Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots

486: Blox with Simon Ritchie

August 3rd, 2023

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Simon Ritchie, the founder and CEO of Blox, discusses his background and journey leading up to starting the company. He began his career in finance but discovered his passion for technology and finance systems. He worked at Anaplan, a successful finance planning and analysis software company, but saw the limitations of rigid systems when COVID-19 hit. He realized there was a need for a more flexible and accessible financial modeling and planning tool, especially for small businesses and charities.

Blox aims to fill this gap by providing a powerful yet easy-to-use modeling, calculation, and planning engine that sits between spreadsheets and complex enterprise software. The company is about a year old, has raised venture funding, and launched a free tier of its product. They prioritize building a compelling product, iterating quickly, and engaging with users to understand their needs.

Simon acknowledges that building the product has been enjoyable, leveraging his background in product management. However, sales, marketing, and customer traction have proven challenging. Nonetheless, he remains optimistic about Blox's progress and is committed to providing a valuable solution to help businesses make informed decisions and achieve their financial goals.

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VICTORIA: This is the Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots Podcast, where we explore the design, development, and business of great products. I'm your host, Victoria Guido.

WILL: And I'm your other host, Will Larry. And with me today is Simon Ritchie, Founder and CEO of Blox, which provides pre-built planning models to help business leaders escape the tyranny of complex, clunky, and error-prone spreadsheets, giving you visibility into and confidence in the reality of your business.

Simon, thank you for joining us. How are you doing today?

SIMON: Hey, guys. Yeah, I'm very good today.

VICTORIA: So, Simon, where are you joining us from today?

SIMON: So, I'm joining from the UK. I live in a city called Brighton on the South Coast of the UK, where it's a lovely day today. It's nice and sunny.

VICTORIA: Oh, that's where our thoughtbot summit has been the last two years, in Brighton, actually.

SIMON: Fantastic. Yeah, it's a wonderful place.

VICTORIA: And a great place to be in the summer right now, right? Do you get out in the water very often?

SIMON: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Like many others, we have a paddle board. So, I go out with my family. I have four kids, so we go out and have fun at the beach. Brighton's got a stony beach. So we are, as Brightoners, we're very proud of the stones. You know, if you have sand, you get sand everywhere, stones's much cleaner. [laughter] It does hurt your feet, though. There you go.


WILL: Yeah, that was the first time I've ever seen that, and I was like, that's very interesting.

SIMON: Yeah. [laughs]

WILL: I probably will like it because I don't like the sand getting everywhere, so...

SIMON: Yeah, absolutely.

WILL: So, yeah, I probably could trade that in. [laughs]

SIMON: Yeah, yeah. You just have to wear shoes if you want to go run around. We're proud. We're proud of it.

VICTORIA: I didn't think about that either. It makes a lot more sense. I don't really like the sand [laughter]. Rocks make more sense. But in California here, we're surfing, so having too many rocks on the beach would be a problem [laughs] for those of us who can't control ourselves. [laughter]

SIMON: Yes. Yeah, Victoria, I thought you lived in Wales when I first looked at your profile --

VICTORIA: Oh, right.

SIMON: On LinkedIn. And I thought, oh --

VICTORIA: That's...yeah.

SIMON: A Welsh girl. That's --

VICTORIA: My family is actually Welsh on my mother's side.

SIMON: Oh really?


SIMON: Okay.

VICTORIA: And Cardiff...California is named after Cardiff, Wales.

SIMON: Okay, oh.

VICTORIA: But yeah, so that's where it came from. So, I thought that was very cute, too.

SIMON: [laughs] Very cool.

VICTORIA: But, you know, Cardiff-by-the Sea is its own little beach town here.

SIMON: It's not Wales. [laughs]

VICTORIA: Not Wales. [laughs] Pretty different. But I do hear Wales is beautiful.

SIMON: Oh, it is. Yeah, absolutely.

VICTORIA: Awesome. Well, let's talk about Blox a little bit. So, why don't you tell us maybe a little bit about your background and how you came around to starting it?

SIMON: Yeah, great. So, and just in terms of me and my background, so I started my career in finance, actually. I didn't really know what to go and study, so I thought, you know, studying numbers was probably a good thing. So, I did an accounting finance degree. And I got into the world of work in finance roles very quickly realized that finance wasn't for me. I just didn't really want to be a CFO. I just didn't feel the passion for it.

