John Peebles of Administrate

An exclusive Tech Tribune Q&A with John Peebles (founder and CEO) of Administrate, which was honored in our:
Tell us the origin story of Administrate – what problem were you trying to solve and why?

Initially, Administrate was developed as an internal tool within a training company based in Scotland. The team there did not have the benefit of working in the same office (they didn’t even have an office), where whiteboards and spreadsheets could be leveraged to manage and organize their training. So, in order to tackle training operations across a distributed workforce, they created an internal tool that could help organize and manage the training they delivered. It included a CRM, event management, calendaring, and finance tools – many of the same features that are still in use today.

This tool provided their team the ability to grow quickly without adding more staff, and efficiently and effectively manage training operations that had previously relied on manual processes. When some of their partners saw the tool, they wanted it as well. So, that’s when the team started considering making the internal tool a product they could make available to a broader market of training companies and departments, which could use a tool that made managing training a lot more simple.

This took some time of course because, as is often the case, when internal tools are created, little thought is given to building a real product until it’s decided to make the internal tool a real product.

What was the biggest hurdle you encountered in your journey?

As the product was developed, it needed to go through a lot of changes and iterative adaptations in order to meet the requirements of the wider market.

The user interface needed to be updated, the underlying technology was disjointed, and many of the decisions that were made when it was being used as an internal tool were designed to support very specific workflows. In short, it was a tool built for a specific use case that needed to adapt in order to become a real product. So, moving the software from an internal tool to a product with a market was definitely one of the hurdles we faced.

In order to do this, we needed funding. Funding in Europe is different than funding in the US. In Europe, you tend to get much smaller investments consistently over time versus larger rounds in the US. While this method forces strong discipline in cash management, it leaves little room for error and experimentation, which can be particularly difficult when you are building a new category in the enterprise market. So, that’s another hurdle we’ve had to overcome.

Finally, an additional hurdle we ran into last year was our prospects’ frozen budgets due to COVID uncertainty. Thankfully, this lasted only for about six months and we saw a lot of our sales come through eventually, but when you are in a phase of growth-seeking to prove out your model, this sort of interruption offers some challenges.

What does the future hold for Administrate?

In 2016 we made a pretty large pivot as a company by developing a new platform thesis: what training teams, and the market, really needed in addition to the administrative backend management of training was the ability to store data and integrate with the rest of the organization’s tech stack. This didn’t exist in the market for learning tech and within the L&D industry because, historically, training software was very learner-focused (think, the LMS). This required Administrate to build a robust API capable of providing tech integration access to Administrate’s rich source of data and facilitating interoperability between systems.

With this pivot, we were not only creating efficiencies for training organizations, but training teams within enterprise companies could now start to analyze their training data and make data-driven decisions that would allow them to demonstrate training ROI.

This also meant we needed to expand our team and our funding investment. So, in 2016, we opened our second office in Beirut, Lebanon to access the MENA market and to maximize the strong talent pool and excellent workforce there. We raised further angel investment and in 2018 took on our first institutional capital. We also expanded into our third office in Bozeman, MT in 2018 to better serve new North American customers. And, in 2019, after landing several enterprise clients in Europe, Administrate grew the sales and marketing teams in Bozeman to focus on selling to the North American market. After all, half of all global learning tech spend is in the US and we plan to focus almost exclusively on the North American market for the next 3 years. This means a lot of growth for our US team in the future.

It’s been a long journey to get to this point, but the market opportunity is really big, still growing, and the demand is high for software capable of supporting enterprise training teams in this way. We are focused on the long-term, and this type of innovation is only the beginning for Administrate.

What are your thoughts on the local tech startup scene in Montana?

Montana has great universities but has suffered for a long time from the brain drain of graduates going to California and elsewhere. With cloud and Software as a Service (SaaS), as long as there is strong internet connectivity, software companies should be able to operate and hire talent from anywhere.

Bozeman has had the advantage of early technology companies like Right Now Technologies, PFL, and Zoot willing to test this model and prove overwhelmingly that it can be done. I’ve always been a big believer that people should be able to live where they want to first and find work second. People with great talent and values live in Montana for the lifestyle and because of this, it is a great resource to tap into when building a company.

The beginnings and initial key ingredients are there, but this takes time to develop. While Montana is not as far along as a few other states outside of California, I think it has a lot of opportunities to develop quickly. A few of these key ingredients include:

  • People passionate about solving real problems
  • Universities producing relevant talent (really important for the computer science and related degrees to stay hyper-relevant to the needs of the market)
  • Investment – angel and institutional. There is a lot of wealth in Montana. This just needs to be organized, focused, and managed in a way to serve the various stakeholders of a startup community.
  • Software companies that have made it past the startup stage and are committed to giving back to their community through resource sharing and mentorship.
  • Government support through grants, policy, infrastructure, and incentives
What’s your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Don’t give up if you are solving a real problem. Work hard and become a voracious learner. Hire the right people.

 

For more exclusive interviews, see our full Profile of a Founder series

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