By: Hugh Sifu
What is Automation in Business?
An automation, simply put, is what happens when you set up something to automatically complete itself when certain specifications are met. It’s important to know that when we talk about automation in this article, we are referring to the automation that exists in the online world. In addition, we discuss the potential for all applications on the web. Now in today’s environment, because of our mass number of applications, data, and inter-connectivity, the capability for automation in any business has increased exponentially. As remote work increases and companies find ways to increase productivity, we’re slowly seeing that productivity is being found outside the individual and not surprisingly, in the cloud.
How can companies and startups use Automation?
Quite simply, companies and startups are using automation to complete tasks instantly which used to take a human anywhere from 5 seconds to 500 minutes, or even longer, to complete similar tasks. Businesses are finding a multitude of potential uses with automation and unless you have a profound understand of what exactly API is and how it connects the web, you might consider the longevity of your career and how you’re receiving your paychecks.
For the entrepreneurs and business leaders out there, ask yourself this, is there any part of your day that feels repetitive? Do you do something once a day, once a week, or once a quarter? If your answer is yes, then I have good news for you, that task can most likely be automated. Not only that, but as AI (Artificial Intelligence) rapidly improves, we are finding more and more ways it can be applied. From AI updating your website automatically depending on your visitor to the layout of a follow up email tailored specifically to the recipient. Until you use it to run an Airbnb across the world without lifting a finger, you might continue to underestimate how easy and useful automation can be for your side hustle or small business. I say small business here because big business has been doing this for awhile now. Luckily for you, as you'll see below, with technology, we've finally reached the point where any individual can utilize the beauty of automation and have a beneficial cost-benefit.
In all seriousness, don’t worry about your paycheck. One, it doesn’t do any good for your mental health but also what we at Toarc United are seeing is that where big tech use to exist to create great efficiencies, they are starting to rotate to security. This is fantastic for entrepreneurs everywhere. This is fantastic for innovation! Why? Because when monopolies allow individuals to create again without disadvantaged barriers to entry, everyone prospers.
What use to take a team and a truckload of cash can now be done with one or two people and a $50 dollar a month subscription to your favorite API integration application. I’ll get to what exactly API is in a moment, but I first wanted to focus on what we as individuals and entrepreneurs can do with it. We are now seeing with these integrations, smaller single use case startups actually finding success because they can now plug their platform into other platforms. Whereas in the past, if one application/platform didn’t have all the best features, bells, and whistles, you’d have to upgrade and find the platform that provided the best of the best. Typically, the price tag would indicate it’s the best of the best, if you know what I mean. The question you should be asking…
Are we going to have decreased subscription prices in the future?
The answer is a hard and resounding YES. From what I explained in the paragraph above with increased competition and simpler platforms, you can expect price wars to drive subscription/service prices down. This is because less horizontal integration leads to less inefficient coding which means less man/woman power to keep those complex platforms operating at high efficiencies.
Let’s explain what we mean by horizontal integration. When a company like Microsoft, or Google attempts to provide you with storage, calendar, email, software, cellphones, games, video chat, social media platforms, search engines, voice boxes that listen to you, and many, many, many more things, logically some things start to fall through the cracks. Still not sure? Try searching "Google Store reviews" and see how they’re doing. Let’s not forget that these giants also control the search themselves, so they’re great at hiding the "bad" on themselves. Don’t get me wrong, the Microsoft suite is great, and it’s improved so much since the 90’s, or wait? (In case you understandable can’t pick up my sarcasm over letters on a screen, it was sarcasm).
So, to sum up, what happens when monopolies must deal with smaller barriers to entry? Companies like Calendly, Zoom, Dropbox and more reveal that these tech giants might be spread a little thin.
Companies previously had to focus on building out many different use applications for it’s users or potentially lose them to a product that has more features. API has found a backdoor around the two or three options we use to have (Microsoft and Google) for integrated software applications. The time spent developing horizontally, now gets developed vertically. This is amazing for the end user because while we now have to buy a bunch of different subscriptions, we can use API to integrate our applications and customize their features to what fits our “use-case” best. With platforms that have many more capabilities and features within their specific niche (Calendly, Zoom, Dropbox) innovation returns and freedom of choice reigns supreme. With smaller barriers to entry, competition also returns, and subscription prices drop, and drop fast.
Why do entrepreneurs need to know about API integrations?
Where you have things like Microsoft’s Power Automate (something that is only offered to enterprises at the time of this writing) that allow large companies to automate things like Adobe Sign, it feels a bit restrictive that even when you purchase a package of Microsoft programs and software, you still must pay extra for Power Automate. Sometimes, you're priced out unless you're willing to shell out a few hundred extra a month for a bundle that should probably be included in the Microsoft's Office bundle anyway. This is why you're seeing horizontal creativity from big tech loosing out, because they're having to frantically create something which entrepreneurs and start-ups (Zapier, Make) have already created. Same with Adobe, a company where when you buy a costly monthly subscription, you realize you’ve only purchased a quarter of their products. Of those products, some of the best features are restricted. This is great for the large establishments who are willing to just buy it all at scale, but this article is for you, the individual, the entrepreneur, the innovator.
Today, you don’t have to pay the big price tag to purchase a suite of software, of which, you only need one or two features.
If you’re going to take anything from the above, it’s this. Today, you’re able to find what you need for your job, or start-up, or project, and purchase only the individual programs or software that you’ll actually use without having to buy the other 10 programs you’ll never download. You can now use platforms like Make (formerly Integromat) and Zapier to link up only services you actually use. For example, you want adobe sign, but don’t want to buy an adobe package (this isn’t the best of examples, but great for illustration purposes). Well, esignatures.io is a software similar to DocuSign except you only pay for the contracts you actually send, so there isn’t a monthly subscription. This is amazing for startups considering they’re anything but consistent. Also, this is great because maybe you don’t need an adobe package, maybe you just need to have an e-contract sent out every time you get a new client or schedule a new appointment. This is where the vertical integration comes in. A simple design, with everything you need with a small price tag and no underused subscriptions.
