Speaker 1: 00:03 Welcome to the Startup Competitors Podcast, where we talk with early stage entrepreneurs to understand what information they use to inform product roadmap, strategy, and market differentiation.
Speaker 2: 00:18 Welcome to the podcast. Today we have Jon Gilman with Clear Software. Jon, welcome to the show.
Jon Gilman: 00:22 Thanks for having me.
Speaker 2: 00:24 All right, man. Tell us about Clear Software and what you guys do.
Jon Gilman: 00:27 Absolutely. So we provide automation software to big companies that makes their workforce faster at their jobs. The idea was created when I was a consultant at Deloitte, implementing big ERP systems at Fortune 500 companies.
Jon Gilman: 00:40 What we would find is that the workforce would actually get slowed down when they implemented an ERP system, and their workforce would have to go through 27 screens to maybe create a customer and send them an invoice. So we saw some huge operational inefficiencies, which is the exact opposite of what an ERP system was supposed to do in the first place. It was supposed to make companies more efficient, allow them to possibly reduce head count, to give them a single source of truth, and in our experience we found it had the exact opposite effect.
Jon Gilman: 01:12 So we created Clear to essentially allow large organizations to finally realize what they were promised when they bought an ERP system.
Speaker 2: 01:21 So if I’m a large organization and I bring in Clear, what is an actual implementation look like? Is it my team that’s doing configuration and set up? Is it you guys? Are we still interacting with the ERP software or are we working through custom screens? Help make that tangible. What’s the user experience?
Jon Gilman: 01:40 Absolutely. We have two products within our automation platform. We have a user interface which is browser based. We call it Clearwork. It’s essentially a digital work space where people do their jobs, consolidate all of those screens across different ERP systems. So if you’re running say SAP and Salesforce, and your business process is, you know, the first 10 steps I go through 14 screens in SAP and then the last two steps I go to two screens in Salesforce. We just give you a single place to do your job. And then the real power is our other product called Clear Process, which automates all of that back-end activity. So we’ll integrate with SAP, we’ll integrate with Salesforce. But to the user, it’s a seamless experience.
Jon Gilman: 02:21 It is cloud-based, it runs in any browser, but the idea is we work with business users to define how they want their process to work, without the limitations of their current ERP systems. We’ll have our services team configure the user interface, and also the integrations inside Clear Process. But then ultimately we hand it over to our customer and allow them to configure it themselves. So they can transform business processes without having to back up a bus full of consultants.
Speaker 2: 02:52 Right on. Paint a picture for listeners where you guys are today? They can be vanity stats, team size, revenue, customer count. Whatever makes sense to help people understand where you guys are in the journey?
Jon Gilman: 03:04 Absolutely. So we just completed our series A investment round. We have about 15 people here in Zionsville, Indiana. Our customers are pretty big, so Rush Enterprises is the largest trucking services company in the country. They have 250 branches throughout the U.S. Patterson UTI is a big oil drilling company in Houston.
Jon Gilman: 03:26 So we have several hundred thousand users on our platform on a daily basis, carrying out their core business activities. So creating customers, entering orders, invoicing them, buying things from vendors. We automate the full gamut of what large companies do.
Speaker 2: 03:42 Perfect. When you think of competitors for Clear, who do you think of? What comes to mind?
Jon Gilman: 03:48 The funny thing about what we do is people look at our products individually, and say well, if you’re looking at Clear Process, and it’s essentially an integration hub, then your competitors are MuleSoft and SnapLogic and some of the other big integration hubs. So SalesForce just bought MuleSoft for 6.2 billion or something like that, so … the API economies-
Speaker 2: 04:10 That’s a good sign for you, in the future.
Jon Gilman: 04:12 Yeah, yeah. In that regard, they are our competitors, but we’ve never actually come against them in a deal. And then, from a user interface perspective, with Clearwork, our biggest competitor is complacency. So companies will say, yeah, we get that this process is broken and we need to give our people a simpler way to do their jobs. But it’s just not on our roadmap for this year, and we’ll just continue to increase headcount to offset these operational inefficiencies.
