Presenting our portfolio: Nod

Apr 08, 2021
SeedSpace Team

Joel Robbie, CEO & Co-Founder at Nod, is a passionate advocate for AI and believes that through the power of technology that we can remove the preconceived barriers to let humans better connect with each other. These personal values have evolved into the greater purpose that Nod has set out to achieve.

It was great to sit down with him and learn more about Nod and his mission:

What’s your background and journey to this point?

I started to solve a family problem — the ability to connect people with good quality financial advice. Nod was originally conceived as marketplace business connecting financial planners with clients who needed advice, so I built a platform with document creation and chat functionality to help financial planners deliver their advice online. It became clear after a year or so that we didn’t have product-market fit, but the experience did provide us with great insights into who would become our customers — financial planners and other professionals.

Document automation was the biggest issue for all the financial planners I had spoken to over the preceding 12 months — it came up in every meeting. So I made the decision to transition Nod into a document automation platform. Now, we are a digital document automation solution used by a range of industries.

Financial planners, accountants, lawyers and even interior designers are all using the platform today. Anyone in professional services who needs to produce complex documents that vary depending on the client scenario will find Nod useful.

Professional services are a hotbed of complex document creation that takes lots of time — our software automates the process and makes life a lot easier for these companies.

What makes us different

Our difference is how easy we make it to set up automated document templates, maintain them over time and get rich reporting on what’s contained in the documents produced by our customers. This means they get to make their document creation process more efficient and also make things like compliance reporting ten times easier.

The main difference in how we achieve this is the technology that we use. The solutions we compete with typically spit out a coded Word document which is automated at a very light level using the Microsoft native coding language.

That makes it almost impossible for anyone who doesn’t have a software engineering degree to understand, so professional services firms are beholden to expensive consultants any time they want to make changes.

Nod is completely digital — it’s a simple drag and drop system in which rules and logic are applied in the app itself — it’s a no-code document automation system. Our clients spend between 50 to 80% less time editing compared to other systems.

Who’s in the team?

Our CTO Mitchell Donaldson comes from a content publishing background, having worked previously at Pacific Mags & News Corp. He was responsible for building our own content editor, which wasn’t easy, however gave us full control over the user experience.

Mitch and I work with a global team of amazing people in the UK, APAC and Sydney.

Where are you on your journey now and what bumps in the road have you overcome?

Two years have passed between the initial pivot and now. After we originally pivoted to document automation we attempted to build it around machine learning and AI, so we had a black box that was learning from a firm’s historical documents and producing documents without a human in the loop. This was the wrong product market fit, because compliance teams and advisers didn’t like the fact that they couldn’t tell how a document came to be, and they were nervous about how that process would fit around the regulation that applies to their documents.

So, we rebuilt it again from the ground up with Mitchell leading that process. The team re-built the platform in three months and we quickly went from really struggling to connect with customers to producing hundreds of documents a month on the platform. We definitely feel like we’ve got product-market fit now, and we are building the business of the back of that.

It has been the classic rollercoaster ride that startups go on, we’ve been through it all in terms of establishing that product market fit — invalidating, rebuilding and relaunching in to now growing steadily.

How did launch day feel?

You never really know until you’ve got it in the customers hands, but we felt we had addressed our users’ primary concerns when we rebuilt the document automation platform, which really were around a lack of control. Lack of control over document templating and creation is felt by most firms — they don’t feel like the can self-serve their template creation expertise and are beholden to third party programs and consultants. We honed in on that and swung the pendulum to empower firms to have control the way that they want, in a self-serve way where they can run their business as they want to and change things as they need.

Building a document editor from scratch isn’t easy, because you’re being compared to Microsoft Word every day of your life! But we feel we’ve struck the right balance between being a feature rich platform vs getting the job done, and giving people control over HOW they want to get the job done.

What’s it like running a regtech?

I always think that the difference between working for someone else and being and a startup entrepreneur was that you still have good and bad days — that is just life — but the gap between the peak and troughs as a founder is much wider. You feel every triumph ten times more and every loss ten times more when you’re building your own company.

I love building teams, it’s an absolute passion of mine, both at work and through sport which is my passion outside the office. I have been privileged to bring some amazing people together on the Nod journey.

All are very value aligned, fundamentally good people and the best part of my role is to see the team come together, watch people really buy into what we are trying to build, and thrive personally as a result.

What have been your favourite Nod moments to date?

There are two that stand out. Firstly, I vividly remember having a small team around the computer to watch the original version produce that first document, a moment that we all lived together.

Second would be going through the rebuilding. It was tough — we had to scale the team down and just had a core group around for rebuilding process. We all worked so hard to come out with a great product, which we now have customers using and engaging with really well.

What are your hopes for Nod in the future?

We’re beginning to think of ourselves as an Impact Growth Platform more than a document automation system these days. We’re launching new features which will mean we can increase the capacity for a professional services firm to serve more clients while also using some smart technology to help them to fill that extra capacity with new clients. Watch this space!

I think one of the things a lot of professional service firms are missing out on is the data that’s locked up inside their documents. Professional service firms are very document and process driven. When a document is signed, the signing drives many actions and implementations — it’s a very dynamic process, but documents get written manually and the task or workflow happens in another system or process in parallel and is not integrated at all. We can become the operating system for professional service firms that brings together document creation, workflow and client management, and integrates that data to create more and more efficiency.

It’s a big market! There are at least 20–30 million professional service firms out there just in the English speaking world, mostly working on archaic systems and doing a lot of manual stuff.

There’s a massive opportunity to wrap Nod’s arms around that group of people and give them something that they haven’t seen before and drives efficiency and makes their world better.

About Nod

Nod is a document automation and compliance platform making complex document creation fast, accurate and easy. Build your own document automation workflows to create complex documents quickly and accurately, eliminating manual editing.