Bonus: Extended Interview with Bert Wijns, Power Accelerate

Bonus: Extended Interview with Bert Wijns, Power Accelerate

#77. Bonus extended interview with Bert Wijns, a Global Solution Strategy Architect a Microsoft and co-founder of Power Accelerate as we talk about the tool he created which allows you to take a screenshot of a legacy application or database schema and have a Power App built in a few minutes with the legacy data migrated. Sound crazy? Listen on to hear more about Bert Wijns' Power Accelerate.


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Welcome to the Amazing Apps show for Microsoft Power Platform and Dynamics 365 app builders who want to create amazing applications that everyone will love. I'm Amazing Apps host Neil Benson, my goal in this show is to help you slash your project budgets, reduce your delivery timelines, mitigate technical risks and create amazing agile Microsoft Dynamics 365 and Power BI platform applications. This is a special bonus episode of the Amazing Apps show containing a bonus extended interview with Bert Wijns from Power Accelerate. The promise of Power Accelerate is to be able to automate the creation of tables, columns, forms and views that we often find repetitive when we're building model-driven or canvas Power Apps using just a wireframe, a screenshot or a schema from your legacy system. Power Accelerate can cut 65 per cent of the effort of configuring your application. Burt was my guest recently, but there was just too much great content to squeeze into a single episode. So I've kept some of it back and released it in this special bonus episode that's available to Amazing Apps show subscribers. Thanks so much for subscribing and being able to join us.

Thinking about how you built the application, I'm curious about what kind of size of team you have and the process and the approach you've used to build this, can you shine a light? You said you only started in you know, you had the idea in January 2020 and a minimum viable product with some people giving you feedback in the middle of the year, sounds like you must have a big team of developers behind it.

So we have two co-founders, me and someone else. I'll say he has more recent development skills than me of course, have done my development back in the days. But he's really a guru when it comes on development. So a lot of the development for the initial MVP in the pilot was done by him. And then we have a team of contractors who help us with specific development of features which we hired ourselves and we have one person is not the full time, but helping with the sales and marketing. But we're relatively small. So if you look at the employees of the companies, really two and the other people are more contractors, but we really feel that we're getting to a stage where we'll have to grow this as well. Because the questions from these partners, where they want to real production work, we need to have good SLAs if they commit us to a question and can respond to them. So we are looking to grow the team as well to support more requests and challenges which get thrown at us.

So that's a pretty decent team for a start-up that, you know, hasn't commercialised yet. So, you know, you're still in the pre-revenue stages. Are you funding this out of your own pocket? Is this a bootstrapped venture of your own? Did you manage to raise some money from friends or family or who's paying for it? So far?

The way we do it is we fund most of it out of our own pocket, but we are using some of the company's equity as well to get people to work on it. And so we're not giving out all of our money investing in this before it's really proven. That's what I would say.

I'm a big fan of employee-owned companies and everybody having a lot of stake of ownership in the place that they work. As a Microsoft employee, I'm sure you've got access to employee share plans and stock options and those things as well. And I think it really helps people align to the same mission. So if you are able to replicate that kind of thing in your own business, then fantastic. And speaking of Microsoft, I would have imagined I've worked for a big global systems integrator that we're actually one of the big four audit firms. And if I was to build a venture like yours as a side hustle, I'm not sure that I would have got approval for it. What's it like inside Microsoft? Is there, you know, wide-ranging permission to go and have your own entrepreneurial venture in your spare time, even when it's so closely related to your day job?

Yeah, there's a set of rules around sort of an entire programme in Microsoft they chart, which allows you to do these kinds of things, but there's a set of key rules and I probably cannot share all of them. But I think the main one is you cannot compete with Microsoft technology. And in this case, I think that helping customers adopt the Power Platform more easily. So it's a win-win situation, but Microsoft tends to be supportive of these things, even though both me and my co-founder, which also worked for Microsoft have really hectic day jobs. And now with the new second job as well.  It's nice that you get so much energy from doing something on the side. And to be honest, I've learnt so much from this side business, which is also applicable in my main role within Microsoft, that it's also a really big learning opportunity for me and in these connections, as well as getting to speak to partners and customers more directly than e-mail us at all that you can take those learnings and even Microsoft benefits from that as well.

