Learn more about TaskTrain at: https://www.tasktrain.app/
Find Keith Gillette on LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/gillette/
JC: Welcome, everyone, and thank you for listening to The Future of BizTech. I am your host, JC Granger, and then I have with me today Keith Gillette, the founder and CEO of TaskTrain. Keith, thank you so much for being on the show today. Tell the audience a little bit about yourself and TaskTrain, that 30,000-foot view.
Keith: Thanks so much for having me, JC. I appreciate you reaching out, and I’m really enthused to be here today. I’d now characterize myself as an emerging software entrepreneur. My background is in IT operations management. So, I started my career, as you can tell from the gray hair, a while ago, as a systems support specialist, a technician, and then went up as a network and systems administrator through the IT field, but quickly moved on to IT management and leadership, primarily in K-20 education, which is a continuing area of passion for me.
Keith: I had the honor of being elected to serve as the president of the Illinois Chief Technology Officers professional organization when I was living near Chicago, and I’ve headed several IT departments in various organizations, both as embedded director positions as well as in virtual and fractional CIO roles. So, my founding story for TaskTrain really comes from that background, being an embedded leader in a service organization, service departments, and the idea for TaskTrain, which I would characterize as a lightweight process management tool… I know. Sounds boring, but if you consider what a tool like Asana or Basecamp or Monday.com does for project management, TaskTrain tries to do for process management. So, with a project you’re trying to scaffold, a one-time, unique sequence of tasks that need to be done with a process, you’re trying to scaffold an ongoing sequence of tasks that need to be done repeatedly to support whatever value your service organization is delivering. And that’s where TaskTrain fits.
JC: And so, what kind of clients do you typically find that come to you that really have this need? Is it more like software clients or it’s big coding projects? Do you find that it’s HR specialists who are trying to onboard people? Who’s really using TaskTrain right now?
Keith: Right. Well, as I said, my background is in IT operations management, so that’s a key target market for us because things are very complicated in IT. We have a lot of recurring procedures, a lot of technical procedures that are very complicated to follow. And the experience that I had as a tech was that I would go in, and even if it’s something that I had done myself before, I would just not be able to remember all of the steps. But we’re moving into a situation right now where that same thing is true for many different service organizations. So, the HR example that you mentioned is another extremely common use case for the type of tool that TaskTrain is, that employee onboarding that you want to get right, those departing employee procedures, where you’ve got a sequence to follow, the paperwork to fill out for the benefits, the accounts that need to be deactivated. All of those things are exactly the type of use case that TaskTrain is really suited for.
JC: I interview a lot of software CEOs, and I find that the software that they develop has multiple features and things that they do. But I also find that only about, like, 20% or 30% of what it’s capable of is what people, their real pain points are, right? Nobody sells successfully all 20 features. There’s two or three really amazing features that people come in for, and the other features are bonus, basically. They’re like, “Oh wow, this is really convenient as well.” So, what is the biggest pain point, the biggest challenge, that your software seems to be solving for your demographic? I know it does a lot of things, but what do you find the feedback is where they’re like, “Oh, thank god you do this specifically, because we keep having that one problem”?
Keith: Well, that really varies from organization to organization, because the thing about TaskTrain is we’re a process management platform, right? So, what is your key process? What is your key process at Infinity Marketing? You have clients that you need to service. Those problems that you have in your ongoing operations for servicing those clients, that’s where your biggest pain point is. It’s going to be very different from my pain point, managing an IT department full of technicians, creating new accounts for users and deactivating accounts, setting up security profiles. It’s the actual business process that you’re involved in on a day-to-day basis, those are the problems that people have. If you’re that HR professional, it’s, “How do I make sure that everyone has the same onboarding experience? How do I make sure that all of the I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed when we’re doing our human resources benefits consultations?” And really, it dives into the nitty-gritty of what people do on a day-to-day basis in their jobs.
JC: So, let’s take a step back here. What motivated you to start this company? I mean, you talked a bit about your history, but what was that point where you’re like, “Okay, I’ve got to go start this thing”? And I find a lot of people have frustration first, and then they realize that nobody’s solving it, so they’re going to go do it themselves. But was that how you started, or did you have this idea well before, and you just wanted to compete in the market? What made you want to start TaskTrain?
