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Russell Goldsmith
Russell Goldsmith 3 July 2020

Podcast - Interview with Martina King, CEO, Featurespace

The third in a series of episodes that the csuite podcast is recording in partnership with the European PR agency Tyto and their own 'Without Borders' podcast, interviewing leaders of European Unicorns or those companies close to reaching Unicorn status. Our third guest of the series was Martina King, CEO, Featurespace

Martina King CEO, Featurespace was the third guest in our csuite podcast series of episodes recorded in partnership with the European PR agency Tyto, where we are interviewing leaders of unicorn companies, or those close to reach unicorn status.  She joined the company in 2012

 

Russell Goldsmith (top right) and Brendon Craigie (bottom) chat with Martina King

Company Background

Featurespace is the World Leader in Fraud and Financial Crime Prevention. 

The company was founded in 2005 by Professor Bill Fitzgerald, who was the head of signal processing and statistics at Cambridge University, and one of his PHD students, David Excell, who remains with the business in America.  Bill sadly passed away a few years ago.  Featurespace became a company in 2008 when Betfair was looking for a new type of fraud solution.

Martina said that Bill has made two major contributions to the world of machine learning:

  1. Separating signal from noise
  2. Anomaly detection

One of the consequences of anomaly detection and separating from noise is that you have greater accuracy in understanding what it is you're looking for. Martina gave the example of ‘False positives’, the number of times we get something right versus the number of times we get something wrong, which is now a common phrase due to the tests that are being carried out around the COVID-19 virus. However, it was very uncommon in the business environment, as typically you would model what bad looks like and apply that to the whole dataset, but what Bill and Dave were suggesting, is you model what good looks like and therefore the bad starts to stick out like a sore thumb.

Martina believes that we have a duty to ensure that before we launch technology, we understand what the impact on society is going to be. She said that there is a huge amount of experimenting that takes place but as soon as you start winning serious customers, such as big banks, there's an expectation that you're going to operate at the same level as them and that the same professionalism is going to pervade your business in the same ways it pervades theirs.

Looking at America, she said that you can learn not to be shy about trying to commercialize your organisation. It's the why, the how and the relationship you build, and then the people that are able to work and encourage you to come along.

Working through Covid-19

Martina’s overarching single aim through the Covid-19 crisis has been to protect the team that they have built.  Her first priority was that they take care of themselves.  She also wanted to ensure they had all the equipment they needed to be able to work from home and aimed to get it to them without breaking any of the rules. They also had to get the secure network up and running for hundreds of people to be able to access it. On top of that, the company has been running mental health and wellbeing seminars online and reaching out to people individually

Martina added that they have invested an awful lot in managerial and leadership training over the years. She said that in times of crisis, it's about values - people do need to know what the values are. They tried to articulate them and now they’re taught, and they are trying to live by them. The first value at Featurespace is to tell the truth; tell the truth kindly and if you can't tell the truth kindly, just tell the truth.

External Communications during Covid-19 crisis

Martina said that trying to have an uneducated voice enter into a debate on something that is so incredibly important at the moment could be vacuous. If you're running a business, the only audience that really matters is first of all, your customers, secondly, all your team members and then thirdly, all your investors. She strongly advises avoiding any political commentary, unless your company is directly to do with politics. She said that one of the jobs as leader is to be a great teacher and telling is not the best way to teach.

Challenges

Her biggest challenge throughout the years has been PR. There have been experiences in her career where she came up against campaigning journalism.

Top Tips

He communication tip is about messaging. Whilst it's very tempting to try and stuff everything into a press release, Martina said that if she threw five balls at you, how many do you think you'll catch? But if she only threw one, there's a fair chance you'll actually catch it! So, when you're thinking about your communications, think of the one message that you want to try and convey.

Martina’s big piece of advice on communications for company leaders was, you can't do this on your own. You've got to learn. She said ‘make sure you've got the best people you can possibly surround yourself with. Learn from them, take their advice and practice.’

The full interview with Martina King is available on the csuite podcast.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple, Spotify and all podcast apps.

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