Scaling operations is the biggest challenge any business will ever face. With so
many things changing, it helps to have automation tools that you can control.
That is precisely the pain point being solved by Alessio Alionco and his startup
Pipefy. Unlike other workflow software, Pipefy is lightweight and geared toward
non-technical users. It helps manage requests from stakeholders and make
individual contributors more efficient. As Alessio puts it: “empower the doer.”
Alessio joined midstage startup coach Roland Siebelink on this week’s episode of
the Silicon Valley Momentum Podcast. The two discussedPipefy’s huge success
trajectory, as well as the company’s learnings and challenges along the way:
- Why it’s essential for leaders to “Go to the Gemba,” which is where value is created.
- Recognizing that changes take longer to implement as a business grows.
- Why a lot of competition is actually a positive and how to respond to it.
- Pipefy’s commitment to being a people-first company and what that looks like in practice.
- What it means to take care of the things “you don’t know that you don’t know.”
Roland Siebelink:Hello and welcome to the Silicon Valley Momentum Podcast.
My name is Roland Siebelink and I'm a scaleup ally for tech founders. We have an
even more impressive guest on top of all the other impressive guests we've
already had: Alessio Alionco, the CEO and founder of Pipefy. And he's joining
us from Brazil. Hello, Alessio. What an honor.
Alessio Alionco:Hello. Thank you. Thank you for inviting me today, Roland.
Roland Siebelink:It's an absolute pleasure. And I'm glad we can keep doing
this while we're all locked down in our respective countries, right? Pipefy, a
company that's already made quite a name for itself. For those that haven't
heard of it yet, can you explain in a few sentences what does Pipefy do, for
whom, and how does it make a difference in the world?
Alessio Alionco:Great. Pipefy is a workflow software, especially for
non-technical users. We make it really easy for managers to streamline execution
of their teams and also to make that execution. We are really focused especially
on helping managers manage requests from their stakeholders. We are quite
popular with HR, finance managers, or customer operations professionals that
need to engage a lot with external stakeholders like employees, customers,
partners, by using portals, forms, and communication features to provide them a
good experience, provide them a good service.
Roland Siebelink:Like service oriented departments? You mentioned HR. I
think you mentioned finance people that need to deal with a lot of requests from
either employees or outside stakeholders.
Alessio Alionco:Yes, exactly. If you're scaling up and you manage internal
or external stakeholders, we are one of the best solutions available today in
the market. At least we can guarantee the fastest one because we're really
lightweight, intuitive, and easy to deploy. We try to include the max we can our
solution to empower non-technical users, managers to be able to streamline that
work without having to have skills about API integrations or advanced process
notations and all those complex needs.
Roland Siebelink:Perfect. Compared to the experience that those managers
had before, what would you say is the real pain that you solve with Pipefy?
Alessio Alionco:The main pain we solve is when those managers are scaling
up. Because when you think about the maturity growth of a given process inside
an organization, it starts really unstructured, on spreadsheets or in mailboxes
or simple, lightweight, no-code task management apps. But as you start scaling
up, the big pain of those managers is guaranteeing they're going to provide a
good experience to those guests and make sure they're going to optimize their
execution. Have a bit of control of what's happening.
The main reason why our customers, they move forward with us, I would say, is
two things. The first one is because we are a lightweight solution where
non-technicals can implement. And this is an old big pain. We are really strong
with mid-market enterprise customers. That's where we really profit and focus
most of our time and energy.
And multiple managers, they've been struggling because they open requests today
to departments or trying to figure out the best tool to purchase and so on. And
their requests and times last for months, if not years, in the backlog of their
internal organizations, which is really bad for them because their satellite
processes are not well managed over time. But it's also really bad for IT
because they need to focus on the big problems of the organization. And usually
those companies have their original workflow solutions, the first generation
solutions, but they are not flexible or intuitive enough for non-technical users
to implement and use. And that's exactly the problem we solve.
We have a huge long tail of small businesses using Pipefy. But actually, where
we found our sweet spot, that's exactly the long tail of mid-market and big
organizations. I think every single department, they have a few dozens of
processes. And those satellite processes in the organization, they do not get
the same attention of the ERP solutions or the big industrial processes that
every organization has. That's exactly where we found our sweet spot in the long
tail of those mid-market enterprise companies.