Another way I like to think about the insanity of our packaged, tiered subscriptions is this.
I walk into a new gym and the front desk worker says, "Hello, a gym membership is $50 a month. I say "Great", I sign up, I go in. I then walk over to the free weight area, only to find out it's locked. A worker of the gym walks up and says "I'm sorry sir, this part of the gym requires an additional $50 membership, your entry membership includes only the cardio section." Confused I ask, "But, I don't ever plan on using the cardio. Honestly, you can take the $50 entry off, lock me out of the cardio area, and only allow me to use the only part of the gym I intended to use, the free weight area, for the same $50. Especially considering this was the only reason I joined the gym in the first place." I stop my rant to the worker responding with, "Sorry, but we can't do that because blah blah"...
I believe this illustrates my point and I need not carry on this fabricated example created for solely for said illustrative purposes. To sum up, this is similar to what large horizontal software companies do today.
Entrepreneurs need to know about API integrations because you can automate a process, cheaply, for a variety of different tasks. I like to keep things simple so, let’s walk though scheduling a podcast guest by pasting a link to your schedule, something we do at least once a week for our podcast Thoughts of a Random Citizen.
I know, that doesn’t sound like anything new, but because we took the time to be thoughtful in our growth and implementation, we have saved thousands of dollars a month. Where we could’ve hired someone to take care of our scheduling, introduction information, contracts, confirmation, and everything else that it takes to prepare and schedule new guests for our show, we have now completed that entire process before we even attach our scheduling link and don’t have to pay someone to complete the simple tasks mentioned above.
What is an Example of an API workflow?
Continuing from scheduling a podcast guest, let’s see how things get triggered and how we don’t have to do anything after hitting paste once we’ve found an amazing new guest to feature on our show.
· We send a link via Calendly to our newly found featured guest. (OUR WORK IS NOW DONE!) The rest is automated.
· They simply choose a time that suits them best, they then fill out a quick questionnaire that have some requirements that are necessary to our podcast and to the workflow.
· Once they confirm and finish the less than 3 minute scheduling process, an explosion happens on our Make (Integromat) platform.
o Make takes the name of that guest and remembers it.
o It uses that name to schedule a session on our podcasting platform automatically with the time they scheduled in Calendly.
o It takes that newly created session and includes it in an email that is already written and waiting to be sent.
o A contract is separately triggered from when our featured guest schedules on Calendly that includes everything the guest needs for the contract (name, email, phone, etc.) that is all filled out in the questionnaire on Calendly. All they must do is make sure they agree and click sign. (Toarc has already automatically signed via our automation process).
§ Whenever our featured guest decides to sign the waiver, sometimes after the interview takes place, the signed waiver automatically gets placed in our database in a newly created “featured guests name” file (created from the same automation that was triggered when our featured guest simply scheduled a meeting from Hugh’s Calendly link).
o Certain questions on the questionnaire require information about the guest. These answers automatically get logged into specific files in the same database under the same featured guest name file. (This might sound complex, but simply put, information, documents, and links get put into certain files that are automatically created for ease of reference)
o The interview automatically gets added to Hugh’s (Thoughts of a Random Citizen Podcast Host) calendar. --This automation should be old news, right?
o Another automation blocks off specific availability depending on what was scheduled on Hugh’s Calendar (which is necessary because it isn’t allowed in Calendly, an example of a current platform not focusing on vertically owning their niche).
This is all done and completed on our end by simply pasting a link for the guest to schedule! What use to take at least 30 minutes to 1 hour for someone (to set up interview session, add it to the appropriate calendar with the appropriate session information, include additional notes, create a contract including the appropriate names, obtaining both signatures, sending a follow up email which includes appropriate information, asking specific questions, setting up appropriate files and adding the appropriate documents to those files, adding appropriate blocker to said schedules) now takes less than one second. A simple copy and paste, and everything is done.
Still not convinced? Where you use to pay an employee $10 an hour, which is now rapidly approaching the $20-$30 an hour, you can now do not only faster but instantly for, give or take, $20 a MONTH. And this is just a simple scheduling process, I won’t even get into what happens for some of our other workflows. Point is, your imagination can run wild with potential workflows. Hint, hint: Airbnb’s please. The game changer of this is the API aspect.
What is API?
API means Application Programming Interface. It allows you to plug into the back end of most applications or software and take specific parts of data that otherwise isn’t being utilized. This is where it all comes together, not only this article, but your application driven startup, company, and life if we’re being honest! The use cases of proper API integration and automation are limitless.
If you are familiar with coding at all you already know that most every paragraph, word, button, picture, section, or anything on this screen can be singled out and used as data, or for the “automaters” of the world, integration. If you aren’t familiar with coding, you just have to know that everything, from a widget to a notification, a hyperlink to the sign in screen, EVERYTHING can be singled out and utilized any way you see fit. The picture below should give some indication of the crazy weird letters, numbers and symbols that go into allowing you to enjoy the post you’re reading right now.
If you know how to inspect the webpage, you can see right now the post your reading is full of the same gibberish as the photo above. Yes, believe it or not, behind every screen and pretty thing you look at on a screen,is the gibberish above. The best part? You can pick out specific data to do repetitive tasks. If you don't know how to inspect a webpage to see what I'm talking about (right click, hit inspect), don’t worry, it doesn’t matter. Just know that the new wave of innovation is almost here and you can actually benefit and control the innovations yourself. We here at Toarc United believe the new wave is coming soon and that it's coming, in part, because of API integrations.