aiTech Trend Interview with Rich Waldron, CEO and co-founder at Tray.io - AITechTrend
Interview with Rich Waldron

aiTech Trend Interview with Rich Waldron, CEO and co-founder at Tray.io

Tell us a little about you and your journey as a CEO of Tray.io

I graduated from Bournemouth University, a relatively small institution in Southern England. While attending university, I met one of my co-founders, Alistair Russell (our CTO), and then met our other co-founder Dominic Lewis (our CRO) shortly thereafter and the three of us decided to try starting a company together.

Initially, we developed a product that built email-type workflows. When we moved to San Francisco in 2012, we were outsiders and had no obvious way to tap into the VC community, but we were able to leverage the technology used in our email workflows and other APIs to create a custom solution that would find VCs for us, send emails to these VCs and help us book meetings—all using automation. That’s when the proverbial lightbulb came on and we realized how valuable it was to use APIs and automation together. From there, the concept of Tray.io was born with the mission of creating a world where anyone in any department can solve business problems without the constraints of poorly adapted technology.

Can you explain how Tray Merlin AI’s natural language automation capability can unlock the full potential of automation? How does it differ from other solutions in the market?

Tray Merlin AI automatically translates natural language inputs—prompts or requests written in plain English—into sophisticated workflows, meaning anyone—from developers and business technologists to executives and front-line employees—can use it to develop fully baked workflows.

Previously, developing automated workflows required a certain level of technical aptitude or coding expertise, but Merlin completely removes that learning curve. By empowering everyone in your organization to create sophisticated workflows, you can unleash a formerly untapped level of innovation and productivity.

One of the things that makes Merlin unique is that it works across the entirety of the customer’s software stack, which is very different from the other GPT-related chatbot announcements. Those products will only be able to take pre-defined actions within their own application (i.e. a chatbot for a marketing automation platform will only be able to build workflows within the product while most marketing processes transcend many different applications inside and outside of the marketing organization).

Additionally, unlike other applications that interface with LLMs, the operational capabilities of Merlin AI and the underlying Tray platform are self-contained. Merlin only needs to fetch small pieces of information from the LLM on an as-needed basis during the integration-building process, meaning customer data is never exposed or sent to the LLM.

How does Tray.io’s vision to lower the barriers that prohibit enterprise-wide automation relate to the potential of generative AI?

These two concepts go hand-in-hand.

Typically, requests for information or business process improvements require complex integrations that span multiple applications. What seems simple to the requester, such as adding a new step in a company’s order-to-cash process, requires someone else, likely a developer who has a completely different set of priorities, to develop the complex business logic and then build, test and maintain the integration required to deliver that “simple” business process change.

To address this, we first made automation more accessible by offering a low-code platform that both technical and non-technical employees could use to integrate the disparate apps across their tech stack and develop automated workflows. With the release of Tray Merlin AI, we’re taking this accessibility a huge step further. Now, users don’t need to have experience with coding or business logic to create automated workflows. For example, if a marketing leader wants to create a new process to follow up on high-priority leads from a recent trade show, they can simply ask Merlin to create this workflow and, using generative AI, Merlin will then select the proper connectors from the Tray connector library, prompt for the required authentications and develop the multi-step workflow—all on the user’s behalf.

In your opinion, what are the unintended consequences of digital transformation that Tray.io’s AI can address?

When businesses ramped up digital transformation efforts to accommodate remote work environments during the pandemic, they inadvertently created a slew of other issues, such as technical debt, complex tech stacks and business process inefficiencies. Now more than ever, delivering fast results that meet customer demands—while keeping the business profitable—is a top priority for business leaders, and streamlining business processes to create efficiency and open room for innovation can help organizations achieve this.

This is where business technologists—employees who have technical skills but are not using them in their primary job function—come into play. By placing automation in the hands of each department rather than a limited few, Tray.io is empowering people to transform their fragmented processes into powerful business outcomes. Tray Merlin AI equips employees with self-service, AI-augmented automation, enabling companies to tap into a vast set of underutilized talent while taking the development burden off of their engineers. With Merlin, for the first time, these issues can be solved faster, more accurately and by a wider variety of people within the business.

Can you talk about how Tray.io’s platform brings together the power of flexible, scalable automation and support for advanced business logic?

