Each month, The LOWdown sits down with one of the rising stars of the European start-up and entrepreneur community. This month, we catch up with Daniela Braga, Founder and CEO of DefinedCrowd.
Why did you set up your company?
The idea of starting a company came very early on in my career when I was completing my Ph.D. and working in Portugal. At this time, the entrepreneurship ecosystem in Portugal was very much only developing and this made it very difficult for me to imagine a successful path. It was the 2000s, I created a domain name and met with a number of people to talk through the project. After a number of conversations, it was clear that the market wasn´t mature enough and chances for investment were limited, so the idea didn´t advance. While living in the United States in 2012, the idea of starting a company came back to me. I was more advanced in my career and was in an environment where I saw concrete ideas become successful businesses from other entrepreneurs.
Was there a ‘lightbulb moment’ or a turning point that led to you starting your business or triggered a change in the way you did things?
In 2013 I left Microsoft and began working with Voicebox. Voicebox had just won a contract with Samsung, so I was brought in to create a data strategy for the company. Simultaneously, I was invited to lecture at the University of Washington in Data Science and Crowdsourcing for Speech Technologies. It was at this point that I realized a huge market opportunity in Artificial Intelligence, and my experience coupled with my knowledge, I felt I had an advantage. I wanted to create a company that could solve the data problem. 90% of data science companies were solving the problem of machine learning, while only 10% were solving the data problems with none of them doing scalable, quality work. This is where I saw the perfect market opportunity for DefinedCrowd.
Were there any EU, national, regional or local business support services, programmes or funding initiatives that helped you set up or grow?
Yes, definitely. Our growth has been supported by many local investment funds such as Portugal Ventures and Busy Angels who contributed to our seed round investment. In our Series A, we counted with a big Spanish VC, Kibo Ventures. Incubator Startup Lisboa and UPTEC have also been great supporters, hosting us when we first opened offices in Lisbon and Porto respectively.
How would you describe your progress so far? Are there any significant challenges you have had to overcome?
Within the last 3 years, DefinedCrowd has received incredible market validation. We now have more than 35 clients (many of them Fortune 1000 companies) and partnerships with four strategic players. In 2016, we graduated from Microsoft Accelerator as the fastest growing company (out of 721) and raised $ 1.1 million in seed funding, with investors such as Sony, Amazon Alexa Fund, Portugal Ventures, and Busy Angels. By 2017 we already had three offices (Seattle, Lisbon, and Porto), we launched Neevo by DefinedCrowd and API access to our SaaS platform. In 2018, we closed a Series A funding worth $11.8 million, led by Evolution Equity, announced partnerships with Microsoft, Amazon, IBM, and MasterCard, and ended the year with more than 70 employees on 3 different continents. Everything was within three years and so we had to grow very fast together. The future is no different, as we have a very ambitious goal: to become the #1 trusted data company for Artificial Intelligence in the world.
As for the challenges, I would say raising money in every round. When I touch base with other entrepreneurs, it’s clear that the metrics that I have to present, because I am a woman founder, are much higher than my peer male entrepreneurs in each phase. But I see it as a positive, because it makes me be always better and achieve more every time. Having to part ways with a co-founder and all the disruption (financially, organizationally and emotionally) that it caused. Filling the gaps in the Financial department. It’s been hard for me to find good talent with a culture fit to our company in this area.
What do you see as the key trends and disruptors for 2018 relevant to entrepreneurs?
Not sure if it’s a trend, but in 2018 I see entrepreneurs being more focused with leadership team dynamics and team building. Because you cannot carry the company alone anymore when it’s over 75 people. You have to be able to find talented leadership team and trust that they will be doing at least as well or better than you in their areas.
There is an increasing demand for AI transparent – how do you respond to this challenge, and how does it affect your work?
I believe AI transparency is a great thing, AI is only as good as we can understand it. To us, it reinforces our business proposition: we are very clear on the process, on how we get the data and what we do with it as opposed to companies who do a black-box process.
All the data and meta-data that we collect or annotate can be exposed to our clients, except the PII associated with GDPR compliance. We have Machine Learning algorithms to control quality and enhance crowd productivity, but even those results can be exposed to the client. All our data is transparent to the client and we delete it in a lot of cases from our servers after being processed, depending on the sensitivity of the data.
Rapid fire round
1 – Analysis or instinct?
Instinct, mostly. Which is a paradox, because I am a researcher and a scientist.
2 – London or New York?
Tough choice. London for the elegance and good taste, New York for the diversity and multiculturality.
3 – Which is a better guarantee for success: persistence or integrity?
Integrity for sure. In the end of the day I cannot lie to myself and whatever choice I do I always have to sleep well with it. Because I can never run away from my own consciousness.
4 – Monopoly or chess?
Monopoly. I like multi-player games and the empire building aspect of it.
5 – MBA or start work?
Definitely start work. I don’t know any super successful entrepreneur and founder that has really gone through an MBA. MBAs may be useful for professional CEOs, but the real founder hardly has done one.
6 – Pineapple on pizza: yes or no?