Star Talks: Episode 6 with Tom Bartolucci: Star Talks is the podcast of small conversations that inspire you to do big things and on this episode Tom Bartolucci, Senior Vice President of Engineering at YayPay, shares his journey from building music file management & mobile video player software, to being a developer for the federal government, through to today where his team is pioneering the A/R & collections automation space.
In this episode of Star Talks, Tom Bartolucci sits down with us to talk about:
- How writing software for the federal government made him appreciate the agile development methodology
- The ways he drives delivery outcomes by managing time properly and by ensuring his team working on the most important things
- Throwing automation software at your A/R challenges isn't enough, that enabling your collections staff to focus on customer engagement will make the biggest impact on your cash-flow
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Here's the episode transcript:
So tell us a little bit about what it was like growing up. What was a young Tom Bartolucci like?
Good question. So, uh, I grew up in northern New Jersey, right outside New York. Uh, and my parents were, uh, my father was an engineer. My mother was a librarian all her life. So as you can imagine, uh, books and reading, uh, were very much a part of growing up. Uh, my grandparents on both sides were always, you know, pushing for college and university. So between my parents and grandparents, it just always was this focus for me, uh, to get higher education to, you know, continue on and, and hopefully excel as I grew. So, um, it was a small town, so nothing too exciting. And, uh, but my parents, you know, bought our first PC when I think I was going into seventh or eighth grade and I had wanted to be a pediatrician for the longest time. I don't know why as a child I wanted to be a child doctor, but I did. And, uh, after my parents bought that PC, it just changed everything. I took it apart, put it back together, taught myself programming, and uh, I was off on my quest at that point.
So it sounds like based on your upbringing, that higher education was a foregone conclusion. When did you know, and when did you decide that you were going to major in computer science?
once, you know, my parents had always talked about college and I always talked about being a doctor and then once that computer came into the house, the conversation shifted. So all through high school, uh, I took the classes I could, uh, my high school was very small. My graduating class was less than 150. And so, you know, there was one computer class that you could take basically at the time that was from 96 to 99. And so I did what I could buy him books and teaching myself. Uh, but all through high school I knew what I wanted to do. So what was the first time you wrote a line of code who, um, sometime in maybe ninth grade, I, I just, I tried to create a small, uh, application that would allow my dad to track his music. And he was an avid music collector, records and cds.
And so I tried to create this little like library thing for him. Uh, sadly, actually I never really completed it much to his chagrin. Uh, but, um, but it was a fun project that, you know, allowed me to understand the challenges that were there trying to build the first iTunes. Right. Uh, there's actually a funny story about that. I actually ended up building a web based iTunes like a for managing media much later in my career. Okay. Wow. That's cool. Tell us more about that. So jumping forward, this is now after, after college, uh, I got, I had first started working with a very small company, a nonprofit which, which I loved and I did for a number of years. And, uh, I ended up moving into a larger company and actually Lockheed Martin at the time, but my manager was an entrepreneur and he had business on the side, uh, managing mobile video, uh, for, for smartphones.
And so he needed a mechanism to manage all of that mobile video content. And what I ended up doing for him was building a effectively a web based iTunes that allowed him to kind of manage all of his video content, the different a bit rate encoding, the metadata and the publishing of that video. Uh, for, at the time I believe it was sprint, Sprint mobile. Wow. That's super cool. Did anything ever come of that? Did they end up using the product? Yeah, no, we, I ended up, I ended up contracting for him for a number of years. Uh, so if that was probably almost 10 years and he ended up leaving Lockheed Martin for you know, his own business and use the tool and I, I worked with him and develop, continued to develop software with him and help manage that business for awhile. So as you can imagine, as the flip phones turned into smartphones, uh, we moved into android development and developed a few android video apps and things like that as well.
Wow. Super Cool. That's some pretty cutting edge stuff. You were a right there as the technology was maturing.
It was really interesting. The, the appetite for, uh, video on, on a flip phone was, was super interesting to me. I was never something that appealed to me, uh, maybe because I just used computers and, you know, and we had all suffered through real player, but, um, but people were paying for it and people wanted it.
So what were you working on as you were doing your master's at Johns Hopkins?
So, yeah, so for a number of years, uh, once I started work, uh, and so while I was at Johns Hopkins, I was at had two jobs. Well, so when I first started, I was at a company called w tech. Um, probably never heard of it. It's a small nonprofit that does research, uh, for government agencies. So civilian government agencies.
So what they are, what they're tasked with is putting together research teams and going internationally to find out what are other countries doing in specific fields. So the National Science Foundation would commission a study to say, how are, you know, how are European countries, um, applying public health policy to x or how, you know, how are, how is, um, South American countries, you know, using nanotechnology. And we would put together research teams, you know, experts from the u s in those fields, uh, go with them to go with them abroad, visit a several universities and agencies and just do kind of a knowledge sharing and then come back and report on. These are the different ways people are doing that research. So right out of school, one of this was actually a nonprofit run by a professor I had in Undergrad. So I was fortunate to take a job with him.
