Many of today’s corporations are growing so fast that both new and established employees struggle to keep up with operational complexities and demands. In customer care this has adverse effects on day-to-day operations; call times suffer, customer frustrations grow, and revenue is lost. Onboarding employees also becomes a drain as training programs take weeks getting new hires up to speed.
One Canadian startup aims to solve those issues by empowering employees via its cloud software solution, ProcedureFlow. A new technology spun out of New Brunswick’s Innovatia, ProcedureFlow uses hyperlinked flowcharts to make employees experts in their company’s operations.
CEO Daniella DeGrace is a veteran of Atlantic Canada’s technology sector, having been part of two of the region’s more notable acquisitions. Opportunities NB (ONB) spoke with Daniella to learn more about her new company, and to get a few thoughts on entrepreneurship.
ONB: Can you give us an explanation of ProcedureFlow?
DeGrace: We are a cloud-based knowledge management software that helps employees become experts faster. Unlike static documents and knowledgebase articles, ProcedureFlow is a visual map that easily guides employees through your most complex information, while integrating with your current business systems.
Imagine taking your most productive employees, your Subject Matter Experts, and mapping how they work — embedding their rock star magic into your Standard Operating Procedures. You then use ProcedureFlow, and your newly optimized process, to train and onboard new employees; and use this single source of truth to guide all employees’ day-to-day operations. The net result is an organization that is synchronized and operating in the most efficient way.
ProcedureFlow customers have been able to decrease training time by over 75 percent, and reduce the time it takes for new employees to become proficient by 50 percent, resulting in higher customer satisfaction.
ONB: The contact centre industry is your primary target market then?
DeGrace: Yes, it made sense to start there since our product was incubated and proven in that industry via Innovatia’s expertise and customer’s use — it was our own version of a living lab during the incubation period. Our contact centre customers are benefiting from a clear ROI from day one. It’s pretty amazing for a startup to have such a clear customer ROI within their first months of operation.
In addition to the contact centre, we have other opportunities. Processes are used everywhere in a company, from HR to finance, to sales, to product development. From guiding the deployment of complex business systems, to becoming the single source of truth across a company, to standardizing process in development shops, our customers are accomplishing a variety of business goals.
ONB: You were recently nominated for a KIRA award as part of Innovation Week. Congratulations!
DeGrace: Thank you. We were thrilled to be nominated for Most Promising Startup. This innovation event gives local startups amazing visibility opportunity. Our local market in the Maritimes is very important to us especially considering the success New Brunswick has had bringing major contact centre business to our province.
ONB: During Innovation Week you participated in a panel centered on the topic of going from startup to scale-up. Can you discuss talking points from that panel?
DeGrace: It’s always a pleasure to share a discussion with David Baxter from Fiddlehead and Yves Boudreau from Alongside. We discussed the importance of understanding your markets and building a good sales team. I brought up marketing testing as a key focus. When you go from startup to scale you still don’t know exactly what your market priorities will be and where you’ll drive the most revenue. You need to do plenty of testing of markets to understand them, and make sure you’re focused on the right one. That includes your sales and lead generation strategy; don’t just pick one method to sell to your market and assume that’s the correct one. Try different channels in order to determine the best ways in.
I also advise founders not to be in a rush to hire. If it means taking time to find the right people, do so, because it’s going to set the foundation for your culture.
Finally, I spoke about the importance of having a board of directors. Having a board in place forces you to have a plan, and to work that plan — a discipline that will pay off in the end. If you’ve selected the right board, its members will bring valuable knowledge to the table — from financial expertise to knowledge of where to get funding, sales advice, and subject matter knowledge provided you’ve included vertical experts. We are lucky to have individuals on our board that have made careers in the contact centre sector.
ONB: It feels like there is a lot of excitement around entrepreneurship here. Many attribute that to the acquisitions of two tech companies you were a part of, Q1 Labs (IBM) and Radian6 (Salesforce.com).
DeGrace: Those two exits were phenomenal New Brunswick success stories for sure, but I think the excitement goes back a little further for me; the seeds were planted with Gerry Pond and the NBTel LivingLAB program. If you look at people like me and my peers from iMagicTV, we have all been mentored in one way or another by Gerry and his contagious passion for innovation. From that first iMagicTV startup experience was spawned a team of eager-to-do-it-again entrepreneurs and spirited executives who are now planting additional seeds of their own for future startups. That’s how an ecosystem grows.
There’s been real change here in how we look at entrepreneurship. The ecosystem has changed along with it, for the better. Whether it’s organizations like the Pond Deshpande Centre, or ONB, the wealth of services and mentors at our disposal now is incredible. This is my fourth startup and I can’t tell you how encouraging it is to be able to get the type of support we receive now. That support system was not nearly as strong when I started.
The NBIF, one of our key investors, is another organization we are incredibly grateful for. They are part of our board, bringing financial expertise to our strategy development. Without their help we would not have been able to spin out of Innovatia.
ONB: You mentioned ONB; can you comment a bit on that relationship?
DeGrace: ONB has been very supportive. We’ve been lucky to have wonderful people assigned to us and I am encouraged by how aggressive our reps have been in helping us grow. Together we keep bringing the company outside our comfort zone. Your export development assistance will allow us to accelerate the speed at which we’ll get to market outside the province, particularly with our sales and marketing efforts.
ONB: You’re from New Brunswick, but have lived all over the world. What brought you back?
DeGrace: It’s all about the community and the people. All four startups I have worked with were based here, and I have been responsible for customer satisfaction at all of them. One consistent piece of feedback I have heard in every role is that our people are great to deal with. You frequently hear this region has friendly people. It’s cliché because it’s true; we take good care of our customers. We are very personable, and that’s deeply-rooted in who we are as New Brunswickers. I have lived in multiple countries so I feel I can say with confidence that this region is special in that regard.
ONB: With you having been part of so many successful startups we should get your best advice for up-and-coming entrepreneurs.
DeGrace: Surround yourself with the best people that are available—and that you can afford—at every stage of growth. Understand customer pain point(s) you’re trying to solve first. That sounds obvious but there are still those who come up with a cool product then try to figure out after the fact what problem it will solve. Just because you think it’s a great idea doesn’t mean anyone else will.
Don’t be afraid to fail. Of course, you want to succeed, but many people are still hesitant to take the risk and are held back by fear of failure. They think if they fail it will be a permanent black mark against them — it won’t. People respect those who try to make a go of it on their own. The trick is if you do fail, fail forward. Learn fast and adjust. Startups are hard work and not for the faint of heart, but the experience you gain from it is like nothing else.