Episode 40

Mergers & Acquisitions with James Dening, partner at Microsoft, ex-CEO of Minit Process Mining

July 20, 2022
Mining Your Business

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Our special guest

James Dening

James Dening has held senior positions at Amazon, Google EMEA, XLN Telecom, Red Gate Software, and Automation Anywhere. Most recently he was the CEO of  Minit Process Mining, while currently he is a partner at Microsoft after the acquisition.

featuring

James Dening

Partner at Microsoft, ex-CEO of Minit Process Mining

Episode Content

Ever thought about becoming a CEO of a major tech company and being acquired by Microsoft? Well then, today is your lucky day! James Dening talks all about what it takes to become a CEO and tells his story of how he built Minit Process Mining into something significant, as well as gives his insights on the entire Mergers & Acquisitions process. But wait, there's more! We also talk about the future potential of Process Mining.

Transcript

00:00
Patrick:
This is the 40th episode of The Mining Your Business Podcast, a show all about process mining, data science, and advance business analytics. You know, we've done a lot of things in the previous 39 episodes, but you know what we've never done? Being a CEO of a company and being acquired by Microsoft. Luckily, our guest has done just that. James Dening, former CEO of Minit, now partner at Microsoft, is here to tell us all about Minit and the recent acquisition by Microsoft. Let's get into it.

00:34
Jakub:
When I was younger and read about these major tech acquisitions, I thought to myself, oh wow, this tech world, this is just crazy. I wonder how it works behind the curtains. Little did I know that I would have an amazing opportunity to discuss all of this with a CEO of such a company. Ladies and gentlemen, you're listening to the 40th episode of, Patrick, 40th episode.... That's crazy.

01:00
Patrick:
That is pretty crazy.

01:01
Jakub:
40th episode of Mining Your Business Podcast, the only podcast focused on process mining out there. And joining us today is now a partner at Microsoft, former CEO of Minit Process Mining James Dening. James, welcome to our show. We are super excited to have you on.

01:17
James Dening:
Guys. Lovely to be here. Thank you for having me.

01:21
Jakub:
James, is it true that once you get acquired by a major tech company, you can basically chill on the beach in the Caribbean, sipping on a cocktail with the cherry on top and enjoying your life for the rest of the days?

01:32
James Dening:
So I'm sat here in East Anglia, about ten miles north of Cambridge in the UK and I'm looking out across wheat fields rather than a beach and I've checked my office and nobody in my family seems to have bought me any sort of cocktail this morning. So, no, I can very honestly say that it's a different sort of fast, but yeah, you're not sat back on a beach, certainly not working for one of the companies, such as Microsoft. Microsoft, obviously hugely well-known company. One of the, in my opinion, one of the great tech companies. We've all used Microsoft products. I've been using them for decades. Since I started as a software engineer and even before that. There is that customer centric attitude that I think companies like Microsoft enjoy. That takes work. It takes hard work, so no cocktails on the beach for me just yet.

02:28
Jakub:
Not to mention that if we're talking about cocktails in UK, we'll probably set up or, you know, settle for a pint of beer.

02:36
James Dening:
Yeah, I'll happily settle for a pint of beer.

02;40
Jakub:
That makes two of us. Anyway, James, we will definitely talk more into the acquisition because this is something that we haven't discussed on the show yet. And frankly, this is just an amazing opportunity for both us, but also our listeners to dive deep into this a little more. But first things first, how did you get into process mining? I mean, your journey is pretty, you know, you worked in Automation Anywhere, H2O AI and now CEO of Minit. How did you get there?

03:11
James Dening:
So I've always been interested in how businesses work, you know, in that whole process piece. I started as a software engineer for the simple reason I had a degree in computer science. I loved writing software, you know, I hung out in the computer room at school for many years. I started writing software when I was kind of I was part of that Sinclair ZX 81 Spectrum Generation. I think if you talk to anyone, you know, I'm 51 years old, talk to anyone my age in the UK who's in technology they will recount the same kind of technological journey of, you know, through the different personal computers. And when I moved from being a software engineer to being more in of a management and leadership role. I was fascinated by the science of how businesses worked, how did those processes work. And I found that there was a whole field of process design and process management. And I've always been interested in how the universe works. My first degree was in physics, because I was interested in what happens when you flick a light switch, where do electrons go to and how is that what are the building blocks of the universe? And software was the same. You know, if you look at something that we take for granted now, you swipe, you know, something on an iPhone screen, that background is software for me kind of opened up all of the things that happen when you do that, the, you know, the layer upon layer upon layer of code and libraries and all those things down to some of the fundamentals of, you know, we're going to add these two numbers together and compare them. If it's zero, we jump to a different point in our executable code base. And I got the opportunity back about six years ago to go to Automation Anywhere and Automation Anywhere was all about processes. Befora that, I'd been in various sales roles, but Automation Anywhere for me was a bit of an eye opener. I stood outside King's Cross Station for about 2 hours two and a quarter hours for having my first phone call with a guy called Mark Fletcher. That was the guy he hired and I worked for for many years, still a really good friend of mine, and we talked about RPA and to me RPA, it was just such an obvious solution. It was going to go big, because I looked at my job. I was a sales marketing director at a telecoms company and I looked at my job and kind of went, well, I can automate that and all of that. Bit of that, probably none of that, but also some of that bit and I looked at my job and all the things, you know, the bits of the business that I had reported to me and thought, Wow, there's so much opportunity there. So for me, it was the bridge of being interested in processes, being interested in designing processes, and then going to a into a company where we had a product that was, you know, RPA automation that was directly related to those processes. So that was the first kind of step on the journey into actually being a vendor in that process and insights that process mining world.

