Gabriel Hughes, founder of Metageni tells us about data analytics in machine learning.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Gabriel Hughes: A year to remember for the family – we had all the same struggles with having kids in lockdown as other families and in addition, my son had Covid over Christmas, which somehow the rest of us managed to avoid catching.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Metageni.
Gabriel Hughes: Metageni creates expert data analytics using AI to help companies grow online – to do that, we leverage first-party data for marketing and conversion optimization. Metageni was founded in 2015 by me and the CTO Amit Maheshwari, a former colleague of mine from TNS (Kantar).
For Metageni, the most important milestone in my career was as Head of Attribution at Google, particularly winning three patents for attribution technologies, but my career has ranged widely in research analytics. After an Economics PhD, my first stint in digital tech platforms was at Real Media (247) and then at TNS (Kantar), where I was Global Product Development Director. More recently, I was SVP of Analytics at Elsevier, the world’s largest science publisher, where there is some great work happening on scaled machine learning and product analytics.
The thread through all these roles has been creating data and insight stories and products. I’m pretty good at it by now and especially enjoy seeing new products come to life and make a difference.
How does Metageni innovate?
Gabriel Hughes: We innovate because we constantly face new challenges – we are too interested in getting it right for every client to churn out cookie-cutter solutions. As a tech company, we have to scale the technology platform, but as a business focused solutions company, we recognize every business is unique. To balance this, we have developed a tool kit of techniques, code, and solutions, which we adapt and combine together for each client. This means we can create actionable analytics which scales yet are adapted to the unique data and goals of each brand.
Our greatest innovations have been the development of our own customer journey data model and a unique approach to predictive journey analysis, including attribution and conversion analytics. We also optimize our machine learning using a novel optimization approach using genetic algorithms. The results are fantastic.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Gabriel Hughes: Being focused on e-commerce means we have survived and grown during the pandemic period, but we did have some initial setbacks, especially since we had a few travel sector clients who went into crisis mode in March 2020. We have had no problems working remotely, although we do miss the face-to-face collaboration. For example, we used to run workshops with clients to help brainstorm exactly what they need from our marketing analytics systems, and these sessions worked really well, but not quite so well on a zoom call. We’re looking forward to doing these around a real whiteboard once again when the time comes.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Gabriel Hughes: The hardest choices have been around our team. A couple of our employees have families outside of the UK and wanted to get back to them when the crises broke, and we made the right choice in letting them travel back before borders closed – they have all remained focused and hard-working even though they are now based abroad. We also had to hire new members on the basis of purely online interviews. The lesson is to trust in your team and make sure to talk regularly. So far, it worked OK, but it is definitely harder to collaborate on new ideas when everyone is working remotely.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Gabriel Hughes: We use the Google docs suite for online collaboration plus Slack and Trello for communication and project management – these all work well together. All client meetings have recorded notes. Using different formats and group sizes for communication keeps everyone motivated and on the same page.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Gabriel Hughes: We have a range of competitors depending on which part of the customer journey puzzle we are solving. Attribution in particular now has a large number of firms claiming solutions. We have a well-differentiated offer in terms of better accuracy, greater transparency, and our solutions are adapted to each brand which means they have greater demonstrable impacts. Also, by focussing on first-party data, we have found ourselves on the right side of history.
We are going to keep pushing to enhance the tech platform, particularly conversion analytics, where the development of an API will allow us to generate real-time ‘next best action’ interventions for each and every customer.
Your final thoughts?
Gabriel Hughes: We all know covid has changed the way we live and work, but will it change the way we think? My hope is that respect for evidence-based decision-making will increase as people see how following science has been the key to getting through this. The data never speaks for itself – we need data stories that reflect a real understanding of the facts.