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A series of profiles of innovators operating at the intersection of consumer behavior and business transformation: Daniel Dines, Co-Founder and CEO, UiPath.
Founded in 2005 in Romania, innovative and now fast-growing robotic process automation (RPA) company UiPath struggled for almost ten years to find a product market fit. Yet since 2015, the company has experienced exponential growth. “According to our investors we’re the fastest growing enterprise software company they’ve ever seen in their lives. In July 2015 we were ten people in a cramped apartment here in Bucharest with $1.2 million in revenue. We finished 2016 with 100 people and $5 million in revenue. Then we finished 2017 with $50 million in bookings and 500 people globally. We reached nearly $200 million in revenue in 2018,” says UiPath co-founder and CEO Daniel Dines.
Today, UiPath has over 2,500 employees and has attracted over $1 billion in funding from the bluest of blue chip venture capital firms like Accel, Capital G, Sequoia and Kleiner Perkins. Now referred to as the “Romanian Unicorn,” UiPath has a valuation north of $7 billion, according to TechCrunch. The company just announced the formal closing of its $568 million Series D investment round raising, led by Coatue and joined by Dragoneer, Wellington, Sands Capital, and funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc. Clearly something big is happening in Bucharest.
What is so magical about robotic process automation? According to the Institute for Robotic Process Automation, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is the application of technology that allows employees in a company to configure computer software or a “robot” to capture and interpret existing applications for processing a transaction, manipulating data, triggering responses and communicating with other digital systems. Any company that uses labor on a large scale for general knowledge process work, where people are performing high-volume, highly transactional process functions, will boost their capabilities and save money and time with robotic process automation software.
“We were the first company in this category to have a base in Japan. I traveled to Japan for the first time in January 2017. Since then I’ve traveled 10 times to Japan because we grew there like wildfire. Japan is probably the country that is the poster child of RPA, particularly because of the aging population. Also, the work performed in Japan is high on the prime minister’s agenda. And RPA is basically the important technology that can reduce the number of hours that people work and also help to cope with the fact that people that retire cannot easily be replaced with a new generation. So, we were fairly lucky to find a great guy to lead our Japanese business,” says Dines.
What was Dines’ playbook for rapid growth? Toward the end of the 2017, Dines was starting to plan for the next year. They were growing fast, but were number three in the market. “Most people, including our investors, thought that to get to $70 million in 2018 would have been a great achievement. And this is actually what they told me. But I kind of shocked them when I told them, ‘No, we will build the company to reach $200 million in 2018.’ The typical playbook would be to grow it slower to build a solid company. But I told them, ‘Look, this market doesn’t have time for this. We cannot apply the same playbook in this case. I want to build a great company, not a solid, steady company,’” says Dines.
His investors and management backed him up and Dines and team built a plan to get to $200 million. They went ahead and reached $182 million in bookings and achieved market leadership in the RPA market and are positioned to be the largest AI company by valuation. Dines attributes the company’s focus on culture as a key to explosive growth.
“My strategy was entirely based on culture with one main standard, and that was humility. First of all, humility allows you to avoid hiring arrogant asshole people in the company. And it keeps everything together. And we measure it. We have psychological safety as the main KPI of all the leaders. I wanted to build a company where people are happy to come to do their best,” says Dines. He further characterized his culture imperatives as: be humble, be bold, be in balance (you can work 24-hours continuously, but you can also follow it with a day off, for example), be fast. “The fastest company always wins. So, we’ve seen this. And to be fast you have to be able to be humble and fast to really work well together. Because in order to be fast you need to be able to create your own space. You need to be able to make fast decisions without the fear of losing face later in time because you made a mistake.”
Dines believes the focus on culture has allowed the company to expand globally so quickly as well. One third of the company’s business comes from the U.S., a third from Europe and a third from APAC (20 percent of which comes from Japan).
“I think we are one of the most diverse companies in the world. We have Japanese people, Indian people, Romanians, English, Germans, French people, Americans, Australians in our leadership team. We are one of the most female-friendly companies in the US, one of the best places to work. We established in the US two years ago and now we are on par with very big companies. We compete with Google and LinkedIn for talent. We are way ahead of Facebook in how our own people speak about our culture. This is what I am proud of us most, more than our technology,” says Dines.
Dines grew up in Communist Romania. “I had one of the best childhoods one can imagine – always playing outside, playing soccer and tennis and without worries. Because as bad as it is when you don’t have access to so many good things and the people are all the same, you don’t even know what’s wrong with that. So, I was really happy as a kid,” says Dines.
He went to school after the fall of Communism. It was a tough time. “It was a disaster here in the country in terms of all the various systems had been replaced. All the people, all the shrewd people started to make money, shoving it into your face. My parents were a teacher and a civil engineer, so they didn’t know how to make money.” He had to support himself since he was 19 really, doing all sorts of odd jobs.
He went to computer science and math school, but the focus on rote learning was a big disappointment to him and he stopped going to school at one point. He eventually graduated from university, but still saw little opportunity for the traditional work world. A friend told him that he got a job as a programmer making $300 a month. “I was shocked. This was, like, 1994. I was living on $30.00 a month, so, $1.00 a day,” says Dines. He borrowed a programming book and started learning how to program. He didn’t have the money for a computer.
He was able to get a job as a developer at a small company that only had two computers, and they didn’t allow him to work on them during the day. “So, I worked night shifts. And it was kind of the best time of my life somehow, because I went there, like, 8:00 PM with nobody there. I was listening to music and I was just doing my programming stuff until 6:00 AM in the morning when the first bus started to run. So fun,” says Dines.
That experience ultimately led him to Microsoft and he even worked in Seattle for a time. But he realized the big company life working as a developer was not for him. He quit and moved back to Romania. His employees, customers and investors are glad he did.
April 30, 2019 at 09:25AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs