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Making Work Human: Automation Anywhere Co-Founder Neeti Mehta Shukla On People, Culture And The Future Of Work

March 19, 2021

The Crunchbase “Female Founder Series,” is a series of stories, Q&As, and thought-leadership pieces from glass-ceiling-smashers who overcame the odds and are now leading successful companies.


Neeti Mehta Shukla is a co-founder, senior vice president and culture architect at Automation Anywhere – the world’s most widely deployed and only cloud-native robotics process automation (RPA) platform. She has dedicated her career to liberating people from the restrain of manual, repetitive work. 

Automation Anywhere is an RPA leader of a fast-evolving technology using software bots working side by side with human workers to automate manual, repetitive business processes. The impact? RPA enables an intelligent digital workforce of software robots that can automate the mundane, unleash human creativity, and ultimately make work more human. 

In this Q&A, Mehta Shukla shares why she started Automation Anywhere, her advice for other founders, and the most valuable lessons she’s learned throughout her career.


Q: What inspired you to start your company?

Growing up in an entrepreneurial household, I always dreamed of starting something new. My early experiences in the business world highlighted how inefficient its many manual, repetitive processes can be; how they limit the time that could be spent on creative, strategic and exciting work.

Knowing that technology could lead to a better way, my co-founders and I envisioned software bots that would automate manual tasks that human workers are often stuck doing every day — like data entry, compiling manual reports, or invoice processing. So we created Automation Anywhere, where our mission is to create bots that assume some of this “heavy lifting,” unleashing human workers to focus on the higher-level, strategic, innovative and empathetic work they do best. 

 

Q: What problems are you trying to solve with your company?

Over the last 30-40 years, many diverse and disparate systems have managed data and processes. Although early-stage automation existed in these times, it was frequently neither commercially viable nor economically sustainable.

Time was the enemy. It took a company time to hire a few engineers, map a process, hard code automation and then at the end of two years or so, deploy what they had built to enhance productivity. Often, the original process to be automated had evolved during that time, or the data and systems had advanced so much that the automation was obsolete before it could be deployed. People needed a faster, more efficient and easier way, to build, use and upgrade automation.

The vision of Automation Anywhere is to create a truly digital workforce where humans work alongside bots so that each can utilize its strengths and create a symbiotic relationship greater than the sum of its parts — turning the enterprise into an engine of boundless innovation. Automation Anywhere’s RPA technology allows users to leverage intelligent automation with low-code options to quickly automate parts of a process, and even end-to-end process automation in as little as a few weeks. This means you can just as easily customize the automation to deal with process changes or system updates.

RPA transforms processes in every vertical and across all departments — invoice processing, opening a bank account, approving an insurance claim, customer support, verification of data, customer or employee onboarding, financial reconciliations, data migration, CRM, IT diagnostics, bill of material processing, inventory control, patient analytics or medical appointment scheduling. 

Companies need to leverage RPA and encourage all employees to add this to their skill set to be  well prepared for the automation-driven world of the future. We believe that companies’ greatest assets are their people, and they should be doing their best work. Automation not only improves operations and productivity, it also helps with employee retention and creativity, and attracts new talent.

Nearly every industry is rapidly embracing automation as a way to ease pain caused by a surge in manual processes, which has never been as apparent as during COVID-19. Automation Anywhere is the connective tissue to automate across various apps and platforms.

 

Q: What is your advice for other female founders at the beginning of their entrepreneurial journeys?

Focus on your vision. Forget everything else — the naysayers, the doubters, challenges, or setbacks. Don’t let them become distractions. Instead, dream big, work hard, try everything, and know that you can do it not “in spite of being a woman” but because you are one.

 

Q: What is your advice for other entrepreneurs trying to scale their own company?

I believe that as you are scaling, the more breadth of thinking and intelligent viewpoints you can bring to the table, the faster you will grow and the better your product will be. If you have too many like-minded people, the echo chamber stifles creativity; you won’t be able to think outside the box, innovate, or change the world. 

It can be a challenge to keep your company culture steady as you scale. I’ve learned to watch it closely. Communicate and dialogue about it frequently. Focus on your greatest asset — your employees — to keep them happy, engaged and challenged.

I look for opportunities. Keeping our mission at the forefront and not losing track of it. I build on our strength and expertise and always focus on adding value to our customers.

 

Q: Do you have a favorite quote or “personal mantra” you use to keep yourself motivated?