Roland Siebelink:It sounds like it's also important to have enough scale on
this side of the customer, for there to be a manager who has several people
helping to process requests. It's not enough if it's just a one-person shop that
is trying to manage requests for themselves, because then the spreadsheet might
be equally efficient, I guess.
Alessio Alionco:It is. But there's a few specific factors. Because what
happens - imagine, someone running accounts payable. Probably, that person
starts doing accounts payable, accounts receivable, procurement, and as a
company starts to grow, from 50 to 100 employees and more, probably you have
someone full-time doing accounts payable, another person full-time doing
accounts receivable just for compliance reasons as well.
And probably to an individual contributor, or sometimes the procurement team is
just a solo player there running for everyone. But even those guys, if you could
improve how they receive the requests and automate the max we can, that process
for that specific individual contributor, actually you are adding him super
powers where probably you'll be able to stay much longer with your team members
in that specific team to save a lot of costs and free that time to have that
team member to focus on other challenges of the organization.
That's exactly the big change that's happening in the market. In the past, more
big companies acquired solutions to be more efficient and scale their
operations. Today, even when you use a simple solution, actually, you're getting
more efficient. And we call that “Empower the Doer”, even those individual
contributors, to be more efficient inside their companies.
Roland Siebelink:"Empower the doer" is what you said. I like that. That's a
And it's a big contrast too. You mentioned your background where often a very
strong anti-pattern is one group of people designing how other people should do
the job, right? That's not always been that effective. I find.
Alessio Alionco:Yes. And probably that's one of the best lessons learned in
the whole Lean discipline: learn over time. When we discuss about the lean
tools, there is a common word called Gemba. Go to the floor. Go to where things
are happening and really check the people that are in the frontline working
because they really know what's happening. And they really know, probably what
are the best ideas to improve this process.
There are two types of consultants and usually they have the type of top-down
approach, which is also a concern. But when you think in terms of, "Okay, what's
effective, what really works?" Breaking those big projects into these really
small, fast, incremental improvements and making sure you're in the Gemba.
Listen to the real analysts, the frontline workers, because they know where are
the pain points and the things that could be better.
Roland Siebelink:I think we have a common background also in focusing a lot
on these organizations that are in high-scaling mode, right? Obviously, when
companies are growing fast, it's then when these managers need to learn fast and
improve fast with better workflow software, for example.
What are some insights that you may have gathered in talking to your customers
and seeing where their pain points are? What scaling companies do that makes
them successful versus what do they not do? And maybe also some insights that
you can share from within Pipefy itself?
Alessio Alionco:I think you need to understand there are different phases.
For example when you're a smaller company, culture, solve by consequence,
behavior, spread through osmosis. You need to have specific systems in place to
guarantee you have the right people with the right behavior.
Good will and hustlers work because if people just work a few extra hours, you
have really smart people. Even if you do not have good processes, but the team
is really committed to achieve those goals, they will be able to figure out what
they need to achieve their goals in the end of the year and probably will be
able to achieve your targets when you are small. As you grow and you need to
orchestrate something that's far more complex. Teams and so on, they are like a
few changes. Any change you do, you take three, six months to see the impacts of
that change. You need to plan much better.
Roland Siebelink:Let's maybe move on a little bit to Pipefy's success rate.
It's been a long while since you guys were part of the 2015 batch of 500
Startups, I believe, right? That's a long time ago now. It must feel like a
century ago. How have you guys fared since then? What have been some big
milestones and where are you at now with what numbers you can share?
Alessio Alionco:It's been a great journey. Today, we are almost at 300
people at the company with employees spread worldwide in Brazil, where we
started, in the US, and other regions, some team members are globally
distributed. We also have from small tech startups to big enterprise powerhouses
like IBM, Coca-Cola, banks as customers. And we've been lucky enough to keep
growing really fast and then keep investing on that growth.
Roland Siebelink:Briefly, Alessio, you mentioned the competition. You
mentioned Salesforce, Oracle, Pegasus. How do you compete with these behemoths?
How do you carve out a market for yourself in the face of such strong
competition from people that have a lot more money at their disposal than you
Alessio Alionco:Great points. Usually, when people think about competition,
they see it as a bad thing. But I have a different view. When there's a lot of
competition, it means a lot of money and a lot of buyers in the market. And when
you already have first-generation competitors in that specific market and
companies that already are at $1 billion-plus revenues, I can guarantee that
you're going to find a few subsegments of customers that are not satisfied. And
they have specific needs. And the key in terms of positioning to compete with
those incumbents and be successful is really identifying the segment of
customers that are unsatisfied and have more specific needs and really commit to
make them successful and double down on the things that you help their unique
needs to be addressed.
