The Blue Prism Story
First off, the stock was brought to the board by Ethan1234 with help from GauchoChris and PolekoCowboy. Can never thank our contributors enough.
“The Blue Prism Story” is an attempt to help us better understand who the people are behind this company, how they got here and where they plan to go…
Here’s Ethan’s post which gives a good overview -
Blue Prism – A New Position
Blue Prism is a UK based SaaS company that pioneered the robotic process automation (RPA) category. They were founded in 2001 and went public in 2016 in the UK on the London AIM exchange and currently have prior 12 months revenue of $129.1m with around 1000 employees. RPA promises huge time savings and ROI as it frees up humans from menial tasks. RPA has recently become much more useful with the advent of machine learning and simple AI which allows for many more use cases. Their customer list is impressive and includes many of the worlds largest companies including Microsoft, Google, Daimler-Benz, Siemens, Dupont, IBM, the big 4 accounting and consulting firms, and 1800+ more…
I would just add, from -
The Blue Prism Wikipedia Page –
In 2016, Blue Prism received one of the top honors at the AIconics Awards, named as The Best Enterprise Application of AI. In 2017, the company was named one of MIT Tech Review’s 50 Smartest Companies and was the winner of the UK Tech Awards.
This is a very highly regarded company within the industry.
I rec reading through that thread linked above, but here’s the TL/DR version: Saul expresses enthusiasm for the company’s growth, other posters buy shares and techie, RafesUserName expresses concern about Blue Prism’s UI.
Of note, The Blue Prism Story is really more of a character study than the riveting…
Tales of CrowdStrike
Okay, onto business …
The company was founded in 2001 by Alistair Bathgate, who takes the CEO role and David Moss, who takes the CTO role…
Here’s an interview from January 2018 with Bathgate…
Businesss Interview: Don’t fear the march of the robots, says boss of City tech darling Blue Prism
The son of an architect who helped rebuild Manchester after a terrorist bombing and a journalist, Bathgate got an MBA from Leeds University and worked in tech…
In 1997, he took a job as a project manager at software firm Lynx Financial Systems in the “glory days” as businesses became fully computerised.
He hit on the idea for Blue Prism while helping to centralise Barclays’ call centre (“prior to that, believe it or not, if you went overdrawn on your current account, it was your branch manager who would call you up”). At the end of the project, the bank asked for assistance in helping its overworked IT bods and an idea for an automated workforce was born.
Bathgate readily admits he’s no techie and decided to form the business with co-founder Dave Moss, who still handles the ones and zeros.
He valued their independence and eventually IPO’d in part to keep that independence without relying too heavily on VC money.
Somewhat interestingly, from 2007-2014, Bathgate kept a blog detailing his immense passion for wine…
Confessions of a Wino
Confessions of a Wino is written by Alastair Bathgate, a totally amateur wine enthusiast whose waistline also reveals a love of decent food.
Reading through the blog, Bathgate comes off as funny, likable and incredibly passionate about wine. I like to see a happy leader who enjoys life and has a self-deprecating sense of humor.
Blue Prism has had two major phases – a long phase developing the technology, business and culture that ends with a 2016 IPO and ushers in an era more committed to hyper-growth and realizing the company’s business potential.
Here’s an article on how well the IPO went for workers, written two years after …
Robot firm churns out MILLIONAIRES: Blue Prism boss shares £100m with more than 70 of his staff (August 11, 2018)
More than 70 staff at a robotics company will share a near-£100million bonus bonanza after a stunning stock market run triggered Silicon Valley-style rewards.
He still has a 7 per cent stake worth £90million but avoids the trappings of success. Although he is sitting on a £120million personal fortune that should propel him into the rich lists next year, he lives in a £300,000 house he has owned since 2001.
In short, when the money was down, Bathgate took care of his people. As for staying in the same house, despite making a fortune, this warms the heart of all Warren Buffet-loving Fools.
He seems like not only a legitimately decent man but one who fully understands the societal implications of building a digital workforce, is committed to educating people about the idea that these “digital workers” are not here to replace humans but to free us up to do more creative, interesting, meaningful work.
