Couch Session 3: The Future is AI
Welcome to our third #LifeAtNEXT Couch Session where NextAI members James Worthington (Co-founder & CEO of Valsys LTD.) and Veronica Malinski (Co-founder & CMO of Aerialytic) discuss their entrepreneurship journeys & how artificial intelligence impacts their respective industries.
You can find the chat linked above in both video and audio formats or you can catch the highlights below.
How did you land on your idea?
James Worthington (JW): I was an investment banking summer analyst and was introduced to company valuation at that time. The problem that presented itself was private company valuation and how difficult the process was. I went back to university to do my masters and had no idea what I was going to do next. After my exams this idea came to me. I thought well since the whole point of having a stock market - in terms of getting the correct price - is that supply and demand is driving fair market value, why don’t you replace that for private companies by using an algorithm? I didn’t know at that time that I would be advocating an AI based solution to the problem, but I kind of got there eventually.
Veronica Malinski (VM): I always wanted to do something with tangible impact and was fortunate enough to work for some really great companies such as NRG Home Solar. I was always taking on projects that were not necessarily my responsibility, but I felt would really impact the organization as a whole and tried to get senior level management involved in them. But, I never felt as though I could be in the front seat when it came to driving tangible change so for me becoming an entrepreneur was getting into that front seat and having the control to drive tangible change and really create impact. Nearly two years later, my co-founders and I have been running Aerilytic and it’s been incredible.
How are you using AI to develop a solution for your customers?
VM: At Aerialytic, we are using AI to instantly tell homeowners what their financial and environmental returns are. We’re also showing homeowners what their home looks like with solar panels using augmented reality to avoid any unwanted surprises.
JW: At Valsys, we are using machine learning for private company valuation. We’re trying to match financial fundamental data of companies by feeding our algorithms so that clients receive their company’s financial data and their valuation figure. During this process, the algorithms learn how those financial fundamentals actually relate to the value of the company. Essentially what we have built is the virtual version of the public and private equity market.
What was your aha moment?
JW: I went back to London, UK to pitch at a demo day and I afterwards went for the first time to meet with a private equity firm. What he said straight away was, ‘this is odd because it is almost exactly what we’re looking for. I went to my CEO a couple of weeks ago and said that we need to look for something that does this and you’ve basically just shown it to me’. I sat there and thought, oh thank God!
VM: Our story is very similar. Our biggest thing is when we speak to senior leaders and the first thing that they ask is, ‘when are you launching?’ That to us is such strong validation to know that we are on the right track. And to see senior leaders within the industry who understand the power of our technology and what it can do for the solar residential ecosystem while really being curious and showing interest in what we are doing is a constant validation.
What has been your greatest startup challenge?
JW: A main challenge was initially not having a massive network of corporate finance companies that we could show the product to. I knew people in the industry and I had friends who had gone into the industry, but many entrepreneurs who start a tech company have 10 years of experience and have a huge network and we were at a disadvantage to that. For a long time we messaged people on Linkedin and got one response out of 10 so that was really tough.
That’s been mitigated a lot now, first because we got into a legal incubator in the UK with one of the biggest corporate finance firms in London. They connected us with a lot of corporate finance firms which was really helpful in gaining validation. And then since we’ve come to Canada, NEXT Canada has been incredible in introducing us to tons of well connected people in the finance industry.
VM: The biggest thing for me has been work-life balance. There’s two things in the last two years that I have been focusing on that have helped me with that. The first thing is priorities. At NEXT Canada’s Women’s event, Next 36 alumni, Anna Hu from Brizi said, ‘Identify the noise.’ I think that we can all agree that we come in and there’s so much to do. But ask yourself, what is crucial for you to complete and help you achieve your goal and what is true noise. One tactic I have implemented in both my personal and career life is taking 5 seconds before starting any task and saying, ‘is this aligned with what we need to do? If it’s not then put it on the back burner.’
Another thing I have been working on is letting fires burn. It sounds silly but a friend of mine recommended the podcast Masters of Scale by Reid Hoffman. The CEO highlights that a good founder is able to identify what is crucial to address right now and what can burn.
How has the Canadian AI ecosystem benefited you?
JW: A lot of people ask us why we left London to build a fin-tech startup. A massive answer to that is the Canadian AI ecosystem. A program like NextAI doesn’t exist throughout the world. I heard about it listening to a podcast with Professor Graham Taylor, and by the end of that podcast I thought we have to apply to this. The support we have gotten from professors and our data scientist in residence Terrance DeVries has been so helpful.
VM: I would say Canada is the birthplace of neural-networks and because of that we are fortunate to have this amazing plethora of scientific and business resources where we are supported by scientists in residence.
What are 1–2 things every entrepreneur should do to be successful?
VM: Stay balanced: entrepreneurship is a marathon not a sprint. No matter how hungry you are to succeed or to get to a certain financial goal the one thing no one can afford is to lose their mental health. So meditate, exercise and eat well; it will help you get to the finish line a lot faster.
JW: Mine is build. When you are trying to make a product you need to build it and show it to people as fast as possible. I think that can get lost a bit sometimes when you’re trying to meet people and build your network. Building a product kind of gets sidetracked, but at the end of the day the thing you are trying to sell is your product and so my biggest advice is build it and everything else will be much easier.
Catch the highlights of our next #LifeatNEXT Couch Session: Beyond The Runway here on our Medium blog on August 8th.
Thank you to our creative partner Nuscreen for powering our couch sessions!