We talked to Andrew Marritt, CEO and Founder of OrganizationView, an AI-enabled service provider, and he had the following to say:-
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Andrew Marritt: We’re doing well. It’s been a stressful year, but so many people have a harder time than we have. Our business is based in St. Moritz in Switzerland, and we live and work here. There are many, many worse places to be in ‘lockdown.’
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded OrganizationView.
Andrew Marritt: I founded this business as one of the first People Analytics practices in Europe. I had been working in senior roles in global HR organizations after an early career in management consultancy and had realized that the datafication that I had seen in marketing would sooner-or-later happen in HR, so I started a firm to shape that move. We’ve moved towards focusing on the analysis of employee text feedback about 5 years ago.
How does OrganizationView innovate?
Andrew Marritt: We’re an AI-enabled service provider. Our clients are very large firms, technology providers, and consultancies, but all have the same problem – they have large volumes of text data – usually employee feedback – and they want to generate insight that can drive decisions quickly, instead of trying to build a solution themselves we plug-in to their teams to provide this capability. We can often build them a custom, business-specific model within 24 hours.
Our belief is that that the best solutions are designed for AI and humans to collaborate – so-called ‘human in the loop.’ We also believe that the key issue in many AI solutions is high-quality training data, so we have domain experts curating and managing this asset.
We’ve always been funded by revenue which I think can be an advantage as we have to be really responsive to client demands. In terms of innovation, our funding model has enabled us to develop the service in a way that is closely driven by client demands, free from the pressure of following a VC-playbook. I’m not convinced AI businesses fit the software business model.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Andrew Marritt: It’s probably been the best thing that has happened to us. Workforce issues have risen to an executive level, and with this, interest in what we deliver and spend has increased. Many of our clients want to know how to understand how to navigate the challenges of working from home and returning to the office. Through our analysis of their data, they can segment their audiences based on needs, measure the changes, and spot opportunities.
At the same time, in 2020, quite a few of our large clients were impacted by the #BlackLivesMatter movements and the related focus on inclusion. The best firms have been listening to their workforces, acting on their suggestions, and in many instances, we’ve been helping them do this.
Our big challenge at the moment is resourcing and building the team. If we had the capacity, I know we could be building revenue quite dramatically.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Andrew Marritt: As a revenue-funded business, at the beginning of the crisis, we didn’t know what would happen, so we pulled back. We were working with some brilliant freelancers – mostly digital nomads – and of course, with less work going their way, some found other roles. I wish we could have kept these people.
What we did a year ago was to increase investment in R&D and our service. The early quiet period enabled us to spend time on the development of the business and the technology tools that we’ve developed for the curation of training data. In hindsight, this was the right decision. I see it with some of the other local businesses. Those that have thrived were those who made investments to improve. Those who worried and cut back too hard have often struggled.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Andrew Marritt: We’ve always been a remote-based organization, so there has been no real need to adapt. Within the team, we use Slack to communicate, which I keep just for inter-team communications, so if it’s important if I get a notification and I don’t get much noise. Apart from that, we use Google tech for internal use and Adobe products for client work.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Andrew Marritt: Our biggest competitor is doing nothing, which for analyzing text has always been the status-quo. We have several of the big survey technologies which are either recommending our solution to their clients or where we’re working to integrate our solution to extend the functionality of theirs. We have a very tightly-defined niche.
The key to our success is our curated training data. As we grow and do more work, so does this asset. We use this and aggressive but fair pricing to defend our market position.
Your final thoughts?
Andrew Marritt: I left university in the downturn of the early 90s. I was working in a technology-based business during the dot-com crash and got out of banking the week Lehmans went under. I think that the experience of working through earlier downs as well as the ups is an advantage. What all those times taught me is that downturns aren’t equally distributed. It’s possible to create winners during these times.
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