wrap things up today. And we're moving away from the future of work. But I really, I really want to hear about your foundation that you mentioned that you created, along with a couple of others, I think one of whom was your wife, can you just tell us about it and talk about what its mission is?
Sure, yeah. So when we had the opportunity to sell Archer technologies back in 2010, the name Archer is important to us is my my mother's maiden name, my grandfather's name, John Archer. So we thought, you know, we want to continue this legacy and start what we call the archer Foundation. And there's three tenants that are inside of the foundation, we wanted to work with entrepreneurs to help people understand how to build and launch businesses, for any size from maybe a couple of people to, you know, hundreds or 1000s of people. I'll come back to that in a second. We didn't focus on youth programs. And then on women's initiatives, my mom Jean Archer was, was a part of that along with my wife, Tara and myself. So we found that that we brought together a team of six or seven kinds of experts that we had on staff that when people needed help with something, whether it was financial, or maybe product driven, or PR or technical writing, we had people design that could help in those areas at no cost through the foundation. So we helped a lot of entrepreneurs begin to launch their businesses or think about how to launch businesses. Some of those may be underserved, underprivileged people that had not had the opportunity to start their own business before and it was going to be more of a lifestyle business meeting. That was their primary income, they weren't building it to sell at Sunday, it was just a way for them to make a good living, following their passion, maybe around food service or cooking or something like that, all the way to companies that ended up having sales in the billions of dollars doing some really interesting things on the Ag side that was so that was a fun time, we worked full time in a location in Kansas City for about eight years to run the business. Or we considered the foundation kind of a family business that we were launching two and a half years ago about now we begin to kind of step away, we got rid of the actual facility that we had, that was there. And now we just work with people direct as opposed to having the foundation mine, my wife, Tara is also co founder and smartsuite. So our full time is kind of back to smartsuite on the tech side. And then when this is over, we'll begin to move back into the foundation again. And what I didn't mention about the foundation is that we had the opportunity to really, we wanted to make an impact in our hometown of Kansas City. And we got to know a lot of the local nonprofit organizations there. And then our goal was to help them be more successful in any way that we could, we would provide staff that would just go get stuff done, didn't really matter what it was, or we would find people to help them get stuff that if they wanted help and understanding maybe their business and their strategy, we would help them better understand how to maybe be better stewards of the money that they were receiving and where it should go. And we donated money to those organizations as well. That was a fun journey. I think what I learned through that time was that I enjoy being an operator of a business and and creating lots of businesses that can then give back to the community versus just doing one small thing you know, kind of in the community.
That's just so neat. How you and your wife you know, you have success with launching and selling a business and then you turn around and you leverage that to help other entrepreneurs and nonprofits launch and sustain you know, their own businesses. applaud your efforts there. That's really remarkable and admirable. So so congratulations on that. And John, thanks for just spending time with me on the podcast today. I always enjoy talking to interesting people like you getting your thoughts and insights on where, where work is headed, and particularly around automation. And with your new company, you're clearly filling a role there as well. So, wish you all the best with smartsuite. Good luck with that. And thanks again for your time.
Thank you, Brad. It's been a pleasure. Appreciate it.
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