Sani Gaydarska, General Manager & Business Analytics Team Lead Sofia, and Kalina Todorova, Business Data Analyst, were the guests of Dimitar Vuchev at Evropa Tv’s Business Daily. They talked about Amplify Analytix, the current need for data analytics and qualified people in Europe and the world, and the opportunities provided by European Data Incubator and the European Union for startups and SMEs.
The video interview is accessible here in Bulgarian and below you can enjoy the transcript.
[Vuchev]: Tell us about Amplify Analytix
[Gaydarska]: Amplify was founded in December 2017 by Laura Murphy and Daniel Strahinov, both having extensive experience in sales and marketing analytics. They realized that data analytics and data science has big potential to optimize organizations and their ways of working and help companies make data-driven decisions faster.
We know that all companies collect loads of data. It is the question of how we use the data. After the company started, several people joined. It was Anna Thomas in India and Elvan Aydemir, our Chief Data Scientist.
In the beginning, we were very few people, around 6-7. By the end of 2018, we were 12 people and by 2019 we have opened the India office. The India office has 11 people now is also quickly growing. Starting this year we started having clients in the US. We are ISO certified and, of course, we won the EDI Datathon, which Kalina will talk about later.
[Vuchev]: And you also have an office in Bulgaria?
[Gaydarska]: Yes, our Bulgarian office is our main hub.
[Vuchev]: So you are an international company with an office in Bulgaria. What part of the team works in Bulgaria and what is the typical profile of the people working in Bulgaria?
[Gaydarska]: Let’s say we are 50/50 divided between Bulgaria and India. We don’t have a part of the work that is being handled only in one of the offices. We are collaborating between the offices and it depends on the skillsets in terms of who works on which projects.
Talking about the profiles, our teams are business analysts and data scientists, who, depending on the project, work together close bridge the gap between business and technical understandings, which often exists in the client companies.
[Vuchev]: You mentioned the competition that you have won. Would you tell us a couple of words about it?
[Todorova]: Yes, it’s a great success for us! We participated in a European Data Incubator competition, which is an initiative financed by the European Union. The goal of the competition is to help the business and technical development of the SMEs in the field of data analytics.
How the competition works is established companies offer their business data challenges along with the available data. The participants analyze the given data and pitch the various innovative solutions to solve their business challenges.
The challenge that we worked on is in the field of predictive analytics in digital marketing. The company we are working with, that offers their data, is a big media company based in Spain. It is very important for them to optimize their business results. Their question to us was “How can we improve the results from our campaigns and how can we offer more relevant ads to customers in Google?”.
The solution that we offered was based on a machine-learning algorithm, which selects more relevant content that is shown to the customers. This way, the marketing manager can reorganize the resources and improve the campaign results without increasing the budget.
[Vuchev]: What stage are you on right now in the competition and what is going to happen next?
[Todorova]: We applied for this competition along with around 200 other startups and SMEs in Europe. We were selected for the first step of the competition along with about 35 other companies. We had to present business and technical concepts for our product.
There were several criteria as a selection basis: business criteria, technical criteria, team evaluation, etc. We did really well on all the criteria. We had a 5.0/5.0 mark for the technical criteria, which shows that the solution that we came up with is in fact innovative.
That is how we got to the second round of the competition, which is happening now. Now, our main goal is to build the MVP of our product.
[Vuchev]: We have had people in the data analytics field as our guests, it’s a developing field in the last couple of years here. Are there enough qualified people in Bulgaria? It requires more skills than just programming or just business. There is a lot of combining different skills and previous experiences, and there surely aren’t a lot of people like that in Bulgaria. Are there qualified people?
[Gaydarska]: That is actually one of the challenges that we are facing. Despite the COVID-19 related situation, our clients are either doing well or are trying to improve their performance through data analytics.
That is why we are actively looking for people to join our team, but as you mentioned the typical profile is quite specific and the combination between the business understanding, technical knowledge, and client-facing experience is relatively hard to find. The situation is similar worldwide and it makes our hiring process significantly longer.
[Vuchev]: So it is not only in Bulgaria that there is a deficit of qualified people?
[Gaydarska]: Yes. Surely, data analytics and data science aren’t completely new fields, but the combination of the two makes it harder, as I mentioned. The team profiles that we currently have at Amplify, let’s take the Sofia office, for example, are people who used to study and/or live abroad and decided to come back to Bulgaria and have some sort of business or technical degree.
[Vuchev]: That can be a requirement to have economics/business knowledge as that’s a part of the analysis, right?