06:14
Patrick:
Right. Right. So I'm imagining that when you saw the process mining the process explorer, the entire graph and stuff, your mind went immediately to, well, how does that work? How do we go from just random data into this graph of a process of spanning millions and millions of cases with activities and things like that? Right.

06:31
James Dening:
Yeah, I think you know, automation is one approach to improving your processes. You know, fundamentally, if you have a process, what you care about as somebody in the business is how do I get the best outcomes to that process for the least cost? I use cost in a very loose sense. You know, people time, money. So and there were two ways to do that, really, A, you can find a way of decreasing the cost it takes to operate that process or you can make the process more efficient. Automation is very much about, you know, throw cheaper resource, and I'm generalizing a lot here, but, you know, throw cheap resource at the product or at the process, and you'll get, yeah, hopefully just as good outcomes, but for a fraction the cost of if you have people operating it. If you go to a management consultancy and say we've got a process that will charge you lots of money, but you know, hopefully they'll say, well, here's a way to make that process more efficient. But something that occurred to me a while back is, we're operating slightly in the dark. You know, we kind of have our suspicions about how well processes are working, but we haven't really got to a point yet and this is where process mining comes in, where we really understand the reality of how well that process is working. We often understand the theory we'll get into, you know, some process analysis, we'll get consultants in, we'll do some task mining, and we know the theory of how that process is meant to work. But in my experience, it's not the 80%, 85%, 90% of the time that a process, you know, an instance of the process that you start, it's not that 90% of the time that it goes through the happy path, that causes you problems. It's the 10%, 5%, or 1% or whatever, where it goes through a slightly weird path you may not have predicted and you may not even know about. That's where the problems come in. That's where you get those outliers and it's the outliers. I mean, we talk about the 80 20 rule, it's 20% of the outliers that cause you 80% of the problems. Maybe it's the 99 1 rule for processes, but the advantage of instrumenting your processes and this is for me, the heart of the whole thing is it gives you insights into the reality of how well any specific process is working. And that's really important because only if you understand that can you decide do we need to throw automation at it. Do we need to fundamentally re-engineer that process or is it fine? Can we leave it alone and go focus our time, money and attention on something else?

09:03
Patrick:
So if you imagine the promises of process mining savings in X amount of millions and efficiency making your process so much more efficient, do you think process mining is delivering on these promises?

09:17
James Dening:
I think it's starting to, yeah. You know, Terry, use cases that I've seen, you know, real customers that I've seen where people have had very big chunks of their business and they've used process mining to guide them into the best way to improve or optimize those processes. And they've seen millions or tens of million dollars of improvement. You know, big businesses turn out lots and lots, you know, there are big numbers floating around. You know, we have billion dollar businesses. They turn over billions or tens of billions of dollars. You know, product comes in or you know, supplies come in, material comes in, product goes out. You don't need to find a huge amount in percentage terms in way of optimization of the process for that to make a huge difference. If you're BMW and you've got 20,000 invoices a week, if you can improve 20,000 orders being placed on your week by your dealers or whatever, if you can improve your Order to Cash by a couple of days, that has a massive financial effect on the business. So no, I think given the times we live in now where businesses need to be more efficient to survive and thrive, I think process mining is absolutely delivering on bringing that reality to us. And remember, process mining itself gives you insights into what's happening. The really important bit, the only important bit is how that insights is then used to deliver a better business outcome. And it's something we've you know, I wrote down some tenets the other day and one of the core tenants is insight is not enough. You must have actionable you know, there must be action, there must be an outcome tied to those insights. Without that, what's the point?

11:03
Patrick:
Right.

11:04
Jakub:
So James, what did your experience bring on the table when you became a CEO of Minit? Because I find it fascinating that the vision that you already had, that you brought in, you know, working in Automation Anywhere and seeing the Processes from, I would say, a little different perspective. And then you basically come in and become the CEO of a process mining vendor company. First of all, how did that happen? And second of all, what did you bring on the table specifically?

