How did Tallyfy get started?
I spent most of my career in London helping medium and large companies map out their processes. For instance, if they wanted to improve how they onboarded new clients, we would interview a bunch of people and produce a flowchart or document with the steps of what actually happens for any given process. [We would] then optimize the steps. There are armies of people at large consultancies everywhere in the world who do this kind of work.
I did that for a long time until I realized that, after I mapped out a project, no one looked at it most of the time. Companies were spending millions on documenting their processes, but they just ended up with giant flowcharts as PDFS in Sharepoint or Google Drive that were never opened. It was a complete waste of time. That was a big problem; there was no point in mapping a process if nobody is going to follow it.
When did you decide to leave your job and start Tallyfy?
About five years into my job. One day, a small company came to us and asked if we could help them document their processes. I gave them my usual response with our rates and fees, and they said, "No way. We have about 30 people on staff, and there’s no way we can afford this level of cost and complexity." That’s when I thought we could consumerize BPM, an enterprise toolset, and simplify it to a point when anyone could use it — without needing expensive consultants from Accenture, PwC, Deloitte, KPMG, McKinsey, etc.
When I was accepted into Startup Chile, I decided to officially give up everything, move to Chile for six months, and go full time. I’m lucky to have a background in computer science, so I was able to write the first line of code and build the first version of the platform myself. This really gave me the means and motivation to quit my day job and go full time.
After this, we won a $50k equity-free grant from Arch Grants in St. Louis. We came to the U.S. four years ago and haven’t looked back since. I also spent a year in Silicon Valley, which was awesome. I got to do 500 Startups and Alchemist Accelerator there.
Did you learn anything valuable while launching the business?
I’m a computer science grad, so I’m not particularly good at sales, marketing, and pitching VCs. My wife/co-founder is the ying to my yang, and I learned how to read people from her.
Through this process, we found a few tricks — particularly with pitch meetings. We realized that a lot of these meetings are based on FOMO, not your deck or idea. With VCs, it’s more about not missing out on the next Google or big unicorn at an early stage.
At these meetings, I would look at my watch, then at my wife. She’d look back at me, and we would try to make the investors squirm, like we had other places to be.
I went into a meeting with just a laptop once — no bag or anything — just so I could leave in a pinch. Then, if the investors didn’t ask any questions, we would say we have a meeting in 15 minutes and “we have to go.” They got antsy every time we did this and would follow us to the door, asking to schedule the next meeting.
In fundraising, a lot of it boils down to psychology, and the FOMO game does work.
What’s it like working with your wife as your co-founder?
The first six months were tricky because we almost did everything together. So, we established rules.
The first is around role separation. We agreed that she did “this” and I did “that.” There is some danger that the rest of the company assumes we act as a single unit, so we created comms that explained our separate roles and that we don’t influence each other.
The second is the 7 PM rule. If we get home late, the work conversations would often drag on 'til midnight, so at 7 PM, we agree to become husband and wife again and to stop work discussions. That doesn’t mean “stop work” — it just means “stop talking about work together”.
Honestly, she's the best co-founder on this planet. Trust is a huge part of running a company, and it’s helpful to have someone who knows your weaknesses. Many startups fail because their co-founder leaves or just decides to break off. We’ve been together for seven years and we just had a newborn baby — his name is Leo. I wrote this post about what Leo has taught me about Tallyfy. Our relationship keeps getting stronger by the day.
How do you deal with competition?
Any company that made it began with competition. There’s literally no company out there without competition, so it’s important to drill down on the things you are good at.
For us, that’s having ridiculously good customer service and the sheer innovation and experience in our team. We follow what Amazon calls the “Day 1” philosophy: you assume everyday that it’s Day 1 of your startup, even if you are a big company. This helps us act fast on decisions and stay agile. Our biggest asset is our deep domain experience within our space.