Jon Gilman: 04:40 So I would say, definitely just complacency or we could do it ourselves with out IT team, and I always say, well yeah, sure you can cut your own hair, too. But it’s gonna take 10 times as long and look 10 times as bad. It’s definitely complacency.
Speaker 2: 04:54 We’ll stick with the complacency side for a second. How do you sell past that idea that it’s broken, it’s inefficient, but we can get the job done? Right? If we just hire two more people, then you know, we can just kind of keep working in the way that we are working. What’s your angle when you go in and talk with a company to move them off that line and get them to start to see the value?
Jon Gilman: 05:13 It’s more of kind of like a challenge or sale model. Where you say, look, these are your business processes that are on fire right now. And you, for example, create five million customer orders a year. If it’s taking your people 20 minutes to create a customer order, here’s how much you are wasting in operational expense each year. And we kind of paint that picture across four or five core business processes in an organization and say look, you could reduce 40 or 50 million dollars of operating expense by implementing an automation platform like ours. And that sort of sense of urgency helps move the deal along a lot quicker.
Speaker 2: 05:48 Have you had to go back and present any of those ROI analysis, like okay, we’ve implemented your software, we’ve been using it for 6-12 months, prove to us that we’ve got the savings that you told you would give us when you showed up.
Jon Gilman: 06:01 Yeah, absolutely. So one of the things we discovered with one of our customers, Rush Enterprises is, it’s not just about operational efficiency and op-ex and saving millions of dollars in manpower. But we actually increased revenue for them. So they had a process where they rent trucks to trucking companies and their sales force out in the field was forgetting to add EPA fees and sales tax and things they have to pay anyway, but they weren’t collecting them from the customer. So we just automated that and added about two million in revenue to their top line in addition to the tens of millions of dollars we were saving in operating expense.
Speaker 2: 06:40 Dude, that’s awesome.
Jon Gilman: 06:41 Pretty cool use case.
Speaker 2: 06:42 Yeah, that’s a really cool use case. Sweet.
Speaker 2: 06:45 Okay, so … then talk a little bit about maybe from a marketing perspective, what do you guys do? What do you find effective? And how much of that is trying to differentiate from the MuleSofts of the world and things like that versus educating the customer versus just getting people to know that you exist. Like what’s the marketing strategy and what have you guys found effective?
Jon Gilman: 07:07 It’s taken us a long time to figure out an effective marketing strategy. And I think a lot of companies take awhile to figure out what works for them.
Speaker 2: 07:14 If you can figure it out. It’s cool.
Jon Gilman: 07:16 So we’re three years in, and we believe we’ve found an effective marketing strategy. So traditionally, we would go to software user group meetings and a lot of IT-centric shows, but what we discovered with our customer data was that the people who were bringing us in were business champions. They weren’t in the IT organization. And they just randomly happened to be at one of these software user group meetings. But we kind of stood back, actually earlier this year about six months ago and said, look our market is in the business. We have to get to the business and stop going to IT-centric shows. Because the beneficiary of our product is the CFO, the VP of finance, the VP of Sales. So we need to pivot and cater our messaging towards the business and not towards IT. Because IT is essentially there to validate that yeah, it’s not going to screw everything up at our company. But if there’s no business value, that they can see, we’re going to struggle.
Jon Gilman: 08:13 It’s been very effective for us to pivot and really target that CFO or Finance persona.
Speaker 2: 08:19 I think you mentioned this earlier in the podcast, and if you didn’t, I know you mentioned it the last time you and I talked one on one. I know that if somebody just implemented any RP system in the last five years and have spent 50% more than it was originally quoted, and probably twice as long as it was originally quoted to do that. And then you’re coming in after the fact and saying, “Great, now that you’ve made that investment, we’re here to actually make it work. And make it more efficient and make it do all these things.” How much skepticism is there? Like if you’re talking to a CFO or VP of finance, how much skepticism is there when you walk in the door? And then if there is some, and I’m assuming there is, how do you get past it? What’s that conversation look like?
