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No-code platforms and the art of the possible

03 February, 2021 | 56 min 15 sec
Podcast Host Anita Sands | Podcast Guest Gary Hoberman
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Brief Summary

The low-code, no-code movement is swiftly transforming the future of enterprise technology, in ways that could never have been predicted. In the second of a four-part series takeover, Anita Sands speaks to Gary Hoberman, CEO and Founder of Unqork, about his journey to create a no-code application platform that helps large enterprises deliver business value at speed. If you are a bold business leader, wanting to learn more about this latest iteration of software development, this is the podcast for you.


Highlights

  •  Bridging the gap between Fintech and startup world. What lessons to take away to head a scrappy start-up after being inside the big machine?
  • Agile brought the business to the table but the no code, low-code is a movement. The goal is not to generate code, it's a new way to create software from scratch. The art of creating software that makes an impact, freeing up the engineer to do what they're meant to do.
  • Unqork goes against the fundamental principles of software by developing software from scratch. This includes a drag and drop capability to do integration more advanced than any technology. The customer holds the encryption key for production. When the first customer goes live, every customer benefits. And when the next customer goes live, the first customer benefits. 
  • The job of the business leader should be to deliver business value the fastest and get rewarded for that, not rewarded based on how many people work for you and your budget size. How do we address resistance to change and aligning incentives?
  • Sitting at the interface between the business and IT, technologist role is to solve business problems. Business engineers are technologists or engineers that understand procedures and process and they're now creating massive enterprise solutions.
  • The business demand for digital and personas of start-up customers. There are companies that are not ready to move forward, based on behaviors inside out in big corporations that prevent change. And there are the first wave of start-up adopters, motivated by using cutting edge tools.
  • There's a perception that you need to have the ability to inject script and override code in a platform. However, is it the reason why technology hasn't advanced? 

Podcast Transcript


Anita Sands:

Thank you so much for joining me today on the ThoughtWorks Podcast. It's so good to have you here.

 

Gary Hoberman:

This is awesome to be here, Anita, on your podcast and back with you. This is exciting. I couldn't wait for this.

 

Anita:

I know. I mean, first of all, you and I could chat for 10 hours. So I'm delighted that I'll get to do that even for another hour, and that I get to share you and your story and the story of Unqork with all of our fabulous listeners. So, very exciting. But Gary, so we are going to talk about Unqork, your unicorn startup in New York City, which is just taking the world of Fintech by storm. But suffice to say, kind of you didn't start out exactly where most entrepreneurial founders start out. And if I recall, you actually had a really interesting beginning to your sort of path to stardom.

 

Gary:

Yeah. For sure. It's funny because when you think about the traditional startup, in some ways, I actually did mimic some of the technology leaders of today. So, my dad had a publishing business as an entrepreneur, my sister is an entrepreneur, my brother is an entrepreneur. And as a fifth grader, I was indexing my comic books in my father's punch card machine literally like I was off to go. I probably did my 10,000 hours before high school. And it was amazing. I love this idea. You could create something from nothing. It was magical. It was something that looks like ancient Greek and make it do something incredible that it never did before, an art form.

 

Gary:

But at the same time, if you asked me who I was going to be back then? I'm going to be Tony Hawk. I mean, I was a sponsored skateboarder. I had half pipes in my backyard. Every time the city came and said you have to tear down that structure, there's no permit for this large 10-foot x 30-foot structure, I would tear it down and build a new one. And it was exhilarating, this idea that you could accomplish anything.

 

Gary:

And I extended the skateboarding, both street skating and half bike skating, into surfing. And I would go before work 5:00 in the morning, when I entered the real world as we say, and go surfing. And I extended it back when I was 18, 30 years ago. I extended it to snowboarding and I still snowboard today. 

 

Anita:

Well, you have wowed up me and all of those fronts because like my basic sense of balance and coordination, nonexistent. But I think, suffice to say, those are skills that probably served you well, Gary. Like having a little bit of a daredevil in you, being willing to go for it, being willing to sort of just take a risk and, of course, having a good sense of balance. Sounds like a fairly good prerequisite too to being an entrepreneur.

 

Anita:

But I guess we should probably backtrack a little bit because even before you became an entrepreneur, you had a hugely successful career on Wall Street and specifically kind of as a CIO on Wall Street. And that's where you and I had the first opportunity to cross paths, if I remember, and it's certainly one of the joys of my professional life to have had the chance to work directly with you.

 

Anita:

But what always amazed me about you, Gary, was that even though you were inside the big machine, and a lot of our listeners today will be kind of in jobs like the ones you and I used to hold right there. They sort of managing large organizations, driving big teams and trying to lead all kinds of innovation and digital transformations and so forth. And you were one of the few people that actually managed to innovate inside the big machine. I mean, you hold a patent.

 

Anita:

So like for a guy that spent most of his career at the likes of Citi and MetLife, that is not the typical profile. So, talk a little bit about that era of your career and how you managed to be like, I guess, what they would call now an intrapreneur. How did you do it?

 

Gary:

Yeah, and I never knew that term until about five years ago. So it's fine to have the term pop up. I guess I was in some shape. When I graduated in Business School, and I've always lived in New York, went to school in New York, college in New York, I thought it'd be fun to see, instead of the entrepreneurial route, I thought it'd be fun to see what Wall Street was like.

 

And I started working by the New York foreign exchange building trading systems. I was coding in one language on foreign exchange, which was group to SQL windows. I was coding in PowerBuilder at CBS Radio and broadcasting and coding in Smith Barney and Visual Basic all the same time. Three different jobs and three different languages.

 

I remember, I used to have a table as to which language, what if statement was, unconditional was, to keep track, and I loved it. I absolutely loved the excitement. And I kind of felt like it'd be a challenge to say, how quick can you climb the corporate ladder? And I thought it could be an experience to actually do that and to do it in a way where you have to leverage your skill set. So a lot of people get managing directors and titles like that because they're jumping around. And they're doing great but they're actually jumping from this company and coming back here and then back. And I wanted to do it without ever jumping to a different company.

