Mark Godfrey and Simon Cole
Mark Godfrey and Simon Cole from Automated Intelligence, finalists Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year 2013
Automated Intelligence (AI) is a Northern Ireland-based software company with a new approach to managing corporate information and data. AI aims to provide enterprise software solutions to cut data costs and improve data management, efficiencies and compliance.
Enterprise software industry experts Mark Godfrey and Simon Cole founded AI in 2010 in Belfast with a new idea for the information management market. At that point they had no staff, no product, no customers, no office and no brand.
AI has since developed a large customer base, with over 100,000 software licences deployed to UK government departments such as HM Treasury, the Department for Education, Department of Health, the British Red Cross, and in Northern Europe with customers such as Statoil.
Well-known technology companies such as Microsoft actively promote AI’s software to their customer base. The company has attracted £3 million (€3.5 million) in revenue in less than two years’ trading and employs 30 people.
What was your “back-to-the-wall” moment and how did you overcome it?
It had to be having enough cash to get our 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 we ensured our vision was right and our customers understood our USPs, helped secure a 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?
When we began to be endorsed and referred by customers and partners alike, in particular our principle partner Microsoft. When we initially presented to its senior technical architects, it was clear 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 its 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.
What were the best and worst pieces of advice you received when starting out?
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.
Worst: “Target small customers.” We address problems faced by most organisations, irrespective of size. Going small limits the opportunities.
Were there any interesting or unusual circumstances surrounding the inception of the company?
Mark: “We worked together for a major software vendor. Simon was in product management and marketing and I was in sales. After a customer meeting, we stopped at a motorway services for a coffee. We both agreed 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.”