National Inventors Day – An interview with the DeltaXML CEO

To celebrate Inventors Day on February 11th, Robin La Fontaine, founder and CEO of DeltaXML, shared his story about how DeltaXML came to be. XML comparison has been a DeltaXML focus since 2001, nearly as long as XML has existed. As a global leader in the development of software tools for change control and version management, DeltaXML solutions are used by multinational companies as well as localised SMEs around the world. Governments, banks, aircraft manufacturers, legal services and the defence industry rely on their tools for finding, merging, processing, and synchronising changes in XML and JSON data and documents on a recurring basis.

Robin, however, was merely trying to solve a problem with an innovative approach before launching DeltaXML.

Robin La Fontaine for DeltaXML – Inventors Day 2023

Transcript

Tell me a little about you and how did you get started with DeltaXML?

My background is in engineering. I did an engineering science degree, but most of my career has been in the software industry. One of those jobs was in computer aided design software, specifically electronic systems. And one of the most important things there was to be able to propagate changes that you made to the circuit across into the printed circuit board. And that had to be done really well and really accurately. And that’s where I first got involved with change. And I realised that if you could manage change well, then you had a significant competitive advantage. So I developed that and when XML came along, developed it specifically for XML finding and merging change in instructed information. So that’s how it all started and the rest of us, they say, is history.

What has been your biggest challenge? How did you overcome it?

It’s actually easier to develop a new product than it is to develop a new market. And because our product was in effectively a new market, nobody else was doing what we were doing. That was our biggest challenge. If you’ve got a new flavour of ice cream, then everybody understands what that is. It’s an ice cream, and it’s a better flavour. So that’s easy to explain. If you’ve got a new widget that does something different, then you’ve got to explain what that widget is, what it does, what the value is to the customer, why they should buy it. And that is a much bigger challenge. It takes somebody once said twice the time and twice the money to do that. So that was our biggest challenge. And of course it’s acquiring the first customer. That’s the main thing you need to do with the new business. Once you’ve got that first customer, you can begin to understand the value proposition better and to be able to express that to other customers better. So the first customer is the way to overcome that new market.

What has been your greatest success in the business?

I think one of the greatest successes is when you see the smile on a customer’s face after doing a comparison or merge of some information or document, uh, and they realize how much time and effort that has saved them. Because the alternative is for them to be eyeballing two documents to see what the changes are or cutting and pasting changes from one document to another or looking at a huge amount of information and data and try to understand what’s changed. So that’s the greatest success when you realise how much time you’ve saved somebody. And it’s not just time, it’s actually very tedious work that they might have done and error prone work. So it’s really rewarding to see that result.

Bonus Question: What advice would you offer other inventors developing products?

I think James Dyson’s book ‘Invention” says it all in its subtitle – ‘learning through a lifetime of failure’. If you cannot learn from failure, then don’t try to develop a new product. Be confident enough to believe you are right but humble enough to know when you aren’t! Tough choices.

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