Interview with Dhruv Ghulati, Founder and CEO, Factmata

Dhruv Ghulati
Dhruv Ghulati

“We need to clean up the ecosystem so that consumers want to engage with online content and can easily find trustworthy content.”

Tell us about your role at Factmata and how you got here. What inspired you to start the company?

I’m the Co-Founder of Factmata, an artificial intelligence startup solving the problem of factual misinformation on the internet. I like open information, transparency, the future of the web, artificial intelligence and building highly technical data products.

I started my career as an investment banker, then transitioned to a product manager role at a startup working on machine intelligence for web data. In 2015 I co-founded my first company, weave.ai and went through the Techstars business accelerator programme. After that, I was inspired to go back to university and study for a Masters degree in Computer Science. Immediately after completing my degree I was selected to join the 7th Cohort of Europe’s top accelerator, Entrepreneur First, which specializes in building deep technology companies from scratch.

Each stage of my career contributed to my belief that artificial intelligence (AI) will be the great general-purpose technological advance of our time. In November 2016, fake news was starting to become a problem and I could see the potential to use AI to solve the problems it was causing for any brand seeking to build real trust with customers and readers on the internet – Factmata was born in December that year.

What’s the most fascinating aspect of leading a tech-based media innovation company?

For me, the most fascinating parts have been what I have learned about myself. Luckily, from my investment banking years, I already knew that I was able to put in long hours and from my Masters degree I knew I could be innovative and solve problems with technology.

What leading a startup tech company has brought me is a deep understanding of how I can enable others, and pass on the joy you get from building something truly ambitious and challenging with a strong mission

The other thing that I have found wonderful is how supportive and open the investment community can be if you have a good idea. Typically, when someone invests in a startup they either know the founders or have had a “warm intro” to them. When I sought investment for Factmata I drew up a list of the people I most wanted onboard, people with varied experience who would each bring something different to the business. One of those people was Mark Cuban. I didn’t know him and I didn’t know anyone who did – so I emailed him and can now proudly say that he’s one of our founding investors.

Is machine learning the ubiquitous technology for every media company?

There’s no doubt that machine learning is spurring the media industry forward but it’s not the answer for every business. Machine learning has three main purposes: automating back-end processes, mining data, and understanding human behavior. All of these are important to media companies but whether or not machine learning can help a media company depends on their current set up and processes.

In order to evaluate whether a business is ready to embrace machine learning you need to look at whether you have the right people in place to implement and use the technology, what time and cost savings you will derive from the technology and understand what you want to get from the technology.

The reason machine learning works for many media companies is that they typically have tech-savvy staff who are used to integrating technology e.g. customer relationship management (CRM) platforms and data management platforms (DMP)s, and their business goal is to reduce the costs of running accounts. This aligns well with the benefits machine learning can bring to a business.

What is clear is that machine learning is going to be soon not just a differentiator but a must have technology for every business to be thinking about the business process optimization side of things. Where it still is a unique selling point today is in customer understanding – truly getting a sense of why your customers or users do something and what they really want from you.

Why is Fake News the biggest disruption for media companies?

Fake news is a huge problem because when a brand’s ad is displayed alongside junk content or fake news, consumers lose trust in the brand. When a brand crafts an advert with an inauthentic, biased message, consumers lose faith. If the brand produces content marketing that is not fact checked or well researched, it will suffer in the long run. Another issue with fake news is that it’s not a problem that can be solved overnight because of the volume of content that is created and shared online every day. Currently, it’s impossible to sift through all the junk that is out there at a rate that is sufficient to stop ads appearing against misinformation. As well as this, there is no right or wrong answer to Fake News, as it is sometimes subjective. The best that a machine learning algorithm can do is be built in an unbiased, effective, and explainable, interpretable manner.

Content producers largely rely on ads to generate revenue and there are some that will go to great lengths to increase the number of ads they can show a day in order to maximize revenue. On the whole content producers are good, they want to create good content that people want to read and they employ highly trained journalists to produce great, credible, accurate content. However, there are some people out there who don’t care about the accuracy or credibility of their content and these are the ones that spoil it for everyone else.

All of this has contributed to a waning of trust in the media industry which is the problem we have to solve – we need to clean up the ecosystem so that consumers want to engage with online content and can easily find trustworthy content. This will increase brands’ trust in online advertising as a way to engage their target audience in a safe, relevant environment where ultimately the most attractive customers from a viewability, purchasing power perspective actually reside

How can marketing teams leverage authentic Influencers as the ‘focus group’ for branding and social media promotions?

