The Center for Data Innovation spoke with Ashraf Samhouri, co-founder and CEO of Activepieces, a business automation software company based in San Francisco. Samhouri discussed the benefits of making automation software open source and explained why some companies have yet to automate their workflows.
Morgan Stevens: What was your motivation for starting Activepieces?
Ashraf Samhouri: I used many automation tools in my previous companies, such as Zapier and Make, and was always bothered by the idea that these platforms are creating a closed ecosystem that cannot be further extended. For example, when I got stuck by not finding some functionalities on them, I had no option whatsoever to write code and get over the limitation. That made me dream of an open ecosystem that developers from all around the world can contribute to and have full control over.
Stevens: How does Activepieces differentiate itself from other business automation tools?
Samhouri: The openness. We are open source, licensed under MIT, which is one of the most permissive open source licenses in the market. This is just on the surface, but its impact is that we were able to grow a community of contributors, users, and partners who fell in deep love with the product and the ecosystem. We believe that this aspect will allow us to keep growing along with our community, offering the best free and open source automation tools to individual users, and empowering enterprise clients to automate their organizations at a larger scale.
Stevens: Why did you choose to make Activepieces open source and what are the benefits of doing so?
Samhouri: While trying different models, my co-founder and I realized that we feel empowered when we empower communities. Open source is all about community. You build, grow and improve with the community. In my first Reddit post about Activepieces, we were able to take feedback about our license even before releasing the product to the market. The open source community is amazing! The benefits are huge. Look at tools like MongoDB, Postgres, Airbyte, Metabase. They all started from the community and became very big companies supporting individual developers for free and adding huge value to organizations. This is an impressive strategy to us.
Stevens: What are the biggest challenges companies face in automating workflows?
Samhouri: The biggest challenge is actually not in automating workflows. The biggest challenge is that companies are still doing manual work that must be automated instead. One reason is that doing a repetitive task keeps people in their comfort zone, so they don’t worry much about challenging and changing it. Another reason is that people think they need to be programmers to automate their work. While that could have been true in the past, it’s no longer the reality. You can automate a whole department without touching code in the majority of the cases. Tools like Activepieces make automation accessible to everyone. Being an open source app might sound too geeky to some, but it doesn’t mean our user interface is hard to understand. We optimize our interfaces for users who don’t want to write code or come from nontechnical backgrounds.
Stevens: What does the future look like for Activepieces?
Samhouri: It’s a question about Activepieces but also about the world’s progress at the same time. In the past, the world was offline, but everyone worked hard to transform it to become digital. To be realistic, we made huge progress with that. Now, as a result, available technologies have changed. If you were able to build a mobile app in a month, you can now build an AI-based system in the same period of time. We’re on the onset of a huge wave of transformation with artificial intelligence—a term I always say is the new version of “digital transformation.” Activepieces won’t be just an automation builder, we’re working on shaping and positioning our software to be one of the leaders in this exciting transformation.