Jan 8, 2020
One of the more exciting young companies on the block is SauceCode, which is already shaking up the workplace market with its Tistro remote monitoring solution, and will soon start making waves with its forward-thinking developments in robotic process automation and artificial intelligence (AI) as well.
Kathy Gibson spent some time with founders Graham Fry and Brian Little to find out how the company came about and where it plans to go
Innovation is usually disruptive – but so often that’s what creates something special.
This is exactly what happened when a group of colleagues wanted to create radical new IT solutions for the industry they worked in, but their ideas were rejected as too disruptive.
Graham Fry, Brian Little and Barry Buck didn’t remain disappointed for long, though: they were convinced their ideas had merit so they struck out on their own to develop them into marketable products.
“We had a bunch of developers who were keen to get out there and do something,” says SauceCode MD Graham Fry. “There were people who were frustrated about working for people who couldn’t understand them or their vision.
“So when I decided I wanted to go on my own, they wanted to come with me.”
One thing all the people working at SauceCode share is their desire to create lasting value, Fry adds.
“What we were doing before was repetitious and of transient value. But developers want to create things that have an impact. They want to take pride in what they do.
“The type of developers that have been drawn to us are they guys who want to do that, to make a difference.”
Co-founder Brian Little reminisces: “There was a core of developers very keen on building their own stuff, who had a vision of the future world.
“These people are great developers who don’t want to be slaves to the system.
“I’d go so far as saying they are all mavericks – as we are. There probably isn’t a single person at SauceCode who isn’t a complete maverick. None of us fits comfortably into the corporate mold.
“We wanted to create our own version of the world, and be free to do it our way.”
While this sounds like a lot of fun – and it is, Little says – there is no compromising on quality and the SauceCode developers are sticklers for perfection.
Striking out on your own is a bold move, and can be extremely difficult – which is why so few people start new ventures, or survive if they do.
“It has not been an easy or a quick journey,” Fry points out. “The first product, Tistro, has been developed over five years and has taken an investment of about R20-million.
The first three years went into developing a backbone system that is the platform on which Tistro and other products in the pipeline are built.
“When we started out, we were naïve about what we were going to do, and how we were going to do it,” says Little.
“But the fact is, not many people have experience in developing and taking to market an enterprise commercial product without significant financial backing.”
As a self-funded company, the SauceCode team took in third-party work and contracts to bring in the income that would allow development to continue.
“We defined a product set and over time were able to drop a lot of the other work,” Fry says.
One of the biggest problems in the early days was doing outside work that was poorly paid – and sometimes people didn’t pay at all, says Little.
Letting customers go is hard for a small company, but eventually SauceCode realised that its own product development was being pushed to the back-burner while energy was being spent of difficult customers.
“Letting these customers go was when we really started focusing as a company, and started building Tistro properly,” Little says.
Thankfully, not all customers are bad payers, and SauceCode was fortunate to have customers who were truly supportive as well; and companies were keen to let them test new code on their own systems.
“Because of these customers and beta testers, although Tistro is built from the ground up, it’s been designed as an enterprise product,” Fry explains. “We have since scaled is to be used in small companies or departments as well, but it has all the characteristics and robustness of an enterprise system.”
Tistro was initially envisaged as a product that would help businesses assess their productivity.
“Over time, and after crunching some numbers, we came up with the algorithms that allowed us to convert productivity into efficiency measures,” Fry saus.
“What we’ve built is a product that allows companies to address the issue of real efficiency, and to improve it.”
Importantly, Tistro approached the ticklish issues of efficiency and productivity in a sensitive way that is beneficial for both staff and companies.
“We haven’t seen anything on the market that does what Tistro does,” Fry says. “Most of the products you will find out there use a big-stick approach to employee activity.
“Instead, we focus on a win-win approach: the company gets better efficiency from its staff; and the individuals get a host of benefits as well.”
In the beginning, the focus for Tistro – like other solutions – was on analysing productivity. “But we quickly realised that productivity and efficiency have very little to do with each other,” Fry explains.
“We realised we needed to granularise the product and start addressing the factors that affect people’s productivity.”