 

So when I entered Smith Barney in '96, right before that I was in Bankers Trust. And at Bankers Trust, I was asked to create what was a screen back then in 1994 which was a money transfer screen. Enter the details of the amounts and the dates and when to send it, click send, and it entered it to C, Sybase database, Sybase in those days. And instead of building the screen, I actually said, you know what, as a 22-year-old kid, they're going to come back to me tomorrow and say, that was great, I needed another screen. It's going to be for a different transaction and a different transaction.

 

And so, instead of building a one off screen, I actually created something where you insert the fields in a database and then you hit the button and it generated this code and it generated the screen. And it wound up in six months doing every transaction in the private bank. But the idea there was not intrapreneurship, it was how do you solve a business problem? The problem was, you need to get the screen built and you got to solve it. And I loved that concept of doing that.

 

And then when I entered Salomon Smith Barney, to Citi where we met in Citi, I loved this idea of, I'm going to stay here, I'm not going to leave the company. Let's see how quick to make managing director by being innovative and different. And every day I would come to work and someone would say, "Why are you here?" Like, "Why aren't you doing something bigger?"

 

Anita:

Yeah, yeah. That was one of my initial reactions. I was like, why are you here and why do you not have your own startup because you're a born entrepreneur. But I guess, Gary, one of the things you managed to do well, and I think this will be a paradigm that our listeners are dealing with, but you always sat extremely well in the interface between the business and IT and kind of spoke both the languages. Was that intentional or how do you think you manifested kind of that type of partnership.

 

Gary:

So if you step back and you say your role as a technologist is to solve business problems. And I could tell you, there's unlimited ideas, businesses have, how to make revenue, whether they're real or not, that's another story. But they have ideas of how to actually drive new shareholder value and customer value. And if your role in technology is to deliver against that, then you need to learn it, you need to understand the business. And I would literally sit in call centers and listen to the phone calls and answer the phone calls of the customers and I would go do ride alongs and go sit with a salesperson and see what's like or sit on the trading floor and actually create software next to the trader.

 

And you always understood, at least back then, you always understood your bonus was dependent on the person next to you. There was no CIO function needed back then. In the beginning, the CIO function didn't exist. There was you're creating software, the business partner next to you, you need to understand that as well as they do. And if you screw up or if they screw up, you're both impacted in this together. And that was how it started but it kind of materialized IT into a function. The CIO and you have a PMO and you've got all this organization around it.

 

And then you started to actually have to communicate to the business definitely to say, okay, you're my business client and then you want this. Before we start this, you have to realize that's a three-year project, it's going to take a long time and it's going to basically cost this much money. And at the end of the day, it's not going to be what you want, that's kind of where it ends. And so, we kind of abstracted away the business value from the technology.

 

So, one of my ideas was always understand the business, understand what are the business needs, what's going to drive the company forward, the shareholders, the values, your all shareholders, and be passionate about it to understand it, and really dive deep. One of the biggest challenges we face is technology leaders are compensated based on how many people report to them and their total budget they manage. 

 

Anita:

So, Gary, now we've gotten to the heart of something that you and I and everybody, whether you're inside the IT function or not, inside a large organization experiences, which is sort of this resistance to change and I guess the question around how incentives are aligned.

 

I mean, that's one of your perspectives. I'm sure you have many perspectives as somebody that's kind of straddled both sides of the fence, right? That of the guy that was inside the big machine to that now of the guy that is running a really hot startup, that wants to work with the big machines. How are you thinking about that these days? And has your thinking changed since you switched sides as it were?

 

Gary:

It hasn't. Interesting story was, Anita... when I first met Anita, I thought I was cool up until I met Anita, let's put it that way. I'm going to start with that.

 

Anita:

Very sad benchmark.

 

Gary:

That's it. So, Anita, I guess it was 2008, 2009, somewhere around there, I was an executive director or I guess an EVP, whatever the title would have been at that point. And I was running what I felt was a really cool team in Citigroup. I built a platform called Citi Marketplace which was patented and another platform called one approval that was patented and another product called GrandCentral that was patented and it was like, we were cool.

 

But then Anita comes to me and she goes, "We're going to build Facebook internal." And I was like, "What's Facebook?" And I'll never forget that. And then she was like, "You got to go home and you got to go create a Facebook account," which I did. And so we understood the business value of communication. Anita said, "We need to have a way to communicate across Citi, across party lines.

 

Anita:

And if you remember that, Gary, at that time, that was right kind of in the peak of the financial crisis. And so, if somebody was new to the organization,and we were trying to figure out efficiently how you do things. It struck me that there was so much inherent knowledge within Citi. It was just such a big machine that it was hard for us to communicate and collaborate.

 

But your team was spectacular. And I know that many of them have followed you. You're like the Pied Piper for tech talent in here. But do you remember we did that session, once we were doing sort of an innovation session. And you were standing on stage and we asked everybody to sort of start talking about barriers to innovation at the bank, and everybody started shouting it up. And I remember you using this cool kind of mind mapping technology.

 

So the next thing, this list that was larger than life showed up on the screen of all these kind of barriers to innovation. And then we started combing through them as to what was the real barrier, like say, regulation on some front or whatever payments regulation versus what was sort of an imaginary barrier, as in something we created ourselves within the bank or something that genuinely we just thought was in our imaginations. It was cultural, it was something amorphous.

 

So, I mean, there's a lot of sources of barriers and resistance to change. So now that you're one of these great startups trying to bring innovation, how do you deal with some of the barriers when you run into them nowadays?

 

Gary:

Yeah. So we see them regularly. And when you think about the bureaucracy we were facing in Fortune 50 companies, my whole life I've been facing it, there is a biggest use of resistance to change. We've had outs, I like to think inside out, we've seen it outside in, we see it even more, because we're seeing it across multiple companies at the same time. I've had a banking CIO say, "I've got 10,000 developers, what will they do tomorrow if they deploy Unqork?" And what they're really saying is, you're going to impact my bonus, you're going to impact my salary. 