In January of 2019 the company raised some money …
Blue Prism to issue $130M in stock to raise new funds
At that time the company had just reported mounting losses and the company was facing rising skepticism from the Street…
CEO Alastair Bathgate attempted to put the announcement in the best possible light. “The outcome of this placing, which builds on another year of significant progress for the company, highlights the meteoric growth opportunity with RPA and intelligent automation,” he said in a statement.
But they laid out their plans clearly and these plans were featured in a Tech Crunch article…
Blue Prism looks to partners to expand robotic process automation with AI
Dave Moss, company co-founder and CTO, sees a world in which companies are looking to digitization to stave off growing competition. Big insurance companies, financial services and other workflow-intensive organizations need to look beyond the automation capabilities his company has given them, and that is going to require an intelligence layer.
So that’s co-founder and CTO Dave Moss still with the company. You love to see not only founder-led companies but several founders staying together for long periods of time. I mentioned this before but worth repeating - in Shane Parrish’s popular Farnam Street blog he’s highlighted “Relationship equity” – the advantages you get from working with the same people over long periods of time. Again, doesn’t show up in a quantifiable metric but it counts.
They use the money to create the Blue Prism Digital Exchange Marketplace…
The Exchange gives partners and customers the ability to create and share tools to enhance Blue Prism. To encourage those entities to add AI capabilities, the company also announced a new AI engine for building connectors to advanced AI tools from Amazon, Google, IBM and other AI platforms.
And Blue Prism Labs which seeks …
ways to inject its RPA products with artificial intelligence. This could lead to more sophisticated automated workflows down the road, such as using image recognition technology to add metadata about a photo automatically.
We’ll talk more about the company’s successful work with lab development below.
The company also uses the money to make an acquisition…
Blue Prism acquires UK’s Thoughtonomy for up to $100M to expand its PRA platform with more AI (June 19, 2019)
Thoughtonomy has built a cloud-based AI engine that delivers RPA-based solutions on a SaaS framework.
Ethan1234 talked about this in his initial write-up, but here’s a quote that stood out for me as our resident Narrative Investor …
“We’ve had approaches on a daily basis since the intelligent automation market has exploded,” said Terry Walby, CEO and founder of Thoughtonomy, in an interview, “but getting the best outcome for the company and our customers is not just about taking money and headlines [touting] our valuation.”
This quote seems authentic in that Walby sold to Blue Prism because he believed his tech would contribute to something legit and not torch his life’s work. Thoughtonomy was re-branded as Blue Prism Cloud, which Walby still runs…
C-Suite Spotlight: Blue Prism’s Terry Walby
“We started to talk to the markets about different kinds of investment but when Blue Prism approached us, we saw this presented numerous advantages for all stakeholders. We had been collaborating with Blue Prism for some time and they proposed combining the businesses. Although it really wasn’t the direction we were planning, we recognized that a collaboration with Blue Prism offered instant access to all the things we would do if we had taken growth capital: offices around the world, a huge end-user sales force, a brand that had great equity and customer loyalty, a resilient product, the ability to let our product develop with the help of the Blue Prism team, and the financial resources to invest in realizing our dream. It became increasingly an obvious alignment and the obvious thing to do.”
And as for our wine-drinking pal, Alistair Bathgate, all things must pass …
Blue Prism Founder Steps Down as CEO (April 21, 2020)
“Whilst, after 18 extremely enjoyable years, I am sad to be stepping out of an executive role, I remain a fervent supporter and major shareholder of Blue Prism and will be cheering from the sidelines, as well as being available to advise and assist where needed,” said Bathgate.
Seems legitimately heartfelt and backed by hard evidence of keeping his shares. Also it makes perfect sense that after 18 years building up the company from nothing he might not love managing a global company with over 1000 employees and the demands of answering to the Street. His note is a heck of a lot warmer than Dmitry Alperovitch’s was from CrowdStrike - who all but sent George Kurtz a flatus.
And this brings us to the current Blue Prism CEO as …
JASON KINGDON TAKES OVER
To be clear, he moves from Chairman of Board since 2007 into the CEO’s role. Note this is very recent news.