But I was the techie guy always in the finance team. I was the guy people turned to and originally for, you know, Excel and spreadsheet modeling. And behind Excel, you've got VBA. So, you've got this little, you know, it was my first exposure to programming and some, you know, and what coding was. And so, I sort of just realized, actually, I love the technology side. And so, I followed my passion more into the finance systems arena.

And my passion has always been...the focus of my career has been helping leaders understand what's going on in the business by getting hold of those numbers, the data that they have, and analyzing it, summarizing it, trying to draw insights from it so they can make decisions. And so, in the early days, it was lots of Excel spreadsheet modeling. And, in some businesses, there's still tons of spreadsheet modeling going on.

And then the next phase of my career was actually working in...there are a number of software options that help you with planning, modeling, reporting, et cetera. So, I joined...well, I did some consulting for a while and then joined a company called Anaplan. And was an early employee, the company was still very early in their journey. They were just launching a European office, so I joined as one of the early European employees.

And Anaplan went on, over the course of nearly eight years that I was there, to be [inaudible 04:31], absolute rocket ship, grew up to 2,000 people, and we floated on the New York Stock Exchange and then IPO in 2018. It was acquired last year for a very big number. So really fantastic time there.

But to just talk about Blox, so I left Anaplan two years ago. The observations that I made that led to Blox ultimately were there were sort of three main aspects. Like, when COVID happened, the world changed radically. And what I saw...I was working in Anaplan. For anyone who doesn't know, Anaplan they focus on selling to large enterprise. So, you may not be familiar with the company if you're not a CFO or a finance person in a very large company. And they sell very expensive product. It's very, very powerful modeling, calculation, FP&A, finance planning, and analysis software.

And so, companies...we were working with companies like Procter & Gamble, HP, Cisco, Google, and others. What I observed was when COVID kicked in, the FP&A system was too rigid. So, Anaplan, you know, these models that people had built up, spent a lot of time and energy building up, it was too rigid. The world changed so much that they couldn't really use their typical budgeting systems or these FP&A solutions. They couldn't use Anaplan.

So, everybody just jumped back into a spreadsheet to figure out, you know, do I still have a business? How am I going to survive this if I just had to shut all my retail stores or if I had to send everybody home? You know, so everyone was using spreadsheets, basically.

And so my observation there was that the tools that are available at that point are still way too hard to use. They're not flexible enough. You can't mold them quickly enough to really handle some of those scenarios that you want to throw at it as a leader. So, when you're trying to make big decisions about new revenue streams, new offices that you would want to launch, restructuring your team, investing in more people, those things they're really hard to model in the tools that are available. You need real specialist experience and expertise. That's very expensive, et cetera. So that was one part.

And then the other thing that happened was I've worked most of my career in larger companies. And I'd worked in, yeah, in finance, in businesses. And also, I'm a chartered management accountant. It's all about helping with managing a business with your numbers. And I hadn't really worked with many very small companies. I ended up volunteering.

When the lockdowns were happening, there were lots of people that were sheltering in place and they were staying at home. And so, a local charity had organized to put together food parcels, and then they found drivers to drive them around. And so I had volunteered through a friend of a friend, and somewhere my name got put in. So, I ended up driving these food deliveries around for the summer, and I loved it. Every Thursday, I'd take a couple of hours to just drive around and drop some food on people's doorsteps and then maybe have a quick conversation with them from a distance.

I got connected with the charity. It is a local charity that runs on the South Coast in England here. And they found out I was an accountant, and I worked in software technology. They were like, [gasps], please, you can be our new best friend. We need some help. So, I ended up helping them a bit in their back office with some of the reporting that they do. And to cut a long story short, they're a charity. They live on grant funding that they get. So, they apply for grants, and then the grant providers want them to report back on the progress that they've made, the services that they've offered, the people they've helped.

So, I went and helped them, and they needed these reports and some plans for grants that they were trying to get. What seemed really easy to me, like, they were showing me that they had to download this data from a system. And they needed to filter it and then count how many people they had been helping. And they basically were just, you know, with different needs and in different categories and cohorts.

So, they would basically download the data, open it in a spreadsheet, put a filter on, select some filters, and then they would count the number of rows that had that criteria. And then, they would type the number into an email. And I just showed them some very simple things, like, when you do a filter or if you select the cells, you can see a countdown at the bottom-right in Excel, and I showed them that. And they almost fell off their chair because [laughs] they were like, "Oh, you know, why did we not see that sooner?"

