We catch up with Arshia Gratiot, Director of Technology Applications at Third Space Auto – one of the ten Discovering Start-Ups Competition finalists, pictured above.
Are you finding it tricky to recruit talent?
We are an early-stage startup so we don’t have deep pockets. This means that our choice of talent is often relegated to fresh graduates and / or interns which is great because one of our core principles is to train, mentor and give graduates and talented individuals a leg up. But even in this case the people who do come on board have to also pay their bills so often times are working second jobs so can’t be expected to give 110% which is what is necessary at this stage. Often times we need experienced people who can help guide and shape the product as we don’t have the liberty of time but we can’t afford them. Its tricky because investors base their decisions to go with you or not (at least at this stage) on the quality of the team so getting the right people on.board is critical. When we can’t afford them it does feel like we’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. The other challenge has been in recruiting qualified talent for our needs as they are very specialised. We need software engineers in the areas of machine learning and automotive software development. It’s been hard because we are competing with the likes of Jaguar Land Rover, Delphi etc for automotive engineering talent and Entrepreneur first and Google for machine learning developers. Far and few in London and beyond. It’s been an a combination of leading through personality and luck that we were able to find the right development team, based in Romania and ex-collegues who have been advising us along the way.
Tell us about your product/service – what was the need you saw?
Our product started off as one thing and has evolved into something quite different and that’s the nature of the startup beast. It’s about learning and course correcting asap. Our North Star has remained constant, and that’s to make the in-vehicle experience as seamless and convenient as possible in order to ensure that drivers keep their eyes on the road and hand’s on the wheel. We’re creating a personal assistant for the car that uses voice – natural language – to interact with the driver. As of now, It is a smartphone app which connects into the automobile IVI system and taps into an ecosystem of services (notice I didn’t say apps) both reactively and proactively in order to help drivers get things done. We are platform agnostic, backward compatible (so are not restricted to brand new or high-end vehicles). The assistant acts as a front end to our cloud-based machine learning and recommendations platform that learns from the driver in order to respond to her based on her context, location, calendar, choice of music etc. The user experience is central to what we do as that’s what’s going to incentivise the driver to use our personal assistant – this means that the natural language recognition software we use is best in class, we respect the fine line between being irritating and useful, the system always responds politely, doesn’t cut in when the driver is talking etc. The more information we collect the better our quality of recommendations. Our choice of ecosystem partners is also based on their ability to customise their offering to the needs of the driver. We’re constantly scouting for start-ups like ours who have the ability to act fast and think out of the box. It becomes a virtuous circle that pushes the envelope for innovation and that’s what cannot be replicated by large enterprises.
What technology innovations do you expect to see unfold going into 2017?
There’s going to be a lot more machine learning baked into everyday products. The proliferation in sensors, cheaper computing power and greater ubiquity and accessibility of connectivity – 4/5G networks, cost of data plans etc. are the reason. I think there is a much greater understanding across the board for the need for open source code . So much so that traditional industries like automotive are also coming on board as are traditional walled garden players like Microsoft. Digital transformation is the norm as opposed to the exception, and in every industry. There are development kits for everything these days so anyone can build software which is why we are going to see some pretty amazing products and services. I can’t wait
Share a key lesson you have learnt over the last year?
You really have to put yourself out there, you need to leave your inhibitions by the way side. I never turn down an opportunity to meet people, to pitch my company, to network…I’ve become a star hustler. People have been constantly surprising me and in a good way. I’ve got some amazing leads from people I least expected.
What’s your tip to stay informed about your industry?
Read , read and read some more. Network like your life depends on it. Even though it costs an arm and a leg to go for industry specific conferences, it’s worth it because what you learn there is worth ever penny.
How would you describe life in a start-up ?
Absolutely amazing. I’ve worked in large companies my whole life and nothing comes close to the way i feel today. It’s what gets me out of bed in the morning. As cliched as it sounds, I obsess about what I do. I have two kids and in spite of that, I’m never tired enough to shut down.
I love that I am not beholden to someone’s definition of my success. My company is my vision and my direction. I love the fact that i have people working with me because they believe in me, my vision and my direction. I train them, I motivate them and I am their biggest cheerleader and their success is my success. I never turn down an opportunity to learn and while the learning curve has been incredibly steep its also become a way of life now. I could go on and on…but I will end by saying that the cherry on the cake is that I don’t have to worry about what I write in my LinkedIn profile or focus on keywords because that’s what recruiters will need for me to show up on their searches. I don’t have to worry about call backs. It’s absolutely exhilarating and empowering.
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