Any marketing campaign must start with knowing who your customers are and understanding their behavior. If you can establish that your customers use social media and are engaging with influencers you can look at building a campaign. The goal of any influencer campaign should be to develop your brand image, raise awareness of your products or services and drive sales.

One mistake brands often make is to try to work with influencers who have the greatest number of followers. The problem with this is that your target audience is likely to be a small percentage of those followers and you run the risk of seeing huge reach but low returns. In many cases, the best thing to do is to seek out niche influencers for specific use cases. The future of cult follower building is going to be about what Chris Messina calls “relationship design”, or the ability to have one on one, real talk customers with your real users across multiple platforms all at once.

Identifying influencers with a strong passion shared by their audience and whose values fit squarely with your brand is key. To do so, check their content, their network, their statistics and their audience demographics. An integrated solution like Lefty can provide you with this information

Tell us about the core tenets driving your company goals in a tech-heavy ecosystem?

Factmata is a group of entrepreneurs trying to solve a challenging problem with an amazing mission.

Our goal is to provide media buyers with a way to decide whether a particular website is the right place for them to show their ads.

We’re not in the business of trying to remove content or remove opinion from the internet. We’re here to flag potentially sensitive or biased content by providing brands and media agencies with a quality score which indicates the likelihood that a page contains misinformation. Media buyers can then use that score to decide whether they want to take the risk of advertising on that site or not.

We want to solve this problem in a scalable way and the only way to do that is via artificial intelligence and automation. Furthermore, we will remain outside the media or fact checking world so our technology can operate in a fully independent way. Another key component is the way our platform is built – using feedback and third party annotation provided by expert journalists, rather than our own potentially biased instruction. We call this community-driven explainable AI.

Given the changing dynamic of social media intelligence and audience analytics, where do you see Factmata fitting into a CMO’s tech stack?

Right now, Factmata’s core use case is going to be to help CMOs in the contextual brand safety space i.e. preventing placements of ads on low-quality content that harms reputation e.g. fake news, misinformation, sexism, controversy and hyperpartisan content. However, later down the road, we want to be more proactive with CMOs, to help them take stands proactively on subjective issues. For example, we are developing tech to allow brands to positively target pages which are pro-gun control, or against issues like nuclear warfare.

What are your thoughts on the future of ‘AR/VR/Video’ cloud marketing in 2018-2022?

Augmented reality and virtual reality are really interesting areas at the moment because we’re starting to see real-life use cases that go beyond being gimmicky. Only time will tell how widespread AR and VR become because at the end of the day it depends on user adoption. If consumers do not embrace the technology as a way to engage with brands then the advertising budgets won’t shift in that direction.

I think we will see more brands starting to experiment with AR and VR over the next few years, retail, automotive and travel brands are the likely contenders as their products are typically aspirational rather than transactional and long-term brand awareness plays a huge role in their marketing.

What startups in the technology industry are you watching keenly right now?

Fact-checking and fake news are hot topics right now, and a number of startups have emerged in these areas. Some companies appear to have similar ideas and are using AI, while others have gone down the blockchain route. Not all are our competitors, and we reach out a lot to those we think we might want to collaborate with.

We also keep an eye on startups developing technology that may help us develop and grow our own company. I am particularly interested in startups developing decentralised versions of existing successful consumer models, i.e. tokenized economies. For example, there are companies doing this in insurance, retail, travel and more. I like the idea that you raise investment from your users. They fund your development, and if it doesn’t go well, they don’t do well but they have split their risk with other users too. It seems a lot fairer because the incentives are aligned fully on product development rather than on other things like hype, reputation, ability to fundraise and have good contacts etc. I see less of the potential of chatbots than I did before and search, but am actively also looking at startups disrupting healthcare, in particular women’s health. The market for products fully focused on women is huge and very untapped.

What marketing and sales automation tools and technologies do you currently use?

We work with Streak to help us manage our sales pipeline. It’s a very quick and easy tool to customize the columns that we want to measure success against. It’s connected directly within our email system so we can see the current status and notes.  We can also output sales reports that are shared with the management team on our progress through the sales stages.

For marketing, we use a range of tools and databases, such as Meltwater,  to help us identify influencers and audiences talking about fake news and misinformation. We also use social media management tools such as Hootsuite to manage our various channels, including Twitter to Facebook.

Could you tell us about an outstanding digital campaign/ customer success story at Factmata?

We’re still in the beta testing phase with our early adopters so I can’t name any of our customers as they may be working with our competitors! Our beta phase has gone very well though, for example, we’ve successfully identified misinformation online that other technologies have failed to find. We’re confident that we’ve already helped our clients avoid brand safety scandals because we’ve seen the pages online where their ads would have appeared using their existing technology partners.