Here’s his bio from the Blue Prism site…
Blue Prism – Who We Are
Jason Kingdon has been commercializing AI for over 25 years. He has a PhD from UCL (University College London), Computer Science, he co-founded UCL’s Intelligent Systems Lab in 1992 and pioneered one of the world’s first neural nets for live financial forecasting. He was CEO and co-founder of Searchspace, an inventor of big data analytics, introducing intelligent transaction monitoring to the London Stock Exchange, New York Stock Exchange, Lloyds of London amongst others. After a highly successful exit he set-up a private AI research lab being commercialized as glass.ai. He joined Blue Prism as Executive Chairman in 2008 and later non-executive Chair on the company’s highly successfully London IPO. He’s an EY entrepreneur of the year, author and editor of AI books, papers and patents.
Let’s dig into this a bit…
UCL Computer Science
According to its site, University College London is the 10th ranked university in the world and it seems to have a thriving Computer Science program, with a lab that’s spun out several companies, most notably one called DeepMind, a company that was acquired by Google in 2014. The company generated headlines for creating a program, AlphaGo that beat the human world Go champion.
It’s hard to say how active Kingdon’s initial lab is now but it likely evolved into the current program with a different name. Point being the man – who radiates a compelling presence like the great actor, James Mason - has been at this for many years.
More from his resume…
He was CEO and co-founder of Searchspace, an inventor of big data analytics, introducing intelligent transaction monitoring to the London Stock Exchange, New York Stock Exchange, Lloyds of London amongst others
Let that sink in for a second. How world-class does software have to be to monitor transactions for these exchanges? Consider the speed, volume and stakes. In an interview I’ll link below, Kingdon says,
“We created Intelligent Transaction Monitoring Systems, which to this day are the global standard for money laundering and terrorist finance detection within the top-tier banks.”
About the “highly successful” exit he refers to for Searchspace - the company was acquired by the private equity firm, Warburg Pincus, which combined it with another company to form a company called Fortent.
Here’s an article…
Searchspace Acquired (June 29, 2006)
These lines stand out…
Mimi Strouse, a Warburg Pincus managing director will be Fortent’s chairman of the board. She says the firm settled on Searchspace as the launch pad for the new enterprise after researching over 180 vendors in the compliance-risk industry.
In business like sports, past success is a strong indicator of future success. Kingdon’s company beat out 180 vendors. And whatever one thinks of the ethical character of multibillion-dollar PE firms, they are not stupid.
Here’s a look at Kingdon’s other company Glass.Ai …
We have developed Artificial Intelligence technology that understands language at scale – reading millions of websites, news, social media and other sources to digitally map the world’s economy.
Dang. The man is not ****ing around.
Below are two interviews I found with Kingdon. Suffice it to say, this bloke is NOT CrowdStrike’s George Kurtz or The Trade Desk’s Jeff Green. Those two polished execs are evangelicals constantly in the media and speaking at industry events. Kingdon clearly is busy building products and companies. I could find very little on him.
Commercialising RPA - Blue Prism Chairman on “a technology that got invented in the UK - and no-one even noticed” (October 29, 2019)
I highly rec reading this article. Some things that stand out…
Kingdon joined the company in 2007 because,
I thought they solved automation in such an elegant, light way, there’s a real genius to it. They were looking through the telescope the right way, taking the user interface seriously and repurposing it as a machine interface. Focusing on the interface meant that you could theoretically connect it to everything from a Babbage machine to an Oracle system, or to something that hasn’t even been released yet.
I like this quote. You can feel both the passion and the intellect. Again, some stories take a long time to develop and others need very little. That Blue Prism has put 20 years into getting this right is a big plus.
More from the article…
So what next for Blue Prism as it moves into what Kingdon calls ‘phase two’ of its story –
We’re trying to build a digital worker. I don’t think there’s anything more ambitious than that, with all its implications: how they work in teams, how they share. They can figure out issues with third party-applications themselves, avoid dead spots and areas that are running badly. They can self-optimise against the workload and what they need to do. That’s the stuff we’re trying to build.
That sounds more menacing to humanity than it is – Kingdon, like Bathgate before him, is well aware of the media’s understandable discomfort with the concept of a “digital worker.”
This next article is also a must-read for investors…
Jason Kingdon, Chairman and CEO at Blue Prism – Interview Series. (May 8, 2020)
Of note on his vision …
As Chairman and CEO, I’m now shaping and evolving our product roadmap that takes RPA into the AI era – while working tirelessly to promote the vision of a Digital Workforce for every enterprise. In my vision for the future, businesses will have a new organizational structure – one-third human employees, one-third Digital Workers, and one-third core IT. Human workers will continue to provide strategy and creative thinking, Digital Workers will execute on business processes, and core IT will provide the underlying technology infrastructure and data storage.
