Alex is ZERO’s co-founder and CEO, responsible for everything from strategy to finance to relationships with major customers and partners. Alex has a degree in Applied Communications. ZERO is his second startup.Follow
Welcome to the Use Case Podcast, episode 235. Today we’ll be talking to Alex from ZERO about the use case or business case for why his customers choose ZERO.
ZERO reduces the administrative lift of routine tasks by using the power of AI for hyper-accurate filing and time tracking while maintaining compliance and giving knowledge workers time back in their day.
Give the show a listen and please let me know what you think. Thanks, William
Show length: 27 minutes
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Music: 00:02 Welcome to RecruitingDaily’s Use Case Podcast, a show dedicated to the storytelling that happens … Or should happen when practitioners purchase technology. Each episode is designed to inspire new ways and ideas to make your business better, as we speak with the brightest minds in recruitment and HR tech. That’s what we do. Here’s your host, William Tincup.
William Tincup: 00:25 Ladies and gentlemen, this William Tincup and you are listening to the Use Case Podcast. Today, we have Alex on from ZERO and we’ll be learning about the business case or the use case that his customers and prospects use to purchase ZERO. So without any further ado, Alex, would you do us a favor and introduce both yourself and ZERO?
Alex Babin: 00:46 Hi, William. Happy to be here. And ZERO is productivity automation company, and I’m lucky to be running the company, being a CEO and co-founder. And we started the company with the premise of making professional services workers, or knowledge workers, as we know them better, make their life better because a lot of time is being spent on repetitive tasks. And our goal is to make sure that people spend time on things that are important and we will take care of the rest. And that’s why the company is called ZERO, the name ZERO, because we want people to spend time on important stuff. So ZERO time wasted. That’s what we stand for.
William Tincup: 01:34 I love this. So when we think about productivity, there’s a lot of different ways to unpack that, like time management via file management, knowledge management, there’s a bunch of different ways that people have historically thought about productivity, what’s you all’s working definition of productivity?
Alex Babin: 01:53 Well, the easiest way to describe productivity is to do more with less. And we always take it for granted because time is being given to us by default, right? And we all operate on a credit that we got, and we spend it left and right. And we rarely think that time is the only non redeemable asset we have. You can spend money, you can get more money back, you invest it. If you spend time, no one gives you the time back. So it’s the only non redeemable asset that we possess. And we actually spend it the way we think fits our processes, but actually, these processes are typically dictating how we should spend our time. And we are not efficient with our time. None of us. There’s always a room for improvement. So doing more with less and getting more ROI, Return On Investment from the time we’re investing into our work is what productivity actually is.
William Tincup: 03:06 So with time management, one of the things I’ve seen in the past is just having visibility into kind of how one spends their time or waste their time. Again, like you said, you’re not going to get that time back. So if a task was a two hour task, but you could have easily done it in an hour because someone’s already done that before. And so you didn’t have to recreate their wheel. What type of, I mean, how do we give people insight into how they spend their time and how they can spend their time in a better way going forward?
Alex Babin: 03:45 Well, that’s a great question. To answer it, we need to have a step back a bit and have a look at what we do as professionals from a helicopter view. Everything we do as knowledge workers, and we are all knowledge workers. And by the way, there is 1 billion knowledge workers in the world that a number is growing, right? So we’re constantly becoming more and more knowledge worker societies, right? With robotics in place, with all the automation, production automation in place. So we are becoming more and more knowledge workers. So every piece of our work, every knowledge worker’s day of life can consist of two things. Practicing things and doing business of things, right? If I’m a lawyer I’m doing practicing law and also the business of law. If I’m an accountant, I’m doing the practice of accounting and the business of accounting. The practice is what I’m trained for. That’s what I know how to do to perform things.
If I’m a lawyer, I can be creating a contract, right? That’s a practice of law for example, but also, I have to perform business activities, communicate with clients, do some time keeping or file management, email management, and so on and so forth. So this business of things, right? Let’s say business of law, business of accounting or consulting, I’m not being paid for it. Or if I’m being paid like flat fee or something, it still consumes a lot of my time. So eats up from the time that I can spend on actually producing the value to the client, to myself, to the society, to anyone. And it’s important to understand that AI and automation can automate both or try to automate both parts of the day.
But actually, we are focusing on the business part because it’s not what provides the value. So why not to automate it? Why not to give it to a machine? And in this case, the other part when I’m practicing something that I’m trained for, that’s what I enjoy doing as a knowledge worker. And that’s where I’m really good at. So I don’t need help there, or at least not that much. So take away all those repetitive tasks from my to-do lists so I can focus on important things providing value, so that’s kind of a helicopter view at this point. And that’s what not a lot of companies are focusing on, but we try to.
