At Tech City News, we’re always keen to shine a light on those who make up the UK’s thriving technology community.
This week, we spoke with Martina King, CEO of Featurespace, a firm that uses artificial intelligence to fight fraud.
She explained where the idea came from, what’s been most challenging in running the company and how mentors have helped her throughout her career.
Tech vertical: Artificial intelligence/machine learning
Staff count: 62
Q: Can you tell us a little about Featurespace?
Featurespace was born out of academia and was created by Professor Bill Fitzgerald, head of applied statistics and signal processing at Cambridge University and his PhD student, Dave Excell. We spun out of Cambridge University in 2008 and remain headquartered in Cambridge, with additional offices in London and the USA. Since 2015 we have doubled our headcount and currently have 62 employees, employing the smartest minds in engineering, data science and commercial expertise.
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Q: Where did the idea come from?
The driving force behind the technology was Professor Bill Fitzgerald, who was a major contributor to the fields of data and computer sciences, in particular, discovering how to separate the ‘signal’ (or meaning) from the ‘noise’ in data. A crucial component in machine learning technologies.
The business was born after we left Cambridge’s Engineering Department in 2008, when Betfair PLC (now PaddyPowerBetfair PLC) – a world-leading peer-to-peer gaming platform – selected Featurespace to build the first machine learning, adaptive behavioural analytics system. Betfair challenged Featurespace to build a fraud prevention platform that could allow more genuine customers to transact and identify fraud attacks as they occurred.
Q: What’s your background? What were you doing before?
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Having spent many years in early stage technologies, Yahoo! (1999 – 2004) and augmented reality (2010 – 2012), it was the next digital wave, of being able to learn about human behavior from a machine, that caught my imagination. Bringing new technologies to market tests a number of technical and personal skills.
Q: Tell us an interesting fact about yourself.
I have a 1970’s Elvis suit (Vegas era) and a 1983 short wheel-base Land Rover, I advise using them at the same time.
Q: How is Featurespace going? Can you share stats on number of users/revenue?
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Featurespace is going from strength to strength. We have customers in the UK, US and Europe. We trebled our deal value this year, more than doubled our revenue and have a proven recurring revenue model. Most importantly of all, our customers are reference sites and vouch for our technology, work ethic and our dedication to our partnerships with them.
Q: How is the company funded (VC, Angel, self-funded)?
In May this year we completed a £6.2 million funding round led by TTV Capital, an Atlanta based FinTech investor, the round also included existing investors, including Imperial Innovations, Nesta, Cambridge Angels and Cambridge Capital Group. Additionally, we are self-funded.
Q: What has been the most challenging part about running the company?
Our wonderful co-founder, Professor Bill Fitzgerald died in 2014 as a result of developing a brain tumor. He asked us to make his company as commercially successful as he was academically. A mission we are determined to achieve.
Q: What has been the most enjoyable part about running the company?
Proving that a new technology developed in the lab can make a significant improvement to commercial organisations. Contributing towards the building of a world class team, winning the trust of our customers and investors and delivering knock out results for our expanding customer base.
Q: What have been your biggest company milestones?
Winning customers in our core sectors of banking, payments, insurance and gaming, in Europe, US and the UK. Attracting scientists from Cambridge and a wide variety of European countries. Our workforce, which has more than doubled in a year, is decidedly multicultural.
Our greatest achievement is the consistent results we are providing for our customers. In one fraud attack alone, for a major credit card issuer, we reduced fraud loss by over £200k and reduced genuine transactions declined by an extraordinary 70%. For one UK customer our technology helps them to process an extra £100 million worth of transactions per quarter.
Ensuring that our technology is scalable and ready for the use of global banks. All of our deployments have been delivered on time and on budget, that’s pretty cool.
Q: Have you had a mentor? If so, who and what did they do for you?
I’m lucky to have had many mentors. Early days would have to be The Guardian girls including; Caroline Marland (first female MD of a national newspaper), Fiona Morris (first female production director), along with Jo Newell (my first boss there). They all taught me that delivering results and getting the best out of people is the surest way to the top.
Now it has to be the Featurespace board which consists of some of the UK’s most successful businessmen – they are encouraging me to build Featurespace into one of the world’s best technology companies.
Q: Who do you see as your main competitors and how do you differ?
In every competitive pitch we find ourselves amongst a different competitive field. Does the customer always choose the best technology? Another mentor taught me that the answer to that question is ‘yes’, they chose what was right for them. Our technology is world beating, a customer told me today that he ‘loved our system’. Additionally, there are few machine learning companies with the experience of successful deployment since 2008 and zero customer churn.
Q: What did you do the last 12 months?
We announced a collaboration with TSYS (a leading US-based global payments company) to enhance real-time fraud capabilities for their clients with the ARIC platform. Deployed our ARIC fraud hub in to our first US bank. Closed a funding round of £6.2 million, led by our newest investor TTV Capital.
We continued to innovate our ARIC platform; we issue quarterly releases to all of our customers which includes Sandbox functionality.
We moved offices, launched our new branding ‘outsmart risk’ and continued to win a long list of new customers.
Q: What are your plans for the next 12 months?
Our technology is built, deployed, scalable and being used by satisfied customers. Our next task is to expand our commercial footprint across the world. We need to recruit new talent to help us get there.
Q: What five pieces of advice would you give to those starting their own tech company?
Have faith in your invention, passion is infectious. Test if it will deliver commercially, for your sake and the sake of your investors. Keep focused on winning new customers. Have fun with your team, especially when it’s tough going. Take Bear Grylls’ advice – never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, give up!