In conversation 07.12.2023
Q&A with Thingtrax CEO Paul Reader
In July this year, Concentric co-led a pre-Series A round into Thingtrax, an IoT-powered data platform that enables manufacturers to build a high-performance culture. We caught up with CEO, Paul Reader, to find out why the business has emerged at just the right time for manufacturers facing global challenges, the reasons behind their renewed focus on food and beverage, and bridging the cultural distinctions between the UK and their Pakistan operations.
The manufacturing sector has faced a challenging few years. How is Thingtrax helping manufacturers to innovate for a new world?
Manufacturers are facing multiple pressures and threats simultaneously. On the one hand, the cost of inputs, such as materials and energy, is increasing, and on the other, there is a real lack of supply in terms of skills, with literally millions of open vacancies internationally across the sector. CEOs and boards of manufacturers need to evolve how they operate to remain competitive and profitable.
Thingtrax has therefore emerged at the ideal moment, providing a platform that helps them to get more out of machines, and processes, by empowering their people with access to accurate real-time information and intelligence about the manufacturing production side of their business. This drives faster, better decisions, and ultimately improved business performance.
We are also far better suited to manufacturers with historical legacy platforms, which are too costly, complicated, or require people resources, and expertise that these organisations don’t have. By combining IoT devices with computer vision and AI and the edge, we provide a modular solution that takes a fraction of the time and cost to implement, doesn’t require any IT infrastructure, and is future-proof and scalable as a business grows and expands.
What challenges do you face selling to the manufacturing sector? How have you overcome these?
The overarching lesson we’ve learned over the last two years is that even if your software is market agnostic, the best way to grow quickly is through verticalisation, focusing on becoming the best possible solution for a particular vertical, in our case food and beverage. This has enabled us to laser-focus our deployment of capital and avoid a lot of complexity and challenge in messaging and go-to-market strategy that comes with trying to sell across numerous verticals.
Taking this approach has also enabled us to hire salespeople with deep domain expertise who earn instant credibility with our target audience. All the commercial talent that we’ve hired for Thingtrax have five-plus years of either working in food and beverage or selling technologies into food and beverage. So, they understand the target audience, know precisely what’s going on in their businesses, ask intelligent questions, and can be consultative in helping them overcome their challenges to drive better performance.
Finally, we have developed a gold standard playbook for every aspect of our sales process, including sales methodology, value engineering methodology, and solution demonstration methodology. While these will most certainly be adapted and improved over time, ensuring that everybody is aligned now ensures that we can improve iteratively going forward.
Why did you choose to focus on the UK food and beverage market?
Food and beverage made sense for three main reasons. Firstly, it is one of the most recession-proof sectors; even in a downturn, everyone has to eat, and everyone has to drink, so that protects the probability of achieving growth that aligns with our aspirations. Secondly, food and beverage tends to be the biggest manufacturing sector in almost every country, so that works in our favour in terms of addressable market. And finally, the food and beverage sector is one of the most complicated from a manufacturing perspective, involving big factories, production lines, multiple steps, multiple machines, and different logic between them. You need to have a sophisticated, well-developed technology to compete, so it is technically difficult for other businesses to enter. We believe that we have the best technology in the world for this sector and new entrants will find it difficult to catch up which is a clear advantage.
You joined Thingtrax as CEO in 2020, a few years after the business was founded. What are the origins of the business, and why did the co-founders bring you in when it was time to scale?
The two original co-founders are Aman Gupta and Imran Shafqat, both software engineers, who are now Chief Product Officer and Chief Technology Officer respectively. Aman’s family owns a manufacturing business and when he saw the problems they were facing, it inspired him to develop a better solution. He and Imran are brilliant at solving problems and have the technical expertise needed to build a data-centric product, but their background is not in building commercial strategies. They knew they wanted to bring somebody in with a more well-rounded profile in building companies, which is why I joined.
My experience is really diverse. I’ve worked in consulting and management, owned a digital agency, and led one of the top ten B2B tech agencies in North America. So, for close to 10 years, I helped tech company after tech company develop their strategy, build products, and take them to market. That set me up with a good foundation, but I realised that the real value happens inside tech companies where new value is created through innovation. So ever since, I’ve worked on the inside, across a variety of positions including sales, business development, corporate development, customer success, and finance. So, for Imran and Aman I’m a good complement to their technical strengths, bringing strategic and execution expertise, plus the experience and empathy needed to build all the different functions of a high-growth VC-backed tech business.
Your entire tech team is based in Pakistan. What are the challenges involved in having an offshore team and how do you make it work?
The time zone difference is four hours, which can present challenges, but isn’t too bad; it’s better than New York and many other places. Added to that are cultural differences that always need to be considered when managing offshore operations. Pakistani teams are quite different in many ways to Brits or Americans, particularly in how they treat those more senior. There isn’t necessarily a natural inclination for people to speak out or be critical. So, we’ve worked very hard to help them feel that they can speak up about their views and concerns so that we can iteratively learn and improve.
Another key consideration is creating continuity and energy between the different geographic regions. We make a concerted effort to run cultural exchanges, where team members from the UK go over to Pakistan, or they come over here. I just came back from a week in Pakistan along with another two members of the team, where we did activities such as mountain climbing, ran sessions, and had one-to-ones, which helped us develop a much deeper relationship. We also offer relocation options for high performers, if they want to move over here.
The other big factor that makes it work is that Imran, our Chief Technology Officer, is in Pakistan permanently. He’s British Pakistani and when he and Aman decided they were going to seek investment and grow the business, he moved back to Pakistan from England. He’s a dual citizen, so he understands both cultures and speaks both languages fluently. So that makes a massive difference.
Which Thingtrax features and functionality are having the biggest impact for your clients?
We have recently gone live with several product developments that have made a big difference for our clients and put us a step ahead of competitors.
Firstly, IPaas (integration platform as a service) gives us a huge advantage in rapidly integrating our platform with a wider range of third-party systems such as ERP. This enables FAST deployment with low costs for our clients.
Predictive analytics, enabled by AI and machine learning, is another USP that gives managers a view of their future OEE (overall equipment effectiveness). This allows manufacturers to take preventive actions to optimise equipment performance, minimise unplanned downtime, and enhance overall production efficiency, ultimately leading to more informed decision-making and improved operational effectiveness.
Line efficiency is a huge issue within the food and drinks manufacturing industry and with Thingtrax, manufacturers can understand both the efficiency of their production line as a whole, but also understand how each machine within the line operates. With this information, they can pinpoint where to focus their efforts to maximise both productivity and returns.
Finally, our clients really value our daily meeting system which helps them to foster effective communication and transparency and ensures that all team members are well-informed about production goals and challenges, thus enhancing collaboration and unity of purpose.