11:35
James Dening:
So how it happened is quite a good story. I had a really good guy working for me in automation anyway called Martin. Martin, he's a good guy, good friend. He was running a partner business back then and he came to me one I think it was Martin, and one of his team came to me a while back and said, hey, have you heard of this company called Minit? And I went, no. And he goes, listen, they're doing process mining, you know, they're small at the moment, but the product's fantastic. They were really going places and you know, keep an eye on them. And I thought, OK, yes, that's a good point. Year later or a year and a half later, I was just starting to think about leaving Automation Anywhere. I've been there for four years. We've kind of built the operation up and I was one of the first couple of people on the ground. There's always a bit of a pub argument, whether it's me or my friend, was this very first person. But we built this business up into something quite significant. You know, we had a few hundred staff and I've been in for four years you know, fully vested, you know, all that good stuff and kind of, you know, done everything I was going to do in Europe wasn't particularly interested in moving to the US and I contact Minit, I thought that was really interesting and they just hired a new CRO and I went ahh, kind of missed the boat a bit here and so I went and I did something else, I joined H2O, you know, great company, you know, inspirational CEO there. But about eight months into that, I got a call from a headhunter saying, you know, would you be interested in working in Minit? And I said, well, they've just filled the CRO position. They said, well, no, we were looking for you coming in as CEO. And I kind of went, oh, you know, super. And I hadn't really got to that point in my career where I was actively looking for CEO roles. You know, it was always something I knew I was going to want to do at some point, but I didn't think I was quite there yet, but I had to think. And I thought, listen, you know, with the atmosphere that we had this 18 months ago, you know, being offered a job as the CEO of Tech Company, it was like being offered a job of Premiership football. You know, this was an amazing opportunity, so I went and talked to them. I met the investors, met the founder, Rasto Hlavac, he's a great guy, you know, really visionary. Felt I could work with him. He was one of my key aims was to make sure that he stayed in the company. And he does, he still he still reports to me that Microsoft and thought, you know, it's a great space. Really, process mining felt like where we'd been five years previously in software automation in RPA. But it was right on the cusp of becoming a major category. It would deliver really, really cool outcomes for businesses. Why wouldn't I want to do it? And so with regrets, I said goodbye to H2O and I joined Minit.

14:29
Jakub:
Right. What were your goals coming into this position? Because first of all, I guess nobody really prepares you for a position of a CEO. It's not like you're learning this at school. It usually come with a lot of experience. You kind of have to have this vision, what you want to achieve. Did you come to the company and were thinking, well, let's, you know, let's build it up in a way that somebody bigger eventually comes in and buys us in? Or how did you formulate this idea in your head that, well, what were you bringing there? What did you want to achieve once you went there as a CEO?

15:03
James Dening:
So it's a great question. In some ways, there wasn't a specific tangible goal about being acquired or going to IPO or whatever. remember the phrase I used, I wanted to build the company into something significant. You know, however you measure that, ARR is the obvious kind of measure because that's, you know, what gets you to an exit. I wanted to run a company well, you know, I wanted to kind of be the lights and CEO and be very collegiate, a lot of stuff I have learned from my Amazon days. I wanted to take some of the great stuff I'd learned from previous leaders of mine. You know, how we did HYPERGROWTH at Automation anyway was something I want to take to the table. I learned a lot from Mark Fletcher, you know, about how to do that, how to build business structures and sales structures to do that really well. There was some soft skills, I learned about team building that I really wanted to kind of bring from my time at previous employers. There were some things I'd seen from previous places that I just didn't want to bring there as well. You know, things where I thought, naah, I don't think I like that, I don't think I want to do it like that. So one of those is, to be really good CEO, it sounds silly, but I wanted to kind of be somebody that people would want to go back to work for, I wanted to grow the company. If there was any tangible financial goal, it was one to be a unicorn. Yeah. Let's get us to $1,000,000,000 valuation, but it was just that feeling of doing something significant. So what did I bring? I think I brought the experience of how to grow an enterprise software business very rapidly. You know, I won't disclose the numbers, but we grew Automation Anywhere in the first three or four years. It was going like wildfire. Forget this kind of 20%, 40% growth a year. It was way bigger than that. And Amazon as well, I used it for Amazon. Amazon as a massive company was growing at 40% a year, which might not sound like a huge number. That means you're doubling in size every two years. I remember having a great conversation with Allan Lyall . I think he's now like head of logistics for Wayfair. And we were talking over a beer in the garden in Luxembourg and he said, you realize the implication of that James is right now I've got whatever 90 fulfilments centers in Europe. The implication that is in the next two years I need to build another 90 fulfilment centers. So that's like one a week. And when you think about it like that, that's a really big cliff to climb, and he was a very smart guy who figured that out. But I think what I brought was yeah that ability to drive revenue. I think there was a lot of stuff about the science behind leadership and bringing all of those experiences into the company. I did a fair amount of preparation. I talked to other CEOs. The specific situation now of a new CEO being brought in to a replace a founder CEO and that founder CEO being in business, there was an obvious failure mode there. And I talked to a couple of guys I knew who'd been in that situation. I got some great advice from some people, some senior leaders I really respected. Mihir Shukla, my CEO at Automation Anywhere was really good. Dr. Charles Woodburn, who's the CEO of British Aerospace, we went to school together. We were really good friends. And yeah, Charlie gave me some great advice. He said, James, three things, you know, get the best people you possibly can, reward them as well as you possibly can, and then just stay the hell out of their way. And that's what has stuck with me. It's not going to be that, you know, get great people and remove the obstacles from their path, enable them, genuinely create a culture of empowerment rather than seek to manage them. And that makes total sense to me. If I'm hiring somebody to lead marketing or HR, or sales or product, they should almost by definition be better than me at that job. They should be an expert in that job. So my goal needs to be to get the right people in the building, enable those people, give them the atmosphere and the culture, remember culture eats strategy for breakfast. Yeah, give them that environment where they can thrive and do their best work and remove obstacles from their way and then do the stuff that only CEOs can do. Make sure there's enough money in the bank, deal with investors. All that stuff, set the big goals. But fundamentally I wanted that culture of empowerment. And I think I succeeded.

