The founders of PeripherAi, Dr Kim & Dr Ole, proudly present themselves, and why they want to build this business.
Dr Kim Nilsson (CEO) and Dr Ole Moeller-Nilsson (CTO) met some 17 years ago, when they were both on their first careers; Ole as a post-doctoral fellow and Kim as a PhD student, both in the field of Astrophysics. A chance meeting on a University campus turned into a long-term partnership – in all meanings of the word. Kim and Ole are not just the co-founders of PeripherAi, they are also married.
Having immediately discovered how complementary their skill sets were, they initially partnered on scientific publications, and later Kim hired Ole as the CTO in her first business, Pivigo. But the itch to start something together, as co-founders, was always there. Hence, the dynamic duo are now kicking off PeripherAi, a sales tool to support founders of start-ups to scale their sales functions predictably.
To introduce themselves, Ole and Kim decided to ask each other five questions each.
Ole: Well, this is fun! Ok, my first question is why do you want to build PeripherAi?
Kim: Yes, isn’t it? Well, when I ran Pivigo, we supported companies of all sizes and shapes to complete successful data science projects. From delivering over 250 projects, I noticed several trends, challenges, and opportunities. Most companies do not utilise their data well enough, but particularly small businesses struggle with using their data to optimise or improve their business.
Having now spent several months interviewing business owners of SMB’s, I am also struck by how they desperately want to grow sales and revenue over the next couple of years, but also find it difficult to lay the foundations of scalable growth. Part of the problem is that it is very difficult to build a scalable sales process with the fewer resources (money and time) that SMB’s have at their disposal. I think data can help with this, and that is why we are building PeripherAi as a sales tool that is simple, intuitive, and affordable.
Ole: What is it about small businesses? What do you mean by ‘small business’, and why do you care specifically about them?
Kim: That’s a good question. The definition of an SMB can vary quite significantly. For our product, we think it will be most useful to, on one hand, start-ups and scale-ups that are growing rapidly and that are at the point of going from founder-led sales, to hiring their first sales team. On the other hand, we also want to help more established businesses. Overall, we are targeting companies with sales teams of less than 50 team members.
Supporting SMB’s may not outwardly be the most “sexy” industry. In some ways it would be more exciting to name drop big brands as your customers. I find supporting SMB’s extremely rewarding though. Over 90% of all companies fall in this category, and they contribute c. 50% of global GDP. That means, for example, that if we could make SMB’s grow their sales just 2% on average, that is an extra percentage point to global GDP! And that ultimately makes everyone better off.
Unfortunately, the fraction of US GDP coming from small businesses has been shrinking over the past decade, from 48%to 43.5%. That means that they are losing out to big enterprise, which I think is in part because the growing divide in use of digital tools. I want to help SMB’s take back market share from large corporates, and make everyone better off in the meantime!
Ole: You talk about helping founders of start-ups, and of course you have that experience, this is yours econd time as a founder. What was the top lesson learned from your first start-up?
Kim: Oh gosh, where to start? Starting a company is an incredibly steep learning curve, and there are so many things you learn the hard way. Something I think is very difficult, and also related to sales, is getting hiring right. Hiring the wrong person to a job is not good for the company, and it is not good for the person. Finding as objective ways as possible to evaluate candidates, and also bearing culture and values fit in mind, is critical.
Something I did that was well intended but that ended up backfiring was humility. I was (and still am) convinced that there are many others out there who can do some jobs better than I can. This was particularly true with sales, as I had never done sales before. Hence, I assumed everyone could sell better than I, and was then both confounded and disappointed when this did not always happen. In hindsight, what I forgot was that I started the company and hence I held all the possible information about the company, product, how to pitch, and how to answer questions in my head, and new hires had none of these resources! With my well-intended humility, I neglected to give them the tools to be successful in their jobs. Hence, picking the right people in your hiring process is super important, but equipping them with the right tools once they join is equally critical.
Ole: Did you ever feel prejudice,as a start-up founder or businesswoman, because of your gender?
Kim: Unfortunately, yes. Sometimes it was very obvious, such as cases where all attention in meetings were given to my male colleagues initially, and in other cases you just don’t know. One example of the latter was when I pitched for funding from an angel who later declined to invest. A year later, as International Women’s Day was coming up, he messaged me and apologised. He had since realised that he had been swayed that week by two male founders who had appeared “much more confident” in their pitches and invested in them instead, but now regretted that decision. He asked for my permission to post about this incident, and his realisation, on IWD. That did impress me, both his realisation and that he was brave enough to post to the world about it, but of course it also made me sad and wondered how many other rejections I had had forsimilar reasons.
