For owners, potential clients, and admin alike, there is one unavoidable part of any business that most don’t enjoy doing: Paperwork. There are likely very few people who could say they actually like the constant bouncing back and forth of documents, the games of inbox tag, or the stress of having sensitive information being shuffled around. It’s a necessary part of any sale or contract, so why hasn’t anyone modernized the process?
Enter Mang-Git Ng, founder of Anvil, a San Francisco-based software company that specializes in paperwork automation. As a software engineer, Ng says he didn’t often have to deal with the operational aspects of his business. “I rarely dealt with PDFs in my day-to-day job,” he says, but his personal life was another matter entirely. His personal experience with this dreaded pain point gave him the inspiration to start Anvil.
“We were shopping around for mortgage interest rates and working with a bank to try to get a rate quote,” he says, “And it was extremely painful. They would email you and say, ‘I need all this sensitive information, fill out this form, email it back.’ It got very tedious. I had to fill out the same information every time I reached out to a new bank.”
Ng’s goal was to find a way to take this tedious process and turn it into something simple and streamlined. While the idea was initially developed with the individual in mind, he quickly realized that the possible applications of Anvil were more varied than he expected. “Initially, it was like a pain point as a consumer, but the pain that’s felt by a business is even greater. A business might be dealing with hundreds of clients a day. If that’s the case, they need to track all the data coming in. They also have to make sure stuff doesn’t get lost and ensure that data gets entered into all the correct places.”
In this way, Anvil is about much more than simplifying the grueling process of getting your documents signed and in order. Lamenting the relative lack of security inherent to many email platforms and the current process as a whole, Ng remarks: “And you wonder why there’s so much identity fraud in America…there’s just so much coordination happening that, undeniably at some point, something gets dropped on the ground, right? Something gets leaked, something gets hacked, something gets forgotten. We designed the product to be for these operational type people.”
Anvil: PDFs, Workflows and Ng’s Inspiration
You have certainly come across more than one PDF in both your personal and professional life. It’s a near-universal format utilized by countless companies across the world. So, is Anvil looking to replace the PDF entirely? No, says Ng. In an ambitious statement still grounded in reality, he says, “We’re saying you use PDFs today. Your entire company uses PDFs today. You can’t control that aspect of it. Let’s help you make it better. And then, one day in the future, if the world finally decides to move off the PDF, we can stop generating PDFs and have all the experiences you want. You can just use Anvil.”
Recently, Anvil also launched their Workflow product, one of the only ones to offer end-to-end paperwork automation with or without code. Customers can upload their existing documents and PDFs into Anvil, which provides a user interface for them to create a web form that collects information and then automatically prepares PDFs with that data. “The most powerful part of this is you can take all the business rules and build them into the Workflows,” says Ng, “So there’s a lot of business rules where it’s like, if this person is married, I need them to fill out a form A. And if they’re not, I need them to fill out form B…These rules just aren’t with the current solutions out there. They’re not easily encapsulated into a Workflow, and Anvil allows you to do that.”
If it could be said that anyone is distinctly passionate about this somewhat dry subject, then Ng fits the mold perfectly. In part, this stems from his observations on how business is primarily conducted in the modern era. “Businesses share information to get something. Clients share information with businesses to get a service or a product. And today, that is done by PDFs” he says.
Yet, for Ng, it goes deeper than that. Anvil’s impact on a person’s life is equally significant to him, especially where the possible application of Anvil within government programs can be concerned. “Take an entitlement program, for example, like you’re applying for SNAP food benefits and filling out that form. If you’re homeless and you’re on the street, and you don’t have a computer or a printer, filling out that form and finding that form to fill it out, how do you do that?” he says, “We’ll make it mobile friendly and make it easily accessible from your mobile device. Most people today have smartphones, and you can get access to what you need. And guess what? Anvil takes all the complicated rules around it and handles it for you.”
Ng’s Perspectives on the SaaS Space and Scaling
One of Ng’s most significant challenges in scaling Anvil as a company was the process of hiring employees. With that in mind, he considers building a competent team that is properly aligned with one another and actively striving toward the same unified goal. On the subject, he says, “If we’re all pulling in the same direction, we can achieve something great. But if everybody’s working hard, trying to do their best, but pulling in opposite directions, we’re just negating each other’s work. So, I think [a good way] to scale and grow is to make sure that you empower people to do what they’re best at and take on more responsibility, but you do so in a way that the work compounds on each other, and you create more versus negating.”
In the SaaS business space as a whole, Ng believes that low-code and no-code services are on the rise. In part, this goes hand in hand with breaking down and competing with the legacy industries and their holds on different sectors. He thinks it can be accomplished by forming a competent team and working hard to create a unique service that is simple and easy compared to what is offered by the larger companies within the same space. “And how do you disrupt legacy industries?” he asks. “You build. You hire a team and build software to do that one thing well. And because the experience [you build] is so much better than picking up the phone, or going into an office and having to do a pile of paperwork, you essentially can take on that market.”
Learn more about Anvil