19:37
Patrick:
That's great. I mean, it's really interesting to hear that journey from just being a software engineer to climbing to going to through the ringer of all these different jobs, getting the exposure and all these things and now being the CEO of Minit. What do you think are some of the key qualities that you need to have to do that job as a CEO? And do you think your experience in software engineering kind of played a key part in that or not at all?

20:03
James Dening:
I think the key qualities are, the main one, and I think many people struggle with this, and I think I've certainly struggled with this in the past. One of them is humility. You know, you don't want to be, you know, the old adage of, if you're the smartest person in the room, you're in the wrong room. I think a great CEO gets the best out of the people around them and they're comfortable with other people being better, brighter, sharper, whatever axis you want to measure them on. They're comfortable with people exceeding them. And I think I probably struggled with that, you know, maybe my twenties and thirties, you know, I'm sure me back then will be listening to this and will say, James, you weren't the most humblest or most modest and I think that's probably very true. But I think if you want to make that breakthrough to being a CEO, about being a senior leader, you need to find the best people, and preferably those people are better than you are. There were a few key moments in my career that helped with that. The first one was, well, a couple more at Amazon. So Amazon, you know, great company, really well managed, but, you know, bit of a meat grinder. You know, it's a hard place to work, but there are some things I think they do very well. Hiring, I remember somebody saying to me, whenever you hire somebody, you should be looking to hire somebody who can teach you some stuff, grade-A managers hire grade-A staff, Grade-B managers hire grade-C staff. I've seen that's my career. I've seen people scared to hire somebody who was a brighter star than they were because, you know, because job security, you know, they didn't want to be eclipsed by people working for them. I never really had that problem. I've never had that problem. You know, I have people work for me, I mentioned Rasto, Rasto is brilliant. You know, he founded the company, man. He had all these great ideas and he did the hard bit of take it from an idea to actually being a real company with real staff and revenue and all that stuff. I haven't done that. Well I have, but in a much smaller way, but that's great. I've got my head of operations and I'm going to give her a call out because it'll make her blush, Zuzana Vancova, super smart, cleverer than me. You know, one of the sharpest people I've ever met and having people of that calibre work for you is a massive boon. You know, I couldn't do what I do, I couldn't lead a business and now leaving it with Microsoft without those astonishing people. The first learning is, be comfortable with people who are better than you and brighter than you working for you. You know, I think that's a really big thing. The second thing is think about what the best thing you can do in any given situation around empowering the people around you. If I'm in a meeting, I try hard, I think again, going back 20 years, I found it very easy to dominate meetings. You know, I'm quite big. Physically, I'm a big guy, you know, former rugby player. I'm quite loud. I'm quite passionate about, you know, what I speak about. You know, I have lots of ideas and it's very easy to let someone like me with those characteristics dominate the meeting. So being able to kind of manage a bit more from behind, being able to retreat into the background and let other people get some space in the room and to empower them to talk and have their ideas are maybe the best thing for me to do at a meeting might be just to go make coffee for everybody because the bright people are speaking. I think that's the other big learning. Make sure there are room for other people to bring their best to the table. And again, that is about creation of that culture of empowerment. I'll give you one last one- be a decent person. I remember being asked by my daughter, I think she was about ten years old. She's now 18. My younger daughter Katie, I remember saying to me, you know, when she was young, did you do good things at work today? And I was able to look her in the eye and say, yeah, yeah, I did. So I think having a strong moral compass, being a decent person, I think that's so important. And in some ways that overrides any aims or thoughts or considerations you should have about profit and personal success and I think we all have an innate responsibility to be, you know, good people. 