Jon Gilman: 09:02 The skepticism typically comes from the IT department, because they are saying, “all right, well we implemented SAP and everybody hates us now.” Or “We implemented Oracle eBusiness Suite, and everybody hates us now. So we’re going to talk to yet another software vendor to try to fix the problem?”
Jon Gilman: 09:17 So a CIO will typically say, I need another software vendor like I need a bullet in the head. So instead, when we focus on the CFO, we’re coming and saying, “Look, we know that your call center probably tripled in size when your implemented the RP system, and maybe your AR and AP doubled or tripled. We know that ,and 100%of the time they’ll say, yeah that’s exactly what happened to us. We were supposed to get more efficient with this RP system and we didn’t.
Jon Gilman: 09:43 So we come and and say look if you automate these processes you can get your call center back to the original size it was two years ago. And you can get your AP department back to the original size it was two years ago. So it’s definitely effective to essentially tell them their pain.
Speaker 2: 09:59 Which is part of the challenger sales model, right?
Jon Gilman: 10:01 Right.
Speaker 2: 10:03 Briefly if somebody is listening isn’t familiar with the challenger sales model. Can you outline it at just a bullet point level?
Jon Gilman: 10:10 Yeah, so it’s really about educating the customer on something they hadn’t thought of before. So essentially you’re telling them they have this problem and you’re giving them a unique perspective on why that problem exists. And educating them on how they can overcome it. And then kind of right at the end, say oh, by the way, we happen to be a vendor that can help you overcome that hurdle.
Jon Gilman: 10:31 We’ve really embraced that model. It’s very effective with our target audience which is essentially the C-suite.
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Speaker 2: 11:16 A lot of … and I don’t think I’ve asked you this before, you’re going in and providing web interfaces to what I’m assuming are mostly legacy platforms? Where there’s still a lot of desktop installs or remote interfacing into servers, or are you just providing more efficient web interfaces into things that might already have just poorly designed web interfaces.
Jon Gilman: 11:39 Most of it is desktop software, so you know, SAP software has a window’s GUI, and JAVA GUI that people use to transact really common things. Like I said, creating a customer, creating a customer order. And we essentially eliminate the need for that user interface. We become the user interface where people transact business and then we automate all the complicated clunky things that they used to have to do in their native user interface.
Speaker 2: 12:07 So as you fast forward, and look out into the future, one would assume that a lot of those platforms are going to start to develop more contemporary web interfaces, right? They are going to move to the cloud and … one would think and start to get better design. One, do you agree with that? Do you think that’s coming in the next five to 10 years? And two, if it is, how do you think you continue to differentiate in that world?
Jon Gilman: 12:32 Oracle and SAP and the big guys have been promising that for 40 years, and it hasn’t happened. So instead what’s end up happening is that they’ve both released DIY platforms. Actually, SAP’s had probably 20 or 30 DIY platforms over the last few decades. And Oracle has a new platform called Apex, or Hey design your own user interface. You know, as a CFO, or even a CIO, you’re looking at that and saying, “Wait a second. I just spent 300 million dollars to implement this platform, and now you’re telling me I need to build my own user interface on top of it? So what value are you providing me? You’re just basically a database that I have to build a user interface around.”
Speaker 2: 13:12 Right.
Jon Gilman: 13:12 So, I think there are some fanboys out there who are going to say, “Well we’re just going to stick with SAP, we’re going to stick with Oracle. And eventually they will fix the problem.”
Jon Gilman: 13:19 That’s not who we want to target. We want to target the people who say, “You know what? I’m fed up with this crap. I’ve spent hundreds of millions of dollars with these vendors and gotten nowhere. And they continue to promise things and they don’t deliver.” That’s who we want to target. The innovative people who are saying, “all right, let’s do something new, something that’s platform independent so that if I kind of get locked in with SAP or get locked in with Oracle, I can use Clear to possibly move away from that ERP platform.”
