When Alastair Badman started Workhorse in 2017, he set out to achieve one simple goal: to help small businesses work smarter, quicker, and easier than ever before. And his route from history degree to fast-growing software company has been informed by that goal every step of the way.
Cracking the code
Alastair’s background wasn’t in tech at all.
“I was never a techie growing up. I did a history degree in university, so all I knew about technology when I graduated was a little bit of word processing. But I was lucky enough to get a graduate trainee job with a management consultancy where they taught everyone how to code. And I just happened to enjoy programming. And I was good at it. I really took to programming and the problem-solving element of it.”
From there, he started coding ERP implementations for global corporations like Nokia. But while the clients were top-tier, there was something about the “big business” environment that didn’t sit right.
In a step towards the opposite end of the spectrum, Alastair started picking up occasional work building websites and systems for SMBs. It was here that the seeds of Workhorse started to grow; many of the websites he was building were for small businesses and organisations who needed help understanding and structuring their data, which perfectly fit with his skillset.
But there are a few more twists in the Workhorse origin tale. While working on these SMB website projects, Alastair spent a few years running a recruitment company, too.
“That was my first experience looking for a system to run a business and not being able to find something that did the job the way I wanted it to be done. And I just ended up building my own system to do it.”
After that experience — alongside building custom websites, applications and systems for other people — Alastair realised that a lot of SMEs had the same problems. So instead of creating a bunch of individual applications, he built a single toolset that could be applied to a range of clients’ needs.
That toolset became Workhorse in 2017.
The mane event
Since then, Workhorse has taken on a life of its own, partnering with business owners to make running their business easier and help them grow to new heights. Pretty soon, Alastair saw that he needed some help keeping up with demand, so he hired a developer, Stefan, to help with the coding. And recruiting his first employee sparked a new passion; Alastair loved building a team!
Good thing, too, since an initial round of funding in 2018 allowed Workhorse to bring in four more peers. Today, the team has 13 members spread across Europe and the UK.
With his team in place, Alastair has less hands-on involvement with the day-to-day technical side of the business.
“This year for me is about going from being the founder/janitor of the business to being the CEO, and letting the team do what they do best.”
Keeping values to heart
When it comes to instilling the Workhorse visions and values in the team, Alastair uses a technique called objectives and key results. The OKR framework sets aspirational objectives for each team member and then creates tangible metrics to keep everyone on track.
The ultimate goal is to have every individual aligned with what the business lives to achieve, to have every department know their role in the business goals, and for every team member to be aware of what the other departments bring. Alastair believes that this framework gives the Workhorse team “real energy and direction for what they’re trying to achieve.”
And what, exactly, are they trying to achieve? Going back to the recruitment company that needed a custom system, Workhorse wants to better cater to small businesses. Alastair recognises that most people running an SMB start keeping track of everything using spreadsheets. But it’s easy to outgrow them. And once you do, it’s nearly impossible to find that goldilocks piece of software — giving you all the functionality you need (and not more), without having to pay too much.
“Businesses aren’t generic and no one runs their business in the same way”, says Alastair. And that’s what Workhorse sets out to do: let business owners run things the way they want. It’s a customisable, composable system that lets businesses define what they need to track, creates a database structure around those parameters, and puts it all together in an easy-to-understand, user-friendly package.
Designed for (fellow) growing SMBs
The ability to access the features you need and hide anything you don’t is a key feature of the Workhorse platform. Alastair wants to change the way SMBs interact with their software; instead of fighting with programmes that don’t fit the way you work, you can build a system that works the way you do and helps you grow more, doing more of what you already do so well.
“Workhorse lets you keep the 10% of features you want and hide the rest you don’t need.” But if you ever do need those features, adding them in is simple. The platform can grow and change with you.
As for what’s next, Alastair wants to increase Workhorse’s integrations. He’d like to incorporate more accounting packages into their offering and potentially add CRM and marketing platforms to their portfolio of integrations.
He hopes the development team can make Workhorse’s system more self-serve, too. Right now, each implementation of the software is built by someone in-house at the company. Some functionality is self-serve already. But Alastair’s vision is that, soon, users will be able to build their own Workhorse platforms — even those business owners who know little about technology or don’t have an in-house IT team.
“If you look at small businesses, they haven’t been successful by knowing about technology, they’ve done it because they know about their product and their business.”
“We use Workhorse to run Workhorse.”
After years of working with small businesses, Alastair points out that there’s a certain energy and excitement that comes with smaller companies. “Everything’s right there and feels like it’s on a knife’s edge the entire time.” He enjoys the tangibility and immediacy that comes with helping SMBs and hopes that more businesses will see how a truly customised order and inventory management system can help them grow.
After all, Alastair uses Workhorse software to run Workhorse. And you can’t get a much better testimonial than that.