Founder Stories from CyRise: Aaron Tran, from Workflow86

There’s a real energy to Aaron Tran. He possesses an eagerness to learn and a sharpness in problem solving that brings a little magic to everything he does. He’s democratising software, enabling anyone to automate highly complex workflows by simply dragging, dropping and connecting components together on a visual canvas.

The most damaging bottlenecks

“As a management consultant I was dropped into large organisations and asked to solve their problems,” explains Aaron. “I loved the problem solving. What I didn’t love was the impact. After months of work and analysis, you hand over a document, a powerpoint or a spreadsheet. The client reads it and maybe does something, more likely they just file it away somewhere. I always left feeling like I never really changed anything in a meaningful way.”

Across the consulting projects Aaron worked on, he observed the same issue, time and time again. “The biggest problem most organisations faced was how to empower certain teams that were critical to their mission — their subject matter experts. These are individuals or teams with deep, complex expertise, whether it was cybersecurity, risk and compliance, procurement or something else. These are the people who, if they leave, the CEO will be crying at night. Yet it was here where the bottlenecks were often found because the demand for these people and their expertise always exceeded supply.”

This sparked the move to Workflow86. What if there was a solution that was easy to use, for subject matter experts who work with really complex workflows? The problem he found with existing no-code products was that they were too basic and couldn’t handle the more complex and convoluted tasks where organisations felt the most pain. Aaron had a vision for a tool that could orchestrate and automate incredibly complex workflows consisting of dozens or even hundreds of tasks and thousands of possible outputs. And yet it still had to be incredibly easy to use, without a single line of code needing to be written anywhere.

Aaron Tran, from Workflow86

“It never really made sense to me that the dominant way we capture really complex knowledge and expertise was a static document — something that gets written, sent around and then filed away somewhere never to be seen again. Instead of writing a report, we should be capturing knowledge and expertise in software that can actually analyse data, make decisions and take actions. ”

You might not think inefficiencies like this have a tangible impact, but they do. And Aaron’s experience taught him that the answers sought from external consultants were often already there inside the organisation itself. “Subject matter experts inside an organisation don’t lack an understanding of the problem — they live, breathe and feel the problem every single day. What they lacked was the ability to build the solution they needed. This frustration often left these individuals and teams jaded and struggling with low job satisfaction. ”

“The whole idea behind “no code” is putting the incredible power of software into the hands of people best suited to solve problems. People who, up until now, would have been excluded or dependent upon IT. The current situation is equivalent to only having only a minority of your workforce being able to use word processors and everyone else has to handwrite. No-code means anyone and everyone can benefit from software. ”

A bubbling frustration to solve a problem

Aaron’s transition from school life into corporate life reads like a textbook overachiever. Scholarships. Awards. Exchanges to prestigious universities. And then a clerkship at a big law firm that he found very unfulfilling. “In law, you could only approach a problem faced by a client with a narrow focus. So I moved to consulting, because at least there you could work on broader business problems, not just legal ones. But that was even worse because, yes, you are working at a broader level, but could only scratch the surface. The experience was good because I got to see how things worked behind the curtain at large government agencies and companies. All the dysfunction and problems they faced. It got to the point where all I could think about was how could I build a solution to these problems I was seeing over and over again”

A learner helping others learn

Was there fear around stepping out and building your own product? “There’s always fear. You put in so much effort into doing what you are told is the right path to go down. You question whether you’re chucking away something good. But the opportunity was too great. One of things I feel is that you need to find the environment you thrive in, and put yourself in that environment. Entrepreneurship is flat out learning all the time, and that’s where I thrive.”

Learning is something Aaron lives and breathes. “While I was a consultant, I taught myself how to code. Once people knew I could code, they thought I had super powers but it wasn’t rocket science. It reinforced the idea that there’s a huge jump in capability between someone who can build software and someone who can’t. When you give people the tools to build something they need, the transformation isn’t minor — it gives them superpowers. Just imagine being able to automate a complex workflow so something that took you a week now only takes you minutes? Superpowers.”

Along with superpower to make their life easier, ownership over the problem is important, too. “It’s very hard to get other people to solve a problem for you. The best way is to have the tools to do it yourself. You get someone else to do it and you’re never happy with the solution. They never understand it or love it as much as you do. Ownership of the solution means you get something that is nuanced and specific to your needs.”

Being honest with yourself

As you’d expect given his love for learning, Aaron constantly reflects on how he can improve. “You need to iterate quickly. Recognise your mistakes quickly. It’s tough because there’s a human bias towards avoiding confronting mistakes and facts and figures. The current state of the world is a case study in that! You rarely learn anything by being comfortable. Sometimes it is because you’re not pushing yourself, or you’ve bent reality to make yourself comfortable. At some stage reality always wins.”

“It’s a big thing in startups,” Aaron continues. “This idea of bending reality. On one hand you’ve got to be visionary, but you still need to maintain a grasp on the facts. You want to be ambitious but not delusional. Grounded in reality but visionary to change it.”

The team at Workflow86

Creating moments of delight

The most important part of culture at Workflow86 is giving each person every opportunity to be the best version of themselves. “In a startup, the guardrails are removed. You are forced to learn quickly because you have to do things you are totally unqualified to do. It’s how you grow as an individual and that makes you better, and the startup benefits from that.”

For Aaron, it’s fulfilling to see others progress and grow. “What I love seeing is that moment of sheer delight when someone takes a complex manual process and they manage to automate it themselves. We all know what that moment feels like — that excitement when you build something cool and just want to show it off to everyone. Seeing that moment of delight when our users build something amazing that solves a really hard problem, that is what I was missing as a consultant. It’s a tangible impact that’s delivered, not in six months, but in hours or minutes. The return is immediate.”

“I’m excited by the potential. Imagine yourself sitting at your desk about to do some work…do I create a word document, spreadsheet or powerpoint…or do I create my own software solution on Workflow86? I want to make creating software so easy and accessible that it’s your default answer. ”

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