Jon Gilman: 13:47 We have a great use case where that actually happened. One of our customers, Seventy Seven Energy was running SAP. We put our UI on top of their SAP system and automated a lot of their sales processes. They got bought by Patterson UTI. Patterson UTI was an Oracle EBS shop. We literally left the same business process and same user interface in place unplugged SAP, plugged in Oracle EDS, and nothing changed for the business users. So it was pretty incredible. I mean, their CIO loves it because he’s like, “I’m no longer have vendor lock in.
Speaker 2: 14:18 Yeah, that’s awesome.
Jon Gilman: 14:19 I have the ability to switch out ERP platforms if I’m getting hosed by Oracle, for example.
Speaker 2: 14:25 Have any of your customers come to you and said, “Hey we need this new thing that we don’t have today.” Whether that’s a module in SAP, or a whole different system? Do they start to look to you as the expert to say, okay, what’s the right system we should plug in, because you’ve done this, in theory, you’ve done this more than they have. Right? Because they are in one business. You are potentially in, you know, hundreds of clients. Have any of those conversations happened? Where they are coming to you and saying, “hey look, we need to do this new thing. You guys have done this conceive across five systems. Which one’s the best for us to use?”
Jon Gilman: 14:59 Absolutely. So we’ll help them look at a few different vendors for a specific business process. But then we also position ourselves as a possible vendor. So we have our own ERP backend that we’ve been building for several years for things like sales and procurement and finance. So ultimately what we want to do is be your trusted partner for streamlining your business processes, but then say, oh by the way, if you don’t want to go out and spend three million dollars on a procurement platform, we already have that built in to our ecosystem. So you can use us. So ultimately long term where we want to go is we want to become a cloud based ERP vendor that’s way more cost effective, that’s way more intuitive, and then we’ll take on the big guys.
Speaker 2: 15:43 So play that out. Paint that picture. Eight years from now, what does Clear look like?
Jon Gilman: 15:48 a couple thousand employees. Still headquartered in Zionsville, but we’ll probably need to have a bigger building than we’re in now. But, yeah. Just a great workforce, you know, a great partner in Indianapolis contributing to the community. We’re big into conscious capitalism, so Indy just opened a chapter last year. We’re pretty involved with that. But we just want to be a good corporate steward, and help grow the Indy tech scene.
Speaker 2: 16:13 And then product wise? What do you think it looks like eight years from now?
Jon Gilman: 16:16 We’re definitely getting more into artificial intelligence. AI is really hot right now in the enterprise. People are talking about it. But nobody is doing it. It’s kind of like blockchains. People go to blockchain conferences and they are like, “Oh, blockchains’ so cool.” “Are you doing it?” “No, but I think somebody else is doing it.” Nobody’s actually doing it.
Speaker 2: 16:34 Right.
Jon Gilman: 16:34 Same thing with AI. You can’t use artificial intelligence until you’ve fixed your broken business processes. You can’t put AI on top of something that’s broken.
Speaker 2: 16:46 My partner Michael, has a thing that he says which is, “You can’t have artificial intelligence until you first have intelligence.”
Jon Gilman: 16:51 Exactly.
Speaker 2: 16:52 Pretty much what you just said.
Jon Gilman: 16:54 Yeah, so we’re coming and helping you fix your broken business processes, but over time, we have intelligent automation built in that can say we see your users click between these two tabs almost 300,000 times a day. It would make sense for your user interface to adapt and reduce those clicks. So that they are even more efficient. On the user interface side we’re using artificial intelligence to either automate or semi-automate the changing of fields and clicks to reduce the amount of time it takes people to execute a process. And then on the back end, in terms of API integration, you know, what we are doing is looking at very commonly automated processes and figuring out better ways to streamline them across systems so that our customers can receive recommendation on how they should be fine tuning some of the their processes.
Speaker 2: 17:46 Do you ever foresee a future where the platform is doing any sort of industry comparisons for the user? So like, where the platform is coming potentially saying stuff like, well you know you’re paying 5% more than your peers in shipping costs. Or whatever the thing maybe. Where you have a large enough customer segment within an industry, you can start to see trends whether geographically or you know whatever the case may be. And being able to report that back?