But I suppose through that, and, you know, through the various times that I helped them...and I just helped them with initially some spreadsheets and just some help with that. But it just showed me that there are a lot of businesses, a lot of charities in this case, but a lot of businesses where the leaders are not finance savvy, and they are not accountants. They're not MBAs, but they still need help running their business. They need to do reporting. They need to do planning, you know, manage their business, control the finances.

So, I just thought, you know, just started thinking a lot more about what does a small business need? What does a leader in a business need to make great decisions, run the business? And how could we get them a tool or some software that doesn't cost hundreds of grand every year but is accessible, a nice, low price point, and really easy for them to use? And that's the problem that I thought about for a long time. And ultimately, that's what we're trying to work on with Blox.

WILL: That's amazing. I used to work at a nonprofit. And I remember those days of, like, because I wasn't an MBA, like you said, MBA finance and just trying to figure out numbers. I don't even remember the software we used.

SIMON: [laughs]

WILL: But it was old and very hard to maneuver. [laughter]

SIMON: Oh yeah.

WILL: It was harder to maneuver than spreadsheets. And I was like, ahh, this is a nightmare. So, this is amazing that you're doing that. Can you tell us more about how Blox solves that issue? Because it sounds like it is a tween of big software that's for enterprise companies and spreadsheets. So, it's kind of in the middle; it sounds like.

SIMON: So, spreadsheets are great. They're really easy. They're easy to start with. You'll often find that your spreadsheet will just kind of reach its natural end. It becomes too complex. And that normally happens when you've got, like, you're planning for lots of people, or lots of products, or lots of different projects.

And so, you end up sort of having to figure out how to scale the model, you know, across lots of different columns or rows, or you start copying. And how you'll have three identical tabs or ten identical tabs. And, at that point, you've basically outgrown Excel, and trying to keep that spreadsheet running and working it becomes a real nightmare. And so, that's the point where Blox comes in. You could use Blox right from the very beginning.

We've started with a focus on making really nice, simple models that you can just pick up and use. So, our earliest customers are startups doing a financial model for a brand-new idea. So, you can use Blox from the beginning, but you could probably use a spreadsheet, too. Where you would want to use Blox is where it becomes more complex, and you've got a lot more going on. You might have lots of different months, and you've got loads of time. You might want to connect it to your actual accounting system or a CRM system.

And so, when you want to pull in actual data and do some reporting and maybe have different scenarios, different versions of a plan or of a report, that's where you've basically outgrown a spreadsheet, and it just becomes complex and unwieldy. And that's where you would want to move into a system. That's what we're building with Blox is basically a powerful modeling calculation planning engine that scales really easily.

So, you can build up your dimensions, products, countries, time, et cetera, and you can build up those dimensions. You can build up your logic. You can add your own KPIs. You can add your own projection logic, et cetera. You can build out a model. We've got lots of template models that you can start with because you shouldn't have to start from scratch every time. You can get going. You can load up your own data very quickly at the beginning.

For a lot of models, it's just assumptions. You're just trying to work out, okay, like, we've got some service businesses that use Blox. To get a basic model together, what you need to know is how many people do you have roughly? How much do you pay them? And then, how many people do you plan to hire at certain times? And how long does it take to ramp a new hire? Because, normally, there's some sort of ramp time.

And if it's a service business and you're selling time, then you kind of have an average number of hours billable or often called utilization. So, with a few quick assumptions, you could throw them in. You could build out a multi-year plan for your business. And you could use that to think about, okay, how can I grow this business? I kind of talk about it as a financial roadmap that you could create.

So, you know, often in the product world, we talk about product roadmaps. I like to talk about, you know, a business roadmap or financial roadmap. And that's really what we are working on; Blox and Blox will help you with this financial roadmap that you can build out. You know, I'd like to get my business to this point to, you know, 2 million in revenue, or 10 million in revenue, or maybe there are some financial or non-financial goals that you're trying to get to.

And, with a model, you can help try and kind of work out what the assumptions and drivers and what those things need to look like. And then, as a manager of the business, you can start working on, okay, how do I increase my headcount? Or how do I decrease this particular cost per unit or various things like that? So yeah, that's a very high level on what we're doing with Blox.