In the case of Pipefy, it's the combination of exactly those two things. First,
empowering doers, non-technical users, providing something that's really plug
and play, best deployed, and something that a non-technical user can use. Focus
on the request management by providing a good experience to stakeholders, which
is HR, finance, and customer operations.
The combination of those two things, that's exactly what allowed us to be really
competitive, and even sell and make deals with companies that are also customers
of those big vendors or sell to those big vendors. IBM, they are one of our
customers and they have a lot of products that actually overlap with what we do.
But that's fine because for that specific type of product, we are specialized
and they would prefer to move forward with us.
Roland Siebelink:Yes. It's almost as if you have to find the courage to
embrace being a point solution to really hone in on that target group where you
know you have the best possible solution. Don't you ever have founders or board
members, for that matter, who say, "Are we not giving up too much? Should we not
have a broader scope?" Has that been a discussion in Pipefy's past?
Alessio Alionco:In the case of Pipefy, because we are a horizontal
platform, we never had that problem. But I can easily see that happening. In
the case of Pipefy, it's just going to slice and dice. We have a massive market.
Those three departments, they exist in almost every single company in the world.
It's really who can find the most popular use case. And we tackle those use
cases for the next 12-24 months. And the moment we see we are reaching a limit
in terms of pipeline generation or the chances are dropping, we just jump to the
next use case and keep moving forward.
Roland Siebelink:I love that. And that's so clear the way you positioned
that. What I also learned from that, Alessio, and tell me if that's right, that
you combine an extreme focus on these doers and on these three use cases of HR,
finance, and customer operations, with on the other hand, no particular focus on
specific verticals, no particular focus on any specific geography. The whole
world is your oyster. Is that right?
Alessio Alionco: Exactly.
Roland Siebelink:Such an experienced CEO, of course, you're very used to
pitching and proving all the positives about Pipefy, which I do want to come out
of this podcast. But if you're open to it, maybe you can also share some
challenges that you see Pipefy has had or is still in a way coping with because
the founder's life is not all fun and games, right? There are some challenges we
have to deal with. What are some challenges, if you're willing to share, that
you're sometimes worried about or that you feel like Pipefy really needs to get
Alessio Alionco:I would say at least two things we've been going through.
The first one is when you're growing fast, long-term, it means six months, 12
months, max. And you think that you structured in a great place because you are
going fast. In the best case, it will last for six, 12 months. While we are
going to achieve a plateau in terms of scale or efficiency, and in order to keep
growing at the same pace, you need to rethink completely how you used to work.
Thinking and preparing for the next stage of growth with different types of
processes in your organization. Thinking as well, the type of team you have to
unleash the next phase of growth. It changes over time. It's really common in
startups, people see and think like, "Oh, this is the employee number two and
three, and they stayed almost until the IPO of the company."
And actually the truth is, yes, there are a few folks that stay. But every
executive function in the organization, sometimes you need to change two, three
times. I'm onto my third CTO because the challenges are different. Understanding
those things is really hard because as an entrepreneur, you are always
optimistic. And you think people will figure that out. It's a fine balance.
The second one is culture. Like I said, when you think in terms of culture, when
you're at a small team with 10-20 people, you almost feel in the air how the
team needs and so on. And as you start scaling up, it's really hard because
sometimes you'll have four, three different levels of structure in your
Roland Siebelink:Life was so much easier, right, in the early stage.
Notwithstanding that, I did see you got an award or at least a ranking in
America's best startup lists from Forbes, right? What were some things that
people highlighted about working for Pipefy that they really love?
Alessio Alionco:The first thing is - our value number one is - we are a
people-first company. And we respect people's uniqueness. And we wanna create a
safe space to everyone where they feel comfortable to share their professional
aspirations but also their personal aspirations. That's something you already
realize. Maybe the previous generation, no, but now people see their work as a
way to achieve personal things they desire.
For older people, it's being the best parent you can be to your kids. For other
people, its travel. Respecting those desires and really creating a work
environment where you balance those things and really help people to be
successful and accomplish those things they want to accomplish at work or
personally. I think that's the most important for us at Pipefy.
