Persistence Pays Off For Reale and Durham’s ProcessMaker

Some of the ProcessMaker team hard at work in Durham.

When Brian Reale first founded ProcessMaker in 2000, it ran out of money within a year and then went into a corporate coma for five more. But he persisted, and the now-Durham-based company currently has 130 employees—16 of them in the U.S. and the rest international—and are approaching $10M in annual revenue without ever taking outside investment. What do they do, you ask? We’ll let the Duke grad tell you that, and much more.


GrepBeat: Let’s say I don’t know a BPM from an HBP or an ERP from an ERA. (Yes, HBP and ERA are from baseball, not business.) What does ProcessMaker do, in as close to layman’s terms as you can put it?

Brian Reale: ProcessMaker is a low-code development platform used by businesses to build and run apps that automate form-based workflows. Workflows running on the ProcessMaker platform are used to interconnect systems and people so that decisions and approvals happen faster and with greater accountability. Our customers use ProcessMaker to build custom processes such as credit applications, change order requests, purchase requests, employee on-boarding processes, and many more.

ProcessMaker makes it easy for mid-market organizations and enterprises to put all of their process apps on a single easy to master platform and eliminate the headache and compliance nightmare of trying to manage, maintain, and audit myriad custom built software.


GB: OK, for the record, what does BPM mean? How does ProcessMaker fit into that industry?

BR: Business Process Management which also means Workflow Software.

ProcessMaker develops and sells an enterprise-grade BPM software suite. Ours is a lighter-weight and easier-to-use alternative to similar software offered by brands like IBM, Oracle, Pega, and others. Their solutions are overbuilt, clunky, require expensive resources, and they are difficult to modify. Also, our latest version of ProcessMaker is 100% event-driven, meaning that it is built to handle processes kicked off by the masses of unstructured and structured data that are beginning to dominate the world thanks to IoT, Machine Learning (ML), and Artificial Intelligence (AI).


GB: What are the primary use cases for ProcessMaker? Who are your primary customers?

BR: Our main verticals are:

  • Global Manufacturing and Services – For this vertical our main use cases are Purchase Request Approvals, Master Data Change Management Requests, Travel and Expense Authorizations, Quality Management Processes
  • Embedded Workflow for Software Companies – In this instance the use case is event-driven workflow that is specific for the host application data model. ProcessMaker is the embedded workflow engine in many ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) and CRM (Customer-Relationship Management) applications. For example, if a certain file is uploaded to a Document Management system, then we may need to kick off a multi-level approval process based on the content of the file. Or in a CRM, a change in discount level might trigger a multi-level approval for the discount by routing the information to the appropriate team members for approval.


GB: What is the wackiest real-life use case of ProcessMaker that you’ve heard of?

BR: SONY Music uses ProcessMaker with our Mobile Apps for a custom process which involves the process of discovering, signing, and promoting new musicians. I love the idea of a music industry agent sitting in a bar at 2 am somewhere in the world with our ProcessMaker app open on her mobile phone witnessing the birth of a great new musical talent. Now that is cool!


GB: ProcessMaker 4 is coming out in a few weeks. Tell us a little about that, and what about it excites you the most?

BR: This is a very exciting release that represents a gigantic step forward for our platform. Let me explain the basic premise of why this release is so exciting.

The world has gone through a number of technology revolutions. First the Internet, then the dotcom boom, then the social/mobile first boom, then the cloud, and now we are in the age of data. Data is being produced like never before and it is about to fundamentally change every industry. This is the idea of “digital transformation.”

Well, this has huge implications for businesses processes. When BPM got started two decades ago, process was human-centric. A human would decide to start a process. This is all going to change. Just like Amazon and Netflix use data to suggest and predict your next best item to purchase or movie to watch, enterprise data will start virtually all processes in the future. This is a mega-shift, and it is happening now. In the process world, this is what we call the shift to “event-driven processes.”

ProcessMaker 4.0 has a 100% asynchronous event-driven process architecture design. This means that our software is built to take decisions and launch processes at mega-scale and based on listening to the world. As IoT, ML, and AI take over in the next 10 years, all common business processes in the enterprise will be reworked as data-driven processes.

It is a paradigm shift, and ProcessMaker 4 is built to handle it.


GB: You recently launched a partnership with JotForm, a large online form-creation company. What does that mean to ProcessMaker?

BR: The integration we did for Jotform is part of a new product that we are offering specifically for Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) vendors. We call our new product ProcessMaker IQ, and it is designed to be a very simple way for any SaaS company to offer powerful workflow approvals as part of an existing application. The truth is that it is difficult to build workflow into an app correctly and most SaaS vendors that try to build it themselves fail. ProcessMaker IQ is a simple and affordable alternative.