[Gaydarska]: Yes, absolutely. Very important for us is communication with the client and the ability to understand whether the client’s problem is exactly what they think it is, whether there aren’t any pre-existing challenges. Also, we try to find a solution that has an added-value for business. Meaning that it doesn’t save 5 minutes of someone’s time, but the solution actually works towards the strategic goals of the business.
[Vuchev]: When we are talking about data analytics, is it necessary for the company to be big, as big companies collect more data? Or would the types of solutions that you offer work as well for the smaller companies with less data?
[Gaydarska]: That depends. To be honest, the size of the company doesn’t matter that much. The amount of data and the structure of data are much more important for what we can do.
[Vuchev]: Looking at the longer-term as a company, besides the Data Incubator project that you are working on now, what are other initiatives that you are working on, and what types of companies do you work with?
[Gaydarska]: We currently work with relatively big companies, industry-wise it is from premium retail to heavy industry, to manufacturing. They are all very different. Our work revolves mainly around sales and marketing analytics in B2C and B2B sectors.
Generally, we would like to develop the product side of our business, which at the moment isn’t the main part of what we do. Right now, our solutions are custom, meaning they are specific to clients and their business challenges. We are trying to standardize a part of these solutions.
[Vuchev]: Besides the shortage of qualified people, which is in your opinion the biggest challenge or running this kind of business?
[Todorova]: In my personal opinion, the big challenge is the communication of results and explanation of the business application of these results. Working with clients requires a wide skillset and significant experience.
[Vuchev]: Do the client companies understand the impact that you are making for them? They can have the required database and a lot of data to work with, but they will not understand the analysis process and the results that you have found.
[Todorova]: That depends a lot. On the one hand, some clients understand very well the application of our work, the details of the technical part of the process. On the other hand, with other clients, we have to work more on explaining the applications and benefits of our solution to the client. So yes, it varies a lot.
[Vuchev]: The data analytics part is of course very important, but you also mentioned that the majority of the team consists of people who have lived abroad and came back to Bulgaria to develop the business. How would you rate the environment in Bulgaria for this type of business? Is there an interest in data analytics services in Bulgaria or do you aim for international markets that give more growth opportunities?
[Gaydarska]: This is the reason the majority of our clients are in Western Europe and the US. The need for data analytics and advanced data science there is much bigger than here. But that doesn’t mean there is no interest in data science and data analytics here. Data analytics projects are an expense, or, so to say, companies’ investments into the optimization of their processes and not a direct investment into sales.
[Vuchev]: Sales are a side effect of the analytics work, right? And maybe not a lot of companies yet understand the connection between the two?
[Gaydarska]: Yes. Also, companies understand that they would like to have data-based insights and performance-related insights before making decisions. So that the decisions are not just base on their senses or knowledge, which is of course also important, but also supported by the actual performance of the company.
[Vuchev]: Is this the business of the future? The one that is based on data and calculations to make company-wide decisions. Is this how businesses work now in general, or is it specific to some companies or sectors?
[Todorova]: Data analytics has wide applications in a variety of industries, and things continue to develop in the data-based direction. Of course, not everything is going to be automated, human element, as Sani said, and human understanding of the business domain is very important, but it will go hand-in-hand with data analytics.
[Vuchev]: Of course, that is inevitable. Looking into the future, besides the project that you are working on now, what else is happening with Amplify Analytix, and what are the next big steps for you?
[Gaydarska]: One of the steps is, we are trying to greatly expand our team. As I mentioned before, we have a variety of projects with our current and new clients, which for us is a big achievement. And the other big goal, which I also mentioned, is product development.
[Vuchev]: And hiring qualified people stays as a serious challenge for you?
[Gaydarska]: Yes, for now.
[Vuchev]: When will the results of the next round of the [European Data] Incubator will be known?
[Todorova]: The second stage of the Incubator ends mid-February. So we have a couple of months to develop the product and present it.
[Vuchev]: During this period, will you be receiving any kind of support from the project?
[Todorova]: Oh yes, absolutely. The Incubator is giving us great resources. We won € 80 000 in funding, which will cover product-related costs. Besides, there are many other benefits like getting access to the IT infrastructure, many mentors and partners who share their know-how and have different profiles like academics, business, etc., access to educational materials, webinars, and training in both business and technical approaches.
So we not only have the financial support but also a great number of resources which are very valuable for us and which will surely help us a lot to develop our product.
[Vuchev]: We will be happy for you to come and talk more about the product in February then!