 

Anita:

Because it's correlated with how many people I manage?

 

Gary:

Yeah. If you're 200 times faster, which is what we're showing, 200 times faster than a Java developer that's out there than for any business problem to solve. So, what we do is we very quickly recognize, is there a decision maker? Is there someone that needs us? How and when do we get to the business? We find ourselves working more with the business partners than technology. And the technologists that we work with are phenomenal. If we're working with the technologists, it's because they're a thought leader. They're definitely listening to your podcast, Anita. 

 

Anita:

But they're on the front edge. I mean, we used to always say that as well from some of my board work that there is actually an observable difference between that first wave of customers who are willing to work with you when you're a startup, that first wave of adopters versus the second wave. And I remember very explicitly that coming up in one board conversation where the CEO was pointing out that the CIOs that we're adopting our technology much later on, like years after we were kind of out there in the market.

 

They were motivated by different things. These were guys or gals that were looking to reduce costs or manage risks. Whereas, the first wave of customers was motivated by, I want to be using cutting edge stuff. I want to innovate. So, there are certainly different personas of customers.

 

But, Gary, let's back up because we started talking about Unqork without telling people the amazing journey of Unqork. So let's start with, before we describe the business, tell me about your decision to leave. I think you were MetLife at the time and then what gave you the idea for Unqork and why was it was the one you pursued?

 

Gary:

So, my whole life was spent around, I like to say, I'm an engineer or hacker by background. Since fifth grade punch card machines, I'm still that mindset. And I'm lazy, Anita, which means if someone else solved the problem, I'm not going to try to reinvent it. If there's an algorithm out there that works, great, let's use it. And that's an engineer mindset, which is you do the least you possibly can to create a solution out of something that's existing or partially existing. Enterprise software, big packages of software that say deploy this, and I experienced this, don't ever work. Simply because every customer thinks they're unique and special.

 

Anita:

For sure.

 

Gary:

Everyone says, "No, that's not how we operate. That's not what we call it." And every project I wrote off as a CIO was because a vendor told us to fit into a box. You have to fit into this box that we tell you, and we couldn't. We were special. We were unique. 

 

Gary:

And so, packet software wasn't working. And then I would always look for the shortcut. As an engineer, okay, I need to build the software. And you know what would be a great point would be your concept of Facebook, internal Facebook for Citi. We didn't create it from scratch. We actually used a Microsoft SharePoint concept and something that needs Gator at the time. And we basically packaged it together and inspired an entire team to move servers on trucks from Midwest to the east. In a weekend, 140 people we organized around this concept which went live exactly when we said it did, which is really cool. But that was a low code solution.

 

Gary:

So, we had to basically wrap. Here's a platform SharePoint or Power Apps or it could be any of these platforms and I've always tried to use these as an accelerator, I'm lazy. I want to do the least I possibly can. And then you basically wrap around that code because each of these platforms gets you 70% there. And then says, okay, code the remaining 30%. And what they're really saying is lock yourselves in, it's going to be a ride. You're going to basically be with us for a long time. And that code that you generate really creates a bastardized solution which is never perfect.

 

So when in reality, we really invented enterprise communication, like we actually did something back then in 2009 that no one else did. But the second we tried to make it do more, we were stuck because we were limited by that 70%, 30%. 

 

But in general, every time I try to use a similar package which is called low-code today by the research groups, they always said, you start with this. And then a feature that they say is to be able to inject code or script. And the problem with that was, I always said, if you're letting me inject code or script, I'm going to be one off, I'm going to be unique, I'm not going to get the upgrades or features.

 

And I'm going to start at a place that 70% there no matter when I start each project. And the reality is I'm going to wish I coded it, and that's what happened. Every time I finished one of these, my team would come to me and say, we should have just coded it from scratch. It would be easier to code from scratch.

 

So, living through all these promises of every software out there. And then, really, the problem was, as a CIO, you go to these executive briefing centers, you fly out to the west coast and you meet the CEOs of the big four tech companies and it's amazing. It's such an experience. And you get to do that and you get to see what's coming on the roadmap and what challenges they're solving. And then as a CIO, you get flown out and you basically get to see the tier one VCs. You get to listen to pitches of all the tier one VCs and sit there and listen to the portfolio companies as to how they're thinking of solving all these problems.

 

And what occurred to me was two things. One, no one gets it. No software company actually understands truthfully what's happening in the enterprise or they do and they're making too much money to care and just don't change it, which is like that's one. There's no startups coming. I didn't see a single startup out there that was understood enough and be trusted enough to be able to solve any enterprise problem for a Fortune 50 company.

 

Anita:

So you're saying, you didn't see the next Microsoft on the horizon. I mean, you were out there as a CIO talking to all these Silicon Valley based startups.

 

Gary:

I didn't see it. And at the same time, my role as a CIO kept getting more and more becoming an attorney. And what I mean by that is, I would say, Anita, I know you wanted that social platform for Slack back then, 2009 but here's your requirements, ABCD. And you signed off on those, here's your signature on those requirements. And, basically, that's what we delivered. And you would say, but that was three years ago and everything changed around us. And iPhones didn't exist then? 

 

And you, as a technologist, should have known what was coming and what was needed? And I kind of felt like it's funny because we have these conversations with technology leaders and business leaders, and they start laughing, and board members. And they just start laughing because they're like, "Were you here yesterday?"

 

Anita:

Exactly. I'm nodding furiously here which I know I look, you can't see, because it's like, I am guilty as charged. And then I'd be very cross with you, Gary, because you're going to charge me money to make the change, right?

 

Gary:

No. I can manage $170 million projects, development projects, which were going completely off the charts. And so, at the same time... So, here, I see nothing is coming on the horizon. No one gets it, no one's going to come save the day. My job is becoming nothing but an attorney defending what we've done in the past instead of what's coming in the future. And at the same time, when you look at this, you want to add value. Your whole goal is, I call it, you're paying everyone for predictive value. I'm going to buy 10,000 licenses of a CRM software because they're giving me a great deal. And then 500 are used and 9500 sit on the shelf. 

