CNBC Disruptor 50

UiPath's Daniel Dines on automating work, the future of cloud computing and scaling in New York City

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Key Points
  • As companies like newly-public UiPath use AI and other advanced technologies to help them with digital transformation, many fear that robots are coming for their boring, repetitive job.
  • UiPath co-founder and CEO Daniel Dines says the automation company isn't out to replace humans, but rather enable them to focus on parts of their job that only they can physically do.
  • Dines says that eliminating manual, repetitive work will have a "tremendous influence" on the nature of our jobs, and that we shouldn't rush to conclusions about what the post-pandemic workforce may look like.
UiPath co-founder & CEO Daniel Dines
UiPath

As companies use AI and other advanced technologies to help them with digital transformation, the whole topic of robotics seems eerily dystopian — and many fear that robots are coming for their boring, repetitive job.

But UiPath, a newly-public automation company that ranked No. 50 on last year's CNBC Disruptor 50 list, says its software isn't out to replace humans.

Co-founder and CEO Daniel Dines says the New York City-based company's goal is to enable workers to focus on parts of their job that only humans can do. Dines, a former Microsoft engineer, founded the company in 2005 in Romania before moving it to the U.S. about a decade later and establishing headquarters in New York. Roughly one-quarter of its more than 2,500 full-time employees are based in Bucharest, Romania.

In April, UiPath joined a long roster of high-growth cloud software companies hitting public markets and amassing multi-billion dollar market caps — it was one of the largest such U.S. software IPOs ever.

CNBC recently spoke with Dines, who says that eliminating manual, repetitive work will have a "tremendous influence" on the nature of our jobs, and that we shouldn't rush to conclusions about what the post-pandemic workforce will look like.

The following Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

CNBC: Coming from Romania, why did you choose New York City as the place to build this company. Why not Silicon Valley?

Dines: In many ways, I think New York City is better to build a commercial team. We're closer to customers time zone-wise — especially B2B companies, companies in the financial sector, health care sector and public sector... it was kind of a no-brainer for us [to establish ourselves here]. Today we're spread out around the world, but we also have a big presence in Seattle where we're building out our cloud offering. Bangalore is also a big center for us. But I believe that becoming New York-based was one of the best business decisions that we made in our global expansion — way better than going into Silicon Valley.

It's expensive, but at the same time, it's a city within walking distance of the biggest customers and the biggest investors on the planet. Manhattan is very unique — there is nowhere comparable in terms of reaching the best that the world has to offer.

CNBC: UiPath is a newly public company that's experienced pandemic tailwinds of its own because of the focus on automating work. As CEO, how has that shaped your view of the distributed workforce?

Dines: Even before the pandemic, one of the perks of working at UiPath was the ability to work from home at any point in time. You were not supposed to ask for permission, but rather inform your manager that you'd be working from home. So therefore, we had all the systems already in place for a fully remote workforce.

It's kind of difficult in such a changing environment to understand what will be the best way of working from here forward. So, to me, those people who are saying we're going to be working two days a week, three days a week, fully remote, or fully in-person ... I think it's too early to place those bets. My goal, given the type of work I expect post-pandemic, is to tap into the tailwinds of what's now acceptable in society and create a work environment that's more enjoyable, more fulfilling and more desirable [for workers]. If that's through a hybrid model where people come together two days a week, or even two days a month, I think that would be really great. But I believe that, at this point, nobody really understands what this will look like in the next couple years. It's going to be very interesting.

CNBC: What do you tell people who are fearful of automation?

Dines: I think this is the most asked question, but I don't think it's really about automation at all; It's more about the progress of technology. I believe we are at a very interesting moment in history where we might be closer than we think to ending this trap of manual, repetitive work that humans have been doing since the dawn of agriculture 10,000 years ago. If you can take out this part of a job, we can all focus more on things that humans are much better equipped to do.

I would argue that the most difficult job on this planet is to convince a group of people to row in the same direction. Becoming more collaborative, better leaders, strategists and critical thinkers, I think, will have tremendous influence on the nature of jobs, the quality of jobs and the quality of our lives. I think we can all agree that, despite the shortcomings of technology, it's ultimately created a better standard of living around the world; And we are probably living in the best world known to humans thus far. So, I truly believe, without any hint of irony or bias, that what UiPath is doing is really effective in accelerating human achievement and escaping this historical trap of manual, repetitive work.

CNBC: Coming out of the pandemic, cloud computing feels a bit more ubiquitous than it was pre-pandemic. What keeps you excited about the space and what advice would you give to early stage founders who are trying to disrupt the cloud?

Dines: I don't think I'm alone in saying that if you start a software company right now, it's completely stupid not to start it in the cloud. [Cloud] offers a simple place to experiment at a very low cost, and it's amazing what you can do with it at your disposal. And nobody yet understands whether or not you have to stay in it past a certain stage of growth. Look at Dropbox for instance: they decided to build their own cloud, but for companies [like Dropbox] where cloud is not a huge part of their gross margins like it is for us, it can be an accelerator. I believe [cloud computing] is by far the biggest accelerator of growing a business that we've seen in history — even more than the steam engine, in my opinion ... more than the railroad system, when it comes to building modern businesses.

CNBC: Is there a private company out there in this space, or perhaps space-adjacent, that you're particularly impressed with?

Dines: I really like two companies that I'm an early investor in; One is called Miro — a online collaboration platform for building charts and design elements — and the other is an online event company, both of which have some of the fastest growth trajectory I've ever seen; Perhaps growing even faster than UiPath did. Both of them are European companies and, at this point, I'm very bullish on both of them.

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