VICTORIA: Thank you for that. And I certainly can relate to that, having worked for several different consulting services companies and how difficult it can be to get software [laughs] to project that --

SIMON: [laughs]

VICTORIA: Far into the future, like, to think about how you're going to hire, all the things that go into it. So, I'm curious about your own plan for Blox. Like, how would you describe where you are in your plan for the company?

SIMON: We are a year old, actually just celebrated our one-year anniversary. In the last year, we've formed, hired an early team. We've fundraised successfully. So, we raised venture finance to fund the business. It's a complex product to build. We're trying to replace a spreadsheet, which has got tons and tons of features. They've been developing that for a long time. So, for someone to come across, it needs to be a relatively mature product.

So, we raised venture funds from investors. We're busy investing that to build up the product and take that to market. It's been a fantastic year. And this is my first time as a founder. I've worked in leadership roles in technology businesses, in customer success, and in product as well.

Yeah, I definitely would say working as a founder in a brand-new startup is very different to working in product, in a scale-up. You know, some of the lessons that I learned back there have been useful. You know, you learn how to juggle chaos, how to to spin lots of plates. But yeah, I'm really delighted with our progress so far. We've fundraised. We ran a beta of our product last year with some early customers. We graduated from that.

Our approach has always been to try and get the product out, so really embrace agile. It's kind of you don't see it so often in enterprise software. What you see is companies that like to just put "Book a demo" on the website. And they don't like to show their software until they've already kind of sold the value, and they've pitched, you know, positioned their pricing, and qualified their leads, et cetera. Our approach has always been let's build a fantastic product. Let's build something which is super compelling, super easy to use. Let's get people into the product as quickly as possible so they can experience it, see if it's going to be valuable for them.

We launched a free tier of our product, the first sort of MVP, as a free tier, so not paid, not with some of the features that we plan to add to the product. And so, we've got that out there, and it's been fantastic. We've got users from all over the world using it in all sorts of different ways. And that's the other thing that is really great for us. Because it's such a flexible product, it can be used in lots of places.

So, we've got all sorts of different applications being used by it. People jump in; they use it. They can try different templates that we've got. And then, if they need something different...every business is slightly different. So, if they need something slightly different, they can just chat to us in the product. We absolutely love chatting to people. And then, you know, we'll often spin up a custom template for them. And when we've done a few of those, then we'll build a standard template for a new industry. That's a little bit about where we're at.

We're a small team based between here and India, where most of our developers are. It's good fun. Some of the I would say maybe it's just because of my background. So, I moved into product, and I was a product manager and then product leader for the last six years.

So, for me, I've found building the product has been the easier part, probably because it's my background and that's where my passion is. So, I absolutely love anytime I get to spend in the product and spend with the team. The original founding team is myself as founder and CEO. And I don't get too much time on the product. I have a product manager and a designer. And so, that was the first...the early team, the founding team. And then we've added marketing and some other roles and software development. And so that's the team.

I've found building the product has been really fun, and that's been a bit easier. Trying to work out how to do fundraising was a real challenge, so that took a lot of energy. We've been pretty successful so far in that. Still, always more to go, always more fundraising needed definitely. The really hard thing, especially in the market that we're in right now, it's hard, you know, getting early customer traction and selling. And that's really hard trying to get your name out there, build a brand, find early customers. That's really hard.

So yeah, that's definitely an observation for me that the product has been really fun and a bit easier than I thought. But yeah, trying to do sales, marketing, figure that out...and probably as well because it's not my background or my kind of natural area of interest, so I've been learning. That's always tough, isn't it?

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VICTORIA: And with me here, I have Richard Newman, who is the Development Director on our Boost Team, to talk to me a little bit more about what maintenance actually looks like once you've built your software application, right?

RICHARD: Hi, Victoria.

VICTORIA: Hi, Richard. You have experience building applications. I wonder if you could describe to a founder who's considering to build an application, like, what should they consider for their long-term maintenance?

RICHARD: Well, like you said earlier, part of what you're going for with that long-term maintenance is making sure the health of your project, of your application, is always there. And you don't want to be surprised as you're continuing to work with your users and so forth.

And so, a number of things that we pay attention to in maintenance are, we're paying attention to keeping the application secure, providing security updates. We want to make sure that the ecosystem, basically, all of the tools and third-party services that are tied to your application that, we're responding to those sorts of changes as we go along.

And then part of it is, occasionally, you're going to find some smaller issues or bugs or so forth as your user group continues to grow or as needs continue to change. You want to be able to respond to those quickly as well. And so, a lot of what goes into maintenance is making sure that you're paying attention and you're ahead of those things before they surprise you.

