Jozef Kovac (Exponea): We want to make big data cool

Exponea as an advanced analytics and engagement automation platform is often referred to as one of the most promising startups from Slovakia. Jozef Kovac, co-founder and Head of Product, has come up with the idea a long time ago. It evolved through various stages and brands to finally become one of the leaders in big data services in our region. Now, thanks to the latest investment, Exponea is expanding into the global market.

 

What’s the story of Exponea?

Short story about Exponea is that it´s a new startup that was launched just few months ago. It was born with a ready product – analytics and marketing automation.

What´s the long story?

To be honest we have been developing the product for almost three years. Last year it was on the market with a different name and focused more on player analytics and gaming market with a product called Infinario. And a year before that we had started with the original idea called 7Segments. It was nothing more than what we call “big data for everyone”. So 3 years, 3 different names. Now we see that naming and branding are really important.

Why have you been changing it every year?

Our idea was evolving. We learn new things every day. I have technical background, for me branding is not that important. But from this exercise of 3-years rebranding I have come to the conclusion that it´s very, very important.

Has the idea changed somehow or is it the same?

The idea itself is older. I worked as a consultant for IBM delivering data science projects. And what I learned was that every single client followed the same process every time. We started with the collection of data, analyzed the data, then ran some marketing campaigns, evaluated results and started again. Always trying to improve. And I wanted to create a tool which would simplify the whole process. So it doesn’t really matter if you are focused on e-commerce, on banking or other industry.

And now you are focused on e-commerce. Why did you change the focus from gaming industry to e-commerce?

We wanted to have narrow focus on a single market with Infinario and decided for gaming as a growing market. There is a big problem in the field – gaming studios do not know their players, yet they need to know. People kept coming to us and asked „You are doing a great job in gaming – wouldn’t it work for our e-commerce, too? Is it possible to change Infinario for e-commerce purposes?“ More and more customers were asking for that, so we decided to go on and created Exponea.

What have been the greatest challenges on the way?

Development. There are 3 things when building a business. One small part is a technical challenge. You need to build a great technical product which works, is reliable, and has a lot of cool functions. That’s one thing. Another thing is to build product-market fit: how to communicate product, so customers understand it and want to try it. Building a company is a third and equally important part. You start in a small team of three to five people and then you grow up to 10-20 and things which worked for 3 people don´t necessary work for 20.

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Recently you have received quite a big investment, at least for our region. What’s the story behind?

I want to say that we have been profitable from the day one. We are profitable because we had good product already at the beginning. The thing is that the open window of opportunity is already closing and we wanted to catch the chance. If you have enough money you can grow much faster. Or you can go without VC funds, make a small company and never become a unicorn.

So we were looking for an opportunity and if there was an easy way to raise money we would take it. But if it wasn´t easy, if it would have taken, let´s say, more than 3 months I hadn’t had enough time to do that. So we decided to meet some people and didn’t really need sales pitches because we had a product to show. “Look this is how we use it, those are customers and this is the revenue we have generated.” And most people didn’t understand it.

They didn’t understand the product?

No, they didn´t understand why and how it works. It´s quite complicated. Big data analytics is a complicated topic. So crucial was to find the right person who understands it. Once we found him, it worked perfectly.

Where did you find him ?

Friends of friends When you meet many people, they would tell you that such and such is a good guy and you should meet him. And that’s how we got together with Peter Irikovsky.

How are you going to use the investment?

We are building a better product and acquiring more customers. That’s it.

Are you targeting the global market?

Correct.

Do the customers understand your product or do you still need to convince them that big data is the future of marketing?

There’s no problem convincing them that the future is in data. But the window of opportunity is closing as I mentioned before. There are so many competitors on the market, big data analytics is growing fast. We really have a special product and I can tell you why, but any other analytical company can put the same claims on their website and you will not be able to judge whether one is better than the other. So my message to customers is – let´s try it. I can´t persuade you, I can’t sell it to you, you have to try and you have to see.