He cites the example of how a company could deal with the issue of employees taking too many smoke breaks. “You could eliminate smoke breaks – which is what most companies do, and which probably won’t increase productivity – or you could move smokers’ work closer to the smoking area. This would increase their efficiency and therefore increase productivity.”
Little adds: “Now extend that example to every aspect of business life and you can dramatically increase productivity. You don’t have to employ draconian methods in management if you just do it properly.”
Tistro makes measuring productivity and efficiency simple for users – but the system itself is pretty complex.
Rather than building a behemoth that would be difficult to deploy and complicated to upgrade, SauceCode decided to build a modular backbone that would allow for containerised development.
“Way back when we realised that a massive problem in our lives was that we were rebuilding the same things over and over as we deployed to new customers or when we made small changes,” says Fry.
“So we came up with the concept of a backbone that would allow us to plug in components, and Barry built ZeroOne, a plant that we could use for everything.”
ZeroOne handles all integration and is agnostic of language, so different developers can use the systems they prefer and simply plug their components into the backbone.
“The concept was to have something like a lego board, with the lego pieces being the modular systems of components that make up the system.”
Having the platform means future products can be added with relative ease, Fry adds.
“Once we had ZeroOne, we build Tistro, and then we developed NovaBot. They all use elements of one another.”
He explains that NovaBot is a robotic process automation product. “To be able to automate tasks you need to know what people are doing and how they do it. Because we already have Tistro, which monitors people, we can use that engine for NovaBot.
“So, for Novabot, we took the plug-ins we needed and it was already halfway developed.”
NovaBot has been developed and it being productised now. It will allow businesses to automate workflows, and the integration between workflows.
A key part of the product is Computer Vision, which can identify where information is even if the document format is not familiar.
NovaBot is a self-learning tool that learns from what people have done in similar situations. If it comes up against a problem it cannot solve, it hands off to people – and learns further from how they handle the exceptions.
NovaBot will be commercially available early in 2020.
Developing products was the first hurdle for SauceCode. The area where many developers stumble is getting their products to market.
“Once we had Tistro ready as a product, our next step was deciding how to take it to market,” Little says.
“The product stands unique – we have not found a competitor worldwide – so we decided to use a two-tier model where we take it to market through resellers.”
SauceCode has brought channel development people on board in Johannesburg and Cape Town and has made a good start on setting up its channel structure.
“This is a great opportunity for the channel,” Little says. “It’s a unique product that offers customers real measurable value.”
Having beta-tested the system on their own company, SauceCode found the evidence for remote working so compelling that it shut its own offices down.
“We all work remotely, even the new people,” Fry explains.
Using Tistro, he is able to ensure the staff are working efficiently, and immediately identify any problem areas.
Team-building is important, so regular video calls are standard practice.
“Staff members need to feel they are part of something. Even when they work at home they need to feel it’s a real business, so you need to have a strong business culture,” Little points out.
“Everyone is talking about working from home, and it’s something we all need to learn to do. It’s not as easy as it sounds, but monitored and managed properly it can increase efficiency and productivity.”
Saucecode is a software development and innovation company that employs cutting-edge technologies including robotics to create business applications and products that deploy into a variety of industries.
Software applications are based on Saucecode’s intellectual property (IP) and available under license for general market consumption.
The company addresses a number of areas of development: Internet of Things (IoT); Web development; web and native app development; e-commerce; distributed software and API development; user experience (UX); artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics.
Tistro is a general business software application that delivers the ability to measure, monitor and manage time and productivity, helping business to truly understand the productivity and behavior within their user base in order to monitor, manage, enhance and even automate time and productivity outputs.
The application will improve user performance, aid in user appraisals and assist in optimising user work methods and training. It will also allow an organisation to manage employee’s wellbeing through identifying work life imbalances.
Tistro allows line management and human resources departments to review users work performance and work loading on an ongoing basis to establish any behavior anomalies that could affect productivity. The application’s main benefit to any business is that it saves thousands of man hours by optimizing the performance management process and having the full control of project time and budget utilization.
Learn more about Saucecode at www.saucecode.tech.