The Interview: Sam Chandler, founder and CEO, Nitro

19 Mar 2015

Pictured: Sam Chandler

“The key challenge in Dublin is finding office space, basically there is none,” says Sam Chandler, founder and CEO of Nitro, whose software is used by close to 500,000 businesses and millions of users worldwide.

Just one year after announcing 50 new jobs for Dublin, Nitro is now employing over 40 people and by the middle of the year will have reached its target.

At the current growth rate Chandler believes that the Dublin office will eventually employ more people than Nitro’s HQ in San Francisco where it has 135 people.

The company is on the verge of moving to new offices close to Dublin’s city centre, but the experience has been a surprising one for Nitro.

“Essentially Dublin is the best place in the world to scale a technology company, but with this one caveat: if the office space shortage is not resolve that’s not good.

“Dublin is the best place to start a technology company because the talent pool is incredibly good. There is such a high quality of talent for all kinds of roles and we’ve hired in product, engineering, sales, marketing, finance, customer support, administration, basically every function of the business is represented in Dublin now. We would like to scale that to infinity but the key blocker right now is office space.”

Nitro last year confirmed it had raised US$15m in fresh investment and plans to increase its hiring in Dublin to more than 100 staff by the end of 2016, including plans to locate a data centre in the city.

Nitro has more than 490,000 customers in nearly 200 countries, comprising leading Irish organisations such as AIB, Bank of Ireland, Tullow Oil and more than 50pc of the Fortune 500.

Companies use Nitro to eliminate paper-based processes such as printing, faxing, and scanning, and Nitro’s software helps users share, sign, approve, track and collaborate on documents faster and more securely.

From Melbourne to Silicon Valley to Dublin

“I always enjoy Dublin, I’m a bit of a Guinness and bacon fries fanatic,” Chandler jokes in his Australian drawl during a flying visit to the city.

The company began in Melbourne in 2005 before making the momentous leap to San Francisco, a move that perhaps other Irish tech founders are considering.

“We scaled the business for a few years in Melbourne and in 2008 we opened our international HQ in San Francisco. We had grown to the 100-employee mark in San Francisco in 2013 when we made the decision to open in Dublin.

“The Dublin decision was very easy. We compared Dublin with other locations and for us Dublin seemed to make the most sense because the talent pool was so strong. The ecosystem is great and the work the IDA have put in over the past few decades is really bearing fruit.

“We felt an affinity with Dublin and the country and we decided this would be the best place to scale.

“It’s a really good outcome. I can hardly believe that 12 months ago we had no one here and now we are hurtling towards 50, that’s pretty nuts.

“It has gone really smoothly with virtually zero attrition and we expect Dublin to grow just as fast as San Francisco over the next couple of years and there’s a chance it could be bigger in the long run.”

Email is so 1999

Nitro represents the vanguard of a new wave of productivity and collaboration platforms that could outpace outmoded working methods like email in the coming years.

In that vanguard are players like Dropbox, Tableau and many others including one-to-watch collaboration player Slack.

“This is a topic close to my heart. The traditional way of working is being upended and it is happening really, really fast and has taken everybody by surprise.

“The way a lot of people still work with documents today is really, unfortunately, the way they worked with documents in the 1990s. Many of us are still sharing documents like it is 1999.

“But look at this incredible period of innovation over the last 10 or 15 years and the explosion of the smartphone and the use of cloud-connected services as well as tens of thousands of apps – all of this innovation is impressive and frightening, but for many of us the things we do every day haven’t changed, like reading email.”

He points to Slack, the business communications platform regarded as the fastest growing business software in technology history.

“Slack is really changing the way that people work from a broken, inefficient way of collaborating to a much more modern and effective way of collaborating and that’s what we are also trying to resolve with Nitro Cloud.”

Is the end in sight for the PDF?

Nitro Cloud is the yet-to-be-revealed next generation platform from Nitro and Chandler describes its arrival as effectively hitting a reset button for the company.

“What we are trying to do with Nitro Cloud is siphon off the idea of the format as the interchange medium and replace that with a smart documents platform that will enable document sharing, workflow, e-signing. It is enterprise document management 2.0 and we aim to replace the PDF.

“The PDF will have a role, but the platform is way more sophisticated and can make life much better for so many knowledge workers than the PDF as a format ever could have.”

There are three clear strands to Chandler’s line of thinking: collaboration, cloud and mobile.

In terms of mobile Chandler says that the focus has been on enabling the signing of documents using mobile devices like smartphones and tablet computers. “We have made it elegant, easy to use and fast and we will be adding more and more collaborative functions in the coming months.”

Another area that Nitro is focusing on is data science and big data. “We hired our first chief data scientist a few months back and we are actively hiring research scientists and engineers.

“We are investing big-time in areas like artificial intelligence. We think there is a huge opportunity to improve the performance of Nitro by making recommendations and delivering insights based on sophisticated analysis of the content of documents.

“As’s Marc Benioff said recently, we are in the middle of an AI Spring and the next layer of services in the platform are likely to be around AI. We would agree that is where it is headed.

“People are really pushing the boundaries of what is possible technologically. It is pretty cool to think we are on the edge of a technology revolution that will enable us to finally put the data science that has been around for decades into practice.”

Interview with Nitro’s Irish COO Gina O’Reilly

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years