From concept to creation: the journey of developing a tech solution from scratch

From concept to creation: the journey of developing a tech solution from scratch

Mike Broughton, CTO at Flows, talks to SBC News regarding the crucial topic of developing a tech solution, the challenges encountered and why Flows is best placed to help meet any requirements.

SBC News: To kick things off, could you talk about the concept of, and thought processes behind, a strategy of developing technology purely from scratch?

Mike Broughton: Sometimes you are just in the right place at the right time. You are looking at a situation, and think to yourself, wouldn’t it be good if I could do X? In a previous role, that was me, sat realising that something could be seriously improved if a tool existed that would enable me to quickly produce and implement my ideas. 

I am a coder at heart, and know that to get ‘code’ to the customer end is actually a lengthy process.  A process that can actually be streamlined without compromising production code, or impacting your site.  A few years later, and I am seeing how Flows has evolved into the powertool it is today.

The initial thoughts were to allow simplistic tasks, often lacking in legacy systems, to be added to those systems without bogging down product, dev and test resources. With the best will in the world, all companies have tech bottle necks, and simple tasks are often not picked up as deemed too insignificant, not on the product roadmap or just not ‘shiny enough’.

This is where Flows excels, providing the savvy user the ability to add those features that they want, in a super fast timescale and tailored to your needs.

SBCN: What would you identify as the true driving force behind adopting such an approach? Or would you say it is a combination of factors (tech, planning, people etc)?

MB: To get this right is tough, and luckily I was partnered with some great colleagues, all of whom knew their subject matter perfectly.  The hardest part was actually ring fencing the first deliverables so that they were achievable in a decent time frame whilst not dumbing down the offering itself.

One thing that is super important is knowing that you have a worthy product idea.  In our case, the product was literally screaming at us to create it.  There was a gaping hole in the market, as in my last role, I wanted a product that did all that Flows does, but it just wasn’t on the market.  

An agnostic tool, able to implement data storage and decisions, in a heavy use market with thousands of events a second would solve a huge amount of problems for many industries, and that was the initial offering.

SBCN: How important is it to build out a driven, focused and skilled team to help with this process? How do you go about ensuring that you are nurturing and supporting the correct people?

MB: Having the right people in key seats within a company is not just great for a start-up, it is almost essential. Our CPO for example has so much skill and breadth of knowledge on the subject that it is almost embarrassing. 

Our Director of Customer success  knows the business SO well that she could probably run a few successful casinos by herself – and she saw how Flows could fit and solve many problems.  Our sales team really uses the product and understands HOW to use it which again is key, and our marketing guru is able to perform wonders on a weekly basis.  

Each cog in the chain is important; if one fails, everything is liable to fail.

We are still small but are growing, and ensuring that we employ the correct staff members is key.  Nurturing new employees in a remote environment is also a challenge, and frequent meets and general chit chats is in my view, key to building a team.  

Teams are not just about the work at hand, they have to gel and support each other even if their roles appear different – we are all in the same boat and heading in the same direction – every little helps as they say.

SBCN: What challenges did you encounter while developing Flows, and how did your team address them?

MB: Volume, volume, volume. When starting out looking at how to implement a SAAS product in this vertical, you quickly realise that not many others have trodden this path.  Even fewer have added flows to that, and you can count on one hand how many of those are able to handle thousands of completely unique and different events a second. 

We often looked at the industry standards, adopted some, wrote a few ourselves when performance really mattered, and built lean whilst delivering a stable offering.

It is also very hard to take a complex feature and design an interface that allows most users to ‘get it’ the first time.  If the user doesn’t need help, then you have done it correctly.  Even a simple sounding real-time event, such as AND OR decisions, is incredibly hard to design so that it is intuitive. 

How would you drag and drop ‘is the user from Germany or the user is from the UK and is also over 18?  Simple statement, very complex to design, and I would love to see peoples ideas if they have any…

The fact that we managed to get there with Flows, is testament to the product led development process we follow.

SBCN: When starting down this road of developing new tech solutions, what is your overarching approach to setting out a strategy for ultimate success.

MB: There are many strategies in the world of tech and development as a whole.  In a small start-up, where every single member of the team is a guru in their area, we have tended to design the high level framework and then left the implementation to the relevant tech vertical. 