Jon Gilman: 18:18 Yep. Yeah, so we do a little bit of that today. With one of our customers that has probably 100 retail branches across the country. They have regional managers that will approve purchase orders. And we’ll see that one branch ordered 12 paper towel rolls, and another ordered maybe four, another branch ordered 16. We can provide real time recommendations to that regional manager that says, “Look if you just bought just a larger amount of paper towels, you would save this much money. And you would save this much on shipping.” Just kind of recommendations that make people smarter in their spending. That we are already doing today, which I think we can build upon with Ai and really show companies how they can be smarter in how they buy and how they sell.
Speaker 2: 19:03 When you look at the market of potential competitors today, who do you see that is that kind of forward thinking? Whether it’s on the artificial intelligence side, or strategically leveraging data, or really pushing heavy into the cloud. Who’s on your radar that is that kind of company that is one that you’ll be watching in the next few years?
Jon Gilman: 19:24 People ask me this a lot, and I always answer Amazon. So, a lot of people say, “Isn’t SAP doing some AI, isn’t Oracle doing some AI?” They say they are doing it, but they are not. It’s just marketing BS.
Jon Gilman: 19:36 But what keeps me up at night is Amazon. They have all the tools, I mean, we run on Amazon. They have all the tools to do what we do, and they have obviously deeper pockets and more employees to make that happen, so that’s one space that they have not dipped their toes in yet. Amazon dominates so many industries, but the business software industry is a trillion dollar a year industry. And they are not even in it. I mean, they’re … from an infrastructure perspective they are in it. But they could absolutely crush SAP and crush SalesForce, and crush Oracle eBiz, if they wanted to. They just haven’t yet.
Speaker 2: 20:13 I’ve heard Amazon mentioned a lot of times on this podcast, never in that context. That’s cool.
Jon Gilman: 20:19 Yeah.
Speaker 2: 20:19 Interesting. Okay. Any other interesting industry trends that you’re watching maybe outside of ERP in general, but other things that are on your radar for opportunities for Clear in the future?
Jon Gilman: 20:32 Yeah, so we play in this space called robotic processing automation. Which is a really hot topic right now. That a lot of executives at big companies are looking at. And essentially the big players in RPA space are companies like Automation Anywhere and Blue Prism. Essentially they are screen scraping tools that kind of click through a user interface and automate a lot of the redundant tasks. That’s exactly what Clear Process, our integration hub is doing with ERP systems. So we accidentally discovered last year, through an interview with Forester. So Forester is actually including us in their new wave for robotic processing automation as a leader, I believe. So that’s kind of a cool thing.
Speaker 2: 21:15 That’s a really cool thing.
Jon Gilman: 21:17 But we sort of accidentally discovered that we were an RPA tool and really started to use that in our messaging, and it’s been really effective. Especially with CFO’s and people on the finance side because they are going to these conferences and people are saying, “You’ve gotta do RPA.” And they are like, “I don’t know what that is.”
Jon Gilman: 21:33 So we actually had a call with a CFO this week, and he’s like, “Everyone’s telling me I need to do RPA, but I don’t know what it is. So can you tell me what it is?” And we essentially say, in the simplest terms, it’s taking the robot out of the human. If the human has to click all through these different tabs and enter redundant data fields or fields that they don’t know why they have to enter them, we take that out of their daily jobs. And automate it. That’s essentially what RPA is, is automating a lot of the tedious crap that people shouldn’t be doing.
Speaker 2: 22:03 Yeah. That’s awesome. All right, if folks want to learn more about Clear, of if they want to get a hold of you to ask you a question, how do they do that?
Jon Gilman: 22:11 They can go to clearsoftware.com and then my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Speaker 2: 22:18 Awesome, man. Thank you so much.
Jon Gilman: 22:19 Cool. Thank you.
Speaker 1: 22:26 If you’re thinking of launching a [SAS 00:22:27] product, Startup Competitors can provide data on your closest competitors, survey potential users, or provide other product validation services. Learn more at Startupcompetitors.com.