It all came about when I chanced upon the blog post of a LinkedIn connection. Robin had written one about his recent six-month journey, and I felt it was an honest and authentic post.
I reached out to him to express that and offered to meet him in person over coffee. We had never met before that.
We hit it off pretty well. Robin got to know about the interviews I do on my blog and suggested that I interview Raphael Bouzy, CEO of Datarama.
Without LinkedIn technology, all this wouldn’t have happened.
Datarama is leveraging technology in its own way to make significant advancements in the due diligence space.
Here’s my interview with Raphael Bouzy:
1. Please share a bit about what you do.
I am the co-founder and CEO of Datarama. It started just after SG50 with three people and we now have close to 20.
Datarama is the one-stop information source for sophisticated risk-profiling and due diligence in emerging markets.
Our platform combines advanced data mining and artificial intelligence with human analysis to streamline the traditional risk-consulting model, making risk assessments cheaper and faster.
We specialise in providing information on private companies in China and South-east Asia and plan to expand rapidly to other markets.
Using the Datarama platform, users can assess the reputations of Asia’s businesspeople, explore their vast corporate and political networks and gather the intelligence they need to conduct investigations and identify investment opportunities.
The core of the Datarama platform is our unique and ever-evolving mapping tool. It mines thousands of sources, covering more than a million entities to reveal ultimate beneficiary ownership, commercial links, political relationships and legal conflicts, then displays them in stunning interactive simplicity.
We have about 4 million entities in the database currently: 1 million companies and 3 million individuals.
2. What were you doing before starting this business?
I started my career in London with LSE-listed financial publisher Euromoney, where I was exposed to the content elaboration and sales process of the group’s various products.
After moving to Hong Kong, I was recruited by regional trade association Asia Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (ASIFMA) and contributed to the organisation’s advocacy effort to develop the securitisation market in Asia.
Following the collapse of the international capital market in 2008, my position evolved into a crisis-management role as ASIFMA acted as a buffer between international financial institutions and local Asian regulators.
In 2010, I moved away from the financial industry and joined international risk consultancy Control Risks as a senior member of the business intelligence team in South-east Asia.
In this role, I oversaw over 200 due diligence and business intelligence projects in a whole range of industries and jurisdictions.
I established a strong network of contacts that allows me to obtain first-hand information on virtually any company in Asia.
3. How did the idea for your business come about?
The limitations of traditional risk consultancies soon became evident in the face of new compliance requirements from MNCs and international financial institutions.
Bespoke investigations are simply not a sustainable solution for organisations that need to monitor hundreds of stakeholders.
The nudge came when a client came to us and asked for a project Control Risks had done in the previous 18 months. But because of the way things were organised, and because the consultant who worked on that project had left the company, we couldn’t find the records.
Having identified a gap in the market, I left Control Risks to start Datarama with the objective of creating a platform based on quality research, objectivity and innovation.
4. What sacrifices have you had to make to be a successful entrepreneur?
It would be that I get to spend less time with my two young kids and my wife.
Given the time commitment, I don’t get to see them as much as I would like.
5. How did you get funded?
I have been pretty fortunate because I managed to find great investors from the very beginning. The project was born with their contribution.
It is an investment bank primarily managed by two senior partners. One used to work for Goldman Sachs, and the other is a very prominent banker in Asia.
I did a bit of work with them back in Control Risk and developed a social relationship with one of them
We went on to become good friends.
I presented the idea to them, and they were keen, and things took off very quickly. Once the product is launched in October, we will look for Series-A funding.
6. How do you go about marketing your business?
For our business, there are two types of customers: we call them shoppers and checkers.
Shoppers are investors. The big MNCs, investment banks, PE firms and hedge funds.
Because they are going to invest a few hundred million dollars, they need to make sure that the investees or partners won’t give them any nasty surprises down the road.
Checkers are compliance people. They usually look at the third-party relationships of existing clients and suppliers.
Currently TC Capital is introducing to us shoppers from Singapore, Hong Kong and Tokyo.
Our Head of Customer Success Robin Lee helps us find the checkers.
7. Describe/outline your typical work day?
I wake up around 7:30 am – 8:00 am to play with my two young kids for about an hour before heading to the office.
This is if I’m in Singapore. Our development team is based in the UK, so I go there every six weeks for about ten days each time.
Most of my days are filled with meetings after meetings. I barely even have time to be in front of the computer.
If I’m in Singapore, the 2nd part of my day starts in the evening, when the UK wakes up.
We use Slack a lot to facilitate communication with the team there.
8. What has been your proudest moment in the history of your business and why?
I would say it is the team that was put together. One thing I like about the entrepreneurial life is that I have the ability to work with the people I pick.
And I get involved in every single hire, except one, because I was travelling then.
9. What was the lowest point for you in this business?
On a recent business development trip with Robin to Hong Kong, we met with one of the largest PE firms in the world. It was the first time we were doing a demo of the product so it felt pretty scary.
The client was initially very friendly until 25 minutes in, then the meeting was stopped and within two minutes we had to wrap up.
I was devastated. When it is your company, it is just like your baby and I took it personally.
It taught me that I need to build a thicker skin.
Fortunately, the devastation didn’t last long as the client called five days later and expressed their interest in coming on board.
10. Who has influenced you most when it comes to how you approach your work?
It has to be my investors.
They are also like my mentors. Whenever I have doubts or problems, they are the ones I turn to for guidance and advice.
11. If you could go back in time to speak to your 20-year-old self, what would you tell him?
I would say to start this business earlier. Even though I never set out to become an entrepreneur, I did wonder why I didn’t start earlier now that I have had a taste of it.
12. What’s the worst piece of advice you ever got?
Don’t start a business.
13. What’s your business focus for this year?
To launch the product (in October) and start generating revenue.
That will allow us to kick-start our aggressive five-year plan and expand the team to cover other parts of Asia, Africa and South America.
14. What’s a productivity tip you swear by?
Write down everything, every time.
It was something I wanted to do but never did until I started Datarama.
I have lots of ideas all the time, but I can’t remember them. Writing them down helps me to remember.
When I look back, I can see what is good (which I will keep) and what is bad.
Keen to learn more about Raphael?