Yeah, I think side hustles are an amazing experience for anybody. I don't care whether you're brewing craft beer and selling that on the side or just the idea of starting something, marketing it, making a product, trying to make a buck on it. I think it's it's amazing experience and everybody can learn skills from that and hopefully apply those to our day job. And even if they're not so applicable, we're just happier people. Right. So we're more enthusiastic at work because we've got a passion outside of work. If I can find a passionate person. I can help them become passionate at work. It's very hard if somebody is uninterested in anything outside of work to get them excited about their day job. So good on you. I'm really, really surprised and impressed at Microsoft for supporting their employees with that kind of venture as well. So good on Microsoft. That leads a bit of wrap-up question then. Where are you going to take this thing? Are you hoping that you know, James Phillips is going to find out about this someday and make you an offer you can't refuse and make it all worthwhile? Or do you see this growing as an independent ISV business that you'd like to scale up or maybe get some venture capital and really move to Silicon Valley or something? What are your plans longer-term with it?

It's hard to predict the future, of course, but if you look at the history, like at Tulsa Mannar, for example, he started his own venture, which then Microsoft acquired and it got to work in Microsoft. If that opportunity would come, would definitely be very interesting to have a conversation.

So you'd love to end up. You've done all this in order to land a good job at Microsoft.

Given my main job that would be something definitely very interesting. And I'm close to that business as well in my main job. And I think it fits quite well in the Microsoft business. I think what we want to do, of course, is grow, get to that GA state, start adding real production value-add, and then let's see what happens. I think at some point we will get to a decision point where you have to decide, can you still combine the two? And I think you can prolong that decision point a bit by hiring someone else into the company and having them run it. But at that decision point will come eventually, I think in the yeah, in the future, we'll see. But it's hard to predict at the moment. It is really nice to see growth from where we came from it and the energy and the learnings I got from it that have been amazing so far. So even if it goes nowhere now, I think it's still an insane good experience.

Somebody was reflecting on ventures and ideas that they thought they had they tried to launch or they never got very far. But every time there's a domain name, renewal comes up and it's for a project they never managed to get off the ground. You know, a little part of them weeps inside. I've only got probably 10 or 20 of those. But you've obviously taken this one to almost general availability, which is amazing. What have been some of the hardest challenges so far that you and the team have had to overcome?

Yeah, I think a big challenge, especially initially, has been time. Always hear time is the most valuable asset about all of this. We were even a smaller team initially, and a lot of this had to happen outside of our day job in the evenings and weekends. And yet one of the benefits of COVID is that we didn't have to go anywhere in the weekend. So we did have more time on our hands. It was one positive thing I'll mention. I think that was a big one. And also, yeah, I think in my head when I originally had the idea, I thought, like, we're going to build this, it's going to be there, it's going to land and it's going to scale massively. But I've learnt that that face value you have a product and getting to those customers takes time and effort and also positioning the value proposition. I've had a lot of learnings there. Personally, how to get that right and I've taken some courses on it as well. And that really helped me understand more that it's totally normal that this part takes time. But other than that and then the yeah. The usual technology challenges, it's not always easy to work with a platform which changes a lot still in the under the hood. And it's good that it changes because it's the innovation, but it creates some bottlenecks in unexpected behaviours and that's for sure.

I'm wondering if anybody else is out there and they've got a bright idea for a tool that can enhance power, platform adoption or accelerate development. There are choices around XRM toolbox, for example, and developing a community tool, that's part of XRM toolbox or something standalone. You've obviously developed something that's much more valuable, much bigger scale than those who decided that a commercial tool and, you know, a serious enterprise is the way to go. Any advice you would give for somebody in your shoes a year or two ago thinking about something like this, starting an ISV business? What are some of the hints and tips that you would share with somebody coming behind you?