24:42
Jakub:
I mean, I love what I'm hearing, Patrick, I think we've got a lot to learn from James over here. Being the smartest person in the room. I think that goes a long way for both of us. James, you already mentioned it. And this I also found to be very intriguing to discuss a little bit. How was this exchange of, let's say, the reign of the company? Because, you know, you're basically replaced a founder CEO and became a new CEO. Was there ever a moment of friction or how does this cooperation go? How did you even work together and brought ideas together and agreed on the future heading and future of the company?

25:24
James Dening:
It was really interesting. It was really big worry for me. And, you know, Rasto, really, really sharp guy, had built up the company and the investors made it clear that I was in charge. Yeah, there was no you must. Yeah, they were quite brutal in some ways, saying, listen, whatever you need to succeed. Hey, they're investors, you know, that's what they want is success. But I wrote down my kind of four key aims for what it wants to achieve in the first year with Minit, and one of them was keep Rasto in the building, for very selfish reasons. He's really bright you know, he knows where all the bodies are buried. He knows the industry really well. He's a really well-regarded industry spokesman. He still handle all our analysts relations. You know, he was such great asset that I remember thinking, I have to keep this guy. You know, your success as a leader is the team you have around you. I have to keep this guy. Honestly, we've had a really harmonious relationship from day one. When I first met him, we just got on really well. And throughout our time, there was honestly, I can think of one moment of friction, which was in the acquisition process. There were some personal terms, and I was a bit knackered and a big grouchy at this point after, you know, five months of a big sat room full of lawyers. And there was one point where I just said, OH RASTO, JUST SIGN IT, JUST SIGN THAT THING! Genuinely, in all the, you know, in the eighteen months we've been working together, that's the only literally the only moment of friction. And I put that down almost entirely to Rasto. It takes an enormous amount of humility. And I suppose. what's the right word, you know, personal strength to not only step sideways, step down from being the CEO, but to stay in the business, report to the new CEO, bring him your A-game every day. Publicly support him. And he did that nonstop. And for that, Rasto, if you're listening to this, thank you mate. Ďakujem, very small amount of of Slovakian I could speak. It was quite astonishing. I talked last night to one of our investors. He said, tell me about how you and Rasto did that and I said, Honestly, it was Rasto. It's easy for me to be anonymous. You know, I'm the new CEO. It's much harder for him to give me all that support, not only putting his best foot forward in terms of the output, but doing it with good grace, doing it with a smile on his face and as a friend. So, you know, you talk about people, you know, making friends for life, you know, Rasto and I, we got there very quickly, and I'm deeply deeply grateful to him.

28:29
Jakub:
So, James, at what point let's say that you are now the CEO of the company, at what point did it start? Was there this idea on the horizon that there could be this acquisition? Were you brought in and there were already talks about that, or did it come up later on when you were there?

28:45
James Dening:
Not at all. It's you know, we always knew there would be an exit at some point. You know, we weren't just going to kind of carry on with it. We had investors, you know, at some point investors want that investment to be crystallized. Those funds have a limited lifespan. So there's probably, I think if you put me on the spot, back then, I would have said, I don't know, four years maybe? We need to get to where we're going to get to in three, four or five years. And there'll be an exit of some sort. But there absolutely wasn't a you know, right, so how quickly can we exit this company? So no, there was never that plan. We had some inbound interest that we said no to from various places. We were yeah, we had a plan. You know, we had funding we knew where we were going. We were confident in our business. It took a company of the caliber of Microsoft to come in and make a serious offer that got our attention.

29:49
Patrick:
Now, is the choice of the company that buys you is obviously an important choice. Did you have some sort of idea who you would like to sell to? Did you have some sort of preferred list or did you as soon as Microsoft came through the door, knocked on the door and said, hey, we're interested, you started listening immediately, or what did that actually look like? How did that initial contact come about?

30:14
James Dening:
So we'd always contact most of years, I think just through personal, you know, personal relationships, but there was no list. There was no kind of I mean, if you'd asked me, I probably could have, you know, said, well, you know, it's this sort of come we had I probably had in my mind who the likely candidates were based around the space we were operating in the size of those companies, but there was no list. However, certainly amusingly, I remember talking to Yara Zubac, when this all happened and he said, you know, it's probably it's a slightly funny story. I remember thinking like years ago from an engineering point of view, if we were ever going to be acquired, I love it to be Microsoft, that would be my personal life goal complete because this is the greatest software company in the history of the world. Wouldn't it be amazing if that code base and that IP that me and my team have developed, if it became part of Microsoft, that would be a massive wow. I think I yeah, I'm glad we've managed to take that life achievement for you. But no, there was never a list. You know, things just happen.

31:22
Jakub:
Now, James, how does such an acquisition look like? Do you just meet in a bar over the pint of beer and the guy from Microsoft just writes a sum of money on the paper. Just hand it over to you and you're like, all right, you got a deal.

