GROW@Green Park started as a three-month pop-up coworking space, initially part of a ConnectTVT marketing campaign to raise the profile of tech and digital companies in the Thames Valley.
Three years later GROW is still here, providing a base and community for a variety of businesses to flourish regardless of industry or size; from freelancers and start-ups to scale-ups and regional teams, the diversity of the community is part of its strength.
Several of our resident companies have scaled significantly over the last three years, so we thought we would bring you their stories and the show the importance co-working spaces like GROW, play in their development. We caught up with Mat Rule, CEO and co-founder of Tocabot.
How did you start Tocabot - and why?
Tocabot has been an evolution; our journey started in May ’15 with a physical robotics platform to control touchable devices, aligning with customers’ demands. We had interest and demonstrated our product but were unable to convert demos into sales. We also couldn’t secure funding as there was no precedent for what we were doing.
I self-funded investigation into this space through a technical consulting firm I setup May 2015 and it was tough operating as a bootstrap start-up.
We realized even if we had been able to raise funds (we needed around £1 million), it would have been an uphill battle as we struggled to really find a sustainable market demand.
But by designing and demonstrating the robot platform, we engaged with customers and learned their pain points.
The software for the physical robot platform was cloud based, with a drag and drop interface; customers saw it and explained their issues to us - inefficient repetitive tasks that they had not been able to automate due to the cost and feasibility of integrating existing automation tools. We realized that in applying our software programming to solving physical tasks, we had built a highly versatile platform for automating processes. Our mission changed to become the most advanced intelligent automation platform in the industry.
I’ve worked in automation for around 15 years, during which time I was always driven to set up my own business; but it’s not a thought exercise and there’s no magic formula, you just have to do it!
How does Tocabot compare with other players in Artificial Intelligence and Robotic Process Automation? What’s different?
The Robotic Process Automation (“RPA”) industry is rapidly growing and while RPA is our current bread and butter, our vision will take us further on a journey of providing our clients with enhanced operational efficiencies. Tocabot is building the most advanced intelligent automation platform, providing truly cognitive ‘virtual workers’ for business.
Today’s automated systems require heavy programming; the objective needs to be clearly set and systems and processes must be broken down to granular level. They are not cognitive in a human sense, so where a regular business process takes an unexpected path, the tools of today have limited ways to handle this.
We are building an intelligent automation platform – no rules, no prescription how it should be implemented. Tocabot can be used straight from the box, is platform agnostic, highly extensible and scalable.
We are also one of the first SaaS based RPA systems available, which means management of both workflow and activities in the cloud. Alternatively, Tocabot can be hosted on-premise.
How do users access automated functions in Tocabot?
There is our main product Tocabot, and this is complimented by two add-ons, TocaNODL and TocaAI.
Tocabot is our key offering to construct workflows and automate systems intelligently. It allows you to build high-level workflows, control systems and applications as your users interact with them. You can also automate services and APIs.
TocaNODL is our UI design tool which provides an intuitive interface, so you can build powerful web-based applications that can interact with the Tocabot workflows. It means regular users in your business can kick off automated flows or business processes without having to mess with the valuable automation flows setup in Tocabot.
TocaAI is a hardware platform, built using NVIDIA’s GPU technology. It brings the power of AI to Tocabot and allows customers to build and train AI algorithms that are bespoke to their organisation.
All our products make the process of automation powerful and accessible so that individuals can utilise the intelligent automation platform to work as part of the team. We think of its integration as being part of a ‘Human Machine Team’.
What does AI mean for the future of Industry and the workforce. Are the robots really coming?
We look at history. In the 1977 BBC Horizon ‘Now the chips are down’, Heads of Industry and Government were predicting a 3-day working week by 1985 – a slight over-reaction to new technology. Fear of new technology is a story that has been repeated throughout history. We should always be cautious and conscious of the impact of our actions, however I don’t see the current AI technology removing employment but rather a revolution in how humans use technology and the kinds of work that we do.