William Tincup: 06:20 I like this. So productivity, at least historically, Alex, from an HR perspective has been kind of somewhat, not necessarily overlooked, but they’ve looked at productivity through the lens of performance and it’s not necessarily a great way of thinking about productivity. And I think you are looking at productivity in a really, really unique way. Is the A, is the application as you’ve conceived it, do you think it’s more for the individual, the employee to kind of garner insight into how they’re working and how they could work more efficiently? Is it for the manager of those employees? Or is it for both? Who gets to use ZERO?
Alex Babin: 07:10 Great question. So actually it’s for the end user, it’s for the knowledge worker herself that wants to produce more and spend less time on it, but everyone in the food chain benefit from it, starting from the employee and the management and the organization as the whole, because there is no such thing as individual productivity in isolation. If we talk about the organization, the company’s productivity, company efficiency, productivity is more attached to a human being. So let’s say efficiency. The company’s efficiency is the sum of small efficiencies of every single person in the company starting from janitor, ending up with the CEO, right? And everyone in between. So it’s always a sum. And if you have basically everyone’s productivity increase, the overall efficiency of the organization increases as well. And in this case, I would say it’s probably been overlooked by many HR professionals that they talk about a lot of benefits and quirks and perks.
And especially here in Silicon Valley here, a lot of stuff about working remotely and providing people more flexible hours and everything else, but rarely people talk about how they will support the employee to actually be more productive. And that what actually makes people more happy even than the flexible hours or remote work. Of course, it’s not mutually exclusive. Everything should be in there. But if I’ll give you an example, let’s say you start working in a new company and they provide you with outdated tools and they tell you, “Yeah, you’ll have to work on a 10 years old computer that lags. And you’ll have very laggy internet.” Basically, they do not provide you with effective tools, right? So how low your satisfaction of that type of a work will fall in two weeks? You’ll be pretty upset, right? Because you want to have new tools, new software, new computers, everything, right?
And we take it for granted that everyone gets right now the same level of equipment, why not focusing on the advanced automation that can actually take it to the next level? And that’s where employee satisfaction jumps in. Because if you don’t have to spend your time on repetitive tasks, you can spend more time on doing things that you enjoy and that brings in the work satisfaction. It brings in the work life balance much better one if combined with flexible hours and working remotely, just talking about just flexible hours, right? So those kind of things are really important and rarely being talked about. So as for myself, I would rather have automation tools that give me back one third of my time, instead of having candies in the kitchen or having a, I don’t know, PlayStation in office, I don’t care about that things, but I care about my time. And in the era of great resignation when people are not satisfied with how being treated, how they work, providing them with extra tools, extra automation that will make their life better.
Like literally, at the push of a button is what organization should be focusing on. I’ll give you an example because we’re talking about generic things. I’ll give you an example from one of our products and clients. We have this tool called Athena, which automatically does the email management and compliance for lawyers and people who actually have to keep the information for compliance purposes. And that means that right now, let’s say I’m a lawyer and I’m well trained. I’m well paid. Let’s say I’m getting thousand dollars an hour. Right? And I work on my client case and I provide value to my clients, but also, I have to spend almost 40 minutes a day, half an hour or 40 minutes a day on moving emails manually to specific locations to preserve those for compliance purposes. I have to, that’s one of my routine tasks and it cost me about $500 a day. And I think that’s not the work that anyone’s enjoys.
And we keep saying, “No lawyer ever went to law school to file emails. The document system.” That’s the stupidest work those type of professionals can do, but yet they have to do it. So with our product, we completely automate it. And now they’re getting not just getting half an hour back. Well, of course they can spend this half an hour on client matter work and get 500 plus more dollars into the billing system. But they can also go to soccer game with the son and spend time with friends. So the work life balance is immediately increased. Like literally, this is an immediate ROI, Return On Investment. You put the automation in, it starts working for you, and you immediately get the next second. You get the time back. And that’s just one of the examples.
Now imagine as a professional, I have five to 10 processes like this during my day that eats up one third of my time. And if at least half of those can be automated, how much time can I get back? Let’s do even not a helicopter view. Let’s talk about stratosphere view. There’s 1 billion knowledge workers in the world. And let’s say each of them spend an hour, hour and a half a day on those routine things that no one enjoys doing, but they have to, it’s a billion hours a day. The whole society is spending on basically heating up the atmosphere and use this analogy, boiling up the ocean. It’s stupid-
William Tincup: 13:46 Sorry to interrupt, Alex. But what I love about this is, we’ve thought historically about productivity as a way of getting yield. Again, getting more out of less, which is great, but you’ve taken it a step further in so far as productivity is actually employee experience. If done well, yes, you’re going to do more with less. However, what you’re going to do more of is your choice. And I think of the way that you frame that up for people is like, “Listen, there’s a bunch of waste.” And we all know it.