VICTORIA: Because what can happen? Like, what are the consequences if you don't do that ongoing maintenance?

RICHARD: Well, the security updates those happen across gems and in the platform sort of tools that are there. And so, if you're not keeping those up to date, your exposure, your vulnerability to being hacked, or having a bad actor come into your application start growing on you if you're not doing the maintenance.

The other ones that can come up is there's new interfaces that these third-party services...they may be updating their APIs. They may be updating how you're supposed to work with their tool. And so, those can occasionally break if you're not paying attention to what's going on or you're suddenly surprised by an upgrade that you have to make.

And then, finally, there's this long-term sort of code change that just builds up over time if you're not keeping it refactored for the changes that are upcoming in a language or the gems that you work with. And then, suddenly, after a while, it suddenly gets to the point where you have a lot of work that you might have to do to rehabilitate the application to take on some of the newer features that are being released. And so, that makes it that much more difficult, that much more friction about being able to deliver updates for your users or to be able to respond to changes that are happening out there in your application.

VICTORIA: Right. So, if you don't have that ongoing maintenance, you could run into a situation where, suddenly, you need to make a very large investment and fixing whatever is broken.

RICHARD: Absolutely. It's going to be very tough to plan for if you weren't keeping up all the way along and, yes, absolutely ends up being much slower if you have to remediate it.

VICTORIA: That makes sense. I wonder if you have any examples of a project you've walked into and said, "Wow, I wish we had been doing a little bit more maintenance." [laughs] And maybe you can share some details.

RICHARD: Yeah. We had a fairly large application that involved a number of clinic services. So, we had an application that users were going in every day and counting on our fast response. And, over time, we've got surprised by a database upgrade that had to happen. Basically, the database was going to be changed by our third-party hosting service, and that hadn't been tested. There hadn't been procedures in place when we discovered this need. And there was a very hard date that that change had to be done or else the entire application was going to go down.

And it came at a very inconvenient time, at the end of the year around Christmas, that we had to respond to all of that. And had we been in front of it and just updated it every quarter and staying current with it, it wouldn't have been nearly the lift that it turned out to be. We were facing a pretty hard deadline [laughs] there to keep things going. It was very, very stressful and disruptive for the team and potentially for the clinics.

VICTORIA: Right. And it always happens around a big holiday or something like that, right? When it all comes to a head. So...


RICHARD: Absolutely. You want to be in control of the timeframe and not have the timeframe be in control of you.

VICTORIA: Right. And if you have a team like thoughtbot supporting you, you can go on your vacation with a little bit more knowledge that if something breaks, there's someone there who can respond and fix things, and you don't have to interrupt your very valuable time off. So...

RICHARD: [chuckles] Absolutely.

VICTORIA: Yeah. Well, thank you so much, Richard, for joining me today. I appreciate you coming here to talk with us. And we'll talk to you again soon.

RICHARD: Yeah, it was a pleasure. Thank you.

WILL: You mentioned getting your product out there how challenging it can be. So, what has been some other wins and some challenges that you've had as a first-time founder?

SIMON: So, my approach to things as a leader is I basically like to bring silliness and games to help motivate and energize the team. So, as a human, I have quite a lot of energy. I roll around with lots of energy. And I take loads of photos of what I'm doing, and I share those. So, we have a Friday wrap-up with the team, and so I'll often share a lot of the pictures of, you know, what I've been up to this week.

So, yeah, there's been some really fantastic moments launching a product. We launched our MVP in three months. So, we basically set off...I actually funded the first season of the business, a couple of software developers, a couple of early employees. I funded the first season. We hadn't raised money. And I just spoke to my wife, and I said, "Look, now's the time. I really want to do this."

You know, I've been saving up if you like, I had this, like, one day I'll do a startup fund. Some people would probably call that their long-term savings or like, you know, some...and I kind of called it my one day I'll do a startup fund. So, I'd been building up this fund because I knew that at some point, I'll probably go do this. The timing was way earlier than I thought. I thought I'd still do another four or five years in a career in a corporate role to try and get a few more notches in my belts to make fundraising easier, et cetera.

The timing came. The team was perfect. And everything just felt right, so we went for it. But yeah, we basically set out. We didn't know where we were going to get funding from. The market was in a real state, so this was middle of 2022. The Ukraine war had kicked in; valuations had dropped by 90% for a lot of tech companies. The post-COVID bubble had burst. It was hard.

