Automate menial and repetitive tasks. The reality is that humans are really bad at menial and repetitive tasks. We’re error prone, and only certain personalizes excel in overly-analytic environments. Enabling technology allows more of us to operate at a higher level, with less errors, and higher throughput.
As part of our series about “How To Use Digital Transformation To Take Your Company To The Next Level”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Cody Miles
Cody Miles is an Austin, TX-based entrepreneur and UX designer. After years of struggling to collaborate with his clients, Cody founded Ashore, the proofing and approval software used by creatives worldwide. Today, Cody utilizes his background to run both Ashore and his digital marketing agency, Brandcave.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I’ve been a creative and marketing professional for over a decade. I’ve had creative director roles at top creative agencies and fortune 500 companies. Prior to starting my current venture, Ashore (https://ashoreapp.com), I built and ran a creative agency called Brandcave. My experience as a creative, and the major problems I’ve faced in my roles, have all found a solution in Ashore. It’s been a passion project for me that has also become a useful tool for 10,000 other creatives around the world, including teams at Capital One, Disney, and Coca-Cola.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I don’t know if any of my mistakes have been funny, necessarily. I’ve definitely had my own faux pas. I once accidentally CC’d a customer in an email that spent a good amount of time ranting about them. If there was a takeaway — other than changing my own attitude — it probably would be to keep any negative commentary on internal tools, such as Slack, instead.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Absolutely. I credit my first employer out of college, Jorge Sauri. He was a pioneer in finance cloud technology in its early days. He was a constant source of inspiration and wisdom as I stepped into entrepreneurship, and remains a guiding figure in my life. When I have the opportunity to offer guidance to anyone, it’s usually a poorly-restated version of something he has told me. I do not know if I would be in the same situation today if he hadn’t spent as much time investing in me. I’m grateful!
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
The most important book on business and technology I’ve ever read is “Hackers and Painters” by the legendary Paul Graham. It’s more of a collection of essays, and not all of them have aged very well. There’s an essay on a programming language called Lisp, and I’m not sure how widely used it is anymore. The essays on perspective and business principles are crucial though. I recommend it for every software entrepreneur, and I’ve bought a copy of it for each of my employees.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
When you build a niche software product like Ashore, you’re solving a particular business problem for a particular audience. That’s important, especially in the early days. It’s also important to develop a core principle — the why — behind your product. For us, we are on a mission to increase the joy of creatives in their day-to-day lives and in their collaboration with others. We start and end every business meeting with this phrase. This mission is built on empathy for others, especially creatives. We know because most of us have been in their position. We’re trying to bring joy back to the designers and managers who have difficulty managing the creative process.
Our development roadmap is prioritized correctly when it’s building joy for our customers. When we work in adherence with our mission, we anticipate our customers’ problems and solve them (often before they know it). A delighted customer believes you understand their issues as well — or better — than them. Every conversation with a new user should end with “you’ve thought of everything!”
Are you working on any new, exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?
Our product is, in many ways, leading our industry with many first-in-class tools. This year, we plan on outdoing ourselves. It’s a little hush-hush for the moment, though.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion about Digital Transformation. For the benefit of our readers, can you help explain what exactly Digital Transformation means? On a practical level what does it look like to engage in a Digital Transformation?
Digital transformation is a straightforward concept. It is the use of enabling technology to enhance or automate business processes internally or externally. When implemented successfully, it allows companies to leverage technology to complete menial or repetitive tasks, and enable employees to act in more creative, meaningful and important ways. At its core, it’s about improving the quality of work and livelihood. To be clear, it is not about replacing or displacing workers. The result of digital transformation is higher efficiency, output, and revenue.
Digital transformation also improves mental health. In our world, all creatives will eventually find themselves in a position where someone reviewing their work is critical and provides vague, low quality feedback. When these creatives leverage technology like Ashore, they’re providing a forced perspective for their reviewers. The reviewer is placed into a position where they’re asked to give actionable, contextual feedback. Our mantra is: higher-quality feedback leads to less revisions. So, the effect of digital transformation is certainly financial, but it’s also emotional. Burnout is so high in the creative industry. Creative agencies suffer from some of the highest turnover rates. It’s absolutely crucial for employers of creative companies to leverage technology to protect their employees, not just their wallets.
Which companies can most benefit from a Digital Transformation?
I’m not entirely fond of the moniker, digital transformation. I believe in the movement, but the phrase doesn’t adequately capture the human impact. The reality is that digital transformation is just the next stage of human efficiency.
I would argue the creative industry — including creative agencies, print or promotional apparel — may be the least efficient of any industry, given the personalities and required collaboration surrounding creative deliverables. The creative process is also generally less linear than, for example, a mortgage transaction. That said, I thoroughly believe the creative agency has the most room for digital transformation. When an agency can leverage technology like ours, for example, to automate the repetitive and menial tasks of the creative process, it suddenly becomes an enabler for higher human efficiency.