Building and delivering an iPaaS that serves a spectrum of users from executives and front-line employees to technical developers is challenging. If you orient too much toward the non-technical user, you risk ending up with a rigid platform that is very simple to use but doesn’t do much more than connect applications. Orient the other way, and only a very small number of people in your organization can operate the platform, which will quickly lead to an amassed backlog of integration projects while the users of these integrations wait for something to be developed that often won’t entirely meet the need anyway—if it is even delivered at all.

With Tray, and now made even better with the introduction of Merlin AI, we can support advanced business logic–complex integrations involving multiple applications–with low code. This means that while developers can use the platform too, many others in the organization with the technical aptitude, or just the need to make business queries, can use Tray to build integrations and automations. That is the ultimate flexibility. However, offering such a broad set of users the power to build in the way that best suits them on a single platform falls apart quickly if careful attention isn’t paid to scalability. This combination of flexibility and scalability is the strength of Tray because our users can count on the power of our platform for the performance, security and governance they expect from a strategic platform that can be used across their entire software stack.

How does Tray.io plan to stay ahead of the curve in the fast-moving AI industry?

Generative AI and the pace of innovation it enables will spell the end of the iPaaS architectures that were built for a different time. AI is revolutionizing automation, and Tray.io is committed to staying at the forefront of this movement. We’re proud to be one of the first iPaaS solutions to offer native generative AI capabilities, and Tray Merlin AI is just the beginning. We’ll continue to improve and advance our platform to meet the growing needs, expectations and demands of our customers.

Because Tray is built entirely in the cloud and for the cloud, it made it far easier for us to add the Merlin AI intelligence layer to our platform. Unlike other products that must bolt-on AI features, Merlin can natively access a vast array of integration and automation capabilities including our extensive library of connectors. We’ve also already built the governance, security and scalability functionality into the platform that enterprise organizations will require as they determine how to best and most safely introduce AI capabilities to their employees and products.

What are some of the biggest challenges you foresee in the adoption of Tray Merlin AI, and how do you plan to overcome them?

The most immediate challenge is to punch through the noise in the market. OpenAI was the first company to make AI accessible to the masses, but there are many competing large language models that customers will ultimately have to choose from. Businesses must also sort through a myriad of vendors that are scrambling to bring products to market. For example, there have been so many ChatGPT connector announcements that the market at large has become numb to them—largely because the proposed functionality is only applicable to the product of the announcing vendor.

The opportunity for Tray to overcome these challenges is the simple fact that our solution transcends the entire software stack of an organization. Not limited to a single application, Tray Merlin AI can seamlessly build workflows that require access to and data from multiple applications. For example, an order-to-cash workflow can be built with Merlin that requires access to NetSuite, Salesforce, Google Sheets and email in order to end manual work and automate their way to cash faster.

In your view, how can Tray.io continue to lead in the low-code automation and integration space?

It’s all about continuous innovation and not resting on your laurels. We’re committed to constantly improving the Tray platform and delivering new and innovative features and functionality to the market—all with the aim of bridging the gap between line-of-business workers and the complexities of code to foster increased enterprise velocity and competitiveness in today’s demanding environment.

We do this by intently listening to our customers, understanding the implications of digital transformation and the speed and accuracy at which their businesses must operate. They are consistently seeking an integration and automation experience that has a shorter learning curve; more power and flexibility to build what they need when they need it; and that they know “has their back” when it comes to the governance, security and scale that is now mandatory. Especially with Merlin, Tray is perfectly positioned to continue to lead in the integration and automation space—period. Low-code describes one of the interfaces by which our users interact with the platform, but it no longer fully defines what we  offer and that is going to be a game-changer for Tray and for Tray customers.

Rich Waldron is the CEO and co-founder of Tray.io. He co-founded Tray.io alongside Alistair Russell and Dominic Lewis in 2012 to create a world where anyone—regardless of their technical skills—can solve the business challenges within their day-to-day operations. He believes strongly in democratizing automation and integration so anyone in the enterprise can easily turn their unique business processes into repeatable and scalable workflows. Rich and his co-founders created Tray.io to lead the low-code automation movement to allow teams to deliver integrations without sacrificing flexibility, security, and scale.