The UI is totally under the umbrella of team Angular, the middleware in their posse whilst the engine and core processing is cared for within its own team too.

So our approach is essentially to break the requirement into one or more of those coding groups, and let them design the required interfaces and magic that join the ends together.

We all have one common goal – deliver the product in a speedy way, robustly, performant and to a deadline.

SBCN: While innovation has been a buzzword for quite some time, it quite rightly remains a hot topic across the industry. What significance does this play within the realm of tech development?

MB: Innovation is basically critical in this modern world.  If you don’t innovate, you become stagnant in the water.

Innovation also gives you a lead against your competitors, something new or improved, new services or verticals.  Some might fail, but at least you would know.

But those that work potentially bring new customers, empower existing ones further and in turns brings even more innovation.

To innovate, your company must have a form of agile methodology. You must encourage trail blazing, accept failures, and focus on the things that work.

With regards to AI, that melting pot has only just begun. The ferocious speed with which the AI arena is changing leaves me in awe. Predictions even a month ago are simply blown apart. Jump onto those coat tails with your product and almost know-one can predict where you will be in 6 months, let alone the middle future.

SBCN: Are there any exciting initiatives currently in play that are causing significant internal optimism?

MB: Where to start without giving the game away! We have 2 AI companies integrating with us so that you can use AI out of the box, literally drag a stage into your flow and harness the power of AI without a line of code…

Talking of which, Flo – our AI powered flow creator is here to help.  You can speak into your microphone, and Flo will interpret your results and build the framework you need to begin your journey.  Flo is getting more capable each day, and can build very complex examples now – the more we train her the better she becomes.

Blockchain is still a huge buzz word, and we at Flows are now starting to see forages into the real market, rather than just buying and selling coins, we are actually getting involved via our customers to actually monitor and act on those actions – so hush hush I have to force myself to shut up now and…….snip.

We are always trying new directions and new verticals – supermarket loyalty rewards for example, where individual stores can literally change the offering based on customer demographics etc. Who better to know the customer than the local shop staff?

Internally, we have the new templates literally around the corner allowing all manner of third parties to ship ‘ready to go’ solutions for their products – all you need to supply is the data stream.

For me personally, I am very optimistic about the multi trigger Flow, but that is a secret for now.

SBCN: Can you describe a key feature of Flows that sets it apart from other solutions in the market?

MB: We once had a joke that the elevator pitch of Flows would need a skyscraper height elevator. It can be utilised in so many scenarios that it is almost impossible to pitch it to all market verticals, but a summary could be…

Performance – we eat thousands of requests a second, and can sum, group and collate rolling counter tasks at this high performance level.

Ease of use – the ability to create and try out ideas, on production, without affecting the site in any way is a dream come true for many users.

And of course our mantra – if you can think it, you can Flow it.

SBCN: How do you plan to ensure that Flows remains at the forefront of technology and continues to innovate?

MB: Flows can be easily extended via what we call Apps. If a new tech or something very shiny turns up, we can very simply integrate with it and release it to the community of Flow users very quickly, sometimes within days if not hours. 

The product itself is an engine, and we are on the latest cutting edge version and utilising lots of the new features it brings with it.  This keeps developers happy as they always like new features and ensures the code is ever regenerating to stay lean and easily extensible.

And at the end of the day, everyone working at Flows is always looking at new trends and we suggest new concepts on the ideas channel, a very active channel especially with all the new AI directions emerging nearly daily.

SBCN: How do you foresee the future of tech development evolving over the next 5-10 years?

MB: How long do we have 🙂

Naturally, AI, Machine learning and Quantum computing are going to be heavily in the future of everyone and betting against them would be foolish.  They will all twist and weave in the future to produce a huge mesh of connectivity and power we could only dream of 5 years ago.

Outside of my immediate verticals, the medical industry, IOT and augmented reality are all massive industries which will ever evolve as tech brings in new toys to play with.  

As a prediction, augmented reality will to me be the next colossal breakthrough once the delivery mechanism is sorted. Clunky headgear or joe90 style glasses are not quite fashionable enough to wear in public, even for real nerds – but once this is solved, then our worlds of physical and virtual will be entwined in ways we cannot even dream of today.

And that breakthrough will occur when someone, somewhere, is in the right place at the right time.

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