09 Dec Interview with Eoin Hinchy, Co-Founder and CEO, Tines
Ireland’s tech sector has grown significantly in the last decade and is now the second largest exporter of ICT and IT services in the world. The country now houses huge names such as Google, Microsoft, Apple and Facebook. To begin the interview, can you tell me your opinion on why Ireland’s tech scene has grown so much in such a short time? What kind of strengths does Ireland have in this department?
I don’t think it’s down to a single factor. It’s a confluence of a number of things. First and foremost is the investment we’ve made as a nation and our level of education. We have the highest percentage per capita of third-level educated people in the world, and we are culturally quite similar to the US. We’re as close to the US as possible: five hours ahead of the East Coast and right on the edge of Europe. It’s a fertile ground for US-based companies who are expanding and setting up their base. English is obviously our first language. As well as that, I guess we’ve always been the only English-speaking country in the Eurozone, and now we’re the only English-speaking country in the EU. Over the last decade, there have also been quite shrewd government initiatives to encourage foreign direct investment.
You started up Tines in 2018 and have grown incredibly fast. I’d like to talk about the benefits of creating a company within Ireland. What kind of experience did you have building an SME in Ireland and what kind of support is available for tech entrepreneurs in the market?
The single biggest benefit for me was a very strong network of other entrepreneurs I could lean on that could provide advice. But there’s also fearlessness in Irish culture; we’re not afraid to take these risks. We’re okay making leaps like that, that other more conservative countries aren’t necessarily as comfortable with that level of risk.
In terms of starting a company, I’m not sure if there’s any single thing that Ireland can boast of having, like countries such as Portugal or the UK. We certainly make it easy to access services. We’ve got a huge community of very talented engineers, so when you do find product market fit, it’s very easy to scale your product teams. There are also tax benefits around, like R&D credits that can be applied here that aren’t available elsewhere.
When we were starting in Tines, and we were getting our first handful of customers, pretty much all our customers were US based. They were all large software companies who are based in the US, Fortune 5, companies like that. There was a level of ease that those companies had doing business with an Irish company.
Tines is classed as a no-code workflow platform for information security engineers, and given its gigantic growth in net worth it’s filling in a much needed market. Can you give our readers a description of what exactly the platform is and what kind of benefits it gives to your clients?
We provide a platform that allows enterprise security teams to automate repetitive manual tasks. If you’re a company of, let’s say, over 100 people, chances are you have an IT person or cybersecurity person who’s responsible for keeping the lights on within the company, whether that’s responding to antivirus alerts, responding to cyberattacks or just onboarding and offboarding employees. There are dozens upon dozens of repetitive processes that these teams run through every single day. Software is extremely effective at automating those processes. If you’re a coder or a software engineer, it’s very simple for you to write a piece of software to automate those repetitive manual tasks. The problem is that software engineers are an incredibly scarce resource in most companies, and those software engineers are usually focused on higher-impact activities. The manual tasks stay manual because there’s no one to actually write the software.
What Tines allows these companies to do is produce software without actually having to write it. Anybody can use the platform, regardless of their technical background, to automate repetitive manual tasks, glue their various tools together, make decisions, and automate the processes end to end. This then allows the operational resources, like IT and security, to focus on more impactful projects. The main benefits are a more effective use of company resources so teams can do more with less, extracting additional value from the investments you’ve already made, and a massive reduction in the amount of manual work being done within companies. Just win win win.
That’s the reason why we’ve seen such phenomenal growth; it’s because this is a pain that every company has. There isn’t a company on the planet that’s like we’re absolutely as efficient as we could possibly be. There’s always time and value to be saved if you can give the tools to the people who are on the front line.
This can be used across any sector.
Absolutely! And we see that across our customer base. We’ve got everything from 50 people startups to 100,000 employee companies.
Quite recently you managed to secure a further $55 million in the company’s Series B round, bringing more than 96 million in funding to the table. You were recently dubbed by Slanted as being on the top list of “soonicorns” or “soon to be unicorns” in the EU. How has the company gone about getting such a huge amount of attention in such a short time from investors around the world?
I don’t think we set out to raise venture capital. That wasn’t a stated goal that we had. Our goal was always to make our customers wildly successful. When you focus on making your customers as successful as they can possibly be, everything else takes care of itself. Even when we were a bootstrap startup, for like the first 18 months, we were very focused on just making all our customers successful.
By doing that, and by having that word of mouth and that incredibly passionate base of customers telling other customers about the product, then raising capital from the world’s best investors becomes much easier. It’s no longer a case of you convincing them why they should invest in Tines; it’s a case of them convincing you why they should invest in the company. I think to change the question around, it’s not about what did we do to raise capital, it’s what did we do to make our customers successful? And that earned us the ability to raise capital to continue to grow.
How did you originally gain your first customers? How did you approach them?
My background is in cybersecurity. I’m a first-time entrepreneur. I never had any grand ambitions of starting a company. Before starting Tines, I’d spent about 15 years working in large US technology companies, such as eBay, PayPal, and DocuSign, here in Dublin and the San Francisco Bay Area. I had first-hand experience with the problems that security teams, IT teams, and engineering teams face. When I left to found Tines, we were building a product to solve the challenges we’d experienced. Our first ten customers came from our network, from people we previously worked with or knew us through the industry. We were able to go to them and say we built this product; we think it’s really cool; we’re using it ourselves, and would you guys be interested in trying it? Because we had this trusted network and a reputation, they gave it a go. I think truthfully that many of them were thinking we’ll do this as a favor. But then, when they saw the product, they were pleasantly surprised and realized this is really good and adds a heap of value, and they became customers. It’s a thrilling experience to make a bet and hope for the best, but then to actually see the product add value to customers, big and small. That’s a feeling that never gets old.