 

And so, I also at the same time, I said, it's going to take someone that leaves the comfort of the C suite and the corporate jet and is trusted by their peers to jump in and, say, yes, I understand. And so, I started to have conversations early 2017 with my peers, the CIOs of Fortune 50 companies. And just every one of them said, we're facing the same mission. We're like, this is what we live and breathe.

 

And so, I did jump out of that. I figured I'm not going to wait for someone else to do it. Take the leap of faith. It was not easy. There was no question that was a big leap. And we were not welcomed, I would say, by the industry, right? Because everyone looked at us and said, you're basically going after the way software is written. You're going after Java, node, closure, go. You're going after every low-code solution out there. You're going after every niche solution out there, the SAPs and every aspect of earpiece and what's out there. And everyone looked at us and said, first of all, you're too old. You're a corporate citizen. You're-

 

Anita:

Now, you are in you're, what, 40s, you're mid-40s. You were not instant here, right?

 

Gary:

I thought I was young. I actually felt really good. I use Peloton every morning and I still continue to do that. I'm like, this is the best shape I've been in like this is. And I felt I looked good. I guess, I didn't. But then basically-

 

Anita:

You think young, that's the most important thing.

 

Gary:

I felt young. And they would say, literally, you should have had three startups by now. Or we heard, if you work one day, if you could start a brand one year in a big corporation like Citigroup, you can never be a CEO for a startup. If you were able to basically deal with the bureaucracy and accept the issues out there, then you can't be a CEO for a startup.

 

Anita:

So they were sort of arguing that you were probably institutionalized, right, because you had been inside the big machine and you didn't have startup experience. And going out and being now the head of a scrappy startup was going to be too much of a stretch. But they didn't know you, Gary, right? They didn't know that you were the anomaly inside the big machine. Okay. so you met with some initial kind of eyebrow raising going, no way you can do this. What happened next?

 

Gary:

So, after all the meetings, and I would ask for advice. If there was an investor that was interested in investing, coming from the corporate world, what I do know is you don't get to choose your boss in the corporate world, you don't get to choose who you work for. and the best thing I had, my sister is one of the top lawyers in Venture and basically she created her own legal firm. And she was advising me in the beginning and she kept giving me the best advice and it was the hardest advice which was, go for the clients, go for the revenue first and get the revenue before funding.

 

And I also realized, with her help, that I'm about to pick an investor who becomes my boss down the road. This is going to be someone that you're going to basically either respect or hate or both, hopefully that you know at the same time.

 

So I would ask questions. I would ask questions to some investors just like, I'm being asked to speak at the biggest conference in Microsoft Envision, should I go? And the answer was, no, you should be stopped. No one should know you exist. And questions like, are we going after five clients at once? And the answer was no, no, you should go after one client.

 

And so, I had to not just ignore what everyone was saying about me as an entrepreneur, I had to actually ignore advice that I felt was wrong based on what I've experienced. And it was difficult, then decided we're going to have to stop on this. So, what that meant was no funding. It was, I'm going to go back to coding like I was back in fifth grade. And my CTO, Bassam, who left McKinsey as a partner, both of us created the first version of Unqork that went live. And I've never forget, we're about to go live in November and he looks at me, he goes, "Isn't someone going to come and rewrite all our code before next week?" 

 

And the reason why we did that was we had clients that saw the need. We had amazing technology leaders like James McGlennon at Liberty Mutual who's the CIO. He basically said, if this works, we'll use it. Well, we've been trying this for years. Seven years.

 

Anita:

He has relationship with him, a trusted relationship. And he knew that you knew his world, right? And he knew that you knew kind of how he as a CIO was situated.

 

Gary: Absolutely.

 

Anita:

Okay. So, Gary, let's go back because let's just talk a little bit about sort of like, tell our listeners explicitly what Unqork does, right? Because I think we're almost to that point in the story. But now you and Bassam] are sitting there happily coding your way. I mean, I know you two are very happy doing that. But what does Unqork do?

 

Gary:

So, when we think about enterprise software. So, first of all, scalable, secure, reliable, no downtime, no cyber issues, constantly testing, functional testing has to be legacy proof. So, we view every line of code being written in any technology today's legacy, whether it's brand new, closure or go, haskell and functional or if it's Colbol legacy. So, what we basically said was, the fundamental issue I experienced my whole life was getting 70% there and that remaining 30% code. And really what that 30% meant of coding was that the quote platform never got enhanced, and never grew and it never continued to evolve. 

So, the goal was we're not going to generate code. It's a new way to create software from scratch. We're going to start with the most complex industry insurance that no technology company has ever saw. Just, you could step back and look at any single technology company there and say, what have you done for insurance? The answer is nothing.

 

Anita:

So, always within financial services, it was one of the remaining bastions that hadn't been disrupted, right?

 

Gary: It hadn't.

 

Anita:

And I always used to feel like that industries that had a high level of opaque weakness or inefficiency, like they were ripe for disruption. And insurance certainly had plenty of that but it was a tough nut to crack.

 

Gary:

and it's not that it's complex even though everyone says it's complex. It's just that there's 15,000 state regulators in the US and there's 100 countries that all tell you what to do and how to do it. So, what that really means is a simple insurance product becomes 50 products or 100 products, and each one is maintained differently. And all the product rules are different and understanding those rules.

 

So, we basically said, we're going to create software that allows us to drag and drop visually to create an enterprise grade system with 100% uptime, 100% secure, 100% reliable and easy to do. All the enterprise '-ilities' that we've been familiar with all our lives. And basically build it in a way where, because there is no code generated, the customer can't override what we do. And the customer can't even inject any scripting language. No JavaScript, nothing to do different, which means when the first customer goes live, every customer benefits. And when the next customer goes live, the first customer benefited.

