Big bang - Automation for everyone
You're either the one that creates the automation or you're getting automated - Github founder
Like many, my introduction to WhatsApp was in 2011 via a group invitation from a classmate of yesteryear. I was swooped into this alternate reality where friends, after 20 years, were engaging around the world in a cacophony of interactions, exchanging photos, and life stories, congratulating each other on hard-won life struggles, love attained, and love lost. Among all these interspersed chat messages, I was mesmerized. For our particular universe, I thought the real big bang was the release of WhatsApp, the precursor of our metaverse, the seed of creating an alternate reality.
Such was the power of a simple and easy-to-use chat application like WhatsApp. WhatsApp could instantly rekindle the long-lost connections worldwide, leading to many face-to-face gatherings, parties, and business deals. Under this spell, I was convinced that there were larger patterns underneath this frenzy.
The larger pattern
When a new input-output device is invented, a new operating system is built to take advantage of this device. Disk operating systems were built around keyboards, GUI operating systems were built around mice, and web OS was built around browsers. Messenger is the input-output device for the mobile web and is propelling the construction of a new operating system, the metaverse.
There is this natural progression in the evolution of operating systems; a new operating system makes it easier for an even larger number of users to automate a larger part of their life. For this messenger-led operating system to encompass the whole of humanity, all the devices, and the internet of things under one umbrella, it had to offer distinct advantages over prior innovations. The leap happened when I stopped seeing the messaging as a chat but as a conversation. One would interact within the metaverse through a conversation. The conversation is the input, the output, and the programming language of the metaverse. The conversation - is - the app and the new metaverse would be conversational first before it would be visual.
Once I convinced myself of this underlying pattern, I had an itch to learn more. I visited India in 2013, where WhatsApp has the most extensive user base and where new ideas in the messaging world get tested. Unlike China, India does not have WeChat, and most Indians don't have desktops. Smartphones are their first computer. WhatsApp is India's most abused software because of its simplicity, ease of use, friction-free onboarding, and no language barriers. WhatsApp enables all kinds of workflows. Think of it this way, for the variety of workflows done in the developed world via email, Indians do them on WhatsApp.
WhatsApp is at the center of order flows, maintenance workflows, event management, Excel spreadsheet exchanges, surveys, data collections, field ops – you name it! Indians had found this messaging hammer, and everything looked like nails to them. These enterprise workflows on WhatsApp were crude at best. Like crude emails evolved into structured documents exchanged on the web, which ushered into service-oriented architecture and cloud computing. I thought these chat messages could acquire structure, state, and sharing, leading to a new conversation-based global peer-to-peer operating system.
Even though the enterprise workflows were a small percentage of total information flow on WhatsApp, they were of particular interest to me because of my background. I worked as an enterprise software engineer building large supply chain applications for Fortune 500, and I could visualize the underpinnings of the new conversational operating system. In 2015, I mustered enough courage to leave my job, raised $1.25M from friends and family, and headed to India to build WeChat of India from first principles. Later did I learn that my friends gave me money for me to gain some experience in becoming "humble".
After forming the company. We spent four years in India doing product market experiments. We learned a lot about the product, the market, crossing the chasm, blue oceans, and most importantly, the customers and businesses. We assimilated knowledge from 1000+ small and medium enterprises, built a 200 customer pipeline, and deployed the product at roughly 50 enterprises. We even had monthly recurring revenue of $1800 with 1500 daily active users.
We learned that mass production and mass distribution, driven by technology, globalization, and massive online stores, have created a large economy of scales that have displaced large swaths of small and medium businesses globally. If only these small businesses had access to automation to evolve and adapt to global and local markets rapidly, would they survive? It's not that small businesses don't want business process automation; the problem is that nobody has figured out how to reach them at scale.
In four years, thorough our field experimentation, we figured out the answer to this problem. We found a recurring pattern that would be the building block of an operating system for small and medium enterprises.
Fork in the road
Through deployment at several enterprises, we proved that some of the least technologically savvy end-users could use enterprise applications because of the messaging interface. Simultaneously, advances in NLP will let us expose automation to even larger segments of society than just simple messaging. The next key problem is modeling the conversation that maps to the customer's reality so that they can build the automation they need, only with the ZERO learning curve.
We took the work we had done and the ideas we had developed to John Michelsen, an esteemed serial founder who had the ambition to make automation a conversation between people and systems, for instance, personifying the backend system. We morphed the company to implement this new vision and subsequently raised $5M and $15M rounds to implement it.
Statistically, every prominent startup should solve just one miracle, more than one, and they could fail. Personifying the backend system is one such miracle, and bringing automation to 400M small and medium enterprises is another miracle. Most small and medium enterprises don't even have a backend system, so I had this fork in the road to decide where I should spend my energies.
Automation for everyone
The recurring pattern we found in India during our experimentation could be solved if we fuse a backend system with a messaging system. With the fused system, we would have a shot at solving the automation problem for small and medium enterprises. SME automation is the largest whitespace on the planet with the highest impact at the core of society.
So we founded a new company, neoXL, to fuse WhatsApp and Excel. neoXL is building a community-driven automation platform for 400 million small and medium enterprises. The platform would provide the end-users with the messaging and Excel spreadsheet user interfaces, programmed through a conversational do-it-yourself kit, to solve unique and novel use cases that are only found in these enterprises.
By giving customers the ability to assemble any piece of furniture with the help of just an Allen key, IKEA took furniture building to the masses. neoXL is the Allen key for taking automation to the masses. Messengers have democratized communication. Now it is time to democratize automation.
neoXL team has deep experience with automation and small and medium enterprises. We are fanatic about bringing automation to everyone. To get this vision to reality, we are actively hiring world-class software engineers who can push the boundary of what is possible. We invite you to join the adventure. I know it would be hard, but how else would you get 'humble'?
by Bhavesh Soni
Founder of neoXL