We also got smart about our competition and how to stay ahead of the game. For instance, if you Google “workflow automation” right now, Tallyfy will be on the first page of search results. This can be quite difficult to do organically, and it took us over two years to get there. It took pages of notes and a few sleepless nights of identifying the different factors that go into the SEO, but I eventually did this and mapped out a process. Now, before anyone publishes anything from our company, there’s a 55-step checklist we complete before posting. As we learn fast, this process is continuously improving.
Has anything surprised you when launching the business?
I think there’s a pretty big misnomer that you want to start a business to get freedom. There’s no way you’re going to be sitting on a beach in Mexico, making a million bucks.
Also, I feel that many people are starting companies just to look cool and be a part of the trend. They raise some funding and think they are set, but most businesses fail. You need to truly know your domain and get under the skin of customers to know their pain.
If you do pitch competitions and accelerators, this can be great for startups, but they aren’t necessarily focused on the customer. When I first started, I made this mistake and did pitch competitions, startup shows, and events. There are so many out there and they all sound really tempting, but they can sometimes be a big waste of time.
You have to see if each opportunity is going to further your company in the eyes of customers, not investors.
I learned that really early on, which is fortunate. I see a lot of founders get stuck in that cycle.
What’s the number one skill you think all first time founders need?
[A] balance between realistic reasoning and true grit. People always emphasize the true grit, but I don't personally think reason can just be shoved aside. You need to think logically all the time and be rooted in the real world, otherwise customers will never buy your product. You can’t just think that “if I work hard it will work out.”
What is your superpower?
Processes. Being able to take an idea and actually implement it in hours or days. I’ve woken up at 1 AM and jumped on my laptop and, in one sitting, mapped something out, built it, and completed it. I have a technical background, so I can create my vision. Being able to do it as soon as it’s visualized is super helpful and sets the speed at which we need to implement ideas.
What’s your kryptonite?
I’m absolutely terrible at closing sales. I’m good at engaging people in a demo, but I get emotionally affected by "nos." I’ve been doing meditation to detach myself from this. I used to feel punched by companies who don’t like the product, and I’m learning that I shouldn't be. It’s getting much better, and I’m also hiring to fill this gap.
What is your office like?
I work at a co-working space in St. Louis called T-REX. St. Louis is one of the most amazing places to have a tech company, and it doesn't come with the costs of being in the Bay Area or NYC. I can’t believe founders stay in those other cities; if you don’t need to be there, you can spend 1/10th of the money and go so much further in other locations.
I also like getting involved in a lot of the civic and local initiatives, and the community here in the Midwest. I’m originally from the UK, but getting into the spirit of the real world in the Midwest helps me tune Tallyfy for everyone. It’s healthy to not be in a bubble of tech and VC.
Do you have any other hobbies? What do you geek out about?
Right now, no. My hobby, my dream, my work, and all of me, 24 hours a day, is Tallyfy.
I used to collect and sell some of the world’s rarest stamps on eBay. I started doing this while at university in Bath in the UK — which is full of antiques and collectibles, given that it’s one of the oldest cities in Europe.
I came across a stamp album one day and spotted a single stamp that was worth >10,000 GBP, and the entire album was being sold for 50 GBP. There were a few instances of this, so I would buy stamps and resell them. You never know what you might come across!
At the time, people actually thought I was a professional stamp dealer, but I was just a 19 year old at uni! In the end, I ended up making enough cash to pay off all my debts from university in less than six months.
I love period dramas for TV shows, and being a Brit, I liked Downton Abbey. I get morphed into this other world, and I love being in that world. I remember meeting the Duke of Edinburgh when I was younger. I’m a Trekkie and dig the humor in The Big Bang Theory.
What’s something you wish you knew more about?
I love languages. I speak English, Swahili, Hindi, Gujarati, and a tiny little bit of French and Spanish. For me, it’s interesting to see how people put themselves in buckets, like being a techy, a founder, etc. My ambition is to expose myself to enough things to become a “renaissance man.” I love seeing something random and connecting it neatly to some other random area.
That's why I try to connect with people in other industries as much as I can. The more I talk to people with other backgrounds, the more I can draw parallels from those fields and connect them to my business.