Yeah. So a couple of ones I have actually. Test out your value proposition before you start building. We've made the usual mistake of building for three, four, five months, and then we only learnt from the partners and the customers that we had to change a couple of things. We probably could have saved two, three months if we would have done it the other way around. And then the other thing I'd say is I had yeah, starting this company on my bucket list for the last five years almost, and I kept postponing it. But there's never really a great time to do this. You always face this, this time challenge. And it's just one of these things you, I personally had to do and cross it off my bucket list. And yet it cost a lot of time and energy, but the learnings out of it have been invaluable. So if anyone is out there thinking of an idea, yeah, just start working on it and do it and take it, take a step into something you cannot predict. And I'm sure it will be amazing. Also always willing to share some experiences ping me on LinkedIn. Quite so if anyone wants to have a chat about a certain idea, I always like to share my experience as well.

Great, so Bert just to wrap up there, and if the audience does want to reach out to you, we will share your LinkedIn profile, your Twitter handle. And I think you've got some YouTube videos where people can go and see Power Accelerate if they want to go and visit the website. Just share that you're all with us as well, please.

Yeah, that's just poweraccelerate dot com. One word.

You managed to get the URL. Fantastic. That's awesome.

We had a great time. We had a bunch of choices available power accelerate was still available, but I think it's because ... Difficult.

I think power accelerated the one word. It means I still sometimes type ....

How much of your naming of the company in the product was influenced by the availability of domain names?

Yeah, and we had a couple of other ideas, but I think, yeah, this one was still available. So that's why we picked the one that but there was a bunch of them which were unavailable anymore, or there was companies out there using something similar. And so we landed on this one and hopefully, the name Power Platform won't change in the near future.

I hope not. I met an entrepreneur recently and I'm just about to launch an ISV business and it had a DOT app. So app is a domain name and they said all you've got to change it. Go and see if the dot ai is available because a venture capitalist will give you ten times a valuation. If they think, if they think you've got some artificial intelligence in there, they'll value your business far more than a dot app because dot app sounds like a mobile phone app developer. So that was a useful tip I learnt when it comes to domain names and naming companies. Really interesting story Bert. Thanks so much for sharing it with us on the Amazing Apps show. And if people want to reach out to you, I'll make sure all of your contact information is in the show notes.

Thanks again for the opportunity Neil, I found this a really nice conversation as well, and I started listening and subscribing to your podcast as well. And I really like some of the content. So keep up the good work, it's really nice.

I really appreciate it. Thanks Bert.

Thank you. 

Thanks to Bert Wijns of Power Accelerate for generously sharing all the ups and downs of his journey, launching a start-up while still employed at Microsoft, there were no out of bounds questions and Bert didn't hold anything back. And like I said in the interview, I'm part of a team, building an ISV app, too, and we're probably six months behind Power Accelerate. I was able to learn so much from what Burt shared. I hope you were, too, if you did find this episode useful. Don't forget to share it with your team so that they don't miss out. I've got another great guest lined up sharing his story about building an industry-focussed ISV app in the next episode. So stick around and until then, keep sprinting.

Great. Was good. I really enjoyed that. I love your story, but it's really exciting. Fascinated to hear about the Microsoft programme for supporting entrepreneurial employees. I'm really pleasantly surprised.

Yeah, I think it's something they learnt because we did have quite a couple of conversations with each other upfront. And I think they learnt that if they don't support this and people have this dream and a lot of people in Microsoft are technology people and at this to ..., if they don't support that, they will just lose the people, I think. And that's what they realised. And they created an entire programme around it. There are a bunch of rules which do put in some guardrails. But it is supportive. It's really nice. It's just another great thing about this company. I've been working, you know, I think for six years and it's been an amazing journey.