Women can, must, and will.

I draw on this mantra when I face a big challenge. I also frequently say this publicly, in support of the women who have already helped drive change and progress in our ecosystem. The more we celebrate diversity and inclusion, thinking differently, and the benefits they clearly bring to our health as a company, the greater the change we will drive throughout our organization and in the industry.

We are an artificial intelligence-centric technology. Our products gather and analyze data that may be used in serious decisions that affect the survival of people, society, companies and our planet. We need to be vigilant that our bots can learn different perspectives that will help them avoid bias. A lack of employee diversity only fosters inherent biases while developing AI and narrows down the technology’s field of vision. On the other hand, an inclusive company means, like with everything else, our bots will have a more robust and inclusive platform on which they are trained.

 

Q: What challenge are you most proud of overcoming in your career?

The fear of failing. I believe that “if you’re not failing, you’re not trying.” Failure should be a learning experience — and you must learn how to “fail fast.” The important thing is how quickly you recover and progress afterward. Try, test, analyze, move on. Don’t get attached to a solution. Always work toward solving a problem.

 

Q: How have you integrated your values and mission into your company structure?

Our mission is to empower people by freeing them from repetitive, manual tasks, and making end-to-end business processes more efficient and productive. We infuse human-centricity not only into our technology, but also into service, support, brand, culture, HR — all parts of the company — through our values: Passion, Innovation, Customer First, and One Team. As an RPA company, it’s imperative to put humans at the center of everything we do. While we help companies accomplish efficiencies, we also do the right thing for the people in our ecosphere.

Since Automation Anywhere’s software deeply affects our customers’ daily lives, we strive to “do, think and feel” like them. Our A-Works initiative helps us travel in their footsteps by utilizing and deploying our technology within our own company. Almost a quarter of our employees now build their own digital workers, and their insights allow us to anticipate our customers’ needs on their own RPA journeys and deliver additional value to them.

Our newly established AI Committee challenges us to live up to the AI ethics we’ve established, so we ask ourselves many questions: Are we considering these ethics both internally and externally? Are we responding to the threat of job loss our technology poses? Are we ensuring AI ethics answer to humans from an all-inclusive range of different minority groups?

To be human-centric means our company colleagues must represent the world’s diversity of thought. Our commitment to diversity can be seen in our Women’s Empowerment Circle soft skills, networking and advocacy programs. While we began with a focus on women, the world’s largest minority group, since then we have started a program to take all kinds of unconscious bias out of the hiring process.

We believe that an enterprise’s greatest asset is its human workforce. Automation Anywhere University (AAU) has delivered more than 1 million RPA courses to students and people in the workforce ranging from RPA introductions to industry-recognized RPA certifications. In 2020, we gave 200 scholarships to those interested in upskilling or who are reskilling in RPA to help communities in need.

From our very first years, the democratization of automation has been a key part of our vision. We’ve recently established CSR programs to prepare people across all levels of society for the Future of Work by working with social impact agencies and offering free training and tools from AAU. Our technology helps the agencies themselves become more efficient, and we have started to participate in joint AI efforts that aim to solve worldwide/societal crises.

 

Q: What qualities do you possess that you think have contributed most to your success?

I love what I do, and I work very hard. I enjoy a challenge and failure doesn’t bother me.

 

Q: Any thoughts/advice for entrepreneurs in the current economic climate?

Every event is an opportunity; even a pandemic. I focus on how I can come out stronger. Change tactics, direction, double down on the product, whatever it takes, but keep the end goal clear and work toward it.

Unprecedented times mean that there are no clear answers. I try to keep flexible and agile, but double down on what we aim to be as a company at the end of this economic transition.

 

Q: What do you find most rewarding about your experience as a founder so far?

I enjoy tackling diverse and crazy problems. I find doing the “impossible” under tremendous time pressures to be a great adrenaline rush. Getting to know and collaborating with the very passionate and skilled colleagues who power this startup is also exciting and inspiring to me.

 

Q: How did you network, find communities and make the connections you needed to succeed?

When we first started, we reached out to nearly anyone and everyone for help. There’s a natural fear at times of reaching out to strangers or letting others know that you need assistance, but I found that many people are excited to help once you put yourself out there. I’ve made incredibly valuable connections simply by engaging with people we meet, asking for recommendations on communities or resources, and tapping into their networks.