During RiseConf in Hong Kong last week, we interviewed a number of thought leaders in FinTech, among whom Mr Roman Stanek, Founder and CEO of GoodData.
Q: How did GoodData start? What is the company mission and what are you trying to achieve?
A: We started 7 years ago. Our mission is to help companies get as much impact from data as possible, i.e. not limit data to a few people in the C-suite, but anyone in any given company should be able to access and experience the bundle of data. GoodData delivers insights to focus on helping solve business problems.
Q: It is fascinating to hear about democratizing data and data access. We are now living in a data economy, data being 'the new oil', according to The Economist. How do we ensure that everyone benefits from equitable data access? What is your idea of democratizing data?
A: To use machine learning and AI to scale access to data. I don’t expect everyone on this floor to be called a data scientist, it is not possible. People should leverage data, the way we can do it is to help machines help us. Instead of you and I going and studying data, we have machines sifting through it and coming to us with some insights and then I can determine whether I can use this insight or recommendation, or not. I see machine learning and AI as a key tool enabling us to achieve democratization.
Q: What is your competitive advantage to other companies in the field? Do you have any direct competitors?
A: Yes, we do, every company has competitors. Our advantage is that we solve the problem completely end-to-end for our customers. We do data collection for them, data enrichment, data analytics, machine learning, all the way to visualization. We do it all. So they don’t need to go and deal with 15 different vendors. They can really trust that we will get the work done.
Q: Are you a B2B solution?
A: Yes, we are very much focused on large banks, large telcos, enterprises, governments, and so on.
Q: In terms of your presence in South-East Asia, do you have any strategy of scaling in the region?
A: Yes, we do. I don’t know if it comes to SE Asia. We are building our presence in Japan. We also have a development team in Vietnam, so some of our development is already done in Vietnam
Q: Are there any other markets you are looking at?
A: For us, the next big market is China. It is a big black bug that everyone is trying to figure out. And it will come, but we have to grow a little bit before we actually go in there. A lot of companies need a strategic partner inside China in order to open doors. In our case, I actually think we will be able to find a partner, but it is just a big effort that we will have to hire people from our side and it will take another year to get ready for China.
Q: What is your advice for other FinTech founders? Your company has already been there for 7 years, so I am sure you have passed through a lot of challenges to get to this stage?
A: Yes, it does take a lot of hard work, it takes a little bit of luck, but it is also the main focus indeed to be able to solve customer problems. It is not about the technology itself, but about how technology can help someone to understand and solve real business problems. People are less and less willing to spend money on technology and they want to spend money on a real solution.
Q: In terms of your actual entrepreneurial journey, what were the three main challenges to get to this point as a founder and as a company?
A: I would say the three main challenges were:
First, data is an extremely crowded market and a changing market, so you need to ensure that you do stand out;
Second, how do you get the right people and find the right team?
Third, how do you actually build the presence to be able to sell to large companies? Large companies don’t buy typically from small companies. So, this is the proverbial chicken and egg problem. You can’t sell to large companies if you have no other large companies as customers.
Q: Regarding the difficulties you faced at the very early stage of the company, were they in any way similar to the challenges you are facing now?
A: No early on you don’t really know what you are building. We were moving tables and getting funding and so on. Scale brings completely different sets of challenges. In the early days, I don’t know if I would say it is more fun, it is just different. When it is a small team, everyone knows what we are doing, everyone is on the same page and so on. The outcome is certainly not in sales, it’s in technology. My board is now measuring me in sales, so I have to scale the company. I have to scale the sales team and the delivery team, etc. So, it’s a very different company. It is still a lot of fun.
Q: Do you have an end goal in mind, such as an exit strategy?
A: No I don’t think it is smart to have an exit in mind. I believe that if you do the job well, the exit will come via an IPO or great sales. So, I am not building the company for exit but obviously, an exit will ensue naturally at some point. This should not be your singular goal in running the company, you should not optimize for it.
Q: How do you think big data can promote financial inclusion?
A: I think it may be the only thing that can help open the market. Talking about democratization of data, what it actually means is that we find that the next consumers may not be the obvious consumers. We can find the next clients, the next account-holders who would not otherwise qualify. We are working with some personal finance companies in the US and it is really interesting to see how data can be used both ways. It can be used to give more people access to finance, but it can also be misused in terms of privacy, social sharing and so on. We will need some rules about what it can do, but I definitely think it can be hugely positive for everyone.
Q: This is a field that is still quite new. We have so much data out there, but how can we best make sense out of it?
A: Yes exactly, this is what my discussion and presentation today [at RiseConf] was all about. Is it all about having better data or more data. It is actually both.
Q: Do you think there is one next big thing in FinTech? And what is it in your opinion?
A: I don’t know. Most people would say Blockchain. I just don’t know if that is the next thing. I am a big fan of ApplePay, for example. It is very underused.
Q: Surprisingly enough, ApplePay is not very common in the US. Why do you think this is the case?
A: The US invested so much in payment terminals. It is always the case with any technology where you have a big infrastructural legacy. The US was also late with mobile phone adoption because it had a good network of external landlines. People outside the US therefore started adopting mobile first. Being a leader in something doesn’t always help you when you are undergoing an enormous transformational shift – this is why it is difficult for incumbents with hefty legacies to adapt to change.