The INNOVATION COFFEE is a podcast born on the initiative of 4 young professionals. This is how it all started: “We met at University and kept in touch since then to discuss about innovation and sustainability. During the March 2020 lockdown we started having calls instead of physical meetings and decided to record some of them for sharing with a wider audience.”

Each episode (30’) hosts guests and experts to discuss about the different players involved in the innovation ecosystem and the several shapes innovation itself can have.

This episode’s guest, Ricardo Mercanti, who is the CSO and responsible for business development at BigProfiles, discusses how the company came into existence; their AI platform, the concerned market and its clients; how growth has affected the company; and finally, how AI will affect future innovation.

BigProfiles is a company specializing in data analysis. It was founded by Lorenzo Luce when he was pursuing a PhD in Computer Science at the University of Roma Tre. In 2016, he was developing a project dealing with a data scraper – its main feature being the ability to browse the internet to collect data according to criterias given by the user in a platform, then compiling it in a database. He recognized that by also compiling data from different channels and external sources (that can’t be accessed directly, or require a subscription/fee), he would be able to enhance the data available using all the latest tech, trends and analytics to develop a concrete tool to provide a more comprehensive and informative database, that companies with broad customer bases could use.

The platform was created for clients with large customer bases and catered to the needs of their customer care departments, regardless of whether it was in- or outsourced. Its main customers are BPO’s (business process outsourcing), which are companies that outsource their operational activities from other companies. The platform is particularly beneficial for contact centre departments as it heightens efficiency by reducing operating costs, hence aiding in raising revenue.

In theory, the technology available is ready to be fully integrated with the CRM platform as they have built their own application-programming interface (API). A CRM system provides businesses with a central place to store customer and prospect data, track customer interactions; it aids in the management of customer relations. This enables processing of contacts in real time, which is precisely why they can apply it to inbound contacts. After the initial call that a customer makes to the company, the CRM will begin accumulating customer information (ie their name, address, etc.)

How does this play out in reality? Well, APIs are very recent technologies, introduced to the market only over a year ago, hence customers are apprehensive and don’t use it. 

Ricardo then mentions that the platform is being used in an offline mode. This refers to the client uploading the customer’s data and waiting for the algorithm to process it, this can take up to a few hours depending on the size of the database.  After the processing, the new and sorted list is put into the client’s CRM.

All this talk of people profiling and the AI platform probably has raised some questions about which industry BigProfiles might be most beneficial for: and here’s the great thing about it, both are applicable cross-industry, they’re not restricted to a specific market or industry as the platform can process any type of business data. In fact, the latest feature allows the client to insert any kind of data they desire; if we use a bank as an example, it could be the number of transactions, number of cards, etc. Furthermore, the integration of internal and external customer data permits more accurate predictions.

BigProfiles has grown significantly in the last 5 years, but how has that affected the company? How has it affected how much external support it leverages from accelerators? Ricardo says the second product, the AI platform, has received significant amounts of leveraging. He also points out that the project also differs in terms of sales process and the type of business strategy being applied. Currently, they are working with an accelerator that is owned by a private equity fund, indicating it has a stake in the company.

What about in its initial stages, how did they sell their people profiling product? Their first important contacts were acquired when they introduced structure to big partners (Accenture, NTT data). The hunger for innovation from big companies meant they were always on the hunt for start-ups, all that is required to bridge the gap between the two is their introduction. Getting a foothold in the market led to the development of a sales strategy, and through their marketing efforts, they brought in their first customers.

We should also note that BigProfiles’ two project endeavours are substantially different. Ricardo regards people profiling as a product, contrastingly, the AI platform is a platform – it’s intended for everyday use. The two are also fundamentally different in terms of length of contract, how the product is sold, it’s price and customer base. 

How about growth and its effect on company culture and structure? The company comprised of 5 people, and now there are 15. In addition, a marketing department was developed. They focused on investing in digital marketing, events and private network relationships. Developing the department was essential as BigProfile couldn’t rely solely on its investors; as Ricardo said it, they had to “go to the forest to hunt by ourselves.” He also discloses that the main transformations took place within the last two years.

In the question and answer session, Ricardo was asked three questions:

First, what was a more important factor in the success of the company: the idea of the team you had built? How did it change as the company grew?

Ricardo recognizes both as being vital, as “you can have a great idea, but then if you’re not lucky enough to have a team of successful people, your idea unfortunately remains an idea.” On the contrary, having a group of skilled and successful professionals only also won’t propel a company onto the path of success if the idea doesn’t sell in the market.

However, the original idea was of great significance as it was generated in the right time. He claims that establishing the business idea wouldn’t have flourished as it has had it been four to five years ago. There simply wasn’t enough hype for innovation back then. Contrastingly, every company now works with a start-up to be ‘cool’. His verdict is that the idea was what spurred the success of BigProfiles, it led them to moving on with product development. 

To sum it up, the idea is important but requires a good team so it doesn’t get ‘lost’.

Secondly, how would a person without extensive knowledge of AI approach it, to understand it better and use it?

Things get interesting here as Riccardo prompts us to try a little experiment: restrict the information you give to applications such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft, etc. He did this with his smartphone and soon realised that his user experience was lacking something. What was that something? It was the fact that these companies couldn’t cater the behaviour of the application in accordance with our usage and profile. 

He claims we have a wrong perception of privacy, concerns with data leaks and our fear of data being used for the wrong reasons. AI is a system that makes our lives easier, smarter, and faster. 

And finally, one of our hosts, Poliero Marco, brings up a Forbes article. The article speculates whether AI might be our last innovation, does Riccardo share the same sentient? Does he share this opinion, or will companies just need to reevaluate how they are operating after AIs are introduced?

Let’s first establish why AI might be our last innovation. Well, once it’s out in the market, you don’t need anything else because it works and innovates on its own. 

Now, Riccardo’s insight: he regards it as a lesson in the ongoing process of innovation and progress. He arrives at this opinion through the consideration of human history, never in the past have we laid back and thought, “we did it, let’s sit back and relax.” 

He disagrees with the article, but does believe AIs are the biggest revolution to have taken place in the industry within the last few years, and is optimistic there will be more in the coming years.

To wrap the whole episode up, we can say that the idea of a company is crucial, but for it to foster and grow, you need the support of a strong team. In BigProfile’s case, the team helped with the technical parts and product developments. Next, accelerators play a notable role in the growth of a company – in order to manage and maintain this relationship, a company should have a clear vision of its future prospects and expectations. Lastly, AI is definitely not the innovation, rather a starting point. 

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