ProcureTechSTARS with Julian Harris, CEO and co-founder of Robobai, an AI-powered platform enabling companies to gain a better understanding of their supplier spend.
During the conversation, Julian shared his thoughts on automated data wrangling, innovative customers, turning dirty data into gold, the ‘24-month runway’ and the 1% pledge.
1. What’s Robobai’s mission?
Robobai‘s mission is to help organisations buy better. On top of becoming more efficient around spend and cost control for procurement, we also help companies identify the most efficient payment rails, and access critical data such as diversity of suppliers, risk compliance, ESG, cashflow and DPO.
Furthermore, we’re invested in helping companies manage future supply chain risks such as Scope 3 Emissions, Modern Slavery and Cybersecurity.
“By buying better, we don’t just mean saving money.
It is a whole gamut from savings to cashflow management to risk and compliance.”
There have been several players that are in the spend analytics space. A lot of them do the work manually, which means, for the end client, that the work is slow and can sometimes be inaccurate. We have built a sophisticated AI classification engine that cleans and classifies data out of the ERP, and then the platform automatically generates rich visual insights for our clients.
“It’s the data cleansing and accurate classification in our AI engine that’s our sweet spot.”
Typically, from getting the extract data from the client, it takes us a week to launch our Spend Visibility dashboards. We’ve got it down to a simple and fast process compared to other players in the market, who could take three months to do that job.
“Once you’ve got everyone’s spend data classified and clean, producing the insights is almost the easy part.
The tricky bit is the automated data wrangling; turning dirty data into gold. That’s the tough bit which we think we’ve got cracked.”
2. What have been the most significant milestones in the Robobai journey so far?
Robobai started in 2017 in the procurement space which is where most of the team have a wealth of experience.
“Five years ago, Robobai was all about procurement savings,
but we realised on the journey that we could add more value to other disciplines within the organisation.”
More recently, Robobai have moved into Treasury, Risk and ESG.
From a functional perspective, decisions are based on customer experience and feedback as to how we can support procurement and finance teams to increase time to value on a daily basis. A core aspect of any platform evolution is delivering on our ultimate goal to shift overall supply chain spend to support an ethical and sustainable future.
From a company point of view, one of the biggest milestones was that, despite being a start-up back in 2017, we closed big deals with clients like Coca Cola in Atlanta, Walmart in the Bentonville and Telstra in Australia.
Additionally, we raised money through one of the big VCs in Australia in June 2020, which was in the middle of COVID. We had to do our pitch via Zoom, which was interesting. More recently, we’ve signed significant partnerships in the US that will allow us to do business in Europe as well, which is a nice progression for us.
3. What do you look for in the perfect customer?
Fundamentally, the perfect customer one who pays us on time!
Traditionally, we’ve worked at the ‘top end of town’. We conducted business with Coca Cola across 100 different countries, with Victoria Government in Australia with $20bn or $30bn in spend a year, and with clients like Downer who had 16 different ERPs across all their business divisions. Interestingly, we’ve got channel partnerships that are bringing us some smaller clients. We also found that we’re adding value to companies with <50 million in spend, which was a pleasant surprise to me.
The type of clients we like to work with are innovative and collaborate with us to evolve the platform for mutual future benefit to organisations and suppliers.
“Some of our best ideas, quite frankly, have come from our more innovative customers.
Their suggestions and collaboration as a whole have resulted in some cool innovation.”
4. What are the foundations of a great team?
In Robobai, we look for complementary skills and diversity of thought. Moreover, I particularly look for people with a can-do attitude.
“Especially in a lean start-up, I’m not interested in people that can tell me why I can’t do something.
I’m interested in people that can tell me how I can get things done.”
5. As we emerge from COVID what will you be doing differently?
We do very little different now, compared to how we worked before COVID.
“We’ve always been a virtual ‘work from anywhere’ business.
Since we didn’t have offices for the first three years of operation, we worked from a variety of locations as needed.”
Our team in Australia have always been working from anywhere. However, we have a permanent office in Pune, India as well. This team tended to be in the office three to four days a week, so they saw a big change after COVID.
We work from anywhere, and across global time zones as well. From Australia, we’re often calling the US very early in the morning.