We still have a long way to reach true equality in tech and in start-ups, but all we can do is keep moving forward, keep shining a light on the issue, and keep supporting any minorities in our industry. Every year, the situation gets a little better and every little helps.
Ole: And ending on a more light-hearted note, what’s the funniest memory you have of doing sales?
Kim: Oh, I don’t know, sales is rarely a laughing matter… Sometimes it is extremely rewarding. I will of course never forget the day KPMG signed their principal sponsorship agreement for our first Science to Data Science bootcamp in Pivigo. It was a huge deal for us at the time, and something that secured the future of the company. I and my co-founder Jason went for a glass of bubbles afterwards and it was the best feeling ever.
In terms of more funny? Haha, well, there was that time I was walking to a customer pitch with one of my sales reps and it was a very windy day in London. While walking, a plastic bag flew up against my colleague and I couldn’t help but laugh. But I got my punishment a few minutes later when a whole pizza box flew up in my face! Not the best way to prepare for a sales pitch, but it certainly lightened our moods.
Now, over to you.
Kim: Returning your first question, what about PeripherAi are you excited about?
Ole: I think what excites me the most is the challenges around the large variety of data we will combine and doing this in such a way that all the complexity is hidden. Good machine learning and AI applications shouldn’t actually feel like they are there - only when you really think about it should it strike you as "oh, yeah, how does it actually do that?". It should be like that, so easy and effortless it's barely noticeable for the user but yet super powerful - but that's hard to create.
Besides these technical challenges, what I am super excited about is the opportunity to make a real difference to small businesses. As we both know, it's quite tough to make it as a new or small business and get a competitive edge. Helping businesses do that is very rewarding I think.
Kim: What will be the greatest challenge in combining these data sets, and creating smart recommendations?
Ole: A key issue will be the learning element. Any recommendations and smart aggregations will need to have a very efficient learning algorithm at its core. Companies will all vary greatly in terms of the parameters, like size, organisation, funding etc. and have different optimum approaches. Utilising the human knowledge in combination with the machine learning from data is the key approach we decided to take here - and doing this well can really enhance productivity, decision making capabilities and ultimately success of sales people and founders alike.
Kim: How have you seen data science and AI move forward in the last decade? What is the most exciting development?
Ole: I think a lot of people feel the topic is past its peak. We are definitely out of the hype phase, but actually I think for AI and data science the really exciting days are still ahead. In particular the combination of AI with other, newer developments has huge potential, I think. Like for example in the cryptography space. And honestly what excites me most is that I feel there is something quite important around the corner, but I actually have no idea what it is going to be!
Kim: Oh, the mystery!... What are you looking forward to on the journey with PeripherAi, as a serial CTO but first time founder?
Ole: Well, in general what I love most about being a CTO is actually working with a team. Building up a tech team that is a joy to work with is oneof the most rewarding aspects of my role. I look forward to doing this again.
As a first time founder, I am of course also looking forward to applying my learnings from my previous roles, including, of course, the mistakes I made and do it so much better this time. PeripherAi is a product led company, and I am excited about applying agile and continuous product improvement frameworks to building a product that our customers will love. It is going to be a great journey of discovery and I look forward to using all my experiences to driving this product and company forward.
Kim: Tell us a fun fact about yourself!
As a teenager, I was really into creating my own games on my Amiga 500. I wrote this code that was part of a space game where you could drag and drop items to equip your spaceship. It had tricky graphics manipulation etc. and there were no simple libraries around at that time, so I coded everything from scratch. What is more I decided to use machine code to do it — why I decided that is a bit beyond me by now I have to admit!
Anyway when I ran the code, first the screen went psychedelic with colours and patterns, and after a minute or so smoke started coming out of the machine and it started to make funny beeping noises. Amazingly, when I restarted my computer it still worked after that, but when I opened it up a while later I saw it had completely fried a resistor. Creating code that made my computer puff up in smoke was a cool effect, but perhaps not quite what I intended…
If you are curious to find out more about the sales product Ole and Kim are building, head over to PeripherAi’s website and sign up for early access!