askporter was selected this week to be one of Tech Nation’s “Applied AI 3.0,” an exclusive network of UK high-growth AI tech companies. It was also named one of Europe’s top 250 proptech companies. CEO Tom Strive sat down with LLT to give his thoughts on why the autonomous management of places, people and real assets is a business critical endeavour.
Three reasons you should be watching them
- Company: askporter
- What it does, in a sentence: Manage people, places & real assets autonomously with AI.
- Founded: January 2017 in London
- Founder/s: Tom Shrive & Sam Tassell
- Size of team: 27
- Your name and role: Tom Shrive, Founder & CEO
What problem are you trying to solve?
Managing places and real assets such as apartments, airports, and park benches is time consuming, high-risk and human resource intensive and not particularly rewarding. Our platform solves this, by helping our clients to manage these assets autonomously with AI.
We are helping enterprise clients and the public sector to free their employees from routine automatable tasks and focus on more rewarding activities that add real, human value.
How big is the market – and how much of it do you think you can own?
There are lots of things or assets in the world that need managing and looking after, from park benches, to Airports. In fact real estate is the biggest asset class in the world.
In a recent automation study, Mckinsey estimates that up to 30% of the hours worked globally may be automated by 2030 – this is a big number.
There are 30 million employed in the UK alone, and that equates to 150bn or potential savings. Given as almost every company has things or assets they need to manage, we believe we have the potential to realise a reasonable share of these savings.
If we execute well over the next 4 years and can deliver 5% automation savings across clients in our current pipeline, we believe we can hit 100 million in annual revenue.
Of course our platform is not just about streamlining and saving, it’s also about improving customer experience, and delivering more exciting value add services that also drive more revenue, so we see automation driving growth and not resulting in jobs lost, but employees will be able to focus more on the human value add parts of their jobs.
We are perfectly positioned to be the automation platform of choice for anyone managing real assets, from councils to Commercial Facility managers and insurers.
How do you make money?
Simply put, we save our clients time and money through automation, and we take a percentage of the savings.
This also has the benefit of improving, spending up and broadening the services our clients deliver to their customers, which can result in rapid growth without increasing cost base.
We fully understand the nuances and difficulties of managing physical assets, so we can quickly recognise our clients’ needs and provide quickly configurable solutions to address them. Often that means improving the output of their businesses and the quality of their service.
We achieve this by investing heavily in our product. If we have a great product, staff want to work on it, and clients want to use it. That way we can stay one step ahead of everyone else and ensure we are doing something unique in the marketplace.
Who’s on your team that makes you think you can do this?
Everyone. You have to work as a single machine, if a single line of code breaks, our customer success team can be swamped for hours. It’s really important that everyone knows how what they do affects each other member of the team. I derive satisfaction from creating value for other people, and we hire people who feel the same.
Who’s bankrolling you?
Seed funding has benefited us massively and because of our offering, we have been able to quickly raise capital from strategic investors and Silicon Valley VCs. Obviously being backed by Google is really exciting to be the first UK direct investment at the time, but all of our investors such as Plug and Play, Venture University, Pi Labs, WISAG FM, Henley investments and our excellent Chairman David Newnes who all deliver significant value beyond cash.
What advice would you give other entrepreneurs trying to secure that kind of finance?
Make sure that you have hard facts and figures to support your ambitions. Don’t sweat the business plan, just work out the basic unit economics. You are either saving customers money, or delivering some kind of value. If you’re delivering value make sure that you understand exactly how much they are willing to pay before you pitch investors, and the best way to do this is actually getting some of them to buy your product.
Once you’ve done that, make sure you understand how big the market is. If it isn’t a billion dollars, then VCs will struggle to back you, so better to focus on angel investment. I’d argue it’s better to own 100% of a £1 million business than 1% of a £100 million business, so think carefully before raising money from investors, it’s not for everyone as it comes with a lot of responsibility.
What do you believe the key to growing this business is?
Just keep moving. There will be awful crushing times and times of elation, it’s a lot of fun, but also can be pretty soul destroying, it’s not for the faint hearted. The best advice I can give is keep moving and at some point it all begins to click or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, that sucks, pick yourself up and do it again.
What metrics do you look at every day?
Activities and assistant conversations per day is our core metric at the moment. It means people are using our product and with every automated conversation we’re saving our clients on average £3.50.
We also track conversation satisfaction, and this is crucial to keep checking.
What’s been the most unexpectedly valuable lesson you’ve learnt so far?
If there’s any advice I would give to anyone going through a similar start-up journey, it’s:
Pay more for key hires – really invest in your team from the start
Hire someone with start-up and scale-up experience – this will go a long way in helping you understand the journey ahead
Anyone who makes you feel like you are smaller than them ignore 100%, the best advisors talk about their failures not their successes
Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. The more you push your comfort boundaries, the more comfortable you become in life
Exercise – that really changes you for the better!
What’s been your biggest mistake so far?
Hiring. Hire slow, fire fast is the mantra. Take your time, the wrong hire will absolutely destroy your company. Also stay involved in sales as long as you can as a founder. Those small signals from a client are critical in iterating your value proposition. I tried to step back too soon and let others do it, but we hadn’t found product market fit and it really messed up our growth for a period.
What do you think is on the horizon for your industry in the year ahead?
AI is going to absolutely skyrocket this year. No doubt. If you’re not investing in it now, next year you’re going to be too late. It grows at a compound rate, so, I honestly think one year could make the difference between winners and losers.
Look at new technology from Google, around 80% people can’t tell they’re talking to their new AI. That’s a phenomenal stat. So my advice would be to move. Now.
Which London start-up/s are you watching, and why?
I think there’s a lot of noise around ‘disruptive’ business models that prove not to be disruptive, the actually prove to be exploitative. I’m not a fan of those that essentially use VC money to predatory price good businesses out of the market and prioritise growth over employee welfare. I do really like Benevolent AI, they’re doing some cool stuff, focusing on drug discovery and development with AI and machine learning to empower scientists to discover new ways to treat disease.