One recently quite successful digital campaign for us was on our B2C side, with our news platform briefr.cc. We have managed to grow our waiting list for the product substantially using referral techniques on a dedicated landing page, as well as subscriptions to unique news and journalist related newsletters which have had email open hit rates of 10-15% compared to the industry average of 3%.

How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a business leader?

Factmata is an AI technology, so you could say I’ve been preparing for years! The advice I would give to others is never to lose sight of your business goals; all businesses need to embrace change but if AI steers the business away from its core purpose you run the risk of failure.

AI capabilities are expanding rapidly and have the power to revolutionize how many businesses operate. With AI you can do things faster, better and cheaper which is exciting for any business leader. However, it’s of utmost importance to fully evaluate where AI can fit into your business model. For example, if you run online advertising campaigns, it’s obvious that AI can improve the efficiency of your media buying by analyzing data in real time and optimizing where you buy ads and how much you pay for them. With other types of AI, it can be harder to understand where they will drive business improvements.

It’s also really important to talk to other people in similar situations and learn from what they have done (or not done). AI is a complicated ecosystem with many potential pitfalls if you get it wrong. Talk to specialists, research success stories and failure in AI and go to events that showcase AI technology and best practices.

If you decide that AI can improve your products or services then embrace it as long as it doesn’t harm your business values.

How do you inspire your people to work with technology?

Factmata is an advanced natural language understanding business so the people who tend to want to come and work with us are typically pretty technical, to begin with. Then there’s the fact that we’re a startup so everyone who works at Factmata is very driven to work as effectively as possible to accelerate the growth of the business.

We’re so lucky that there are so many technologies that enable people to do more with less time and the people at Factmata have been quick to adopt various collaboration tools. I actively encourage my team to always find ways of making their lives more productive and testing new tools all the time for admin they do. However, people have to do what works best for them. If someone is more comfortable writing their daily ‘to do’ list on paper I’m not going to stop them if it works for them. If I see someone struggling with something that I believe can be automated, I’ll show them how to use the technology but I won’t force them to change. You’ve got to let people be individuals.

One word that best describes how you work.

Scientifically.

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?

Slack is brilliant for cutting down on emails and communicating with everyone in your team quickly. You can share documents and easily comment without getting lost in email chains.

I also use ToDoIst for my lists because of its amazing cross-platform functionality across all operating systems and web too, as well as even a Chrome app version. Other examples are Streak, Airtable, Revolut, momondo (for flights), Citymapper, Grip (for conferences) and Evernote.

What’s your smartest work related shortcut or productivity hack?

I wouldn’t call it a hack, but I think it’s important to set aside a block of time each day for deep work. There is so much going on and it’s easy to get distracted, but you need to be able to focus and think about your daily and longer-term goals. I prefer to do this in the mornings.

The other two tips I would recommend is using Franz, which puts your FB messages, and multiple Slack workspaces all in one desktop app, and most importantly calendly for scheduling. Calendly itself saves me at least 3 hours of thinking time a week, easily.

What are you currently reading?

I am reading Sapiens at the moment. It is incredible. I’ve used it in several talks I’ve given because what it talks about regarding human society and how we congregated as hunter gatherers vs. farmers relates a lot to Facebook and how we think about social media filter bubbles.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Don’t think about what you want to be, but what you want to do. It prevents you from being a poser, and being always objective in building a product or creating things rather than talking about it.

Something you do better than others – the secret of your success?

I don’t like to think I do anything better than anyone else, or if I do, it’s because we can’t all be good at everything. If I had to pick one thing out of all the factors that have contributed to my success I would say it’s self-belief. You’ve got to be your biggest believer because there will be times when you will feel alone as an entrepreneur and those are the times when self-belief will push you to do things you might not achieve otherwise.

Tag the one person from the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read:

Keith Weed at Unilever

Thank you, Dhruv! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.

Dhruv is the Co-Founder of Factmata, an artificial intelligence startup solving the problem of factual misinformation on the internet. He likes open information, transparency, the future of the web, artificial intelligence and building highly technical data products.

Factmata

We are a London based startup developing cutting-edge community-driven AI Brand Safety solution for advertisers. Our goal is to reduce online misinformation & abusive content from the internet.

The MTS Martech Interview Series is a fun Q&A style chat which we really enjoy doing with martech leaders. With inspiration from Lifehacker’s How I work interviews, the MarTech Series Interviews follows a two part format On Marketing Technology, and This Is How I Work. The format was chosen because when we decided to start an interview series with the biggest and brightest minds in martech – we wanted to get insight into two areas … one – their ideas on marketing tech and two – insights into the philosophy and methods that make these leaders tick.

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