So, we sat down, and we were like, okay, we could spend all of our runway trying to fundraise now, or we could crack on and try and build the first MVP. But we'd already done a lot of the market research, the user testing, early prototypes, et cetera. And that's a bit of a long story. But we had done that in the company that the founding team had worked at, and then we were actually a spin-out. So that happened.

And we were sitting here thinking, okay, you know, we could spend all of our runway fundraising, or we could just crack on and build a product as quick as we can in the next three months. And so, we had this really hard conversation where we descoped so much stuff. And we just figured out what's the core piece that will really show the value of what we're trying to build, that we'd give to a user, that we could give to an early customer that they could use and get value from? And so, we came up with that scope.

And we cracked on, and we built it. Within two and a half months, we had a working version. We played with it. Within three months, we kind of launched into this beta and got early users onto. So that was, you know, fantastic. So, we did that in the first three months, and then off the success of having an MVP, and just being able to show the product, and start getting some early user feedback, initial feedback was, you know, we took into account very quickly and improved.

And just having that, you know, you basically start building momentum. Every step is still really hard, but you do build momentum. So, we got this product. We launched it. We went to a couple of events, and we talked about that, and then we did some fundraising. And we landed some funding, so that was fantastic. And then, you know, and then we've just gone sort of step by step from there. So, it's really fantastic what we've been able to achieve so far.

The challenges there's been loads of them, especially when you're building a startup. It's really exciting. So, you can get people excited quite easily about the future potential. And you can kind of talk about what this can be. I've got a printed picture of a unicorn on my whiteboard in my office right here as a sort of a statement of, you know, where we're going.

It's really hard as a founder or a leader trying to persuade people to leave a stable job, take a pay cut, and come and work with you and give them some equity, which you hope will be worth a ton, and you kind of paint the picture. But also, you don't know how long you can keep them because you're on runway. You're on runway. You haven't got infinite cash if it's not a profitable business.

So, you know, there are some real challenges. And, as a founder, you go through ups and downs. Ben Horowitz talks about it in his great book, The Hard Things About Hard Things, as the struggle. I definitely understand that a lot more now because there is an up and down to this. You do build momentum, but you're creating the momentum, you know, one hard push at a time. So that's that early customers come on. You kind of pitch the dream of what the product will do, and then it will fall over as soon as they touch it. But I absolutely love it.

What I love is the chance to create and how quickly you can move in the early days of a startup or a new product, where you don't have masses of technical debt. You don't have hundreds of customers. You don't have all this, you know, you don't have a massive team where everyone's got their point of view on what you should do. So, you can move really fast, and that's fantastic [inaudible 30:14] creative season. So yeah, lots of ups and downs, but it's really fun.

VICTORIA: That's so interesting and particularly interesting that you're trying to make something that's easier to use than Excel. So, I'm curious how you're testing to make sure that it's actually easy. And what might be...I'm sure there's some interesting feedback you got about that.

SIMON: Yeah, so we're making Blox easier than Excel. But it's got to be powerful enough to be able to handle the data and the modeling that you need for a business. If you're doing projections for multiple years if you've got lots of products or teams, then it can be complex, so it needs to be powerful enough to handle that. It needs to be flexible enough because you can take a template, but every business has got its own unique quirks. So, it needs to be flexible enough that it can be tailored easy for a unique business.

And then, crucially, and this is also important, it needs to be easy enough to use so that the person who understands the business can change the model to kind of suit their business. That's the bit that most of the other players, you know, the enterprise software that's available today, just that they haven't figured out how to make it easy enough so that a businessperson that, you know, doesn't have database experience, can't write SQL, not going to write Python, you know, doesn't do complex scripting or any of this stuff.

It's got to be easy enough that they can, you know, tailor, reflect the way that their business works, the way that they make money, the way that their cost structure works, so they can figure out what drives the business. And so, if they're projecting revenue, they can work out the costs associated.

So, one of our founding team is a UX designer, a really, really fantastic designer, very experienced. He's been in the game for 25 years since, way before it was called UX. And started doing graphic design, and then has done lots of branding and branding for some really fantastic, large companies, did lots of consulting. And then got into UX and how, you know, the art of wireframing and helping to make products easily usable. I call him my secret weapon. I've worked with some fantastic designers in the past, so, as a founder, I think I appreciate and understand the value of a really good design and a really good UX designer.