You say there is a big competition. What´s your unique value proposition?

I believe in results. Analytics as a discipline is very complicated and you can get lost in your data without investing lots of millions into building a data science team. In the end you try to count your profits and return of investment and it´s negative because something is missing. You need to combine analytics with some action. When you find a gap in your data you must do something about it, fix the gaps. And you need to do it quick. Otherwise the business will drop.

So how can you help?

One thing is to identify gaps and second what you do about it. People use Exponea to identify what´s wrong with their product. Then they go silent for 3 months or 3 weeks to fix the issues and afterwards measure if they have better results.

We can´t help them to improve the product. We can tell them what´s wrong. But we have marketing automation built in our application, so if a reminder email, sms message or a personalized web banner can help you to fix the problem you can do it right in the application. And this is magic. You can do it in the first day.

What’s the secret behind that?

Technology. There are technologies available on the market which are able to collect all data possible, visualize them and run campaigns in one day. We are not doing anything else just building product for analytics, so we are experts in the field. If you want to build such system on your own, to have your in-house analytics, it will take months, maybe years and only then you can have results. If you use something which is already built, if you trust Exponea that we are experts on such systems, you’ll have results immediately.

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What does the Exponea team look like now?

Basically there are three important parts in our organisation. Development team is a very strong one. Then there are consultants who are in the field talking to customers, helping them with their problems – not only how to use Exponea but for example how to solve retention problems or how to improve efficiency of their campaigns. Last but not least there is sales and marketing as one team.

We have also hired Michal Pastier as our creative director. He is helping us with positioning and branding because big analytics data is not cool. And Michal is someone who can explain the topic in a way which is attractive to much broader audience.

Are there Slovaks in the development team?

Yeah, most of them are Slovaks. Very talented guys. For me it is very important that they are young. Not because young people would be cheap but young people are most familiar with new technologies. They give us our competitive advantage.

Do you have a technical background yourself?

I have a degree in artificial intelligence. I am able to code but our coders don´t allow me to do that because my code is not good enough. So I am coming with a vision, telling them what to do and they implement my ideas.

So the business development role suits you better?

I am the bridge between business people and technical people.

What is the business model of Exponea?

It´s a standard “Software as a Service” and we use subscription based business model.

What industries do your biggest clients usually come from?

In general it´s gaming and e-commerce. We have companies like e-shops, travel sites, flight tickets portals. There are also companies in the business to business field – software service companies. Telco companies are using Exponea too, and we are in a pilot project with banks.

It looks like quite lot of clients. How do you manage the growth? It seems to be quite fast.

Yeah, it is. Life in Exponea is such a great ride. Everyday is something new. It’s growing so fast. I don’t really know the numbers, but when you have 5 new clients every day, it’s crazy. Some of them are really big companies, it´s not so easy. And that’s why customer support is crucial for us.

As you are growing so fast, you are probably hiring a lot of new people.

This is the thing – we are growing as a company. As a team we are trying not to grow so fast. We made a mistake a year ago when we hired people fast, 6-people team became 20-people team and it wasn’t the best solution. So now we are hiring, there are and will be positions open, but we will be looking for very special people. You need to bear a lot of responsibility, you have to be very good. We are working only with the best ones.  

What kind of people do you need right now? Is it more about developers or rather sales managers?

Developers for sure – frontend and backend. We use Python mostly. We love developers with specialization for data science. If you are an expert for machine learning or big data scientist, we like your profile.

Then there are consultants who need to have communication skills and some background in analytics or economics. We have also some other positions open – from time to time.

What can we expect from Exponea in the future? What´s the vision?

We would like to push this vision to the direct execution ecosystem and invite others, small companies from all around the world compatible with direct execution principles, to share the idea and to define what direct execution really is.

And this is our way – we want to be the leader in this category and build the best products.


Photos: Exponea

 

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