Automation Lessons from an ex-GoFundMe Founding Team Member.
Greg Smith is a Growth & Operations Leader and an ex-GoFundMe Founding Team Member (Head of Customer Operations).
Greg operates convergence of Biz Ops and No Code where he helps Startups save time and money by optimizing their People, Processes, & Technology.
Abdulaziz M Alhamdan 0:08
Once upon a time, there were millions of businesses struggling. Every day they wasted time, effort, and energy on repetitive tasks that added no value one day, the better automation podcast came to help them find a way. Because of this, these businesses save time, reduce costs, innovate, and make better decisions. Because of that these businesses grow, scale, and use human creativity to change this world. Hello, my name is Aziz, and I'm your host that better automation podcast by process here where I interview the world's top experts and share their very, very best ideas on how to improve automation in your business, processes, and life. My guest today is Greg Smith. Greg was previously a Head of Customer operations and the employee number two at Go Fund Me. In addition to advising, he is the owner at wheelhouse solutions. Greg operates at the convergence of biz ops and no code where he helps startups save time and money by optimizing their people, processes and technology. When he is not automating and optimizing business processes. Greg spends time with his kids travels, plays golf and guitar and enjoys life in Encinitas Beach, California. Greg, how are you today?
Greg Smith 1:53
I'm doing great, Aziz. Thanks for having me.
Abdulaziz M Alhamdan 1:55
It's my honor, it's my privilege, it's going to be a wonderful experience, I am sure because I feel the vibe. And I want people to benefit. I want everybody who's listening to think, Wow, this is like a floodgate of value that opened up. So when it comes to business ops, and to automation, let's say someone has a different background, but they're put in a position or nowadays they need to, you know, optimize their business processes, they need to automate more, and all that, how did you come to understand the value of it? Do you have examples that let you know and think wow, life would have been different if I didn't have access to these tools, or these thought processes or mapping the process on a whiteboard or whatever, like, share something that really can give the people that understanding, importance and value that you see in automation and Biz Ops thinking?
Greg Smith 3:02
Sure, sure. Well, thank you for the lovely intro. I appreciate it. And so I think a lot of Biz Ops, in general, or automation, this whole world still just stems from business outcomes, right? We get excited about the technology and what we can do in the extensibility of this stuff. But I still think it goes back to what is the outcome that we're trying to get to, and now we just have different tools. So I think the evolution of the tools have also evolved every role within an organization. Right. And so in my approach, I guess to kind of back up and go to 30,000 foot view, I think the greatest sentence of founder or a team leader can hear is Nevermind, I figured it out. And the tools like Zapier, their tables, or any of these automation tools give people the ability to do a lot more without the need for development resources. And so when you're working in any early stage to any size company, really, there's still business outcomes and needles and KPIs that you're trying to hit. These tools make that possible. And I think some of the biggest opportunities in this world isn't necessarily these massive automation or high tech, you know, processes, but more people that simply just don't know what's possible, even more tech timid in industries that I've worked with construction and interior design and things like that, where these people know the hell out of their business and they know how to build a house or they know how to, you know, work as a plumber or carpenter or any of these other types of industries. The tools that are available now can revolutionize how those those industries operate and how those big businesses operate. The problem is technology is really scary. And they simply just don't know what's possible. So if it seems like technology, it seems like, Okay, we need to hire a software engineer, we need to build these things and try and try and automate some of the mundane. But really, it couldn't be simpler. They just simply don't know what's possible, and how simple it can be to do these things. And example, one of the examples I'll give you as one of my clients on the retail shoe store in Arizona, and during COVID, when the at the start with a pandemic, he had to shut down his business. And so he had all this inventory, and it was a franchise. And so I was able to quickly spin up a Shopify website, and get him selling online. So he could sell the inventory that he had. But also the franchise had a warehouse full of inventory as well, that's just kind of sitting there. And so the opportunity was, how do we build the website for a fairly tech, timid, a shoe franchise retailer. But we needed to somehow sync what was in the inventory at headquarters with the inventory that was in his his store has retail store in Arizona, and have that run real time. And it's funny because some of my most complex automations and processes are around a shoe retailer, versus some of the more high tech companies that I've worked with. And so it's just it's interesting how we've been able to leverage tools like Zapier and find some very niche tools in the E commerce space, to go out there and figure out a way to keep the inventory synced, what was happening is, he can also sell on Amazon. But when he was selling on Amazon, it wasn't pinging the Warehouse database. So he was selling shoes that are actually in stock. We just recently in the last couple of weeks, figured that out using air table and all these automations and notifications and stuff. And you know, these last few days, he's been sending me text messages just kind of celebrating, we didn't do any refunds this week, or we didn't have to cancel any orders because we didn't have the thing in stock. So just things like that I you know, really drive me in my day to day business, too. I love seeing people realize the potential of their business using some of these tools.
