In the spring issue of the Great British Entrepreneurs Magazine, Stephen White sat down 2017 Innovation winner Chris Ganje, the founder of AMPLYFI, which has been tipped to be the first unicorn company to come out of Wales.
Against the setting sun of heavy industry, a surge in tech start-ups in recent years is sparking a digital dawn for the South Wales economy.
Now, Welsh government agency, Innovation Point, estimates the region’s data economy jobs to be hitting the 40,000 mark, and this is thanks to tech firms such as AMPLYFI, which made Cardiff its home in 2015.
In a land scarred by the excavation of coal and iron ore, today’s mineral of choice is information. As you read, it’s being mined by the terabyte from the internet’s deepest data seams through AMPLYFI’s trademark platform, DataVoyant.
By exploring fathoms of the web undisturbed by the standard indexing of household search engines, the software is helping companies to unearth potential future fallout from global issues and current affairs that could present challenges to business.
Back above ground, Cardiff was the standout city for AMPLYFI’s base for American CEO, Chris Ganje, chosen ahead of famous software metropolises such as San Francisco, London, Boston and Beijing.
Lower costs and steady streams of academic talent coming through nearby universities were among key reasons, while the Welsh government’s support for the nation’s blossoming business ecosystem, local airport links and London’s relative proximity were further incentives.
Chris’s judgement as a businessman is every bit as sharp as the Cambridge University fellow’s talent in the computer science space, which was recognised at the Great British & Northern Irish Entrepreneur Awards, Cardiff 2017, where Chris won the Innovation Award.
AMPLYFI’s expert team is set to go from 24 to 40 members by next year, while turnover is predicted to hit £50m in five years’ time. The growth has fuelled speculation among industry leaders that the start-up will soon reach a value of more than $1bn, to give Wales its first unicorn.
We spoke with Chris to discover more about AMPLYFI and the man behind the magic.
Did you always want to be an entrepreneur?
Being an entrepreneur was always the end goal. Creating my first start-up in Bangalore, India, developing exploratory wind power projects was confirmation for me that I would not be a ‘me-too’ player.
I then elected to enter a blue-chip in a major sector to figure out how and where my next start-up could really change the dial by doing something truly disruptive at scale. A successful spell at BP plc revealed gaps and, therefore an opportunity, to really bring my entrepreneurial passion to bear in a game-changing venture. The result was AMPLYFI that I co-founded with a group of brilliant people in 2015.
What inspired AMPLYFI?
Before departing BP, I led the Group’s disruptive technology assessment (along with former BP colleague and AMPLYFI co-founder, Ian Jones). The assessment highlighted to me the limitations of what were supposedly ‘best practice’ business intelligence and primary research methodologies; namely that they are outdated and unnecessarily expensive, with outcomes influenced by expert-based opinions.
These can ultimately lead to ill-informed strategic decisions. AMPLYFI was created to overcome these limitations, and our flagship AI-powered product, DataVoyantTM, sits at the forefront of the emerging Business Intelligence 4.0 phenomenon.
AMPLYFI’s purpose is to fundamentally transform organisations’ decision making, business intelligence and research capabilities by enabling them to unlock the internet for themselves.
Our core product, DataVoyantTM, represents the future source of business ‘knowledge’ and is at the vanguard of next generation business intelligence and research tools. DataVoyantTM combines surface and deep web harvesting, deep-, unsupervised- and reinforcement-learning techniques and intuitive results visualisations, all within a single, integrated platform.
Our mission is to deploy artificial intelligence to transform internal research and business intelligence capabilities and enable organisations to make smarter, faster decisions while reducing their reliance on third-party consulting support.
What kinds of businesses benefit from AMPLYFI’s services, and how do you help them?
As a B2B SaaS (software as a service) offering, DataVoyantTM is pitched at blue- chip and multi-national organisations. Cloud-hosted, accessible via any modern web browser, and capable of working across all modern languages means that there are literally no limitations on who can use it.
From the outset DataVoyantTM was designed to be sector agnostic, making it an indispensable tool for the broadest possible range of companies, spanning all sectors and industries. For any topic or subject, DataVoyantTM harvests millions of data points from across the web – most of them previously untapped and largely unstructured – then analyses them using our proprietary deep learning algorithms before auto-generating results via intuitive and interactive visuals.
The platform dramatically improves the quality of insights available to businesses and delivers them at a scale, speed, and cost previously unimaginable. For instance, ‘time-to-insight’ for a large project is reduced from months to weeks or even days.
This is all in the service of strengthening mission-critical activities such as competitor intelligence, investment optimisation, M&A (merger and acquisition) targeting, portfolio optimisation, country risk assessments, technology horizon scanning and monitoring for sources of future disruptions etc.
How has Cardiff helped break down barriers to business from AMPLYFI?
Cardiff’s burgeoning reputation as a European city of excellence offers a thriving digital scene for innovators like AMPLYFI who can receive deserved recognition for genuinely stand-out innovative products. Compared with the likes of Silicon Valley, London, Berlin, Beijing, Singapore etc., which are already inundated with AI start-ups, Cardiff’s on-going commitment to invest in R&D and innovation complements the ability to recruit some of the brightest minds coming out of its world-class universities.
For AMPLYFI, the primary driver behind the decision to headquarter in Cardiff was always having access to top talent and the ability to build a rock-star team. In the early days we benefited significantly from being part of the first cohort to enter an entrepreneur accelerator in Cardiff, and have since received invaluable ongoing support from NatWest, the Development Bank of Wales, the Welsh Government, and local investors, as well as achieving notable coverage in local and national press.
The day on which we landed the company name was pretty special – sitting outside in San Francisco with my co-founders and a few beers.
Then, assembling a team of immensely talented individuals in a vibrant city that hassupportedAMPLYFI’srapidtransition from start-up to scale-up continues to be fantastically exciting.
While we are still relatively small at 24 phenomenal people, we are making a massive impact and have already worked with some of the largest companies and institutions from across the globe.
What’s the most important characteristic of successful entrepreneurs?
It’s estimated that around 90% of start-ups fail to execute and disappear before their first funding round.
To be successful, an entrepreneur must be resilient, i.e. treat any comment that runs along the lines of “that’s not possible” or “that can’t be done” as a challenge to prove wrong. They must then be prepared to ‘persevere and execute’ with their original proposal.
Successful entrepreneurs only pivot if they really have to, or if it’s utterly commercially compelling to do so. Others use pivots to justify themselves being distracted from their missions and inevitably fail.
AMPLYFI has been tipped to become Wales’ first unicorn. Do you think this is possible, and what impact has the assessment had on your business?
We WILL be Wales’ first unicorn. With the team, technology, and commercial traction that we have, all being world- class, achieving that initial stage of our journey has never been in doubt.
You can take a look at a full, digital version of the spring issue of the Great British Entrepreneurs Magazine here.