So, Mike, our UX designer, has just been fantastic at that. He's very good at wireframing and very good at testing. And he's not a finance planning expert. That's why I call him my secret weapon because, you know, I understand planning really well, but sometimes I understand it too well. When I describe what a user is trying to do or, you know, what I expect a screen will look like, I'm just probably subconsciously replacing or recreating something that I've seen or used before, whereas he's coming at it brand new. He's not worked in planning or data modeling, or many of these things. He's worked in lots of different businesses.

So, he comes at it with a mobile-first perspective. Normally, he's thinking about, okay, how could this be used by a busy leader on their phone and they're running around? And so, he's been really fantastic at helping to keep it simple and easy and to rethink and to create a product, which is just so different to what other tools in the space are doing. And that's some of the feedback we get. It looks so different. It works so different.

But yeah, the hard thing is that spreadsheets are the most sticky tool, I think. They're just so useful for, you know, for everything where you need to get a list of things. You just start throwing it into a spreadsheet, and then you can, you know, organize it and improve structure over time. But yeah, it's a really sticky tool. And we train people how to use spreadsheets from early days from school. My 12-year-old daughter she already has been taught how to use a spreadsheet in school.

So, what we're trying to do is create something which is easier. But there's also, you know, you want there to be some familiarity in there so that people avoid some of the friction of the people who have it. No one really signs up to learn a new tool if they can avoid it. We're lazy. [laughs]

VICTORIA: It makes sense that design would be a big priority for your product because that was your intention from the beginning, right? Is to make something that's easy to use, so you prioritize that as an investment.

SIMON: That's right. That's absolutely right. Yeah.

VICTORIA: What's on the horizon? What are you the most excited about for Blox in the coming months?

SIMON: So, yeah, we've got some really exciting elements of our roadmap coming. So, yeah, really excited to see these things come to life. Like anyone working in building products, whether you're designing, doing product, sort of overseeing, or actually developing, it's so great to see these things come to life. You spend a long time thinking and chatting about them, imagining, ideating about how they could look.

The thing that I'm just most excited about is—and that's probably why I love product—is, you know, you're building a product, and then you can...then you're talking to somebody about how they would use this. Or before that, you're talking about their day-to-day right now and what their problems are, and how you could help them save time, save money, et cetera.

And so, you know, I absolutely love chatting to more and more different types of companies, leaders in different parts of the business. And, you know, especially in our space, it's mostly about, okay, how can I help? You know, how could we improve this planning process that we've got, whether it's, you know, planning for the cost of running a big project or trying to figure out how can I scale my business to reach my objectives? So, I just love chatting to lots of different leaders globally. So, I love going to events, chatting to people, fact-finding about how they run their business, how they think about finances, et cetera.

In terms of the product roadmap, we're working on some exciting new scenario capabilities, so you can easily look at different scenarios around a decision. So, you might be trying to decide, you know, should I be aggressive with my investments and hiring, or should I be pessimistic? Or is there a middle ground? So, we're adding, like, scenario capabilities where you can build out different versions of that, and then easily compare and contrast, and then decide which one to do.

We're working on some really...really enjoying working on some intelligent capabilities. So, again, in the search of making it really easy to use for a busy leader, for a busy businessperson, or a busy finance person, making it really easy to use. So, we've invested a lot in AI technology and been designing, developing POCs around how AI could help to onboard customers faster, how we could help to personalize models for businesses automagically.

So, as soon as we understand the website of a user, what sort of industry they're in, we can automagically personalize the template for them, add their own KPIs, like, industry-specific KPIs, into the model, and throw in benchmark data and all these things. So, we've got some fantastic AI capabilities coming through the pipe and some data integrations. As we get out more and more, we're connecting to different data sources. So, yeah, exciting times ahead for the roadmap.

And as we add more features, then we'll add different pricing tiers, you know, so we can try and offer a nice, affordable entry-level offering for Blox, but then we will, you know, as you get more and more different features, you'll pay at the appropriate level. So that's a little bit about what our future looks like.

WILL: That's neat some of the things you have coming up. You mentioned AI and how you're kind of embracing that. Can you expound on that? Like, kind of I know you said some data models automagically is going to do it. But, like, where can you see the benefit for a customer to use that? Because I know AI can be scary and stuff like that. But, like, just kind of taking the fear out of it and talking about how beneficial it can be.