Abdulaziz M Alhamdan 7:23
Thank you. And I want to stress that it's not optional to do this anymore. It's a jungle out there, and every little competitive advantage you can have makes a difference. I know you're speaking about it, someone might listen and say, Well, the way you've been doing it so far has been working. Alright. And yes, of course, what I need is to sell more not to think about biz ops and not to automate or even, you know, to me, it just the time you take to automate or to think about your biz ops, you can find inefficiencies, you find ways to improve, that make the whole difference. What's your perspective on this?
Greg Smith 8:03
It does come down to the your outcomes, it does come down to the KPIs the way that I approach any of my, the companies that I work with, I say it's people process, capital th e en, then technology, because at the end of the day, it's still we need to figure out what we're driving towards. Right. And there is such thing, like the two things that I caution to there is such thing as over automation, where you've automated so much for the sake of automation, that you're not actually feeling the pain. And I think pain is a really important thing in business. I think pain is something that helps you gauge the severity of what's going on, you know, if you've automated you know, an error report on a on a website or on a product, and you've you've made it just automatic, for example, automatically goes straight to your your spam or because you're annoyed with the with the notifications, it's telling you that there's a huge indicator that something's wrong with your business. And so, you know, I've had scenarios where I've gone into clients where there's, you know, they've automated so much that we're looking at certain things like do we know that there's, you know, 10 notifications a day, or do are even getting a notification when the site's down or when you know, when there hasn't been a sale in three hours. You know, I'll tell you a story early on it at GoFundMe one of the first few months I was there. Somebody was having an issue. I was running customer service and somebody was having an issue with their unsubscribe, they were trying to unsubscribe from notification emails, and I was testing it. I said, No, it seems to be working fine. And I came back from lunch and we had no tickets. And at that time, there was really high volume like, you know, 1500 tickets a day. And so we came back and we were like Uh oh, look at that we, we we perfected the product there, nobody reached out for any sort of support help but it's like though it turns out i i unsubscribed from my job and Subscribed email@example.com and none of the emails were showing up. So we turn that back on. And then a flood of notifications all came back in. And so there is such thing when when I look at approaches to to any type of business operations, you want that right mix of pain and notification idiot waste, so you're not over automating, right, and that the, the attraction to wanting to do that, because as as business operators, and as somebody who has these really powerful tools that we may not have had previously, it's such a fun thing to do to build. And, you know, I can take that a step further. And I can automate this piece of it, and then it can send, you know, you know, send a notification, or it can automatically send an email out to a customer based on exactly what they bought in the past. But it's a lot of that's times, especially early on, I work with a lot of early stage startups, you need to feel that pain, you need to see those in maybe it's not pain, but you need to you need those indicators to help you gauge what's actually happening in your business.
Abdulaziz M Alhamdan 11:20
Thank you. So if I understood you correctly, we have to in every business notice the symptoms of pain or the pain points and automate in order to fix them rather than what happens. And I love productivity. So I was involved in that niche a lot as someone learning and people spend more time optimizing their systems than using them. It was one of the gripes. So it's like people who love efficiency, they will over automate, as you said, for the sake of it, you know, efficiency for the sake of efficiency rather than not. And okay, let's get very practical. Imagine someone wants, let's say, to hire an automation expert, they explained to them, what should they be aware of? How can they evaluate the person? And very importantly, how would you approach an automation project in order to decide on the right KPIs rather than on vanity metrics, in order to understand what should be automated and what is wasted? Like process and energy and resources? Tell me more when it comes to a project, someone wants to understand how things go, how things work? And how to choose the right person?