Keith: Well, this is very much a personal passion project for me. TaskTrain was a tool that I wished that I had when I was managing those IT departments that I mentioned at the beginning. So, I mentioned I came up as a systems administrator. I found that I was just too often burned by a lack of documentation. So, I became very diligent about documenting everything I did.
Keith: I carried that lesson with me. When I advanced to leadership, my motto became, “If it’s not documented, it’s not done.” And so, based on that experience, I decided that I wanted to turn that into a product, into TaskTrain, a SaaS application that integrates your standard operating procedures, that documentation that I would develop, into everyday workflow.
Keith: And now, the specific crystallizing event for me was a number of years ago, I listened to the audiobook of The Checklist Manifesto, a book by Harvard medical professor and surgeon Atul Gawande. And in that book, he talks about the tremendous benefit for his medical practice and for reducing medical errors by implementing something as simple as a checklist. So, when I heard Atul Gawande talking about the remarkable results from a humble checklist… He described them used in aviation, in construction, and then he made his own checklists in conjunction with a World Health Organization study that generated a 40% reduction in surgery deaths, a 36% reduction in major surgical complications. And I thought, well, this is really something that would be helpful in the day-to-day thing that I was encountering.
Keith: So, as a leader, I would ensure that my teams would develop that documentation, but even with the docs that we had in place and the competent and caring techs that I would hire, we still screwed up way more than we should have on entirely avoidable things. Right? If we had consistently followed the standard operating procedures, all of the steps were there, but did we? We had them, but they weren’t necessarily part of what we did on a day-to-day basis. They were on the internet or in a dusty binder. Right? And we even had a ticketing system, right? We had a case management system. All of the requests that we got in were logged, but there was still this gap between the standard operating procedures that we developed and the everyday management of workflow. And so, that’s really where TaskTrain came from, is marrying those two things.
JC: Yeah. What really intrigued me about what you do is it hit home a little bit for us, because one thing I was terrible at… We’re great at onboarding our own internal staff and whatnot. It was offboarding clients and staff that I ended up having these gaps. So, I realized, one time, after auditing our books, that we had been paying thousands of dollars over, like, a six-month period because we had forgotten to, for example, delete the email from that person, which charges per month on G Suite. A couple times, we’d actually forgotten to end a license for software that we were using for a client, even though they weren’t paying. And so, all this little leakage, right? All this financial leakage, all this… Even just having stuff out there in general, just not cleaning it up.
JC: And, yeah. It was costing us thousands of dollars. And so we finally were like, “Okay, we’ve got to get these processes in gear,” which we have. But what I find interesting about your software is that it seems like it allows or disallows the human factor to be as big a factor. Right? If you can get it set up first and you have that process, really, all you have to do is make sure that the person starts the process, because if they start it at all, well, then they’re going to go down these checklists and sub-checklist.
JC: And I was looking at the videos on your website and it looks like it has this broad thing where you could select… okay, well, let’s say offboarding a client or whatnot… and have sub-checklists, and you have to keep going through and then give some sort of notification. So, as long as the person starts the process at all, well, then the rest gets finished out. And that’s where we were having the problem. It wasn’t that we couldn’t start the process. We just had these little gaps where we were like, “Oh yeah, that’s right. We didn’t cancel that software subscription that we were using,” literally on behalf of that client. So, I mean, listen. All my lessons are learned the hard way, right?
Keith: Oh, yes. Yes.
JC: And so are yours.
Keith: We’ve all been here. That’s exactly right. That’s exactly right. So, that’s the pain point the TaskTrain would solve for you, is making sure that you’re not losing those thousands of dollars just because of something simple, something everyday, something simple. You just, you forget, because we live in a very complicated world.
JC: Because you’re fast. You’re moving fast. I mean, here’s the thing. Us losing the thousands of dollars, it was a drop in the bucket compared to our revenue, but that really wasn’t the point, because just as much as we are scalable as an agency, so is that problem. Right? So, that number would scale, also, had we not found it and fixed it. And I wish I had your system back then. I wouldn’t have had that problem to begin with.