We’re wasting time doing things that A, that we don’t get anything out of, but could be automated, should be automated, et cetera. You regain your life, like reclaim your life and your happiness and your satisfaction and I love the way that you’ve positioned it for HR for them to consume, for them to think about it. It’s like, this is just a way to make people more satisfied in what they do. Yes, they’re going to be more productive. That doesn’t mean they’re actually going to invest, reinvest that time and do more stuff for you. They might take that time and do something for themselves, which makes them happy, which is great. It’s a wonderful thing. So I just love the way that you’ve kind of reframed the argument, if you will.
Alex Babin: 15:13 Yes. William, there’s also another angle to that. So yes, traditional approach of productivity, you can do more with less, right? So if you got this time back, we assume you might be doing more work or you can spend it on something that is not what work related, right? On yourself, get the work life balance better and things like this, but there’s another angle, the quality of work.
William Tincup: 15:45 Yeah.
Alex Babin: 15:45 Let’s say you’re more satisfied, you are not spending time on unnecessary things. You can do the same amount of work, but you can do it better. The quality of your work product might be absolutely on the next level because you don’t have to be distracted by those processes that you typically have to do manually. You laser focus on providing best of your work to your client that it’s so visible actually, it’s not a fraction, it’s a quantity versus quality and quality eats quantity for breakfast, always, especially in the knowledge world, right? Because it’s not something material. It’s something that we produce as a knowledge workers and the quality can be seen easily. You can see, I don’t know, an article and you can see that it’s done, “Nah. Well, not so well,” or you can see an amazing piece of work.
And sometimes this amazing piece of work difference between amazing piece of work and something like, “Whatever.” It’s just 10% of extra time being spent on that. And that 10% or 15% of time is being eaten by unnecessary stuff. So if we give it this time back to people and they can focus on the work they like doing, they love doing, the quality of work jumps up dramatically and increases the overall satisfaction because it’s kind of a loop circle. I provide more better work. I get better reward. I get better satisfaction from the process. So I provide better work next time again and again and again. So that’s kind of a self sustaining process, but it needs to start somewhere. And it typically starts when you start getting this time back so you can reinvest it into your knowledge work.
William Tincup: 17:43 I love this. This is just so great. I love what you’ve built. Let’s do some buy side things for the audience. So when you show ZERO to a prospect or your team show ZERO to a prospect for the first time, what do they fall in love with?
Alex Babin: 18:03 Couple of things, actually, first thing first. And it’s actually really interesting thing that people don’t like, though, everyone says that, “Well, I want my processes to be automated,” but no one wants to change. They want everything to be done, but don’t want to change. And change management actually, is the biggest problem for automation companies because automation companies come in saying, “Hey, now you’ll do it this way.” And the knowledge worker says, “Wait a second. I’ve been doing that for 10 years this way. It’s like a habit to me. I’m not going to be changing. Though, I understand you’ll give me back my time, but nah, I’m sorry. I’m not going to change.” And first thing that hits the nerve in a good way for anyone we show ZERO to, and what we can do is that there is no change management involved. So ZERO is almost invisible to the user. Like physicists, they say the ideal machine is the one that doesn’t exist, but the job is done.
And the ideal means nothing to break, nothing to learn, nothing to set up, and so on and so forth. In this case, ZERO is an intelligent layer, AI powered layer on top of your existing processes. And between point A and point B, so where you start and where you want to get, there are so many clicks of the button, moving files and so on and so forth that consumes the time. So ZERO eliminates all that stuff in between. So basically, you do the work you do typically do, and you see the end result automatically appear whenever it needs to be appear, appear, appear. So that’s the first thing that basically makes people say, “Wow,” because everyone knows that change management is the hardest thing. And in case you just don’t have to do anything, but the job is done. That’s where they feel like it’s black magic, which it actually is. We have a couple of voodoo folks, so that’s the first thing.
And second, the quality of the results. So a lot of automation companies out there that are not kind of, they automation companies, and they say they intelligent automation, but they’re more automation than intelligent. In our case, we try to focus on an intelligent part of that thing. Because again, it’s always quality versus quantity. We’d rather provide you less automation, but on a level that it doesn’t require a lot of supervision on your side, instead of providing you everything and with a mediocre result.