Greg Smith 12:39
Sure. You know, I think you hit you touched on some of it, where it is those those KPIs I've had, it's a lot of the same vein, it's what are I think, when I start with the person, you understand the skill sets that you have within your business, right. And so if Aziz is a salesperson, and he's spending 45%, of his day selling, because he's spending, you know, the other the other 65. In Salesforce updating records, we need him spending as close to 100% of his time doing that, right. And so, what are, you know, when you approach how you're going to do that, you need to really understand the person and what they do well, right, a marketing person versus a salesperson versus an operations person, how do you maximize their time doing the thing that they're paid to do? versus how much time? Are they fumbling around in software, updating records, and how much of that stuff is really important? And so, again, I go back to the people, and then the process, what are the what are the outcomes? And what are the the KPIs that we're trying to hit here? And is it possible for Aziz to hit his goals in the time allotted during a week or month or a debt? Right? Like, can he can he do that? And And if all signs point A Yes, he can. But he's spending too much of this other other time, you know, in some of the mundane, that's really where we start. It's like the low hanging fruit. You know, automatic emails like that go out. Starting there, right? Like, what are the things that do consume that other piece where you feel like you're wasting time or you're doing more of the mundane? Updating records, data entry, things like that, it's you need to you need to look at the person first and what their skill set is, and understand how do we maximize that person's time to be doing those things and that's really how I how I approach it. It's never I try and stay fairly software agnostic. And I think when I go into a business, all this automating consulting and no code like nobody types in no code, right? There's still just like I'm trying to reduce, increase my efficiency, or reduce my expenses, it's still that so it's still just business consultant, consulting. But at the end of the day, we have better tools. And we've learned more to be able to do a lot more with that. But I still think it comes back to getting the most out of the person. And so these tools help supercharge the person to do the job that they're hired for.
Abdulaziz M Alhamdan 15:29
It reminds me of there is a cognitive bias, which is complexity bias that human beings trust or believe or feel that the more complex a system is, or an automation, the better quality it is that simplicity is childish and useless. While deep thinkers, you know whether Einstein or others will say that simplicity is the highest form of sophistication or things should be as simple as possible, but no simpler or Occam's razor and all that stuff. Do you agree with this, because some people and I heard a business person who was quite well known saying that complexity is my competitive advantage. My system is so complicated that competitors cannot replicate it, and therefore, I'm safe, while others will say if it's too complicated, nobody understands what's going on, and too much time is wasted. How do you approach this? Do you believe that things would be so simple that could be like diagrammed on the back of a napkin? Or are you in the middle? Or do you believe complexity is cool? Or tell me more about this?
Greg Smith 16:42
Yeah. Yeah, I there's a spectrum, right. And I think it depends on what you're talking about. If you're talking about a product, then complexity is a moat and a differentiation in a product or in a business, right? So complexity could be a great thing, because it's something that was really hard, and it's not very easy to replicate. When I'm doing on a on a product side, I believe that that that is true. And that's great, you know, the greatest algorithms and the you know, a lot of work and thoughtfulness has gone into it. On the process side, I think simplicity is is the way that you want it, there's the way that I approach it anyway. And a lot of times, it's not even the technical complexity. It's the you know, asking why five times, and it's people doing things that they've been told to, we're surrounded by so much content, and so many different ways to do marketing. And so many different people spent any, any time in the, in the business Twitter world, you know, you know, the top five ways and the top seven ways in the top 10 ways to do every, every aspect of every job, the the at the end of the day, I think it becomes the action and the action, you take on those things and kind of picking a lane and doing it. But I think in the business process world. Simplicity is the way but I have some very complex automations and things that have to happen that way. But I'm constantly looking at them and saying every bit of complexity in my business processes is a potential for error, right, and as a potential for things to fail. And so I'm trying to remove steps, or can I consolidate a technology? And can I consolidate my software and certain steps in order to reduce the amount of friction or reduce the amount of potential for error along the way? And so I yeah, I think I think it goes, I think good, I'm, I'm blown away by complex automations and system, and I think it's awesome. And I've worked that, you know, I've done the no code fellowships and the on deck stuff, and there's just some brilliant people in there doing some amazing things. And as operators and automators, we can be impressed and flex our muscles on the things that we've done. But at the end of the day, the client doesn't really care. And they just need the thing to work, right. Like, my, my shoe store guy. You know, he the more complexity scares him, he goes, I don't understand it, I can't wrap my head around it. And to be honest with you, it scares me. Just hang with me here, you know, and so all I'm doing is trying to reduce that complexity.
Abdulaziz M Alhamdan 19:26
It reminds me of those, you know, ad agencies that when awards for creativity rather than effectiveness and sales and therefore, like you said, the clients or the or the businesses, what they care about is increasing sales, not how beautiful and futuristic and deconstructive is that is which is what the creative awards are usually given for. And also it reminds me of the theory of constraint, which is a methodology and finding, you know, bottlenecks and systems and that at its purest form, when you make a system totally efficient, the bottleneck becomes in your mind and the assumptions made. And too many people are living in a world where there are assumptions, that are the bottlenecks that are destroying their ops and their businesses or reducing the KPI reaching and no amount of automation. Of course, automation is important, but no amount of automation will fix the wrong premise or the wrong assumption. How do you think business people can go about testing their assumptions or finding contrary assumptions that will open new ways of thinking open new perspectives that allow them to become truly more effective and efficient?
