Valuable Content’s Sonja Jefferson on eight inspirational lessons from Romanian billion-dollar startup UiPath.
Sometimes a chance encounter can change everything. Just a few short weeks back, I visited Romania for the very first time. Along with my friend Jon Burkhart, I was invited to talk at WeContent – the first content marketing conference in the country.
As Jon and I took our seats on the Tarom Airlines flight from Heathrow to Bucharest, my overriding feeling was one of bubbling excitement. I love to travel, meet new people and share my enthusiasm for this valuable content thing.
It quickly became clear that my neighbour in the aisle seat was experiencing a very different set of emotions. The tense-looking man next to me was gripped by flying fear. I’m no stranger to panic attacks and wondered if talking might help.
He introduced himself. Here was Bogdan Florea, marketing manager for UiPath, world leaders in the field of robotic process automation (RPA). Bogdan was one of the original members of the UiPath team, a company that has become Romania’s first billion-dollar startup, the fastest growing enterprise software company in history.
Bogdan recounted the story of UiPath’s incredible journey. The content it so generously shares has played a key role in its phenomenal growth, and as soon we landed I changed the slides for my talk. I couldn’t wait to tell this story on stage.
UiPath’s story hasn’t left me. The secrets to its success go way deeper than content. There is an inspiring message here for any business that wants to really kick things up and grow.
Here’s what I learnt from that serendipitous introduction to UiPath. Fasten your seatbelt. Let’s go.
The UiPath story
UiPath is a leader in its field. In March 2018, the company was valued at US$1 billion – a rare enough event for the company to be dubbed a “unicorn”. But the road to success has been far from straightforward. Its first decade was a rocky one; only five years ago the owners considered shutting it down.
But in the last few years, everything has changed. In 2017, the enterprise customer base grew from less than 100 customers to more than 700, pushing the company’s annual recurring revenue up by a staggering 690 per cent. Its team expanded from 10 people to nearly 2000 in offices around the world.
What changed their fortunes? What can other businesses learn from this? Here are the lessons I take from my research into UiPath’s story.
Lesson 1: Change your motivation, change your fortunes
The UiPath team was always committed to building the best technology in its field but between 2005 and 2015 it just didn’t catch fire. It was only when founders Daniel Dines and Marius Tirca changed their motivation – from a focus on building wealth to the desire to do something bigger, for the greater good, making a change for the better in this world – that things started to shift.
Dines explains in an interview with Romania’s Business Review magazine: “You don’t have to be an entrepreneur to build a decent life. It’s not worth it. Because being an entrepreneur is extremely risky and while doing it you risk ruining your career.
“So the right motivation for an entrepreneur is that something deep inside of you, the desire to do something. It changed my thinking completely.”
This shift in motivation from profit to bigger purpose has changed everything for UiPath and it’s been pivotal to its success.
Lesson 2: Lead with your purpose and beliefs
When it comes to communicating what it’s all about, UiPath leads with its mission and beliefs, not its product.
The (software) robots are coming but that’s an opportunity. If we automate menial processes and tasks then imagine what humans can achieve? Human work should be creative and inspiring, so the point of UiPath’s innovative technology is to free up our time and creativity, to allow for ever higher degrees of human freedom. Everyone progresses, everyone wins.
Communicating by starting with why, not what, is compelling. It’s helped to draw the right people towards the business.
Lesson 3: Build a culture based on shared values
The Romanians are incredibly hospitable people and Bogdan is no exception. After the conference, he invited Jon and me to the office Halloween party to meet the team. As we chatted on the balcony looking out over the lights of Bucharest, I was struck by everyone’s openness and clear sense of mission and belief. Every person I met told a similar story about the business and shared the same zeal for making a difference to the world.
Despite growing at hyperspeed, UiPath’s culture remains strong. Alongside a shared desire to make a difference, its values are surprisingly human – boldness, openness, collaboration and (I love this) humbleness drive all they do. It recruits to these values and everyone I met seemed to share them.
