In an interview with Martina Said, for Digital Island 2021, I speak about the venture capital community in Malta, the critical nature of focus and adapting to COVID-driven economic slumps. We end with a short discussion about the elusive character of success.
Tell us about EBO’s main business
EBO is a leader in customer engagement automation. We help enterprises build the right communication experiences through AI powered Virtual Agents. Our Virtual Agents allow businesses to offer true human-like interaction across multiple languages and messaging channels. We are transforming customer experience in the Healthcare, Financial Services and iGaming industries.
Why did you set up a base in Malta?
EBO’s team is spread over four territories UK, US, Armenia and Malta however we call Malta our home. We have found a strong pool of skills here and an excellent work ethic. Nevertheless, we believe in diversity and so have built a multi-ethnic team which reflects the diversity and aspirations of our own client base.
What challenges have you found locally along the way?
The Venture Capital community in Malta is not as developed as Northern Europe or the US and so, the faster maturation and greater innovation of early-stage firms is limited. Subsequently the vibrant tech ecosystem which is palpable in East London (known as the Silicon Roundabout) or the US (Silicon Valley) is largely absent here. This creates a lacuna of mentors, innovators, researchers and entrepreneurs.
Many companies have shifted to your service, why do you think this is?
I like to tell my team to focus on things which are ‘an inch wide yet a mile deep’. This strategy is all about finding your niche; that one focus area that is going to yield the best results. The fastest growing and most profitable businesses tend to position themselves as niche specialists. EBO is extremely disciplined in selecting the business pain points it should solve. Our data science skills are advanced but more importantly than technical prowess, we deeply care about the solutions we sell and this motivates our customers to partner with us.
How have you adapted to COVID?
The twin public-health and economic crises are driving changes in consumer behaviour that could have long-lasting effects in our society. EBO adapted to the evolving needs of the market. Firstly, we created a dedicated AI toolset for the National Health Service in the UK to help address the growing public dialogue about COVID – this is now a Microsoft AI showcase product. Next we changed our business model to allow for a more distributed and low-risk payment model to allow more favourable terms to our customers. Lastly and perhaps most importantly we focused on empathy: understanding the concerns of the markets we serve and addressing these with renewed commitment and dedication.
What are the current technical challenges faced by your service?
Technical challenges are generally surmountable. The real challenge is change. Well actually change is not the problem, resistance to change is. EBO doesn’t merely sell AI technology, it provides a promise around change, or deep organisational transformation. Therefore, the current challenge is understanding the most common reasons companies object to change and therefore resist the adoption of our technology. Once we create the culture of trust and understanding, the challenges fades away.
Are you able to find the right skilled employees to drive the business forward? Or do you train up tech people in-house?
As the old adage goes, the smartest people always work for someone else. Thus, we are constantly investing to attract the right talent towards EBO. However, people don’t work for a company, they work for a leader. This puts renewed focus on the importance of sound leadership principles. Having a positive mentality supported by boundless energy, and excellent communication skills are generally precursors to good leadership at any level.
With that in place, finding the right team members is easier. However, we also believe in wide collaboration, so we have setup an excellent layer of associates from New York to New Delhi which bring in the right skills at the right time. Gone are the days of employment. We live in the age of smart collaboration and continuous professional development.
The market is steadily picking up pace locally with others cropping up, what makes you stand out from your competitors? How do you keep up with advances in technology?
Many start-ups focus on the wrong things before finding the coveted ‘product-market fit’. They waste time talking about the company they want to build and endless PowerPoint decks representing that. Instead, focus should be on building the product that will gain product-market fit and sell easily. This vision supports the company that should scale in the future. Once you have that, you build a sustainable path around the vision.
EBO stands out because it has had deep focus on its product and a close understanding of the markets it serves. It keeps at the front of its game by working closely with technology partners that provide the necessary structure for rapid innovation.
What feedback have you been getting for your service?
EBO’s solution is interoperable – it integrates well with existing platforms in the industry, making the roll-out painless. Most IT projects are still too complex for today’s fast-moving world. CTOs rarely have capacity to deliver all the projects necessary for the business so receiving feedback about the simplicity to adopt EBO is always a welcome success metric.
The second reaction we often get is that EBO solves real problems for real companies. Companies buy EBO to automate tasks in customer engagement when alternative options are either too complex, too costly or just too analogue. This approach allows us to strategically align our own company’s development with real-world needs. We call this good product leadership.
What plans do you have for the future?
EBO’s value proposition is constantly evolving. Our most exciting future plan is to see the product changing to meet the market needs over time, in turn allowing us to meet new and larger needs – thus capturing new and more sophisticated markets. As long as we measure success carefully and maintain discipline inexecution, we’ll keep increasing our enterprise value significantly.
However, success is elusive – it is not a mere liquidity event, or an exit point. It’s a series of unfolding opportunities through which we discover ourselves as solution providers. It’s about building a company that has dignity and meaning to the people that work in it or buy from it. It’s about mentoring others along the path. EBO’s plans are to become an ever more resilient organisation to face the challenges that the market presents while wielding the power of AI as a social good.