In this interview he goes deep into Blue Prism’s competitive advantages and talks about the Blue Prism Digital Exchange Ethan1234 discussed in his post.
The Blue Prism Digital Exchange (DX) is a ground-breaking intelligent automation “app store” and online community that offers an open ecosystem for intelligent automation capabilities. The Blue Prism DX offers connections to all transformative technologies which are simply dragged and dropped into process flows to be used for the continual testing, advancing, sharing and deployment of new automated innovations.
Lastly, here’s a link to the Blue Prism site…
Blue Prism – A Digital Workforce for Every Enterprise
The home page says they have 1,800+ customers, 90% avg customer satisfaction rate and 98% customer retention which I guess implies even some unsatisfied customers are sticking around.
If you dig around the site you’ll find an interview (sorry I can’t relocate it) with the CEO of a company called Adaptation, which helps companies incorporate digital workers. This is clearly not a simple thing as human workers are obviously unnerved by term “digital worker.” And it must be done right. Again, as I’m interested in the intangibles, I found this interview very measured, transparent and direct about challenges and implications of this company.
SUMMING IT ALL UP
It seems like what we have here is a dedicated, passionate company that is at the forefront of a revolution in how companies are designed – one third humans, one third humans monitoring digital workforce and one third digital work force. They have clearly taken the time to get the foundation right and now seemed poised to go out and conquer – or attempt to conquer – the world. And they are led by a legit heavy - heavy - hitter.
I personally do not begin to even remotely understand the technology – my mind utterly stumbles on the notion of Artificial Intelligence and what exactly makes a piece of software a “digital worker.” But I trust that they sure do.
The company is well aware of the fact that it does not get the recognition it deserves and if the glass is half full, we can say this is an opportunity and part of the reason the stock price seems relatively low. If the glass is half empty, we can say these are mature, decent, intelligent people who suck at marketing. Then again maybe the growth in customers speak for itself.
There seems to be a very strong ecosystem in place for building products, keeping customers satisfied, innovating and expanding the offering.
I’ve noticed the TAM for this one is all over the map. I don’t fully understand how much a modern enterprise can automate using this technology. It’s something I’m sure is discussed on the site by detailing use cases but I didn’t fully dig into that yet.
I like to see some more sizzle in the marketing, storytelling but I also love maturity, authenticity and titanic intellects. And clearly as the company enters the 2nd part of its story, Kingdon can easily hire a marketing firm and improve in this area.
I wonder if this is a very tough, expensive product to sell as you really need to do it right by getting proper buy-in from all involved, without stressing workers out that they’re about to be replaced. I could see this generating pushback. But suspect incorporating Digital Workers may become a standard thing in time. That said, this story has a LONG way to go before it fully plays out. And that feels different than our other companies. Again with my darling CRWD, it’s just easy to see how companies race to add that because all good stories have both stakes and urgency.
It concerns me that one of our board’s techies, Rafe was unimpressed with the software but that’s anecdotal – clearly the growing customer list and retention rates suggest many are happy with it. Still I prefer to see our board’s techies crying out in awe like Sally’s faking a moment of ecstasy in the famous deli scene from When Harry Met Sally.
Lastly, of the three top companies - Blue Prism, uiPath and Automation Anywhere - Blue Prism has the coolest name. I couldn’t find anything on reason for the name. Maybe it’s obvious to others here but my first thought is bong hits and staring at the Dark Side of the Moon album cover. “The lunatic… is on the grass…”
I think we have a good sense of who these guys are, what they’ve done and plan to do.
I took a starter position to get in the game. It’s easy to see how this company grows considerably in the coming years and may blow away expectations with increasing adoption and innovation. And while I never like to see our companies get acquired you get the feeling there are many big fish – most notably Google – who could take this thing out in a second.
And beyond the value of possible $ gains, this is a fun one to study. They are ate the forefront of how workplaces may change and integrate technology. My first reaction to be honest was fearful at thought of robot software, but Blue Prism gives me a shot of optimism in that this stuff is being created by people who seem to possess righteous, empathic souls.
PS Found this from Gartner at last minute …
Which has BP second to uiPath but very clearly an industry leader.