And, uh, and so I was, at that time I was the server administrator. I was running, you know, file servers, web servers, coding, basic applications, a web applications for them, and then also doing project management. So I w I ran one of these projects to Europe. Uh, when with the team. It was really probably my f yeah, it was my first time abroad to be honest. Uh, or at least across the Atlantic. And, uh, so I, I got a chance to go see Germany, France, the Netherlands, the UK, um, and Italy on that trip. I think so, uh, it was a really, really interesting experience, but, so that's what I was doing right out of school. It was very, you know, system admin work pro, you know, web developer work and PR project management a while while doing my Undergrad, my graduate at Johns Hopkins. And then, uh, I eventually left after about three years and joined. That's when I joined Lockheed, uh, at the Gao. So the government accountability office, uh, they, they are, they are, they do a similar function for Congress. So they, they basically are, they go out and report on all the other agencies that the other branches of government for Congress. So, um, so then I finished my master's while working at the government accountability office.
Wow. So you've already told us about a couple of different interesting projects that you work on. Tell us something, you know, give us an example of a really challenging or the most challenging problem that you worked on. You know, how'd you solve it and what was the result?
So, you know, um, you know, as a software engineer there, there's lots of challenging problems and sometimes in a very, in very dry spaces. So you can imagine, uh, at the government accountability office, there's, they're just writing reports on, you know, what is the judicial branch doing about this? And so, but the problem you need to solve as a software engineer there is how do people find the information they need? You know, how do, how do they, how do they get to that and how do they use it? So there was a lot of full text search, a lot of implement. We evaluated different search engines and had to build out solar clusters and um, web application systems that allowed workflows and approvals and, um, you know, with lots of role-based control. So, you know, those, the challenges come some a lot, a lot of times in the weeds.
Um, and so when, when I think about a lot of what my biggest challenges are though and, and really, you know, coming to the last few years of my career, it really just comes down to time management and making sure that we as a, as an organization, as an engineering organization are working on the most important things. Um, you know, so working in the government, and this became much more important in the last 10 years, is working for product companies. You know, you've got customers, you want new customers, you've got competitors, you know, how do you, how do you make time to work on what's the most important.
So tell us what you're up to now. What are you working on?
So today, I am the SVP of engineering at YayPay. Uh, we are an A/R automation company based out of New York City. And, uh, I have a engineering team of about 25 companies, about just shy of 50 people. Uh, we've been around for just about four years and we're going strong. It's a lot of fun. Uh, we're in some way workspace, so it's super collaborative. Everybody kind of in one room, uh, working together. Uh, and we're, we're just having a lot of fun doing it. So you're back into the startup world. Yeah. Yeah. So I think one of the things that stuck with me, uh, my first job working for my professor, uh, out of school was a 12 person company and then going to Lockheed Martin and being one of 140,000. Um, you know, really what, when I had an opportunity to make a shift, again, the idea of going back to, you know, a very small company, uh, what was super appealing and also a startup.
You know, there's, there's such a, there's such a good satisfaction when working for a startup that you know, what you do has such an impact and can have, you know, and if you work hard, it can have a real upside to it.
Absolutely. That makes a lot of sense. So tell us what's the problem that YayPay solves? Who Does the product serve?
Sure, sure. So generally there's two kinds of people, right? There's uh, the CFO who's managing everything, uh, uh, you know, all the finances at a company. And then there's the ar person, ar team member who's, you know, maybe part of a team. Uh, so trying to get paid, right? Every, we're all making a product, we're all providing a service and, uh, we all basically are trying to get, get paid for that work. So our goal is to free them, uh, to be strategic in what they dowe allow them to focus on the relationships with their customers and not spend time just moving numbers around a spreadsheet. So, um, what we do specifically in the air automation space is integrate with their ERP systems, their payment providers, their email to take away the busy work, uh, and allow them to focus on their customers. So you figure for everybody that's going to pay you on time, that that's not a problem. You know, that's going to happen and, and you don't need to worry about that. But for every, for everything else, you need to be able to predict your cash flow, how much cash you're going to have in hand. And you need to be able to communicate to these folks to, you know, create some outreach that says, hey, you know, you know, you have an invoice and it's due in 30 days, or it's overdue by 10 days.
I'm finding, you know, going through your books and finding, you know, who owes what, when and who you should communicate. Uh, that's, that's a lot of, that's in our mind, a lot of busy work that we can take off. Your the team's hands and allow them to just focus on the most important customers. And as I said, be strategic with what they do. So we will, we, we can automate the communication, we can automate the outreach. Uh, we can help you decide who you should talk to, when we can help predict how much cash you will have, uh, in the future on what dates and, and it takes some of the, a lot of the guesswork out.