Imagine a customer contact centre with a large employee turnover rate because of the repetitive nature of many of the tasks. This is feeding the machine but not serving customers; quick turnaround metrics impact on the quality of customer service.
Intelligent automated processes will support the team to work faster. Unshackled, agents can apply creativity to more important tasks and are free to engage more meaningfully with the customer.
There are always multiple dimensions to a role which can be improved or developed when repetitive tasks are automated. As AI develops then more areas of a role will be able to be automated, unleashing people to work on what they do best; human intelligence and creativity.
Tocabot has been accepted onto the Nvidia Inception Programme? Tell us more…
We are so excited to be a part of the Inception programme. NVIDIA’s support will accelerate development of our most advanced detection functionalities for our partners and their users.
Inception is a virtual accelerator programme, helping startups during critical stages of product development, prototyping and deployment. Every programme member gets a custom set of ongoing benefits, from hardware grants and marketing support to training with deep learning experts (more details about NVIDIA’s Inception programme can be found here).
You’ve raised funding! How did that happen?
Investor appetite in this arena is accelerating following notable success both in raising capital and in commercial application so we are in a ‘hot’ space. Having said that, raising capital for early stage businesses remains challenging. While there are an increasing number of investors focused on UK tech, navigating this arena is very time consuming; the amount of capital available is healthy but there is increasing competition for funding as the barriers to software development have lowered.
I have been lucky to attract Marc Young to join the Company as Chairman, he has a background in advising and raising capital for growth software companies (he leads Prefcap, a technology investor focused on growing B2B software companies) and had an existing knowledge and interest in the RPA sector. He has helped me to attract a high-quality group of experienced technology investors to give us a nice runway of development capital. Having successfully raised capital, Barclays have invited us to join their high growth platform.
Now you’ve secured funding, what’s next?
From August we will be expanding. We have customers waiting and an unanswered demand. We’ve pushed on doors and the doors are opening.
Tocabot now needs to attract further high-quality team members to deliver the customer outcomes and satisfaction rates we will demand.
The applicants we are looking for are driven, high-growth oriented people, who may not have specific RPA experience but love technology and what they do! We will augment our team with professionals with large company process knowledge and experience, as understanding our customers' problems will be key to everything we do. Aspiring developers, programmers and business analysts, get in touch!
We are not focused on degrees, we would also consider a well maintained Github account, demonstrating own work.
The market is moving quickly, so we can’t afford to be complacent.Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
You’ve had an amazing journey, what role has GROW played in Tocabot’s story?
When we started Tocabot I looked for flexible offices, but it was a big investment. GROW has a half day minimum payment, you come in and just get started. You don’t have to apply or be a certain type of business.
The office space isn’t the only thing, that’s about 20 percent; it’s the community and cross pollination of completely different businesses, all at different levels, which adds so much value. People have a place to try ideas and learn from each other. Start-ups are often isolated in a room on their own, which can be very hard.
GROW is like a greenhouse of ideas and when you’re in that environment, with other start-ups doing well, it provides that spark; if they can do it, you can do it. It raises the bar.
There is a focus for government funding and support to be directed at scale-ups but GROW has also been highly effective (run on a not-for-profit, private basis) helping grass-roots start-ups, championing the local economy. It is non-prejudiced, low cost and flexible.
Connections made at GROW have been extremely beneficial; through associations at GROW, Tocabot was included in ConnectTVT’s ‘50 Game Changers’ initiative and as a result we were invited to Windsor Castle. The invitation was a platform to get on the radar of a number of organizations.
Being part of Nvidia Inception and 50 Game Changers has made a significant difference raising our profile and lends credibility to Tocabot.
GROW also hosted several events and meetups including Startup Grind, which were great ways to meet other types of people; CTOs, investors and start-ups at different stages.
GROW comes with these combinations of unspecified benefits which is a foreign world to corporate environments. It’s a better experience, but hard to explain.
As we move forward we will need fast access to London, so will also work from Reading town centre, but we don’t want to lose touch with the amazing GROW community. We will definitely keep a desk here.