OMERS Ventures
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OMERS Ventures

There’s a robot for that: how one company is making it easy to cut time spent on the boring stuff

Written by Laura Lenz, Partner, OMERS Ventures

The true sign of a maturing startup ecosystem is when we start to see successful second-time entrepreneurs building new businesses. The Canadian market is reaching a tipping point where larger exits are leading to the creation of a whole generation of entrepreneurs and early teams with the financial wherewithal and the hunger to do something even bigger and better than they’ve done before.

At OV we typically invest in Series A-C businesses and get particularly interested when we see a stellar founding team attacking a market with massive potential. For us, Wrk ticks both of those boxes, and I’m excited to tell you why.

Bringing ‘insanely simple’ automation to the masses

Wrk is defining a new category within the automation market, making automation accessible for all employees. By using human-assisted automation facilitated entirely by Wrk’s low-code platform, a business can start creating automated workflows without any technical expertise, simply by clicking a button and using drag-and-drop features.

Wrk’s technology enables you to build workflows that can leverage the very best of bots, API integrations, Robotic Process Automation (RPA), and a vast array of human skills, without any heavy technical lifting. In reality, this ‘workflow’ could be anything that can be broken down into a single, repetitive task, from generating an invoice in Quickbooks, to triggering a follow-up email with a prospect through Hubspot, deleting a duplicate file in Dropbox, adding a new team member to a group in Asana, or even something as basic as routinely exporting a Google sheet to Excel. And critically, Wrk’s solution automates a process without any change to underlying programming language.

Think about the mundane repetitive stuff you do every day, and chances are, a simple automated ‘wrkflow’ could do some of it for you. By breaking down a typical workflow into a handful of individual actions– almost like building a structure from compiling a series of Lego blocks with known properties — the user can basically build an automated solution themselves using pre-configured actions and a drag-and-drop interface. And most importantly, the user can change the workflow whenever the need arises without the need to call in expensive consultants or IT and al within compliant and secure frameworks.

What’s exciting about Wrk is that it has the potential to bring together the plethora of apps used by any particular employee on any given day, acting as an ‘orchestration layer’ that simply makes life more streamlined for the user.

The opportunity

The market for automation is massive. If you work in a business today, in just about any sector, and you find yourself clicking the same series of buttons repeatedly, you have a task that can be automated. But just because it can be done, doesn’t mean it necessarily should be done. It needs to make sense for your business and ultimately have a positive impact on the bottom line. It won’t take long, however, to see that automating the low-value, boring activities in any job frees up the employee to focus on the stuff that really matters, the higher-value, more productive work. And that’s good for business, but also for the employee.

In a market where talent is scarce, being able to say to a prospective candidate that you have a way to ensure they waste minimal time on the mundane grunt work that comes with any role will be music to most peoples’ ears.

The value proposition of RPA is now widely accepted; according to Deloitte’s Global RPA Survey 2020, RPA continues to meet and exceed expectations across multiple dimensions, including improved compliance (92%), improved quality/accuracy (90%), improved productivity (86%), and cost reduction (59%). According to the same survey, 78% of those who have already implemented RPA expect to increase investment in RPA over the next three years significantly. Gartner echoes a similar sentiment.

But this is not just about big business — and that’s precisely why we really like this business. I’m known as a metrics-focused investor, and one of my ‘favourites’ for a software business is revenue per employee. According to a relatively recent KeyBanc Capital Markets SaaS Survey, $139,000 is the median annual revenue per employee for businesses over $5M in ARR (annual recurring revenue). This drops precipitously to $71,000 for companies in the 25th percentile. It goes without saying that those companies with an automation first mindset will tend to look towards an automation solution first before adding headcount.

With the shortage of talent, businesses will need to compete on creative and important work, not the mundane tasks we all do that take up an hour of our day. We believe that, increasingly, companies of all sizes will have a dedicated executive focused on enabling automation across the business for all knowledge workers, not just high priority workflows, set annually in a strategic review process.

There is no doubt that there will be a winner in this space as automation continues to filter into mid-market businesses. And who better to take up that winning spot than a company founded by two people who’ve lived the pain of doing repeated manual tasks in the corporate world and know how to build a successful business at scale.

Which brings us to the team

When we say we invest in businesses for the right market and right founding team, it doesn’t get more compelling than the team at Wrk. Mohannand (Mo) El Barachi and David Li worked together previously at SweetIQ, which was acquired by Gannett in 2017.

They know what it takes to build a big business. They know how to execute on a vision. They also have the benefit of having worked for a big company and experienced first-hand the inefficiencies created by having smart people (at any level) spend at least some of their time doing mundane, repeatable work. That’s just the way the world of work today…works. Or, in Mo and David’s opinion, shouldn’t work.

Mo and David have a big vision. They are passionate about the idea that if we can remove the boring and monotony from everyday work, people will be happier and more fulfilled in their jobs. Everyone has work they have to do, but don’t necessarily want to do. And in today’s market, where talent shortages are a real and persistent factor, the remote work environment is making the landscape more competitive than ever, anything a company can do to make professional pursuit more fulfilling for employees is a competitive advantage.

On a personal note, I am also heartened by the team’s commitment to being inclusive and building diversity into the fabric of the business. I believe wholeheartedly that diverse businesses are better businesses, and this team is testament to all the data that suggests the same. That they have chosen to build this business in Canada, with ambitions for a game-changing company on a global scale makes me proud — not only as an investor, but as a Canadian.

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