31:35
James Dening:
So I'll be a little bit coy. Speaking as a partner at Microsoft, we don't discuss our acquisitions. I won't tell you about the process, but the process is far stranger in some ways and far more mundane in other ways than you could possibly imagine. You know, you come out of it kind of going, wow, you know, I certainly learned an enormous amount. I mean, the whole process goes on for months. You know, if you look at really big acquisitions they go on for years, you know, due diligence and regulatory inquiries and whatever, I've never done anything like it. That was stuff you learn just stuff you go, really? Is that thing? The whole mechanics and the legal process and how definitive agreements you have, the stock purchase agreements work and warranties and all this stuff. Until you've actually done it, you kind of don't know this stuff, you know? So it was really hard. I'll be clear about that. It was because as the CEO, you're in the middle of all of this and you're essentially negotiating between not just kind of you and Microsoft in this case, but you've got all your different sellers, all the different funds and we had three major investors. We had a lot more minor investors. They all have you know, some of our minor investors were really big, big investment funds. They all have teams of lawyers. So you're kind of negotiating a 15 way agreement. Plus you've got, you know, due diligence, which is massive. You know, you're literally turning up every single document that's ever passed through the company. Everyone is aware of all of this stuff. This isn't Microsoft specific. This is in general. So it's a really hard process. And at the same time, you're trying to keep the business running. I think the last 17 days we were working 20, 21 hour days subsidizing, me, my COO and the lawyers. So it's a really hard process, but it's really interesting and you learn a lot, you know, it's just stuff that I don't think you'll ever learn unless you've actually been through it and done it. So I look back at it, for the first month I didn't want to look back, it all was ghastly. You know, I came out slightly, you know, more than slightly bruised but I look back now and go, wow, that was a really interesting learning experience.

33:57
Jakub:
What is happening inside of the company that is being acquired, while all of this is going on? How are the general vibes around the office are around this? How do you even prepare the company for that? And what is happening on the ongoing basis on, let's say, the day to day basis in such a company when you are expecting to be acquired like within a couple of weeks or months.

34:20
James Dening:
So the weird thing there's is that there are no changes. It's because you keep it quiet. If you're being acquired by a large company, keeping it secret is absolutely paramount because if news gets out, you know, and this isn't just for Minit, any publicly traded company you have to be very careful about anything that might influence stock price, you know, share price because you've got, you know, tens, hundreds of millions of dollars at stake. And the regulators take a very dim view. So you keep it completely confidential until really right at the last minute because you don't want the news to leak out to the market. It's a bit of a weird situation because you've got a few of us who are literally like, you don't going to see me now for four months, you know? And so you try to kind of keep it going. It becomes obvious, I think, after a while that something is happening. And, you know, that's something for us. We had a fairly obvious cover story that we're looking to raise investment and there's a huge amount of very similar work. But yeah, you know, you've got a lot of paddling beneath the surface from a few people, a very small team. My leadership team knew after a while and we actually did a really good job. I'm very proud to say we did take the whole thing, you know, pretty quiet. We had a protocol for if the news got out, we never had to invoke it. But yeah, you don't it's not something you publicize within the company. You can't I mean, I think A, for the reasons I've talked about, about, you know, regulatory compliance and, you know, especially US companies, but also you don't want people to stop doing their day job. You don't people go, Oh, you know, we're going to get client. I can take it easy for a few months. And you also don't want space in the acquisition breaks, supposing it fails, you don't need want people to go, we haven't been acquired and now we need to kind of room because, you know, people have stock options. There are implications for people in defence of acquisition, so you don't want to build up people's hopes and then have a risk of dashing them. And I think that that again goes back to that you've got to be a decent person.

36:30
Patrick:
Yeah. And I think also that being at home, you know, being stuck at home, you know, working from home, it's probably easier to hide such an acquisition if no one sees that you're spending 23, 22 hours at the office, you know, in a team with lawyers in some meeting room. I'm assuming that's a lot easier. I wanted to know, there's always talks about bigger companies coming in and then there's always the talk of how much control and a strategic focus that new company than has in the direction in which the company that's being bought is going. And I kind of want to ask like is there now a big influence there or is it more like, you know, keep doing what you're doing, you're doing great and you're just part of the new company now? Everyone gets Microsoft badges now instead of Minit badges. How does that new relationship look?

37:22
James Dening:
So again, I'll be a little bit coy, I don't want to give away much. We have a plan. We have some, we have many plans, you know, and I won't elaborate on what those are but I think the answer is somewhere in the middle. We are now part of a wider software ecosystem. Microsoft has some very strong IP around the whole process in process insights business I think the exciting thing for our customers and I do view all this stuff through that prism of what can we bring to our customer base. There are some obvious brilliant, brilliant synergies between what we have around, you know Power BI and the power platform, remember Microsoft, you know, quite some RPA companies, we have Power Automate now, right now and I think Process Mining fits very, very well into that ecosystem of the other you know, power products. The aim for us is always to bring delight to our customers. So having us continue as a completely standalone product ad infinitum, you know, I think is fairly obviously not an option. I think as you'll see over the next, you know, the months and years, you'll see our roadmap come out around how process mining integrates into those other very successful and very good Microsoft technologies.

