Speaker’s Corner: Featuring Tanel Tähepõld, Founder of Actual Reports.
Tell me about Actual Reports, its work and projects…
Actual Reports provides a versatile document generation and automation platform to enable developers and companies to streamline their document generation process efficiently.
Our main product, PDF Generator API, allows developers and software providers to add document generation capabilities to their applications easily. PDF Generator API is a flexible Web API and template editor for creating PDF documents from pre-defined templates and JSON data. PDF Generator API is the same for document generation as Twilio is for messaging or Mailchimp for transactional emails.
What are the challenges within the computer software industry today?
I think there are two main challenges. How to get your product in front of your potential customers? And secondly, how to find and hire new talent for your company? Almost every company now has an IT department, and new technology companies are started constantly. With the ever-growing competition, it gets more challenging to stand out from the crowd.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way you go about business? What trends do you see for the future…
We also provide document generation solutions for e-commerce retailers to automate their invoice, packing slip and label generation and speed up the fulfilment process. In March 2020, we started seeing an increase in signups, and in April and May, we already saw 200% growth compared to January and February of the same year.
The exciting discovery for us was that most new customers were brick-and-mortar businesses moving into digital sales channels. We saw restaurants, grocery stores, corner shops and coffee houses – all trying to cope with the new reality while still providing services to their customers. These new types of customers also challenged us to improve the existing solutions. For example, a grocery store receipt can have hundreds of line items instead of 2 to 3, the average number of items bought online at once.
It didn’t change a lot from the business side as our marketing and sales channels are digital. Also, we already had a fully remote team working from different cities (Tallinn, Tartu, Brno), and therefore, COVID didn’t change our day-to-day operations.
I think there will be fewer meetings overall to discuss some topics. Meetings become more meaningful to reduce wasted time. Also, remote work will be embraced outside of the technology sector, becoming more accepted in other industries.
What led you to create a tool like Actual Reports?
Before building PDF Generator API, I worked as a software developer. In every project, we had some kind of document generation requirements – invoices, reports, contracts, picking slips, and the list goes on. It got even more complicated when the end-user had to change the document layout or make any modification – change font, add a logo, reposition or add new content. The growing scope of a seemingly simple feature increased the time and effort needed to meet the requirements.
When researching a service or library that would help me deliver the functionality quicker, I realized that all available tools were developer-oriented. You either had to write HTML to produce the template or use another software for template editing, for example, Microsoft Word.
I wanted to provide a seamless user experience and a simple integration flow for the developer. We can now offer both!
What is your biggest objective as a speaker?
As a speaker, I want to provide valuable insights and start a discussion on a specific topic. You don’t always need to give answers, but you create new ones so that listeners look at things from new perspectives.
Could you share with us the points of discussion (the input that you provided) during the panel(s) at API:World?
At the API World 2021, I talked about “Build vs buy and How APIs can speed up the product development process”.
The main point was that whenever planning a new application or improving an existing one, we should constantly evaluate if the next feature is developed in-house or pick an off-the-shelf solution. I believe that one should only build the things that are the core function of their business and add direct value to IP and customers.
I can see that product managers and technical teams are more involved in the “Build vs Buy” discussion as they see that companies using APIs to build products are getting to market faster, with less risk and total cost.
This change in mindset is in line with the adoption of other cloud services. Most software as service companies has decided that they are happy to pay for Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud or Microsoft Azure to avoid managing expensive sysadmin and hardware resources.
As a leader, what are the factors both professional and personal that drive you? What keeps you going?
Challenges and solving problems, but having fun and a good time at the same time.
What is your take on in-person events? Do you prefer in-person events as compared to hybrid or virtual? How soon do you think in-person events would return?
I feel that presenting at a digital event is less stressful as you are not physically in front of people, and you can always have your script with you. For me, the biggest downside is the lack of personal interactions. I loved the networking part and getting to know new people. In the future, I would prefer to go back to in-person events.
Eventible has recently launched a B2B Interactive in Person Event Tracker – the tracker shows you in-person events going live in various parts of the world. Do you think this is useful?
We have a niche product, so we are always looking for events that make sense for us. We usually don’t go to large events for a general audience, and we try to look for smaller in-person events. Having a tool to find specific events helps us to speed up the search.
Eventible.com is a review platform catering to B2B events. Given how review-driven our lives have become today, do you think reviews will bring in a level of transparency to the events industry? Would you rely on event reviews from other speakers if you had to make a speaking decision?
Reviews help make better decisions as everyone claims to have the best event in the world. This way, you can make sure that the event is worth your invested time.
Finally, do you have a favourite mocktail or drink? We’d be delighted to know.
In the past year, I have tried out a lot of hand-crafted lemonades and beverages. I have found exciting drinks produced across the world.
About Tanel: Tanel Tähepõld is a product manager (and a founder) from Estonia. He started his career as a developer in Mobi Solutions, a company that has launched the careers of many up-and-coming talents from Estonia. Over the course of his career, he has focused more and more on APIs to the point where he was responsible for all internal and external APIs at Fleet Complete — the leading global provider of fleet and asset management services. Tanel is now focusing on building his own company, PDF Generator API, which brings together his two passions — SaaS products and APIs.