 

And everyone's on the same version of code. But when you think about that, at the same time, I had to go against the fundamental principle of software which was multi-tenancy. I hate it as a CIO, multi-tenancy, because I always saw it as a convenience for the vendor to be multi-tenant and a cost to the client because a client wants to be secured entirely and just locked off.

 

So, we created one of the most advanced DevOps capabilities where when we inject the feature or generate our code, which the customer drags and drops and uses like a Lego block, everyone's on the same version of code guaranteed, even though they might be on Amazon and some on Google and some on Microsoft and some in Asia and some in US. So, that was fundamentally important to us and that was something which we understood.

 

But reality is, when you think about software coding, the way you code today, you create a screen, a field on a screen for social security number. And the first data you enter social and you click next and then it goes and validates your social, that could be broken down into components. And today when we code that, you're coding the field, HTML, you're binding it to a middle tier and the API tier, the API tier talks to a database. And the amount of complexity to add that field in today, even with the best engineers, is insane.

 

And so, we basically said there's got to be a better way to create software and we made it visual. So, at the same time, we created a platform to enable us to drag and drop. We’d been using that platform for our first customer, Liberty Mutual, to create auto insurance quoting. And at the same time we signed four more top 10 life insurance, all before the platform existed.

 

So, we were creating this horizontal platform to solve the most complex need for the largest companies in the world just six months in and we actually have revenue for funding.

 

Anita:

Yeah, so the story, well, you've had some phenomenal successful runs of funding since and an incredible valuation, so good to know the investor community finally got caught up with the story and the vision. But, Gary, kind of two questions there. So, obviously, if you're a CIO running kind of a legacy shop and you've got a lot of developers, they're going to say, well, hang on a second.

 

If I bring this no code platform in and the business start tinkering and building applications and whatever, I have two problems. One is, what do my developers going to do? Will they be displaced? And secondly then, Gary, how does this work when it fits kind of the coal, hits the coalface of integrating in with a lot of other legacy stuff? How did that work out for your 10 insurance customers?

 

Gary:

Yes. So, we're starting with the latter question first. We needed to integrate into any system. So, integration is where every system always fails. It's getting it back into the core legacy systems so-

 

Anita: Or at least, spend a lot of money, right?

 

Gary:

Yes, it is. So, going in point was, if we need IT to basically do anything, as an IT project, we will fail, because we'd be dependent on someone else. And when you're self-funding a company, you can't take any risks. You're going to look at that and basically say, well, if that's my money and that's our goal and we have to get live, we're going to go live. So, what we did was we created a drag and drop capability to do integration more advanced than any technology I've ever experienced in the enterprise where we can drag and drop and basically integrate into VSAM and COBOL and assembler or DTCCs VSAM files or going to...

 

Gary:

The worst was one client said you have to integrate to an Oracle system that was a standard from 2003. No technology supported it, not the best API tiers out there today. And so, we built this capability to drag and drop and create integration with nothing more than mappings. That's all it should ever be is a mapping. And so, it's built in. So we are talking today to taking the data from Unqork and generating an SFTP file to mainframe or direct API, the simple or RESTful API. And all that is done with mapping.

 

And it has to be because I'm going in point was, I need it, you're the business CEO, you've already got pipes into your systems today. We know that. We know that somehow data is getting into that legacy system somehow today no matter how manual or convoluted it is or legacy it is. We will take responsibility in Unqork to create that output so you have nothing to do in IT. And that's how we built the company which was let's get to market fast and go. So, that capability of integration is unmatched.

 

But then going back, when you think about what we actually built, we built it in a way to say that if it's single tenant, they have to trust us. So the CIOs that meet with us have to trust us to say, I will store my customer data in Unqork. And I trust it as a software, as a service. So, we actually designed it so that the encryption key... they hold the encryption key for production. So which means, we don't even see it. The customer encrypts the data, we don't see it, because it's drag and drop.

 

We don't know if they dragged on a field, if they dragged and create an application where the first field was a date filled per effective date of the policy or was it the date of birth? PII. So we have to assume it's PII. We had to get stack two and type two, Privacy Shield, GDPR compliant, FedRAMP certification is underway. All these credentials had to be done and done better than anyone else has done faster because the clients are dependent on it. They're saying, when you go live, we'll pay you. That's a very different model than-

 

Anita:

Incentives are aligned there because they absolutely need these as requirements. And you know that because you used to be in their seat. So you know what they're up against it's in terms of regulatory, compliance, boundary conditions. But then you're highly incentivized to kind of figure that out because it's directly related to kind of you guys bringing in that revenue and winning that account.

 

Gary:

Yeah. And then we have... because we're trusted. So I would get back to where we started. We recognize bad behavior. And so, as a startup, when there's a bad behavior, we actually have called the CEO of a company many times and said, we've now categorized you as confused, waiting leadership change. We've actually done this and said, come back when you actually change leadership and we'll start working with you then because you're not ready. You're not actually ready for digital. You're not ready to move forward. We've seen the behaviors that we used to experience inside out in big corporations to prevent change.

 

So, we can't waste time. We had one client with 87 meetings. And after the 87th meeting, we had shown them that we could create from scratch in three days what took them 97,000 days of developer time. That's the ratio, three days of Unqork with a non-engineer 97,000 days compared to it. And that's kind of the effort that we've seen. And they said, we love it. Absolutely, we're going to use it. go build a survey over here. And it's like, we just built your trading platform, sorry, like we're not, and we said, no. We told the client, no. We're not going to be... because that's not where... that's called-

 

Anita:

You don't have conditions for success there for Unqork.

 

Gary:

There's no conditions. Their goal is to basically position us in a way where they push us to the side and they continue coding those core systems while we do the accessories, and that's not us. We want to add value. So, what's interesting is the incentives weren't aligned as you said. That's where we have to get to. And that's what has to become is you're succeeding and delivering value in software and technology on time and on budget mean nothing. It actually is just, you create on time, it's on budget-

 

Anita:

Right. I mean, that nomenclature disappears, right?

 

Gary: Absolutely.