38:54
Jakub:
Maybe I'm going to ask you if you could still show at least just a little sample or a little like a drop off, where could you even incorporate this technology into, because all we know are usually business processes. We work with process mining and business processes and so on, so forth. But seeing Microsoft stepping in, I could also see some other areas where process mining might not have been as prominent just yet, but the ideas, the way that the data are being processed and the way that you're working with it could be interesting. And again, if you can share anything any a small sample of what is going to be happening, I would love to hear it.

39:36
James Dening:
So I think it's probably an elaboration on what I've said. As you understand your business better. So we use process mining, we use instrumentation to let you understand how well your processes are working. I think it tees up your use of those other technologies, you know, so for example, you know, take Power Automate, you know, great automation technology. You can apply it to, you know, all sorts of different processes around finance, around logistics, you know, H.R., you know, I.T, and this was my life at Automation Anywhere, it gives you a huge wealth of potential. There's huge wealth of potential processes in a business you can automate. Process mining can serve as a, as a search light for that, you know, can, can indicate where are those amazing automation candidates, you know, where should you be investing your time and effort around technologies like power automate within your business. So for me there's one obvious thing there. How do we use process mining, Microsoft process mining to guide businesses into where they can they get the best out of that power automate deployments.

40:45
Jakub:
Now, James, if we look into the current process mining market, it's very interesting. And we are basically witnessing a lot of acquisition over the last couple of years. One of the first ones we've seen Process Gold, Erik-Jan van der Linden who interestingly also was on our podcast already, you know, 20 episodes ago they were acquired by UI path, we saw sub buying Signavio, now Minit bought by Microsoft. I could go on because there's just so many things that are happening in the market. Could you find any silver lining on when the market currently is and especially and more importantly, where is it heading and how are these strategic acquisitions impacting the market.

41:34
James Dening:
So it's really good point. We've seen process mining and to maybe a lesser extent task mining businesses being snapped up. Customers don't just want Process Mining. That is an underpinning I think is a fundamental thing. Customers want lots of things. The statements of record systems that we're talking about here that are the main repositories and executable platforms for processing business, we're talking ERP platforms, CRM platforms. What customers want is they want that soup to nuts ability to understand and improve their processes. So really what a customer wants is they want an ERP platform. Yeah. They want process mining to show them how well that's working. They want automation technology, automate the bits that they need to automate and and and. They need orchestration technologies to maybe make sure all those processes are working in lockstep across their business. So there is that big move by the big vendors to be able to offer more of that complete ecosystem than you could if you would just, you know, just offering process mining, you know, or just offering automation. So, you know, UI Path buying Process Gold. You know, for me there's a fairly obvious move. I think they're still missing a few pieces. But IBM, you know, automation anywhere, you know, just made a small acquisition that move to having big companies being able to offer ERP or CRM plus process mining plus automation plus orchestration. I think it's a good thing for customers and that's exactly where we're going. I think Microsoft in many ways has actually a bit of a bit of an advantage in that market because we have all of that stuff plus more, you know, we've got dynamics, we've got the power platform, we've got powerful automate. And I think Microsoft has really shown the way by making some very bold acquisitions in the automation space in the various bits around the ERP, you know, Suplari, a very interesting companies that we acquired and Mineit. So I'm pretty happy here that the ecosystem we have is probably the most comprehensive one around. And I think for customers, that's a narrative they can really buy into. You know, if you want to have a strong roadmap going forward, you want a vendor that is looking across all aspects of what you want and not just saying, well, I've got this bit and it might integrate with the bits around it. You want to make sure you've got those tight integrations across all those parts of that value chain from that soup course through starters main course, you know, dessert nuts. And I think we're in a good position for that.

44:24
Patrick:
Right? So it's adding that extra brick in the suite of software that they already offer, getting a more cohesive kind of experience for the end user.

44:33
James Dening:
Yeah, I think so. You know, at the end of the day, none of these systems work in isolation and the tighter those systems are tied together and the easier it is for you to realize business value out of them.

44:46
Patrick:
So with the acquisition now, what does the future for Minit? What are you excited about? Where do you think the industry's going next now with this added capital or resources that Microsoft gives you, what do you think is going to be the next big thing here?

45:04
James Dening:
So, so for me, there are two things that really excites me. One is what I've just talked about the ability to offer complete solutions to customers. You know, instead of saying, Hey, we've got great prices, modern technology, the fact we can now deliver that, you know, embedded with process advisor, Power BI people use power bi across their whole businesses to give that visualization understanding of what's going on. Us being able to integrate really tightly that hugely exciting. So that that technical roadmap for me is absolutely mega. Really excited about that. The second thing is access to customers. Every company in the world pretty much is Microsoft customer and one of the hardest thing when you're a small vendor is it's the Camden Town Pet Shop experience. And that won't mean anything to you or anyone.

45:58
Patrick:
Oh yeah, I lived there, haha.