Look at it another way: if a creative no longer needs to send follow-up messages, or schedule additional meetings to understand feedback, they are given new freedom to focus on the more empowering parts of their career, like creating things. The benefit of “digital transformation” is self-actualization.
We’d love to hear about your experiences helping others with Digital Transformation. In your experience, how has Digital Transformation helped improve operations, processes and customer experiences? We’d love to hear some stories if possible.
Every company that reaches out to Ashore already inherently understands the need for digital transformation. They may not know the extent to which they can be helped, but they already recognize technology can improve their process.
Our primary role is helping others connect the dots. If you know that getting high-quality feedback is nearly impossible on email, then I only need to show you that Ashore provides contextual feedback and gets it to you faster (50% faster, and that’s an actual statistic). If you already know that the back-and-forth in design revisions is squeezing opportunity costs, then I can demonstrate how high-quality feedback leads to less revisions. If you have employees spending time following-up on projects, I can demonstrate how those employees can go back to their fulfilling roles.
These things are only accomplished by leveraging technology that keeps the creative collaboration process on track.
Has integrating Digital Transformation been a challenging process for some companies? What are the challenges? How do you help resolve them?
The challenge of adopting digital transformation is your process. If a process cannot be clearly defined, it cannot be automated. Before any of our customers can embrace our automation tools, they need to first decide how automation would look in their company. We can’t define their processes, but we can help them implement them. To be fair, companies using Ashore generally have a process; they just recognize how it can be improved with technology.
The other reason a company may fail to adopt digital transformation is onboarding. It may be hard to believe, but technology is still a strange new medium for many. If the technology you’re attempting to implement fails to provide an empathetic user experience, you’re in for an uphill battle. That usually means your workforce will fall back to old methods and tools.
Ok. Thank you. Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are “Five Ways a Company Can Use Digital Transformation To Take It To The Next Level”? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Automate menial and repetitive tasks. The reality is that humans are really bad at menial and repetitive tasks. We’re error prone, and only certain personalizes excel in overly-analytic environments. Enabling technology allows more of us to operate at a higher level, with less errors, and higher throughput.
- Enable higher self-actualization. Digital transformation improves the mental health of employees. In our world, all creatives will eventually find themselves in a position where someone reviewing their work is critical and provides vague, low quality feedback. When technology is used to improve collaboration, less time can be spent on the draining activities that build stress. It enables employees to act in more creative, meaningful and important ways. They are given new freedom to focus on the more empowering parts of their career, like creating things.
- Decrease opportunity costs and increase margins. When employees spend time performing tasks, they are robbed of the opportunity to create, innovate, and produce. You cannot build new business if you’re putting out fires. When menial or repetitive tasks can be automated, your company can be freed to engage in new ideas. It will also experience higher revenue, as the time required to produce will decrease. Higher margins and lower opportunity costs is reason enough to accept digital transformation.
- Eliminate Burnout. The effect of digital transformation is certainly financial, but it’s also emotional. Burnout is so high in the creative industry, for example. Creative agencies suffer from some of the highest turnover rates. It’s absolutely crucial for employers of creative companies to leverage technology to protect their employees, not just their wallets.
- Develop market differentiation. All companies will eventually become digital companies. Companies that adopt digital sooner create new opportunities for themselves. When your roadmap correctly prioritizes technology to engage customers, for example, you are improving every NPS score and customer experience. You’re creating higher degrees of transparency, reducing errors, and allowing employees to engage in more meaningful ways.
In your opinion, how can companies best create a “culture of innovation” in order to create new competitive advantages?
Innovation requires time and resources. It’s inherently risky. Companies tend to lack innovation when they’re focused on the urgent things already in front of them. If you intend to develop a culture of innovation within your organization, you first need to provide enough margin for your employees. They must be given space in their day-to-day responsibilities to think, and they must be given resources to experiment.
They must also be rewarded. This goes beyond praising employees with good ideas. Your employees will act in ways that are self-protecting if they do not believe failure is an option. If failure is met with negative consequences, employees will perform safer. Conversely, if failure is rewarded along with success, employees can be encouraged that their contributions are important.
The saying goes, “the best ideas often come from the worst ones”. Innovation stems from an environment that encourages weird ideas and horseplay. If you want to foster innovation, you have to make room for all of those things, and you can’t take yourself too seriously.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
There’s a poster in my office that says, “You have to make every detail perfect, and you have to limit the number of details.” Supposedly, Jack Dorsey said this originally. A guiding principle in our company is to double-down on things that work, to not go above our means, and to be excellent in all things. It’s working alright so far.
How can our readers further follow your work?
You can find my company at ashoreapp.com or on Instagram @ashoreapp.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!