So the quality of automation is a priority number one, especially for knowledge workers. We are, as knowledge workers are on one side we’re bypassed by a lot of new automation technologies because our processes are really hard to automate. They are cognitive. Everyone does things differently. For example, when you do your emails differently, from how I manage my emails and time and files and everything. So AI needs to be adaptable. It needs to understand your particular process. And that requires cognitive component. How you feel, how you think and so on and so forth. So our solution is focused on mimicking the decision making process of a human being and providing extra level of quality. And that’s what we focus on. So that’s the second thing typically makes them say, “Wow.”
William Tincup: 21:49 Oh, I love that. So buying questions from your team when you’re in front of a practitioner and you know that they get it, what are the questions that they’re asking you? What should they be asking? I’ll rephrase it a little bit differently. What should they be asking people at ZERO in the buy process?
Alex Babin: 22:10 Yeah. First of all, they ask, “When can I get it?” That’s funny-
William Tincup: 22:16 How fast to stand it up. Yeah.
Alex Babin: 22:17 Exactly. How fast it can be set up. And what is the process of getting it set up? Because we know this AI systems sometimes are really hard to set up. And it’s truly the case for the software or solutions that reap and replace basis. Right? You have to take something out to put something in new, and it typically takes months or sometimes might take a year, depending on the size of the organization you’re working with. When we’re talking about the intelligent layer and automation, which we are in this case, it’s more of putting something on top of existing systems. We never replace an existing system. We actually thrive on legacy systems.
It’s like your old Honda Civic is getting autopilot from Tesla and drives and feels like Tesla. So probably will still smell like a Honda Civic of 1999, but everything else would be like Tesla. So that’s the analogy, right? And in this case, setting up intelligent layer on top of your existing system is much less time consuming and requires less resources. It might be done in weeks instead of months or years. And typically, that’s the first thing management of the organization is interested in, how much time it will take us to set it up.
William Tincup: 23:44 I love that. Okay. Last question. It’s going to be about customer stories, case studies, without brands, without names, none of that type stuff, but just-
Alex Babin: 23:53 We’re happy to talk about brands.
William Tincup: 23:55 If you can, it’s great.
Alex Babin: 23:56 Almost every client of ours is happy referencable client. And recently, we’ve done an interview with one of our clients. He’s a practice group leader, Paul in Philadelphia office of one of the largest law firms in the world, Holland & Knight. And our customer success team was just talking to him, interviewing him. And he said, “Guys, to me, my life is divided by before ZERO and after ZERO.” I feel like, “Wow, that’s kind of a statement.”
William Tincup: 24:33 Wow.
Alex Babin: 24:36 From lawyer, from a practice group leader like, “Well, that’s kind of a statement. Can we unfold it a bit?” And he says, “Well, you guys automating things for me that I typically spend my time on. And the quality of my life dramatically change because now, I take that time and I spend it on the things that I enjoy. And when you spend things on the things that you enjoy, you immediately see the quality of your life changed. You see that kind of a value back and you cannot ignore it. You cannot miss it because it’s before and after.”
So that’s kind of a thing. And we keep hearing that from a lot of users and a lot of clients that in isolation, these half an hour, 45 minutes a day when we talk about it might sound not that significant. You experience it when you feel it. You know that at the end of the day at 5:30, you don’t have to sit down and do your email filing or your billable hours to be put into time entry system. And you know that hour belongs to you now and it happens every day. Oh, you’ll love it.
William Tincup: 25:59 Oh yeah.
Alex Babin: 26:00 That changes everything. So like, “I can go back home early and play with my kids.” And that’s something you cannot buy because you either have it or you do not. And that’s why it’s before and after.
William Tincup: 26:14 I love that. Drops mic, walks off stage. It’s really interesting because you’ve reframed my thinking about productivity like death by a thousand cuts and the inefficiency of just spending five minutes on something that really I shouldn’t have even spent five minutes on. Well, five minutes here, there, there, adding all of this, all of that up over the course of a day, a week, a month, a year, et cetera. And then across the entire organization, all that time could have been used in a much more efficient way. So Alex, I love what you’ve built. Congratulations. I think it’s beautiful. And thank you for coming on the podcast.
Alex Babin: 26:54 Thank you, William. It was my pleasure.
William Tincup: 26:56 Absolutely. And thanks for everyone listening to the Use Case Podcast. Until next time
Music: 27:00 You’ve been listening to RecruitingDaily’s Use Case Podcast. Be sure to subscribe on your favorite platform and hit us up at recruitingdaily.com.
William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.