Automated Intelligence (AI) is a Northern Ireland based software company with a new, ground breaking approach to managing corporate information and data to address the pain points of technology that are currently in the market. AI drives data value by providing enterprise software solutions to reduce data costs and improve data management, efficiencies and compliance.
Mark Godfrey is CEO and co-founder of Automated Intelligence (AI). He set up and leads an award-winning and highly acclaimed Irish software company specialising in information management. Mark brings over twenty years of sales and leadership experience to the role of CEO, most of which has been in the enterprise software industry. Mark has been responsible for revenue, customer and market growth for major global technology companies and has taken his expertise to deliver growth and success for AI. He has a passion for organisational development and motivation, and has created an atmosphere where people can flourish and grow with the company. For his experience, vision and knowledge, he has been invited to speak at a number of key technology and business events both in the UK and Ireland. When he is not leading the company, he keeps busy with his wife (who is from Belfast), a ten year old daughter and a very high golf handicap.
Simon Cole is Chief Technology Officer and co-founder of Automated Intelligence, an enterprise software company which focuses on innovation and expertise to deliver growth and success. His credentials are impeccable, recognised as an expert in his field; he has been at the forefront of some the most integral developments in the industry. Prior to Automated Intelligence, Simon held global roles leading product development and management for some of the worlds’ major software vendors. Simon currently holds a B. Sc. in Computer Science from the University of Ulster and has always had a passion for new technology and innovation. In addition to this, Simon has a busy family life and loves to exercise. He is an active supporter of charity and the local community, which translates into the company, with the team supporting Habitat for Humanity Big Build Project, Bryson Christmas Appeal and local sports teams.
Experienced enterprise software industry experts, Mark Godfrey and Simon Cole, founded Automated Intelligence (AI) in 2010, in Belfast with a new innovative idea for the information management market. At that point they had no staff, no product, no customers, no office and an un-established brand.
Their vision was to re-invigorate and positively impact an existing and tired enterprise software market. Traditionally organisations deployed complex systems to manage their documents, information and records. These can be expensive to deploy and maintain, adopted poorly, slow to implement and may not meet relevant compliance and governance regulations.
AI launched into this market with a new ground-breaking approach to managing corporate information and data, addressing the pain points of technology that was currently in the market.
After just 1 year, the vision turned into reality when the first customer was secured; one of the largest central government departments in the UK. Since then, the company has grown to a profitable business with an extensive product range and customer list. Success and growth is evident with revenues continuing to double year on year and staff numbers of 30+ with continuous recruitment drives in place.
The success of this fledgling rapid growth company lies not just in their innovative product range, but in the team heading up the operation.
Both men are, in their own way, visionaries: Simon’s expertise lies in the detail of translating ideas into technical action to meet customer need. Mark is the big picture marketeer who leads the company, drives the vision and is overall responsible for revenue growth.
The company continues to prove that the right innovation, right people and large amounts of energy can ensure a company can thrive in difficult market conditions.
AI provides user-friendly software solutions that change how organisations manage their data end-to-end through its lifecycle; improving user experience and data compliance and most importantly in the current market, significantly reducing the cost of managing and storing data. The technology successfully meets new requirements for data management, mobile capabilities and cloud computing models. The functionality of their products is designed to fit seamlessly in a Microsoft environment.
From a standing start, AI have developed a large customer base with over 100,000 licences of software deployed, these include 7 UK central government departments such as the HM Treasury, Department for Education, Department of Health, an extensive amount of local and regional government bodies, the British Red Cross and early successes in Northern European with customers such as Statoil Fuel and Retail. In addition, some of the most well-known and successful technology companies actively promote AI’s software to their customer base. One of which is Microsoft, AI’s software has been a complimentary fit to their current proposition and AI have been a key partner to help them deliver records management and information governance to their customers. Automated Intelligence has made significant impact quickly in the UK Government Enterprise Software space and is building on this success with ambitious plans to expand in new sectors and markets.
– ENTREPRENEURIAL INSIGHTS –
What vision prompted you to start-up in business?
In the information management market, we saw an opportunity for developing something new to solve a problem and making existing technology better. Organisations need to do more with less. We had the vision and belief that we could deliver an approach that was not currently available in the market, ultimately meeting customer demand for better information and cost savings.
How did you secure your first investment?
The company was initially seed funded by principle. It was a case of investing in the vision and proving it in the market place. Belts were tightened and salaries became a distant memory. We sought funding through a variety of sources, such as VCs, banks and private investors. Eventually we found a private investor who recognised expertise and backed the vision at a very early stage.
What was your “back-to-the-wall” moment and how did you overcome it?
It had to be having enough cash to get your vision to market to make sales. This resulted in no salaries for over a year, countless meetings with VCs and worry lines in equal measure to grey hairs! The fact that we ensured our vision was right and our customers understood our USPs, helped us secure a fantastic private investment. There were days when it felt like a massive gamble and others when it felt like a great adventure. When we shook hands on the investment deal, we could have cried!
What moment/deal would you cite as the “game changer” or turning point for the company?