Always tell, even in front of investors like, "Hey, our investors gave us a lot
of money to generate them value. Our customers give us a lot of money to
generate value as well. But who is generating all that value? It's the people
behind the business. It's really important. The first thing is we are here to
work, to create and be the best employer to someone. And the second most
important thing is we are here to create the best company to be a customer of.
Roland Siebelink:I love that order. That's very clear. And I'm sure your
employees really are able to incorporate that in their work and understand why
that order is so important, especially as they get onto the management and
leadership track themselves, right?
Alessio Alionco:Yes, exactly. We make sure that we embed all the points of
conduct that every team member has with the company, just to get a more flexible
team, having good benefits. If you want to learn something or want to accomplish
something professionally, we're gonna figure out a project that's a good fit for
you. That's a win-win if we achieve that, so we invest a lot of time on that.
Roland Siebelink:That's excellent. Very good. I think this will be very
attractive to people that might be interested in joining Pipefy. Are there
specific roles that you're really looking for in case certain listeners to this
podcast are interested? Or a specific site where they can start checking out the
roles that you have open up at this stage?
Alessio Alionco:Top of mind, engineering, front end, back end developers,
data analysts and data scientists as well. And executive level, we are really
investing in the go-to market this year, so we have marketing opportunities from
content marketing, product marketing, performance, marketing operations, we have
several positions open.
Roland Siebelink:And, of course, my closing question is always, the
founders coming behind you, what would be some key learnings to impart to them?
Alessio Alionco:Advice number one, take huge care with the things you don't
know you don't know. Really challenge all the time if what you are doing or what
your team is doing is the right thing or the cutting edge of what you are doing.
Probably, you're managing something for the first time at that scale - if you do
not know or understand how greatness looks like, it's really hard to achieve
that. How do you do that? Mentoring sessions with people that already went
through that. Just by chatting, ask for help from your investors if you have
investors because probably they already saw other companies going through that
track and they can help a lot with that pattern recognition.
And bringing in professionals that already have that experience. I'm a big fan
of working with consultants. We do that a lot to fast-track our learning and
adopt those practices. And especially if you believe in your team. Sometimes you
have someone that's really high potential; they don't have that experience to
fast-track their performance. That's exactly downloading a lot of knowledge by
having those more seasoned professionals around. Big fan of that.
In plus, which is the second advice, is if you realize people are achieving
their cap in terms of capacity to get things done and help you with scale,
probably that won't change. Your mission is figure out something where the chair
is the right chair for the type of professional, where they're going to be able
to be successful, and they're going to like what they do. I'm really proud that
most of the changes I've made on my executive team, most of the folks stay in
the company exactly because we divide and give someone a specific responsibility
where they are unique, where they are really good, and where they can perform.
And we make that chair left to someone else more experienced to come and help
the company grow to the next phase.
It's not that you're going to move someone to a smaller role in the organization
because as you are growing, actually that smaller piece will be a massive piece,
much bigger. It's really important for you to really figure out when people are
achieving their cap.
You need to take huge care to really help them when you find they need help and
really help the professional, figure out that actually it's time to move on and
bring someone more experienced in as you're scaling up. And actually, that
professional will have the chance to learn with someone more experienced. And
also, you're going to set up that person for success because they're going to do
something that they can perform, they are good at, and you're going to help that
person to be successful.
Roland Siebelink:Absolutely. I think that's great advice, especially for
that crucial stage right after reaching product-markets fit when the spigot is
on and you're overstressed with delivering on all these customer promises. To
get more experience in and to know what you don't know is absolutely - or "what
you don't know that you don't know," to put it in your exact words, Alessio - is
Thank you for that advice. I would say, overall, this has been a great
interview. I've been so happy to have you on and share all your knowledge with
People will want to find out more about Pipefy, where should they go? And is
something specific for them to download or to look for when they go on the
Alessio Alionco:Pipefy does cloud solutions, so just visit our website.
Sign up for your freemium product. You can use up to 10 users by processing
almost all the features for free. Feel free to test. And also, can follow me on
Twitter @alessioalionco. Sometimes I share things about Pipefy or about
something that I find interesting. I'll be more than happy to chat with anyone.
Roland Siebelink:Expectly . And we'll also put all those links in the show
notes for people that are listening here so that you have everything at your
Thank you once again, Alessio Alionco, the CEO and founder of Pipefy. It was an
absolute pleasure to have you on this podcast.
Alessio Alionco: Thank you. Thank you for the invite.
Roland Siebelink talks all things tech startup and bring you interviews with tech cofounders
across the world.