Gotcha. So from a technology standpoint, you've got ERP software, you've got CRM software, you've got marketing automation software, there's a lot of different, you know, software publishers out there in those specific categories that I named, but for ar automation, collections, automation, what's this, what's the space look like? What's the competition out there as far as the market goes and, and what differentiates YayPay?
So in the, in this space, so I've actually been working in this space for just about nine years and uh, with the last year being with YayPay and it is still a pretty wide open market. There's a lot of, there are a lot of new players. There's a lot of people, um, in the market, but there, there's still a lot of market share out there. Uh, what I think sets us apart is, as I said, it's our, our ability to help you, uh, free yourself from the day to day tasks. We're not just going to be a computer system that digitizes those everyday tasks. Uh, we, uh, we are helping you step away, spend more time thinking about your customers and how you can use, you know, the Ar function, you know, as you know, as a cost savings, as a revenue center. Uh, and just help help our customers, uh, get the most out of the time spent.
Gotcha. So what advice would you give to business leader or company who is actively looking for a solution to help them automate their A/R and their collections processes?
So I look at it, the first thing is you need to understand what problem you're trying to solve, right? Uh, I think we are all out there these days. SaaS is ubiquitous for pretty much almost every problem. Any problem you want to solve. There's some subscription or some search software you can buy for that. Um, but the way I, the way I look at it is, are you trying to build a new feature or are you trying to have a new feature? You know, when I look at it from a software perspective, are you trying to fix a bug? Right? Um, A/R automation is not about bug fixing your processes, your A/R processes. It is really a feature that you can deliver kind of at, you know, to your customers.
And so, you know, if your process is broken and you just throw A/R automation on top of it, it doesn't necessarily mean you're going to fix that. You've got to want to enable your A/R staff to really free them up to do the hard work of customer engagement and, and we'd let YayPay handle, you know, the day to day of who should we talk to when, um, who needs to be notified? What debt needs to be moved to bad debt, uh, what needs, who should we reach out to to get paid sooner? That's what we're going to do for our customers. That's what YayPay is gonna do for our customers. And if you, if you don't understand exactly the problem you want to solve, uh, you're gonna, you're gonna end up with the wrong solution. So, uh, we, and we've run into that.
We've run into customers that just, you know, they're fine with their process and they thought, YayPay was going to be right for them. Uh, but, but they, they, they were just trying to fix a bug and not, you know, enhance their function.
So I always liked to talk to developers about, you know, product development methodologies. Is there a specific methodology? Is it waterfall? Is it agile? What, what one do you subscribe to and why?
By default, I would generally approach everything in an agile fashion. Uh, I, I do think, and there have been times where even in an agile world, uh, you, you start to evaluate certain projects as waterfall. Uh, but I think if you really look at it, the idea, the idea is agile brings to the table are important. And maybe, you know, you're not releasing every sprint every two weeks, but you are, you know, you are delivering something and it's super important to break things down.
Otherwise, hey look, I worked for the federal government for a long time. Those projects had a requirements documents that were hundreds of pages long and the project didn't start until that document was written. And then by the time you start, you know, and finish months go by and is it, is it exactly right? Right. It is. I lived the kind of prototypical story of why waterfall doesn't necessarily work. So even when I come up against a project that someone says, well this is going to take months. It's like, okay, great. Well we'll release it, you know, six months from now then. But like, let's break it down and, and this way we can make sure that we're actually making progress, you know, week over week or sprint over sprint. And I think that's the most important part is even just internally to be able to demonstrate the progress.
Gotcha. Great answer. That makes a lot of sense. So I always ask this to every guest, what's the most rewarding thing about what you do, Tom?
So the best thing about being in product development these days is really getting great, you know, being, being able to get great customer feedback right now, obviously if you're building a bad product, you might not be able to get that. But fortunately, um, you know, we're in that space these days and, uh, you know, being able to do work that, you know, you know, is improving people's lives and is, um, you know, making their work experience better. So, you know, in our case, we're building accounts receivable software, you know, when I say that, does that sound the most exciting? Yeah, maybe not. But the problems are really cool. We're applying some really awesome machine learning technologies to what we do. Um, we obviously we're, we're completely in the cloud and, uh, you know, working on how we scale out. Uh, but when we get to, when I get to get on a call with a customer who just, you know, says, Hey, you know, I'd love to see this, you know, new feature, or I'd love to see ab this enhancement, but you know what? I love the product and I'm so happy you use it. It saved me so much time in my day. You know, that's really, you know, what makes a lot of this worth it.
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