Humbleness is such a surprising word. It stopped me in my tracks. I debated the meaning with Bogdan. Do you mean humility? No, not quite. Humbleness is not being proud or full of ego – it’s always having curiosity and a willingness to listen and learn more. They don’t see themselves as the best software engineers in the world but they want to make a difference and together they can make that happen.
Their purpose and values set the tone for all they do – in person, on their website, through the content they share.
“Our content has helped us grow at the incredible speed that we’ve been growing at and has majorly contributed to UiPath’s preeminence in the industry,” says UiPath’s Mina Deckard. “Every product guide, every tutorial, every resource article, every thought leadership blog and every tweet we’ve ever done have had a direct contribution to this success.”
Lesson 4: Do your research – understand the market opportunity
Success takes a lot more than having the perfect technical product. It takes a keen understanding of the market your product operates for. For a few years, UiPath was going in the wrong direction and clients weren’t knocking down the door. It had a good product but didn’t know what to do with it. It was a conversation with a customer in India that changed everything – the client could see the opportunity. UiPath listened hard and shifted focus. It found its niche.
As Dines explains: “We understood there was a huge market out there of people who just do repetitive processes all day long, for whom our technology, which emulates what people do, is perfect.”
From that moment things changed dramatically. Its product connected and everything started to snowball.
Lesson 5: Collaborate to succeed
Another step change for UiPath came from its decision to open up its technology and to collaborate freely. That revelation led to alliances and partnerships that have fuelled growth. It has encouraged the best minds to contribute and create the next technological leap. More than 200,000 developers of all levels are now building on the free UiPath platform.
Marius Tirca, co-founder and chief technology officer explains: “Our secret weapon for building the best technology is no secret: we play a team sport, where everyone’s an A player, and we keep it open to level the field for everyone.”
UiPath couldn’t have achieved the level of success it has without this willingness to give freely and receive.
Lesson 6: Share what you know with the world
A desire to open up its knowledge and thinking was another game changer. This desire to educate led first to blog articles and other valuable content, and then to its incredibly popular conferences and events (#UiPathForward) and more recently to its UiPath Academy.
The academy takes this willingness to give knowledge away for free a step further. It offers free training to reskill and upskill people in this groundbreaking new technology. Education is focused on the people who need it most, so it’s supporting diverse communities – women, minority groups and people whose jobs are impacted by the inevitable rise of automation.
It’s the first open online training and certification platform dedicated to RPA users, and more than 100,000 users across the world have enrolled in online courses since its launch in April 2017.
UiPath is doing all it can to make its knowledge open and free. Share share share is its philosophy. Why keep an idea to yourself? You can get there faster by sharing what you know.
Lesson 7: Put your customers in the limelight by sharing their stories
Shine a light on your customers. Let them talk about the impact of your product and your teaching – that’s the UiPath way. This is a fast track to trust.
For UiPath, this approach embodies its humbleness – we don’t know everything, so we’re collaborating to find the answers – but it’s also perfect “show not tell” valuable marketing. Show the impact, through real-life stories, and your message will resonate more strongly.
Lesson 8: Don’t give up!
“The 2005-2015 period was the most difficult of my life,” Dines recalls. “I was constantly trying to find the perfect product, and failing. We had just enough money to survive. Before we got the first funding round, the money we had in the bank would have only been enough for another three months.”
UiPath has gone from a decade of struggle and uncertainty to becoming one of the fastest growing companies on the planet. A clear message for entrepreneurs is to hang in there, keep learning and experimenting, to aim higher and keep on keeping on.
Serendipity is a wonderful thing
The story I heard on the flight to Bucharest totally kicks things up for me. It’s fired up the energy behind our mission at Valuable Content to help other companies uncover and communicate their purpose and story. To share their ideas, change their fortunes and change the world. And a new desire to think bigger, and to collaborate with others who share the same aim.
There are so many lessons here, for me, and I hope for you, too. Success for UiPath can’t be chalked up to one action. It’s a series of interlinked lightbulb moments that have shaped its path and propelled it forward.
Creative, inspiring and collaborative, UiPath embodies the human values the world needs to thrive. In the lines of the cliche, they are being the change they want to see. And in a world of robots, the humans are coming.
Note: This article was first published on the Valuable Content website.