6. What is the vision for Robobai in the future?
Keep doing what we’re doing!
“We’re growing well, and we’re sitting on half a trillion dollar spend dataset at the moment, after only five years.
We are building big data repositories of global spend!”
We want to keep innovating. Once organisations have all that spend and supplier information, the insights you can provide are infinite.
“Two or three years ago, I had never thought about analysing scope 3 emissions in the supply chain.
We’ve got into this just by continuously innovating, adding insights and building out the product.
Personally, I’ve got a big passion for diversity and ESG type insights, and I’m pleased we’ve moved into that.”
Our vision is to also scale sales. Setting up multiple Sales channels are critical for Robobai’s growth.
We’ve currently raised enough cash, which is a good thing because most people in tech funds say that if you don’t have a 24-month runway, you’re in trouble. Whether it’s luck or judgement or a bit of both, we’ve locked in a decent cash runway.
We’re building a lot of good channel sales, which has taken us into new geo-regions.
There are a couple of channel partnerships we’re currently talking about in the US and the UK which will scale our growth. The classification engine is working well, which means that we don’t have to invest a lot more in classification right now, but you always need money to build out more insights, and to keep developing and innovating on the product.
7. How are you doing good for the planet?
In the platform, both in Australia and globally, we provide an array of benefits: analysis of suppliers, carbon emissions in supply chain, modern slavery, diversity of the supply base, cybersecurity and risk adverse media.
As a group, we support a lot of charities. We donate the use of our platform for free. This enables them to run their organisations more efficiently and optimise the support they can provide to their community.
We recently did a joint project with Microsoft for the Starlight Charity, which looks after unwell children in hospitals. This was led by our friends at Microsoft who wanted us to do the job because they know we will effectively provide the platform for free.
A while ago, we signed up to the 1% pledge, which is all about giving back. So that’s been a great initiative for us!
“Any charities of any size, who want to use the platform, we will provide for them for free, as it’s important for us that we give back! We’ve worked with several charities to date and are keen to do more.”
INSTANT JULIAN INSPIRATION
1. What is your favourite book or blog?
On another note, I listen to a lot of blogs. One of my favourites is the World Business Report by the BBC.
2. Who is your favourite inspirational leader?
That’s got to be Elon Musk, mainly because he tackles such big problems, from flying to Mars, to the Solar City side project and dominating the electric car industry.
“I just love the size of the problems that he wants to fix.”
3. What is your favourite app or piece of technology?
Spotify, because that’s where I listen to a lot of podcasts and music, and both are available on one platform.
4. What is your favourite cocktail?
A Long Island Iced Tea.
It’s just because I am used to dealing with procurement people, and that drink is good value for money!
5. What’s your favourite way to celebrate a success?
Going out with the team, having some champagne and saying thank you!
1. The hardest process is turning dirty data into gold – insights that deliver business wide results
2. Innovative customers share the best ideas.
3. The perfect customer pays on time, innovates and collaborates.
4. Complementary skills, diversity of thoughts and a can-do attitude are the foundation of a great team.
5. If you don’t have a 24-month funding runway, you could be in trouble!
6. Be socially responsible and make donating part of your company’s DNA.
7. Surround yourself with people who want to get things done.
Robobai is a global leader in procurement and supply chain transformation committed to helping organisations make great purchasing decisions. Its easy-to-use platform enables you to gain a better understanding of your supplier spend, identify potential business risks in your supply chain and be clear about the ethical implications of the decisions you’re making. Its AI powered classification capability categorises your ‘dirty data’, allows you to interrogate your data to transaction level and gives you the insights you need – fast! Know More. Buy Better.
Our industry is moving forward faster and faster, empowered by innovative, progressive digital procurement solutions created and led by inspiring teams. ProcureTechSTARS are the digital procurement company CEOs and Founders that are leading the change, they are entrepreneurs, engineers and architects collaborating to transform procurement and the enterprise. In an open conversation with these leaders Lance Younger will be discussing the highs and lows of building the future now, the challenges they’ve faced, their perspective on accelerators and hot topics, and what keeps getting them up in the morning (and keeps them up at night).