 

Anita:

And, I mean, what do you see in this sort of post COVID era now. I mean, we are seeing rapid accelerations in the desire for digital transformations. So, more people, more CEOs are either putting kind of the pedal down on moving forward with all things digital or if they weren't on the digital bandwagon, they are jumping on this.

 

So, I mean, that's got to be good news for Unqork, right, because it sounds like you're going to give organizations a way to, I think, widen the aperture in terms of how many people inside the company can now be engaged in building the sort of next generation of applications and all things digital inside the business. But that doesn't mean that IT are necessary displaced. There's still be a lot of work that needs to be done on those legacy systems. I mean, I can imagine there's room for both, right?

 

Gary:

Yeah, I mean, we have 10,000 individuals going through certification and training outside of our company in building software, right? We call them creators or business engineers. And this term, business engineer is kind of what we're leaning towards-

 

Anita: Business engineer.

 

Gary:

Business engineer. So, when we think about that, probably 80% of them today are business analysts that weren't any experience in technology, outside of Excel and just using Excel. And they're now creating massive enterprise solutions, but the 20% are technologists. And we're watching the top technologists use Unqork and be 200 to 300 times faster than they were before. And that goes back to, are they an engineer or developer? I hate the word developer. I hate the word citizen developer. I hate this concept because an engineer solves problem, a developer pumps out code. You don't want citizens pumping out code, you don't want business users doing that.

 

Gary:

So, we had to make Unqork be in a way where it not just fits into the SDLC process of the technologists so that it's not businesses gone wild. It's not, hey, the business could start creating apps. But what we would say is that best business engineers are technologists or engineers that understand procedures and process and understand that they are the best. We see them time and time again.

 

But what's exciting to me is if we could today in Unqork cover 95 to 98% of what any company does today in technology. That's kind of where we are at this point of maturity up to three years is I could sit down and you could say, you want to create software, what do you want to create, let's create it right now, I'll do it.

 

So, if we're at that capability point, then we look at the engineering team that exists in every company and we would say, there's no shortage of talent. We're going to take the talent that's there, your 50,000 technologists that are in your bank. And imagine if you could take all 50,000 of them and now enable them to code what's unique and repetitive about you in that industry? So, what's the next risk algorithm? What's the next customer service capability for AI and machine learning and NLP engines?

 

And so, to me, what I'm most excited about is the art of the possible. This goes back to when I was in fifth grade. And that magical time of being able to create software that made such a big difference in impact, we kind of view Unqork is freeing up the engineer to do what they're meant to do.

 

Anita:

Right. And, Gary, let's face it, there's going to be a lot of work to do, right? So if you think about kind of all things digital, I look back in 2020 as the year of kind of the big reveal, right? When we all started working from home, it flushed out into the open all of those paper based processes, right? And anybody that was relying on a fax machine was really out of luck, certainly in my world because I don't have a fax machine at home. And I remember actually talking to a bank CIO and she was saying, we never knew how many of our processes required a notary. And kind of very difficult to do a notary thing in a remote distributed world.

 

So, I love that, the pandemic. There's so many bad things about it obviously but I do like that it flushed a lot of this stuff out into the open and made people go, "Oh, my God, this process cannot continue like this." So, therefore, you see a lot of opportunity, right? There has to be a lot of opportunity for people to think about what we would have called back in the day good old fashioned process reengineering.

 

But, Gary, don't you think that the enterprise needs like a whole new vocabulary around this? Because, let's face it, a lot of them were even struggling with this transition from SDLC and the waterfall world to Agile. And I certainly in my time when I was on that fence, it was one thing to think about the IT organization adopting Agile, it was another thing to think that the business could interface with IT in an Agile way. And, again, I'm talking about sort of an old legacy company.

 

So, it almost seems that what you're talking about in terms of no code, I know low-code is a little different, it sort of transcend some of that argument or some of that-

 

Gary:

It does, Anita. So, about two years ago, I did an interview and the one line out of the 30-minute interview that got published was Agile was dead. And you can imagine all of a sudden, I did rebuttals that were created in this publications, rebuttal the rebuttal, rebuttal. And I sat there and I read each viewpoint. The reality is, no one really understands enterprise. The rebuttals actually didn't apply. They were theoretical.

 

But what I personally saw was, my job is to deliver business value. And the way we used to do this, when we first separated IT as a function and I was describing now it's a function and you're my business partner, and I would say it's going to take three years to create the software. And all along that journey, it's like building a house. It's like you're constructing the walls of the house. And I would basically show you a floor plan and you would look at this and go, I think that's what I need.

 

And I would do the framing and you'd walk through and go, oh, okay, I guess that's really good. That looks good. And then three years later, I give you the keys and you walk in and be like, this sucks. The windows, the lighting, the cabinets, everything sucks. I wish you could extend out.

 

And then you're like, I want to move the window. And I'm like, well, we can't move the window, it's going to cost $10 million to move that window and we can't. It's perfect where it is. And so, that was the old days, that was SDLC, the waterfall approach, everyone called it Agile. I was so excited of Agile. When Agile came out as this concept, I'm like, hey, I get to deliver business value faster. The reality of Agile though is we put up a wall and I'm like, Anita, we put up a wall. Let's go celebrate, high five, let's go. Let's meet tomorrow, we'll put up the next wall.

 

And the reality was at the end of like the first sprint, I'm going to say, we're going live and let's announce to the company, this is so exciting. And you're going to be as the business going 'There's no plumbing and there's no door to the bathroom. And we can't go live because I can't use the bathroom, even though there's a toilet there. I can't actually get running water to it and use it.' So, no, but, well, it's in the backlog, the plumbing is in the backlog. It'll come later. And the thing was I lived through so many Agile projects that literally had to get stopped.

 

We found out that all the things important to the business were pushed to the backlog, almost like swept under the rug. And we were delivering and celebrating things that had no value to anyone. On time and on budget, yes. We were delivering it on time and on budget when we said we would. All the value to the business was in the backlog and never got materialized. And that's the reality. So, we had it when we created Unqork. Someone said, Agile was great, it's just too slow for Unqork. It's like it works-

 

Anita: Oh my god.

