London’s Turbine helps businesses slash through paperwork

4 min read
Matthew Stibbe

Work should be more than paperwork: nobody loves filling in expense claims, holiday forms and purchase orders. I’m a lifelong entrepreneur and I hate the idea that colleagues are wasting time in pointless meetings, needless bureaucracy or doing something manually when it could be automated. Running a fast-growing computer games studio and, more recently, Articulate, a successful marketing company, it shocks me how quickly the forms pile up.

No time to waste

The original idea for Turbine, then called (with irony) “Red Tape,” came to me around 2000 when I was running Intelligent Games. At one point, we had more than a dozen different types of form and a special cabinet of pigeon holes to store them. I wanted the company to be lean and entrepreneurial, but the forms made it feel like a boring, old-fashioned business.

Employees wasted time filling them in and managers wasted time reviewing them for approval and then some poor admin had to type the handwritten contents into an Excel spreadsheet. Most of the time, the forms sat in trays waiting to be signed off on. It was horribly inefficient.

I wanted to find a better way to deal with routine admin, and that inspired me to design Turbine — an online application that people can use to book time off, submit expense claims, and make purchase requests using their computer or phone. It’s designed for simplicity and speed. Instead of shuffling forms, employees can make requests and managers can approve them on screen.


A lean startup

I looked at building an app 15 years ago but it looked like it would very expensive at that time — so the idea stayed on the shelf until about five years ago. That’s when I realized that technological advances such as PayPal merchant services, Ruby on Rails, cloud hosting and so on made it much easier to build online apps. Likewise, sites like Elance made it much easier to find cost-effective offshore development resources.

We initially built Turbine for Articulate and then launched it commercially. A business that might have cost a million pounds to launch in 2000 cost around £50,000 and took six months to develop in 2010. Today, the app has hundreds of business customers around the world and many thousands of individual users. Every time someone uses it, they save a few minutes of precious time — and it all adds up.

Privacy and security

Because it is entirely web-based and each company has its own unique Turbine website address (their own subdomain), we needed a wildcard SSL certificate — which secures our website’s URL and an unlimited number of its subdomains — to encrypt communications between users’ browsers and the company’s servers. The SSL certificate also protects the credit card payment page, which customers use to pay for the service.

Looking after people’s personal and financial information is a big responsibility, and at Turbine, we take that very seriously.

We needed the highest level of SSL encryption backed by the resources of a large, well-known certificate authority — that’s why we chose GoDaddy. (My need for speed and obsession with efficiency also makes our company a great fit for GoDaddy; we were able to get a new certificate in a matter of hours and to renew it two years later in minutes.)

With so many Internet scams and privacy threats, using and being seen to use good-quality SSL certificates is an important mark of trust for businesses like Turbine. We reinforce that message with a trust and privacy page that outlines our security policies.

At the end of the day, we’re confident that our customers can rest assured their sensitive information is secure — and focus instead on slashing through the paperwork that wastes so much of their precious time.

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