It has to be when we began to be endorsed and referred by customers and partners alike, in particular, our key principle partner, Microsoft. When we initially presented to their senior technical architects, it was clear that we were the answer to a problem they faced every day, at a price point that would work for all parties. From there, Microsoft continues to invite us to meet with their biggest flagship accounts. This endorsement and trust was a defining moment.
You know you’re on the right track when one of the biggest software companies in the world invites you to partner with them to deliver success in their customer accounts.
Were there any interesting or unusual circumstances surrounding the inception of the company or its evolution?
Mark: We worked together for a major software vendor. Simon in product management and marketing and I was in sales. After a customer meeting, we stopped at a motorway services for a coffee. Both agreed that what the market needed and the technology offered were polls apart.
A napkin was produced, solutions drawn and AI was formed within a few weeks of that discussion. It was one of those “now or never” moments.
We were two very different people, pooling our skills to create a new company and then actually following through. How many napkins never get further than the coffee shop?
What are the biggest challenges you face now?
Choices! We have been successful to date and are profitable. However, we need to continue growing. Our plans are to take our success and repeat it in new territories and to expand our product range to enter new markets. Both mean choices have to be made and making the right choices is critical, to ensure we are ahead of the market.
What is your biggest business achievement to date?
Our dedicated team of 30 people are not only great at what they do, they are fully committed to AI and our customers. Couple this with our customer list, £3m revenues in less than two years trading and the market recognition that our products are receiving; it really is a remarkable business achievement. We compete with massive software companies, in huge organisations and we win. We just love it!
What were the best & worst pieces of advice you received when starting out?
Worst: “target small customers”. We are addressing problems faced by most organisations, irrespective of size. Going small limits the opportunities from day one.
Best: “deliver against expectations”. Small companies can represent risk as well as innovation. We strive to deliver quality product and skills, even for smaller customers. References are key and create a safety net for perspective customers.
What top tips would you give entrepreneurs starting out today?
Know your market before the solution.
Be able to articulate your vision, what is unique and why people will buy it.
Always know where you are cash-flow wise, base spending on facts not your forecast.
Make sure your people fit the company and share your vision and goals.
Lead your team, partners and customers and never shy away from making decisions. We don’t always get it right, but, we must keep moving forward!
Were there any early signs that you would eventually follow an entrepreneurial path?
Mark: I’ve always been in sales and am happiest working in smaller companies where a positive influence can make a real difference. I’ve always tried to understand customers, products and market trends to a level where we can empathise, differentiate and win. Starting a company was the natural progression. I like to lead and am happy to take responsibility. However, I realise the value of the team and try to create an atmosphere where people can flourish and grow with the company.
Simon: I have always had a strong desire to improve things for others, to own a problem and solve it, and have developed new products for many companies in the past. Once I had developed experience and the level of expertise, doing this for my own company was clearly the next step.
Has anyone acted as a mentor to you?
We’ve had some great support along the way. The Northern Ireland technology sector is a pretty close knit group and past colleagues such as Brian Baird of Replify were a great help in the early days. We also have a very trusted family friend who has built many companies up, his input and advice continues to be gold-dust. We tend to mentor each-other and have formed a strong trusting partnership and understanding, which has been invaluable when making tricky decisions.
Has your “Irish-ness” contributed to your success?
Mark: I’m an Englishman who set up and runs an Irish company. Easily the best decision I’ve made to date. We have a team of very bright, skilled and dedicated people, mostly based in Ireland. Customers endorse our products and our people in equal measure. We’re not a faceless US Corporation, we’re a team focussed on customers and quality and this is recognised and acknowledged by both customers and partners.
Simon adds: I believe our Irish charm and our natural relationship building skills has helped us with this and looking at the team we have in place we have strong desire to conquer the world!
What inspires your business decisions?
Our business decisions are inspired by our willingness to succeed and be the best. We have a talented team as good as and often better than our competitors. We believe we can change our market to benefit ourselves, our customers and partners.
We punch above our weight and succeed. There’s nothing that inspires us more than sitting with 30 people in Belfast and working out where we go next to compete and win, with 3 key questions:
- Why do it?
- Why do it now?
- What is the impact of we don’t do it?
When making a new hire, what key characteristics do you look for?
Attitude, fit and energy. Technical skills are often a prerequisite in a technology company. We believe that is only part of the play. Success is born out of a willingness to participate and work as part of a team. All facets of the company have to work together towards a common goal with the right attitude and energy. It becomes infectious and fosters more of the same.
How do you recharge your batteries?
Mark: I have a wife, a ten year old daughter and a very high golf handicap! These are more than enough to fill whatever time I have to recharge. It’s sometimes important to switch off, although never as easy as it sounds. So it’s equally important to enjoy what you do and look for the positives at every opportunity. I’m very much a learn from what went before and move on type of person. Don’t dwell on the past, move forward.
Simon: Family and exercise – running and cycling. Innovating further, what we do doesn’t feel like ‘work’ – it’s hard but it’s enjoyable. There is nothing better than ticking the box for a customer or solving a technical problem. Staying on top of our game keeps my energy up.