JC: But let me ask you a question here. I’m an entrepreneur. You are as well. You take that risk, you roll the dice. You told me in the pre-show that you’re not venture-funded or anything like that. You’ve got some partners, but it’s not some huge, giant capital raise where you can just kind of throw money at the problem. So, I guess my question is, what was that turning point where you realized, “Okay, we’re out of the woods. We’re going to make it”? Right? Because you know what I’m talking about. That smile on your face right there, you know there’s this anxiety, this overwhelming anxiety, in that first stretch, because you don’t know. You’re like, “Are we going to make it or not?” Right? When was that turning point? Do you remember that moment when you realized, “We’re going to be okay. We’re hitting it. People are buying it”? Things like that?
Keith: Yeah. I’m still waiting for that. So, as an entrepreneur, do you have that moment? Because I’m very much looking forward to that, and-
JC: Well, now, I’ve been doing this 10 years. So, I mean, I had that moment, but I’ve also had my company 10 years. So, I hope I’ve had that moment by now.
Keith: So, you’re further along on the entrepreneurial path, and I look up to you as a role model for them in 10 years.
JC: You’re the only one. So, you’re the fan. You’re the fan. Got it.
Keith: I’m the fan. That’s great. That’s great. I mean, it is a nerve-racking thing to go out on your own and to try something new without a net, without other people’s money. And that gives me a lot of freedom, but it’s then all on me to make it happen. So, I’m just very pleased that my partners and I come to this point where we have built the product that I wanted to see, based on my experience, to solve this pain point that I think is very real for a lot of organizations of any size, but especially for small businesses who don’t have a big quality management department, big custom systems to manage their operations, that might catch these sorts of easy gaps in processes that we’ve been talking about, and getting to the point of a successful launch is what I’m most proud of right now. So, I’ll look forward to the point where I can look back and say, “We know we’ve made it beyond that point,” but that’s where we are in this moment.
JC: A lot of the audience is tech-based. Right? And so, there’s probably people listening who are in your same position. As a marketing guy, I always have to ask, how are you growing right now? What kind of advice can you give? Or even just, even if it’s a cautionary tale. How have you guys been growing internally? How have you been reaching out to your client base in a marketing or sales aspect?
Keith: Yeah. That’s been a real challenge for us because, as I’ve described, my background is not on the marketing side. I’m a tech nerd and have been all of my life. That’s my skill sets, and in this project, I’ve been forced to come up against my own limitations as someone with limited marketing skills, and then buried my head in the code to get the project to the point where it provides value to others.
Keith: So, I think that my experience there is going to be on the cautionary side, is that you’ve got to know your skill set and find a complementary skill set to match that. That’s something that I actually am looking for, again, right now. I had a great partner on the marketing side that got us a certain way. The environment’s changed. We’re obviously in the midst of huge societal change right now, with the pandemic and everything that’s going on, and he was no longer able to continue with us. So, this is a huge area for TaskTrain right now, is to figure out, where are we in this changing environment? The plans that he and I had laid for a launch, they’re gone now. Right? In terms of pursuing the initial markets that we had talked about, the strategies that we’d talked about, because of the pandemic. So, we’re still very much regrouping in that area.
JC: Yeah. And I talk to a lot of people where they’re in the same position. It’s really hard out there, but what I think is really great about your software and I think what will help you guys survive no matter what is the fact that because so many people are going remote, it’s forcing companies to make sure, because they’re not in house where they can just say, “Hey, did you do that? Did you do that?” Having these kinds of process things are going to be the make-or-break for companies who are transitioning to remote. So, I have a feeling you’re going to do just fine. It’s just a matter of finding that that special sauce or that equation, but what you guys offer has a massive demand right now, for sure.
JC: So, of course, the magical question of the hour for The Future of BizTech is, what is the future of TaskTrain? What’s coming down the pipeline? What is it that you see happening in the one-year, five-year mark for your industry? Tell me a little about that. Let’s look forward.