46:02
James Dening:
It won't mean anything to anyone apart from two people in their eighties - my parents. When they were first together back in the late sixties before I was born, they went to a pet shop at Camden Town and they wanted to buy a cat and they pick the cat that kind of every few seconds it would levitate over the top of the cage and kind of go MYAAWWW, do the same for you and say, fine, you took the cat. That kind of jumped the highest and the loudest. And I think being a small vendor on Challenger, it can fit a bit like that. You know, you've got great technology. You can give great outcomes for customers, but just trying to get noticed can be really hard. And you spend all this time and effort, marketing budget, you know, you do trade shows, you do above the line, go deep below the line, you do brand and all this stuff. That can be exhausting. I'm super confident in our technology. It works really well. We've got this great narrative for me, the fact I now have access to all those customers I can go and see these CEOs and CFOs and educate them and say, hey, listen, this is what we can offer you. That's really exciting. I can cut out the kind of trudging through the sand, trying to, you know, get those meetings. I can go to the cool and interesting bit, which is helping customers, which is giving them great technology to deliver great outcomes. And that's, you know, that's fabulous.

47:31
Patrick:
Right? So it's like trying to get your foot in the door before, but now you're in their living room.

47:37
James Dening:
Pretty much. We're in the living room or in the kitchen, carriage, you know, wherever. I think the best part of being, you know, an executive in the technology business is delivering technology is actually seeing real world outcomes. You know, I remember the first time we sold a deal with us at Automation Anywhere, we did a deal with Maersk, you know, the big shipping company. And I was half mile from my house and I was waiting at the level crossing and a whole bunch train went past all these containers on and it was Maersk and I was like, hey, we're helping get that rolling. And it was quite cool. You know, it's like we've actually delivered this real tangible and I'm seeing the containers on the train in front of me. So I think delivering real world benefit is a thrill. It's genuinely one of the reasons why I like doing what I do. Working for Microsoft gives me the ability to do that, bigger, faster, wider to scale. You know what I can do there, what I and my team can do. And that's really exciting.

48:44
Jakub:
Now, it does sound that you are very excited about what you're doing right now and where you are at. James, where can people eventually find you, find out more about what you're doing or where would you send them?

48:57
James Dening:
If you Google for, you know, Minit process mining Microsoft we are easy to find. For me personally, You can find me on LinkedIn, James Dening, I'm on LinkedIn, easy to get hold of. I don't I don't hide my light under a bushel particular.

49:14
Jakub:
Awesome and James, I have one last question because unlike our listeners I can see that you have a huge huge library just behind you. What are you currently reading?

49:25
James Dening:
Oh, good question. Well, I've just finished The New Rivers of London book by Ben Aaronovitch, which is very good. And I'm just about to start reading, rereading for about the fifth time, the First Law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie my reading tends to be to relax and switch off so it tends to be slightly crappy science fiction. Well, not crappy, really good science fiction, I think the Abercrombie, his first trilogy is one of the best things and I've read an awful lot. On the business side, I've actually got there's a great book called Legacy that I've just finished. It's the study of business from the point of view of the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team. I played rugby all my life. One of my children plays rugby for England. Still don't get tired of saying that, which is cool. Yeah, massive big bruiser. I mentioned her earlier. She's called Katie. Legacy is a great book. It's about how the All Blacks who are the most successful elite team of all time. What you know, they win six out of seven matches they play against other elite opponents. The next team, I think, is either Manchester United or Real Madrid. I think one of the American Gridiron teams is up there as well but they're at 60% the all blacks are at 87%. And it's about humility. It's about leaving the shirt, you know, you borrowed the shirt and you leave that shirt in a better place than when you found it. And there's I think one of the first chapters is called Sweeping the Sheds. And at the end of every test match and this includes World Cup finals, two of the senior players will take the two brooms, two big brushes and after everyone’s left the change rooms, they will sweep out the change rooms which be full of, you know, grass and mud and bits of bandage and, you know, bottles and stuff. But they will sweep them out. And the point is, never forget that humility. So legacy, a brilliant book. I would thoroughly recommend it to everybody.

51:42
Jakub:
All right. James are very inspiring words. Thank you very much for joining us in our podcast. It's been I always say it's lovely and I will just repeat that again. It's lovely to have you on. Thank you for joining us. And I wish you and Minit and now actually Microsoft to have as much success with the process mining and other technologies as possible.

52:02
James Dening:
Thank you very much.

52:03
Jakub:
All right. For the rest of you, dear listeners, thank you for listening and tuning in on Mining Your Business podcast. We are happy to have you. You know, if you have any questions, just feel free to reach out. We are very active on LinkedIn. You can also write us an email on miningyourbisinesspodcast@gmail.com and if you have any questions, if you have some recommendations on who to invite next, just reach out and we will be happy to serve you in this. So thank you very much and I'll be looking forward to hear from you again in two weeks. Bye bye.

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