Veronica Sule, founder of TIFY tells us about social media monitoring for businesses.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Veronica Sule: We are looking forward to better days. It has been hard, especially with family members with health conditions. But I think that it has given us pause in our lives to value what is important and valuable to us.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded TIFY.
Veronica Sule: I like plants, plant-based foods, and extreme sports. I was studying computer science for my bachelor’s degree when I started to see the different treatment people would get in the industry—people questioning my knowledge and skill because I look and dress a certain way. As a black queer woman, these microaggressions started to weigh on me, so I decided to try something new, marketing. So I went for a digital internship at a large experiential agency. However, I always knew that my heart lay with data and numbers. So when I began to see the gap between the spending of clients and the data and analytics during and following activation and campaigns, I was primed to build something.
I went back to uni with a new fire and motivation to build TIFY. I was lucky enough to be able to position my dissertation around the research and development of TIFY, which would, in turn, secure my first-class honors degree. But the issue here is that as a developer, you are taught that the fulfillment of requirements is the main goal and not to worry about the wider implications of deployment.
So when the Cambridge Analytica scandal happened, we were shell shocked but knew we contributed to the problem as TIFY’s AI at that time still used personal data to make its predictions. I was also studying Big Data at King’s at the time, which allowed for the academic research of data ethics and consumer regulations for implementation within TIFY.
We then became a no-data data analytic company. This in itself sounds crazy, but there is enough public data out there that doesn’t require the intrusive data mining of consumers. Another thing is that usually, these AI systems are written by a certain population, who then perpetuate biases whether unconsciously or not, e.g., apple credit cards. By ensuring that diversity is a priority within TIFY, we are ensuring that we do not further contribute to any historical or cultural biases.
How does TIFY innovate?
Veronica Sule: We are revolutionizing consumer experience, ensuring that consumer analytics and customer experience insights, as easy as a 1 click. All without compromising consumers’ privacy or ethics.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Veronica Sule: As our target customer had been small agencies, but there had been a huge reallocation of budgets on both the client-side and the agency. Therefore innovation budgets had well and truly shrunk.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Veronica Sule: Yes, we first had to have a company-wide discussion on how we planed on moving forward. It began with pay cuts to assist with cash flow. It showed that people are willing to sacrifice for something they believe in, and we had created an environment that facilitated open and honest communication. But as the pandemic continues, we, unfortunately, had to reduce the team numbers. The major lesson here is to surround yourself with people smarter than you, how have diverse thoughts. If they believe in the vision.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Veronica Sule: It became more personal, as we could understand where all the clients were coming from. The pandemic hit us all pretty hard, so we decided that instead of pushing for the clients to buy, we would create educational pieces.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Veronica Sule: No, as we hadn’t.
Your final thoughts?
Veronica Sule: The pandemic affects people and businesses differently, so comparing yourself to others does not help you or the business. I have learned that you need to put your mental health first. Burnout is a real problem, particularly in minority-owned businesses, especially at the beginning of the pandemic, where it felt like we were scrambling to ensuring that the business stays afloat.