 

Gary: Yeah. And so-

 

Anita:

That's a controversial statement here in the world of ThoughtWorks because they were among the thought leaders in Agile but they're providing a lot of thought leadership around the no code, low-code movement. It is a movement.

 

Gary:

It's always the way you deploy it that works. So what Agile did amazing was it brought the business to the table and said you're responsible now. You are responsible to be here with us every morning and to stand up to talk about what we're doing and how we do it. And so, from that point of view, it's very different.

 

Anita:

Do you remember, yeah, our CTO at ThoughtWorks, Rebecca Parsons, she actually always talked about that, particularly when it comes to sort of DevOps and continuous delivery. She was like, when you meet the coalface of that, in reality, it's not what people think it is, and that's not well understood.

 

Gary:

Exactly, right. So, it's a challenge. So to us, it's all about how do you get the business value fastest? That's it. That's really what it comes down to. It's what do you do. And as a business leader, your job should be to deliver that and get rewarded for that, not rewarded based on how many people work for you and your budget size.

 

Anita:

Yeah. Now, Gary, this may be a little bit out of left field but I will say I've been thinking about you and Unqork a lot recently. So, I'm on the board of a unicorn den in Brazil, a company called Nubank. And they are sort of the largest Neo or digital bank in Latin America. And you can kind of think of like the Brazilian banking world being almost like the Canadian world. It's almost like there's some sort of oligopoly of four or five, sort of the big old legacy guys. And Nubank have kind of come in sort of, kind of think of them analogous to the Capital One story in the US market.

 

So, all digital, the place is full of technologists. It's fully Agile. Remember when we used to dream about, could we ever start again and build from scratch? That's kind of what these guys have done in the last 10 years. And it perplexes me on many levels. I love, love, love working with them. It was a great company, great culture. But, obviously, I'm looking at it from a board perspective thinking, wow, this is a different governance paradigm, right? Because the way that these guys look to solve problems is with technology. And they do think of everybody as kind of an engineer. And quite frankly, a lot of them have that skill set.

 

But I think, Gary, as well, if I'm thinking about from a board room perspective, that this requires a different form of digital governance, then that trickles down. So, this is going to require a different kind of leadership and a different kind of management. What are you seeing sort of as the traits of those leaders that are adopting Unqork? And how do you manage this whole thing in a way that's very effective?

 

Gary:

Yeah. So it's interesting. So, we're seeing leaders that are embracing saying, I'm going to try it. So what's the harm in trying something new? I guess, if they did a pilot with us so, I guess, first thing we do need is like, so we're coming in and basically we are being called the holy grail, which basically means you don't exist. Like when they say, this is the holy grail, everyone's been looking for all these years, for 30 years. What they're saying is, it can't be real.

 

And so, the first thing we have to do, and we do it very fast, is I have to convince the person in the room to get skeptical. I have to basically bring them to the point of skepticism as fast as I possibly can to say doesn't exist. And then we basically turn it around and say, okay, you're my client in the room, let's build it and I'll do it with you. And I'm going to be your engineer, your business engineer. What do you want to create? Imagine something new. Create some new software. And we're not going to create a proof of concept, it's production ready. You'll be able to access it right when we leave here.

 

And so, that gets through the skepticism. And typically what that then does is that business leader says, okay, I'm surprised how fast they moved. Let's go to the architecture review. Let's do the cloud governance process. Let's go through all of the checks and balances and the Seesaw, and the compliance and the security questionnaires. And we we're designed for that. We have we hired a Seesaw before an engineer, like we literally had a Seesaw before we ever hired engineer, she was on board. And-

 

Anita:

Well, again, Gary, no disrespect to your skeptical investor conversations, but you mean, you were that soldier, right? When you're CIO, you had to go and get all of those approvals from security, from central architecture, from procurement from whomever, legal compliance. And, I mean, you'd have to do the entire dog and pony show. So you knew that's coming, right?

 

Gary:

You knew it. And you also knew all the gotchas... the chief architects are standing across from you and they're like, well, that wasn't good that you use to that. So we kind of started with a place where there was no gotchas. But the goal would be is as quick as you can is to get that business leader board in to say, this is different. And the reason why they have to be brought in and trust the need is because what happens is, as you know, the organizations are like organisms that will revolt, right or wrong?

 

They will find... So, I remember a CIO called me up and said, really bold. And the CIO said, we love Unqork where we want to move forward. I have a list of nine things the chief architect sent me that why we shouldnt move forward with Unqork and why we should continue to code. And I'm going to read them to you and let's discuss them. And the reality was all nine were not true. All nine didn't have-

 

Anita:

To go back to our story of imaginary barriers and real barriers, right?

 

Gary:

It happens. So, I remember, there was one time at Fortune 50 company to where a business wanted to use one of my platforms. And she was like, we'll use it for this other new purpose. And I said, let me show you and I showed it. And then she called me up after about a week later. She goes, I presented it to the steering committee and the steering committee came out and someone in the steering committee said, it's great but your software is not reliable so we shouldn't use it.

 

And she's like, I'm telling you this because it was kind of interesting the way they said that and you're both MDs, you're both senior. And I'm like, well, I'm supporting all the trading platforms. Literally, I actually have the most critical infrastructure a city is, every app, every entitlement, so it doesn't go down 100%. So-

 

Anita:

Yeah. So, keep telling her, I know what reliability looks like, lady.

 

Gary:

Oh, I know, I know. And so, with Unqork, we've had three years of uptime. We have had three years of 100% uptime which is what no one could say like you need that. You need to go in and say, trust us, you should trust us. But the leader, as you're saying, the quality of the leader is someone that is bold and will be there to basically call BS is what I would say.

 

And basically say, this is the right thing to move forward for the company, for our shareholders, for our customers. And against all the resistance that they might face themselves, as we experienced, they would actually be able to push through it. And we've seen that every time. We see all of that. And the benefits for those who drive that.