Now that you’ve gotten so much funding, what are your next steps? What kind of outward growth are you planning and what kind of measures are you taking to keep the company growing sustainably?
We’ve always been a very product-focused company. We didn’t hire our first salesperson for two years. We’ve always focused on building a product that our customers love and adds value, which has served us well. We’ll continue investing heavily in product development, research and development, and innovating in the automation space.
That being said, we’re seeing growth levels that tell us there’s a huge market here and a huge opportunity. We’re seeing triple-digit growth, year over year, for the last three years, and we’re still seeing that despite the macroeconomic headwinds. We’ll continue to invest in our go-to-market team and expand outside that. We’ll also explore going up the market a little bit more. Many of our customers are software companies like Databricks and companies like that. We’ll begin to explore more Fortune 5 opportunities and more traditional enterprises.
Like we said this can be used across any industry and the market is huge.
Absolutely! And we see from our customers that it adds enormous value. Whenever we win customers in spaces we’re not typically focused on; they get as much value from the product as our more traditional markets.
The last article I read about you in October said you have more than 150 people working for you across four continents, including in the US. What markets are seeing the most interest in your system, and how important are foreign markets like the US in building up the company’s inner capabilities?
Our first cohort of customers work in software companies that are growing fast and that are invested in cybersecurity, and just by their very nature, there’s a higher concentration of those in the US, specifically on the West Coast Bay Area Pacific. That’s always been a really rich and fertile land for us. We have a growing list of customers in APAC and EMEA, but our main focus will continue to be North America for the next couple of years. We now employ more people in the US than in Ireland, which is funny, as my co-founder and I are still based in Dublin. But our CRO is based in the US, and our head of product is based in the US. We have a great team who are based out there.
As you move into the next phase of the company, what are your top three priorities, and what vision do you have for Tines in the next five to ten years?
I’ll tackle the vision first because the priorities will naturally come after that. If you think about the problems we’re solving today for cybersecurity teams, it’s too much work and not enough staff. There are too many alerts, too much data, and too many systems; it’s not possible for the security teams to manage that amount of work.
Similarly, it’s really hard to find people with the skills to build the systems and processes needed to handle that amount of work. But those problems with too much work and insufficient staff are not exclusive to cybersecurity. They exist in pretty much every team across every company. Our vision for Tines is to continue to stay focused on cybersecurity but build the product in such a way that we can solve these problems for other teams in an organization as well, so that the product will help more IT teams, DevOps teams and engineering teams, and anyone who’s essentially doing day to day operations work.
That’s our long-term vision for the next five or ten years: to create this platform that acts as an enterprise-wide automation layer for want of a better term. If you take that vision, then you take steps backwards, and you think about the priorities needed to get there; there are three things that you need to be focused on. One is the ability to build a platform that can serve a huge amount of use cases, not just security-focused and IT-focused processes, but any possible use case across the enterprise. Essentially, it means building a platform that can solve any automation problem for anyone within a company, big or small. That’s the first priority.
The second priority, then, is to make the platform so easy to use and so accessible that it doesn’t matter what your technical background is. Again, if you’re a software engineer, and you’ve spent four years in university getting a computer science degree, and you’ve got five years of professional experience, you can go and build solutions yourself. But not everybody has the capabilities, the desires, or frankly, should be focused on that. Our view is that anybody within an organization should be able to create automation that allows them to focus on higher-impact activities. That’s the second thing: to build a product that’s extraordinarily accessible.
The third priority is to build a product that delivers unprecedented levels of trust for our customers. These workflows, these mission-critical processes that our customers trust us with, we don’t take that responsibility lightly. Coinbase trusts Tines to respond to every cyberattack in their organization. We want to build a platform that supports these mission-critical workflows and also a company that has earned the right to process that information and data. That’s extraordinarily customer focused. That is delivering levels of support that make the customer feel that we’re not some vendor, that we’re actually part of the team.
When we think about the three priorities, it’s building a platform that is outrageously powerful, a product that’s extraordinarily accessible, and a company that earns trust for all our customers.
There’s big level of trust that is involved here with the kind of data that you’re going to be dealing with. I suppose each client has a bespoke way that you manage their account?
Absolutely! Because we’re so customer focused, we aim to give every single customer a white glove onboarding treatment. Our net promoter score, which essentially means would you recommend Tines to a friend, is 100. That is unheard of for enterprise software companies, and it’s been 100 for a year and a half. Every single customer that we onboard, we make sure that they’re getting the value that we have promised them from the product during their evaluation. We have regular check-ins, and we provide 24/7 support for them. That’s always been an extreme focus as a company, Thomas, my co-founder, is our chief customer officer as well. He’s extraordinarily focused on ensuring our customers are top of mind for everybody in the company.
Is there something in my line of question that hasn’t brought out, something you’d like to mention? If not, then just to find a message to the readers of USA Today?
We value the relationships that have taken decades on decades to build, like from JFK and before. Those relationships have given us the bedrock we need to win huge amounts of business in the US. Our US headquarters is in Boston, and our team spends a lot of time there. We employ more people in the US than we do in Ireland. We’re extraordinarily grateful for that relationship, and we feel very fortunate to be a company that’s able to harness it.