Keith: Looking forward toward the future is something I love. And in fact, I’m also, in addition to CEO of TaskTrain, is chief technology officer for an education startup that is focused solely on preparing students to co-create the future coming to us with all of the disruptive innovation that’s happening right now. But on the matter of the future of business technology, I don’t proclaim to have a crystal ball. I sort of subscribed to William Gibson, the science fiction author’s, adage that “the future is already here. It’s just not very evenly distributed yet.”
JC: Oh, I like that.
Keith: Yeah. You just need to look for the clues that are there in pockets right now. So, we can expect to see a lot more of the hints that are there right now. There’s a lot of specialized artificial intelligence that, of course, is huge in the hype cycle right now. 5G is rolling out. So, increasing mobile bandwidth is going to be huge. And in the coming year, of course, you have internet of things, autonomous vehicles on the horizon, and all kinds of automation coming in, advances beyond my field, in biotech and medtech, 3D printing, nanofabrication. All of these disruptive technologies are really currently reshaping the way we live and will continue to.
Keith: And the thing to remember, though, is that it’s going to take a long time for these things to really come together and to mature and for us to adapt to them, and all of this technological innovation and the associated business disruption that that technological innovation creates, what it does is it creates a lot of complexity for people and for organizations to deal with. And since not everything can be or will be automated, especially in the short term, that means that we are operating in an extraordinarily complicated and rapidly changing environment. And that means that people and organizations have to constantly adapt to a changing environment, which means on a business process level, complicated and frequently changing procedures.
Keith: And these are things that really tax our time, our attention, and our ability to execute effectively. And that’s, I think, where a tool like TaskTrain really helps. And that’s the path that I think we are looking to ride, is we have a platform right now that makes it super simple to, as a small business owner, as a service department of any size, for you to put your standard operating procedures and the associated training into a format that integrates it into everyday workflow.
Keith: And our internal motto is sort of, “Process to the people.” Disruptive technology is a democratizing force. And so, we’re riding the previous wave of that with mobile technology, with web technology, that makes it so easy for even small organizations to act like big organizations, right? In our presence on the web, in terms of marketing and advertising, and now, in terms of process management. You don’t have to have quality management staff. You don’t have to have a custom-built system for your operations. Whatever your bespoke processes, your procedures, are in-house, you can make those an automated part of your environment and bring in the consistent quality that only the big brands like Coke or Apple are well known for into whatever size operation that you have.
JC: Well, what do you guys have coming down the pipeline? Are there any sneak previews the audience gets about what’s coming next for TaskTrain?
Keith: Well, we’ve got our Zapier integration, which I think is a big part of the story in bringing together all of these disparate pieces of technology that so many companies are bringing in right now, and that integration platform, I think, is going to be key for many organizations. You’re finding the ubiquity of apps. There’s an app for this, there’s an app for that, and tying them all together so that you really can get your manual processes, which is something that TaskTrain excels at, tied into all of your other information systems in an automated way that makes it seamless. So, that’s something that we’re very excited about, is getting that integration, which is in the platform right now, but springing it out to the public side with our full launch this fall.
JC: Awesome. Well, listen, Keith, I really appreciate you being on the show. You’ve given a lot of great advice and tips for the audience. How can people reach you if they want to reach out to you directly, possibly, and also make sure, and TaskTrain itself, if they’re interested in the software?
Keith: Sure. So, you’ll find us at tasktrain.app, A-P-P, and you can just browse the website, click the try free button, sign up for an account, and we have an unlimited free platform. So, you’ve got the basic functionality available to try out for as long as you want. And if you want to reach out to me, I would love to hear from you, and we are right now looking for some service leaders who are committed to bringing good process management into their operations, and I can offer a process consultation with a Six Sigma-certified process analyst and some concierge onboarding onto the platform. You can contact me at Keith, K-E-I-T-H, at tasktrain.app.
JC: Awesome. Well, Keith, thanks again for being on the show. Wonderful to have you here, and I look forward to speaking with you as well soon.
Keith: Thanks so much, JC. I really appreciate it.Gi