Flowlens is a cloud manufacturing CRM and MRP system for small equipment and machinery businesses. Flowlens combines inventory, sales, production, and after-sales services, creating an ‘all in one’ platform for small businesses to keep on top of their customer and operational processes. Instead of using hyper cloud provides like AWS, Flowlens is leveraging Linode technologies to not only stay innovative and competitive but also scale with the growing demand. In this success story, we discussed why Flowlens chose Linode technologies.
Swapnil Bhartiya: Tell us a bit about your company. What does Flowlens do?
Rich Dale: Flowlens is a product that’s aimed at small equipment manufacturers. Typically, small equipment manufacturers do a lot of things on spreadsheets and disjointed systems, paperwork, and email. So, Flowlens brings together their marketing and sales funnels, plus their inventory and manufacturing and after-sales service into one system. That’s where the flow comes from. So, rather than disjointed processes across the business, we put the flow into the business right from the start of the customer journey, right the way through a manufacturing delivery and then after-sales service.
And then the lens element, it’s a really good question because most businesses and small businesses don’t have the data and even the time needed to find data about the performance of their business, because they’re so busy spinning plates and trying to get the day-to-day work done. Because Flowlens captures everything from inbound inquiries, sales pipeline, quotations, orders, stock levels, production jobs, customer interactions, everything, you have data there in real time that you can trust. That’s basically, you can make decisions on, which people just aren’t used to having whenever they’re trying to extract information from spreadsheets or email or just remember things, which is very typical in a small business,
Swapnil Bhartiya: If you look at MRP space, what are the unique either challenges or requirements that are there for them versus any other industry?
Rich Dale: For smaller manufacturers, you’re talking about teams that are very capable, but they’re very small. So, you have people that are maybe engineering on sales or technical on production or looking after inventory. You find people that are juggling or wearing a lot of hats is another way of putting it. How’s the risk that if somebody leaves the business or they’re on vacation, or they just forget something that it can slip through the cracks? That’s one of the reasons why we produced Flowlens because we used to be a bespoke development agency and we worked with businesses like this. We could see the types of problems that they have, and that’s why we decided to productize that.
Swapnil Bhartiya: When we look at your software stack, are you offering something which your users can download and run locally? Or do you offer something with just SaaS or cloud-based?
Rich Dale: No, so Flowlens is completely cloud-based. People use it on their phone, their tablets. Wherever they are, they can use it on the go, but I’ve been cloud-first my whole career, and Flowlens is a cloud only product. That’s great because particularly in this current era of COVID where people have been able to work from home, work remotely, but also interface with other systems, particularly our kind systems where we interface with Xero, QuickBooks and Sage. So, just the web really is the great enabler of all of that.
Swapnil Bhartiya: Since you are purely cloud-based, which also means that your needs for infrastructure is different from those company who just offer something you can download and install and run locally. Because you are running a applications for your users. So, can you talk about what are your interests, your needs to run Flowlens?
Rich Dale: From an infrastructure point of view, we’ve a diverse range of customers and they all have different needs, and therefore the ability to have individualized applications and be able to deliver infrastructure that works for each customer. Also, the ability to ensure that it’s running smoothly. Availability is a huge thing for us because things are happening. Processes are happening in our customers on a minute by minute basis. And that availability is also critical for us.
Swapnil Bhartiya: Talk a bit about where do you run your own cloud?
Rich Dale: Whenever we first started out, we were using an alternative provider, but we soon discovered Linode. In fact, our lead architect was using Linode for one of his personal projects. We could see that Linode was going to give us the scalability that we were looking for. As the product has matured, we’ve been recruiting more and more customers, but also most importantly, the customer support that we find that with other larger providers, that the support level wasn’t really that interested in us as a business and anticipating our needs and proactive to our needs.
They were proactive about renewing our contract, and that was about it. Whereas with Linode, we’ve really found a partner that scales with us, appreciates those growing pains, but on a day to day basis is very reactive to individual situations or requirements. I think the other thing that’s really reassuring is I can wake up in the morning and see an email that activity has happened on a particular server proactively to deal with issues. So, they’re anticipating problems and dealing with them before we even knew about them, which is great.
Swapnil Bhartiya: You used the word “partners”, so the relationship in all of a customer and a provider is a partnership. Talk about you did mention a couple of points, but if you go beyond then, if you look at this as a partnership, what other unique value Linode brought to you. You did talk about keeping you updated with what are changes are going on and very responsive. Beyond that what else was there that you liked about them?
Rich Dale: Well, I think obviously it comes down to price as well. Linode offer a really competitive service. It’s very transparent, and you can see how the costs scale as you scale. I think, again, compared to some of the other offerings out there, when you compare the level of support they get, the uptime, the availability, the power and modernity of the infrastructure with the price point, it’s really unbeatable.
Swapnil Bhartiya: Today most people are also leveraging a lot of emerging and latest technologies. So, if I am not wrong, Linode, they are now offering Kubernetes. They are also offering software-defined storage. They’re also often GPU. So, does it also help you? Because as your business grew and you want to leverage a lot of new technologies, you can also get those versus where you are stuck in a data center-like set up where you are isolated from latest innovation.
Rich Dale: I think the thing we liked about Linode was that as the innovation keeps hopping and the product evolves, we know that they’re always supporting new technologies, and that the ability to experiment with those, it’s not prohibited in terms of either cost or availability that they’re there. They’ve got great resources to learn from as well. Yeah, I mean, it definitely is the real deal in terms of that full suite of partnership services and infrastructure services.
Swapnil Bhartiya: Has there ever been any experience dealing with their support team or things were working so smoothly then you never had to call them up?
Rich Dale: I think I’m pleased to say that ordinarily things are pretty smooth so we don’t have cause to speak to Linode support on a weekly, nevermind a daily basis, or maybe even monthly. It’s partly because they’ve got that proactivity happening. You can see things are being upgraded, or if they spot a problem on a particular device, it’s being hot-swapped before we even knew about it. But whenever we do have interactions with support, they’re personal, they’re detailed, they’re quick. You’re not waiting around for a reply. They always seem to be genuinely interested in solving the problem.
Swapnil Bhartiya: Your company is growing with the customer base. What role does a partnership with a company like Linode play in enabling you to move as fast as you want?
Rich Dale: I think Linode are structured in such a way that because the pricing is transparent, the technology is transparent, we can make decisions about how we’re growing and how they can support us. They’re also part of that partnership program that comes back to you as well in terms of that scaling. So, I think whenever you’re looking at your business model and you’re looking at all the dynamics that are at play there, having the sort of Linode platform on having that transparency of how it’s priced, how it stacks up, how it’s going to evolve as we grow, it gives us confidence.
It also gives us confidence that we can bring to our customers because if you think about a small manufacturing business that they’re not used to the technology of this kind, they’re not used to the cloud maybe, but we can point to Linode. We can demonstrate the quality of the partnership that we have. We can demonstrate their credentials in terms of security and compliance, and the footprint that they have worldwide. So, from that point of view, there’s the tactical business model cost pace, but also strategically it plays a big part in how we win business and how we can continue to grow, and also deal with different geographical demands as they arise.