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Could you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your career history…

Sure. My name is Nick Eales and I lead product development at Aforza. This means that I'm responsible for bringing our products to market, leading our engineering team and really all things technical with the strategy and architecture of the business.

My background is in Cloud enterprise software. I started my career working in another startup 11 years ago, that company built business process software for enterprise customers on the Salesforce platform and was eventually acquired by Salesforce (about a year after I joined). Since then, I’ve worked in the Salesforce ecosystem for more than 10 years. At Salesforce I led a team of technical and graphical pre-sales engineers. We were responsible for some of the most cutting edge mobile and cloud work that was presented to customers at that time.

After Salesforce, I worked at a Salesforce consultancy building and leading their pre-sales team, that eventually got acquired by Accenture. Following that, I worked at Vlocity which is another Salesforce partner that built vertical software for the Telco and Energy industries. There, I worked as the initial pre-sale architect in Europe and eventually I went on to work on the product team, becoming responsible for the general UI and UX strategy as well as our mobile retail applications for the communications and energy sectors. So, I guess in short, my career has really been built on Salesforce technology and developing products on it.

Why did you found Aforza?

I've always wanted to start my own company and my career has been about exploring the different facets of what it takes to build a successful startup company and grow it. I have good experience in the pre-sales, engineering, UI/UX and product development side of things which means I've got a really unique perspective that allows me to understand what it takes to bring a product to market successfully.

Launching Aforza was really the next step in my career goals. I also thought it was a really great opportunity and a real gap in the market to build a vertical-specific software for the Consumer Goods industry. It was something that I think was missing from both the Salesforce ecosystem and also the software landscape as a whole. It's something that we really jumped on to beat everyone else to market in order to build these tools and these capabilities.

How did you get into product development and management?

I think product management is a really cool area to be in - I would say that because I’m in it! But, like I said, I've got a wide range of experience across different areas of business, but product management is a really unique area because it blends both technical skills with business skills and also utilises a graphic designers artistic skills. To be good at product management I feel like you really need to have an understanding of all three of those different areas. You need to understand what it takes to build something technically but also what it takes to make it look good. You also have to understand that everything you build needs to be relevant for the business that you're selling to and ultimately making successful.

What about Aforza’s product excites you most?

There's a huge list of things about our product that excites me! I guess the first area is the ordering capability that we've built. We've made it really easy for a sales rep, or anyone really, to place an order for consumer goods products while you're both online and critically for Consumer Goods, when you're offline. There are many different facets to an order that you need to consider, such as making sure you have the correct products ready for distribution, checking that everything is priced correctly and ensuring that it's really easy to use. If the sales person doesn’t know how to use it in a couple of clicks, he's not going to use it. Lastly, it’s about making sure that it runs a hundred percent offline and it has penny perfect pricing.

I'm also really excited about our Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning capabilities that we're building into the platform. We didn't want to be just another software vendor that gives you a shiny tool to use and leave it at that. We want it to really revolutionise the way you're using the software by introducing recommendations and automation through Artificial Intelligence.

When you're creating an order now, you're not doing it manually every time. You will get recommendations in real-time through our Machine Learning algorithms on what products you should add to the cart as well as recommendations on quantity, price and the best time to create an order for a customer as well as a whole host of other AI-driven recommendations directly in the applications. It’s a really cool area that we're exploring and we've already, in a really short time, made some incredible leaps that should really excite our customers.

The third area that excites me is the fact that our platform is going to be a single joined up solution for an entire Consumer Goods company. Previously, in the application landscape, you could buy a Retail Execution application, a Trade Promotion application, a Direct Store Delivery application and then you would have to integrate and make them all work together and figure out your data management plans. What's going to master the data? Where do the pricing rules live? Where are the orders stored?

The way we've architected Aforza is fundamentally different because we're building it on the Salesforce platform. It's going to be one single platform, one single solution that spans across all of those different business capabilities from promotion management, order capture to pricing rules and direct store delivery. It's all one platform which makes it really compelling for a Consumer Goods company to be able to use it and understand the customer in one single place.

Are there any other areas within Aforza that you feel are really innovative?

The AI is a piece that I think is really setting us apart from our competitors or legacy platforms. Being able to manually do something in a slightly better way is great but the real goal is to have everything automated for you using intelligence so that as a sales person, you no longer have to worry about creating an order. You can have that order made automatically and focus your time on talking to the customer, understanding what they need and building that relationship with them.

How have you built your solution?

We're built on the Salesforce platform - the world leader in CRM and best-in-breed for building out a horizontal CRM solution. We've used that for the basis of our Consumer Goods platform, we then built 60 different custom objects on top of Salesforce to manage a Consumer Goods business. Everything from invoicing, inventory management, order capture to visit management.

Salesforce is an amazing platform for building customer centric applications and we wanted to complement that with the ability to support very high-end and intensive algorithms. That's why we turned to Google Cloud for our Machine Learning and AI recommendations. We use Google Cloud at this point for anything that requires high computational processing or extremely large data volumes. Salesforce is our master data platform and we use Google to augment that with AI and Machine Learning.

Our third platform, is our mobile solution. We're using React Native as our mobile technology of choice for building CG specific applications like Retail Execution. This means you could have native-like experience for both Android and iOS on tablets and phones. It's a very productive development environment which is fantastic but it's also very robust and gives you that high-performance experience you expect from a consumer-grade application even though we're building it for business use cases.

What sets you apart from the competition?

There are several things that set us apart. The first is our use of AI and ML. To date, we haven't seen any competition that has gone all-in on using machine learning to automate and improve Consumer Goods businesses. The other thing that sets us apart is the joined-up platform strategy. There are lots of competitors that are niche providers of Retail Execution or Trade Promotion Management and these are very important applications however we believe there's much greater value in having a joined-up Complete solution that includes all of those applications.

When I'm planning my promotions in TPM, it automatically feeds into my order capture experience for Retail Execution so that the sales team is automatically able to order the latest promotions and the promotions team get real-time insight into how those promotions are performing with zero integration.

What future developments are you most excited about?

The next big thing that we're building on the Salesforce platform is our studio applications. Right now, we give you all of the capabilities you need to build out your product catalogue to manage your visits, build pricing rules and selective distribution, however, we think we can do a much better job with the user experience here so we're building out a series of studios for the admins to use for building out their product catalog, routes and call cycles. Expect to see really slick drag and drop interfaces for managing commercial policies and assortments as well as intuitive user interfaces for building out call cycles and managing accounts. That's something we think is going to be hugely beneficial to companies and the next thing on our roadmap for the Salesforce side of things.

On the mobile side, I'm really excited about extending our capabilities. We've had a really great start in terms of Retail Execution. You can go in and do visits, can capture surveys and orders but there's so much more that we want to add. We want to add full inventory management into the mobile experience as well as real-time invoicing. I've got a huge roadmap of things which is really going to make this the best Retail Execution platform that exists. The fact that it's then joined up to everything else is really going to be the cherry on the top.

What's next for Aforza?

We're getting close to GA launch - that is coming imminently and we're really excited by that. The next thing you'll see immediately after GA is we’ll double down on our AI and ML capabilities. Right now, we have got the first release of our ML capabilities ready to go and we're going to extend that extensively over the coming months - watch this space!