Greg Smith 20:48
Yeah, and I like the word you used. I like constraints. I think constraints are a big, a big piece of this GoFundMe, we, we were bootstrapped. And so you know, every time one of our competitors got a round of funding, we'd celebrate because we knew that it was going to take them three to six months to get a whole bunch of new team members up to speed, they were going to probably install an expensive software that's going to take a long time for them to, to, to get up to speed at and it was, it was that abundance. And right now in business and in the world, there is an abundance of information, there's an abundance of tools, there's abundance, there's an abundance of advice, and I still think action is the best way forward. You know, during that time, since we were bootstrapped, it was new, we were working off of the money that we were earning from the from actual revenue. And we never talked to VCs, we never went up to the valley, we're here in San Diego. But we, we removed things. So people were like, can you connect to MailChimp? Or can you connect to Salesforce? Or can you No, and they wanted all these different partnerships. And it was, No, we're just going to make this prod product as dead simple as possible, and then invest our money into the people and into our customer service. So we had a five minute reply time on all incoming tickets. And it was dead laser focus on that there were certain, you know, itches, we had to scratch on the bizdev side, but we never had a marketing team or sales. And that's not the not it's not the usual for most businesses. But I think constraints and insane Noho is a is a big piece of of this right? And it's still as flashy and cool and wonderful as some of the software and these tools are, I love the the simplest products out there. I love the stories of the, you know, the browser extension that's worth billions, right, like grammerly. Or, you know, I think that's wonderful, because, you know, not like I've spent the last 20 years in San Diego technology space, but I grew up, you know, blue collar suburbs of Boston never knew about technology or software, what these guys could do. And so my application isn't this bleeding edge. You know, how to stay as high tech as possible. It's how do we take this help people, you know, some of my favorite things, or my are my, my personal little automations and things that I do around those, I think the simpler, the better. But I think to go back to your the long winded way that is is constraints and saying no to certain things and trying to stay laser focused on, you know, it might only be one or two KPIs, and they might be boring, but just keep hitting that and that invent GoFundMe, that's what we did. It was, you know, how do we get more? How do we make it easier for people to sign up. And then if people are going through some of the most emotional things in their life, there should be a human being there. And they should be there very quickly. And they should be useful. And they should get them on their way as fast as possible. And so those were the two things that that we really approach there. And those were our constraints. Okay, do we need, you know, what, what else do we need, and instead of adding and adding, we consistently tried to remove things to get out of our way to make those two pieces easier.
Abdulaziz M Alhamdan 24:18
And that's an absolutely important point that every business person, entrepreneur founder, or whoever is listening, they should map out everything that they're doing, and ask, do we need to do this? Is this adding value and eliminate anything that doesn't? Because the really no, say no to the wrong things or the you know, I remember Peter Drucker, he has a quote that there is no bigger way something like that there is no bigger ways than doing efficiently things that should not be done at all. So having clarity on which processes lead to the outcomes that the business is look In for and eliminating anything else. Like, there are many jobs that are. Or I remember there is a book, you know, it's about all kinds of jobs that are BS jobs as he calls it, where those jobs are useless. But they just they're either because other people have done them before. And therefore the company feels bigger when they include them, or they just make them look cool or anything like that. But they don't add any value and really in this world, trimming the fat, automating what needs to be automated doing things well, and focusing on your core competency is the whole difference maker. Well, Greg, this was a pleasure and very enriching conversation. If people want to learn more about what you do, can you share about that? Where can they connect with you and I'll make sure to write your Twitter in the description as well.
Greg Smith 25:56
Sure, you can just go to GregCSmith.me And that's a personal slash professional website and it has all my social links on there and, and writing and podcasts and stuff like that. So this was great. I really enjoyed the conversation is easy.
Abdulaziz M Alhamdan 26:12
Thank you. And I cannot end without sharing PROCESIO, which is what makes this whole podcast possible. PROCESIO is the modern low code, no code platform for advanced automation, and creating an enterprise grade back end for your software. You can even automate on premise if need maybe you can get any listener free access to an account processor that gives you one full hour of running time, which is equivalent to of execution time, which is equivalent to 100 Human hours. And if you need more, you can get a very generous 50% discount by using BETTER50OFF capital letters. One word, you can see it also written in the description. Thank you so much. It was my privilege, my honor, and I'm looking forward to even more conversations with you and I wish you a great day there in Encinitas.
Greg Smith 27:12
Thank you, you too. Thanks, Aziz.