 

Going back to our first client, we were so excited that James did the interview with Forbes when we announced the Series C and that's Liberty's CEO. And he said, we're at least three times faster and at least three times cheaper than anything they've ever seen. And that-

 

Anita:

Let's face it. In this post COVID increasingly digitized world, who doesn't want that advantage? I mean-

 

Gary: Absolutely.

 

Anita:

CIOs are going to have to find real sources of advantage right now if they're going to win on this new battlefield of all things digital.

 

Gary:

Yeah. And the other thing I would say is they have to start to look at the results as opposed to listen to the research as much, is what I would say. So, what I mean by that is there's a lot of perception out there from the past 15 years that you need to get the ability to override code in a platform. You have to have the ability to inject script and code. And yet I personally experienced that's the reason why technology has been stuck for 15 years, it hasn't advanced.

 

So, we are completely against that dimension and that feature and we don't allow you to purposely and that's why we're succeeding. So, you'd have to be able to actually believe enough and say, okay, it works, I see the results, I'm going to take a chance. And our dollar retention rate, net dollar retention rate is almost 200%. So, basically means when the customer took a chance now in four quarters, they'll have two use cases or more in production.

 

Anita:

So the value is obvious and it's obvious quickly, right? I mean, what I love about your message, Gary, is for the listeners out there who are leaders in digital transformations. I mean, the story of Unqork and what you're doing, it is one of hope and optimism because you're like, there are new and different ways of kind of wrestling this bear to the ground, right. There's this thing that is the demand from the business for digital. And you in particular, because you used to be inside the machine, you know their pain, you know the minds of the CIOs, good, bad and indifferent.

 

And I genuinely think that most resistance comes from sort of noble places, right? And that can be fear, right? But there's a nobility to think, hey, there's a future here and I'm not sure if I'm a part of it and that scares me a little bit. But as you rightly say, the visionary ones are the ones that can see the end from the beginning, right? And they know that in that future, there is room for everybody. But the future is coming very soon and we're all going to have to live in it so we might as well soon have embrace it. 

 

Gary:

I mean, think about if you were the one back on mainframe saying web doesn't exist, web shouldn't be here. That's kind of what's happening. That's what we kind of feel we are right now is we're that new web, we're kind of web 4.0. And so, what's interesting is the worst thing, the frustration of businesses not getting the value of technology. So I think, McKinsey and BCG had a study years back that came out that said that 93% of enterprise projects fail to deliver the value they set out.

 

Anita: I saw that.

 

Gary:

And that's 93% is like you might as well open up a restaurant during COVID in New York City. And that would be a better investment of your money. You'll make more return on that. And so with that, when you think about that, we're seeing the business' frustrations to your point about COVID. The pandemic is creating a new digital requirement, not an accessory, necessity could be digital, you have to be. And so, the businesses increase frustration. I have a CEO of a business called me up and basically say, how do I work with you versus my internal team? And he's the CEO. And that's the-

 

Anita:

That's the big fear, right-

 

Gary:

And that's what we say, we're not that. We're like, no, we will actually enable your internal team. Please introduce us to the internal team and they'll appreciate how fast we could deliver value with them for you. So my expectation is that the technologists have to move to add value, like they have to figure out how to quickly add value. We are that, the process around that and thinking through that. And just one correlation.

 

So, early on I said, we were in the news saying we were 200 times faster than the Java developers. What I personally would say as a Java developer, I would say this is what it is and it show and equate it. The three times faster that our clients say are recognizing that the overall program doesn't change. The requirements have to be defined and understood. The change request will come, it will come. The difference is that instead of taking three years to build the house, in six months you'll be living in it. And when you say to move the window, you could move the window with no risk and very little cost. That's the differences.

 

But all of the program around it, we're saying, overall, three times faster is actually incredible. But when you think about all of the management and the testing and everything needed to get through the production, that's what we're really excited about. That's the whole process. That's where working with partners to deliver. But we've been doing a lot of that this past year. It's incredible and rewarding for us.

 

Anita:

Well, I think, I mean, it's incredible. Two things come to mind. One of those is having a conversation with the CIO last week and I was just asking him about kind of low code, no code. And, again, I'm not coupling those together because I know you separate them, Gary. But he kind of said, he said, I reflect back on my career and as every kind of language came along, engineers and developers were sort of dismissive at first. Go, no, it's way too simple. It could never work. It will never take hold. I knew and they said that about Java at one point, right?

 

And so he's like, I looked at, at low-code, and he said, yeah, it may look like one thing right now but someday in the future, it's going to look like a very smart thing that we'll all be using. And so it was sort of interesting how he saw this as just as you were saying, sort of this, this latest iteration of how software is getting abstracted and is going to be developed differently. And I think that's hugely, hugely exciting.

 

Well, Gary, look, I hope that everyone listening has enjoyed your own story. And first of all, the lessons that, hell, yes, there's life after 40. Thank God for that. And there are brand new careers out there to be pursued and dreams to be fulfilled. So, that's message number one of hope and optimism. Message number two, that there are people out there in this Fintech and startup world, I know you've expanded beyond Fintech now, that do come from their world and can bridge that gap and can speak those languages. And I think that's part of what the crew at ThoughtWorks do as well. And I know they're very excited about this whole movement.

 

And then I just think, as you rightly say, we're in for a very exciting few years here. I mean, tech has always been exciting if you're kind of, like you and me. But I think right now, it's just accelerating. Change happens faster in times of change and whether we like it or not but I don't think 2020 is so much, we hit the pause button so much as we hit the reset button. And a lot coming out with different expectations. So, I'm so excited, Gary, to obviously, not only be your friend, but to continue to follow the Unqork story and journey with tremendous interest. And we wish you the best of luck with that. And hope that you'll come back and talk to us another time.

 

Gary:

I would love to, Anita. It's just so much fun talking to you and being part of the ThoughtWorks team here to do this. This is incredible. Thank you.

 

Anita:

Awesome. Thanks, Gary.


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