The workflow approvals are executed via email or Slack, can be simple or multi-level approvals, allow for custom commenting and ad hoc re-routing, and provide a full audit trail complete with reporting.   The best part of this new product is that it only takes a few days for a SaaS company to integrate into its app. So far, we have seen tremendous initial success with the JotForm integration. We will shortly be announcing more SaaS partners.


GB: ProcessMaker is open-source software, meaning you make your original code publicly available for others to modify and redistribute. From a business perspective, what are the advantages and disadvantages of being an open-source product?

BR: Openness is one of our company’s core values. We believe that open-source software is better built because of its public accountability (more eyeballs on the code). When you build open-source software, you cannot hide behind bad code. We encourage our customers and partners to fork our software on Github and see for themselves.

Of course, from a business perspective it is often difficult for sales people to “love” open-source. The common criticism is that too many people are using our software for free and not paying for our higher-level services. This is just a fact about open-source – there will always be free riders. In fact, they are encouraged. You have to look past this to the bigger picture to realize that in an expanding universe, everyone wins.


GB: You had lived in Bogota, Colombia, for six years before you — and ProcessMaker’s corporate HQ — moved to Durham in 2016. Why move back to the States, and why Durham?

BR: I outsourced myself during the founding years of ProcessMaker. Believe it or not, I think this is becoming a “thing” to do for founders. Today, with Airbnb and Uber and unlimited T-mobile data, it is easy to do. I did it in the late ‘90s, though, when it was kind of unheard of.

We couldn’t have built an organically grown, self-funded business to the level we have without doing it this way. It was a rather simple cost-arbitrage calculation. Then several years back I made the decision that our business had grown and changed sufficiently such that it was now more important to be in the U.S. to better serve our growing list of Fortune 2000 U.S. clients. I went to college at Duke and have always loved the Durham area, so it was a natural choice as a place consider when I decided to move back onshore (now with a family with three kids).


GB: The majority of both your business and your employees are still located outside the U.S. What challenges does that bring?

BR: The main challenge is company culture. It can be difficult to feel that you are really creating a company culture when it is spread across offices and countries. Working remotely, on the other hand, has become quite easy with the proliferation of digital tools for collaboration.


GB: You started the company in 2000 and basically ran out of money within in a year, and then went dormant for five years before putting in some more money and trying again fulltime in late 2006. What did you learn from the first go-round that might have helped you succeed on your second try?

BR: We started the company in 2000 because everyone was starting a dotcom business and it seemed like the thing to do. We also thought we were going to build a VC-backed company, so we were focused on writing business plans and giving investor presentations. I really hated that. As that business died, I went into survival mode and found that all of my attention turned to customers. Slowly an idea emerged, and I saw that I was passionate about the new idea and mission. We started focusing on customers, and I could see the possibilities we had to make a difference with what we were building. This excited me. I think that is what made us successful.


GB: You’ve never raised outside equity investment. Is that something you could see in the future? Why or why not?

BR: Probably not. Once you have the discipline of budgeting so that you have more money at the end of the year than you have spent, you get used to it. If we have a very clear opportunity to purchase a company and see a very predictable multiplier on the money invested, then we would consider taking on an investor. However, investors can also be a huge distraction to execution. In today’s market of easy money, many of our competitors are distracted and forced to chase the whims of their ever-changing boards. We focus 100% of our attention on our customers, and I think that has become a strategic advantage.


GB: Many startups and VCs are obsessed with “exits.” Is an exit even a goal of yours, and if so, what kind of exit?

BR: No. We want to keep building awesome products, have happy customers, and be very profitable. That is our focus.


GB: Now to the important questions. Game of Thrones, Stranger Things, or The Walking Dead?

BR: Stranger Things


GB: What are you more interested in: sports, music, or TV/movies?

BR: Sports – surfing and then playing music (guitar and percussion)…


GB: What is the last book that you enjoyed, and why?

BR: Grain Brain by David Perlmutter, MD.

Diet influences so many parts of our lives that we just don’t realize. Western medicine always wants to fix things with a pill. We are going to need to move away from this type of interventive medicine as a society.


GB: What is your longest-held nickname, and what is the (printable) story behind it?

BR: Dirty Bri —unprintable.


GB: How much do you love the GrepBeat Newsletter?

BR: Getting to know it… liking what I am knowing.

About Pete McEntegart 61 Articles
I've worn many hats, but my current chapeau* is as Managing Editor of GrepBeat, which covers the Raleigh-Durham tech scene, especially tech startups. Sign up for our Tuesday-Thursday email newsletter at Hope to see you around the Triangle! (*chapeau is French for "pretentious")