SIMON: Yeah. So, there's lots of different places where AI can help. So, the typical model today for finance planning is you'd have a leader who's responsible for the business, and they're responsible for an advertising budget. You know, they just intuitively know, you know, where should I spend money, what's good return on my investment, what's, you know, what works.

But when it comes to actually trying to model that, so how to put that into a financial model or some other model that you can understand the relationships between these things, put in the KPIs, have the formulas, calculating things in the right way at the right level, what you often find is that the leader is not the system's expert. So, you'll often have, especially in bigger businesses, you've got this expert data analyst or FP&A finance planning person that will do the modeling.

So, we really believe that AI can be like a digital business coach to digitize that business advisory piece. So, the leader can be sitting down. They can be looking to try and improve some part of their business or understand some part of their spend and trying to work out, like, what would life look like if I increased my spend on this particular channel by X? And so, you know, we are looking at AI to help with lots of different areas around this. Initially, it's helping a new user to get onboarded with Blox. So, it's taking a template and helping to personalize it for their business.

What we basically try and do is fetch as much data about a new user and a new company as possible. So, if their team is on their website, then we'll pull in their team. If their products are listed on their website, we'll pull in a list of their products and try and throw that into the model and take out a lot of the friction that you have. As a user in the new system, you have to type in everything normally. If you're trying to model a business, you used to type it all in or copy and paste it from a spreadsheet.

So, we're looking at lots of options to help onboard new users. That has a good value add for us because we can increase the speed of adoption and help get users to value faster, which is great for us. And also, users are, you know, they're busy. They're impatient, and they want to understand what value they're going to get before they spend lots more of their time. So that's going to be useful for us and them.

And yeah, helping to interpret the data. So, they'll connect us to their source systems. We'll be able to interpret what's going on, help them to understand different options and scenarios about how things might play out in the future. Basically, AI will help us to draw our insights that we can present to the user, will help explain what the user is looking at when they're looking at the model, so we can summarize some of the key insights so that they can use that.

We're expecting to have all sorts of users, but we're really focusing on really busy leaders who may have a good understanding of spreadsheets and data, but they're just too busy, and so they don't have time. So, they want something which is quick and easy. Or leaders who don't have that expertise, so those are the ones that we really cater for. We try and keep it really simple and help guide them through the process, et cetera. So that's where AI is going to be, like, that digital business AI...We kind of kind of talk about this AI business coach concept.

And, over time, we'll build up more and more elements to that coach capability. We call him Anton in our team when we talk. We'll add more and more capabilities to him. But we've built a number of different POCs. And we've launched a couple of those with some customers. We've been out to events and showing off these new capabilities to basically test them out, understand what's working, what's not. What more do we need to think about to productionize this proof of concept? So that's, yeah, it's a very exciting time to be working on those things.

VICTORIA: I love hearing about that. That's super interesting to see where it's going to go. So, my last question for you today is, is there anything else that you would like to promote?

SIMON: I think I would just say, yeah, if you're a leader running a business or maybe it's a service business, and you're trying to think about, you know, when hiring business planning, financial planning, anything like that, then I'd love for you to come over to Blox, and you can jump straight into the product from our website. You can sign up.

I absolutely love chatting to people about their businesses and what they're trying to do with their finances. So, if you want to do that, you can sign up. You can chat to us. I actually take a lot of time to respond to people in there, so yeah, if you want to do that. Or, if you can, also find me on LinkedIn. You can search me there. Just strike up a conversation and say, "Hey, Simon, I'd love to chat about financial roadmapping or finance planning."

Yeah, I absolutely just love to speak to different leaders that work right across the business in different roles and see how we can help them to build a business that really unlock the potential that they have in their business through a great understanding of finances. So, yeah, if I can be of help, I would love that.

VICTORIA: Wonderful. And we'll have all those links in the show notes so our audience can go and take a look.

WILL: You can subscribe to the show and find notes along with a complete transcript for this episode at If you have questions or comments, email us at You can find me on Twitter @will23larry.

VICTORIA: And you can find me on Twitter @victori_ousg.

This podcast is brought to you by thoughtbot and produced and edited by Mandy Moore. Thanks for listening. See you next time.

ANNOUNCER: This podcast is brought to you by thoughtbot, your expert strategy, design, development, and product management partner. We bring digital products from idea to success and teach you how because we care. Learn more at

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