Interview with Gregory Roberts, Founder, Chairman & CEO at Rosoka Software, Inc.
The founder series explores the minds of business owners and their journey to make a difference in their industry. We interview these business founders to understand the life lessons that mold them into who they are today. We also learn more about their company, their products or services, how they are different from their competitors, and the problems that they are trying to solve for their customers. The information that these business owners provide to us helps inform other entrepreneurs who are looking to make an impact in the business world. We all can take these lessons and apply them to our entrepreneurial journey. We want to thank every business owner who volunteered their time to participate in these interviews and share their knowledge with the community.
Great to meet you. Thank you for doing the interview. We want to know more about your journey, early struggles, success, and some wisdom that we can pass on to others who are interested in walking your footsteps toward becoming an entrepreneur. We know that being an entrepreneur is not all glory and fame, but there are hard times too. We believe that others who are interested in being a business owner can gain insight from other business founders like yourself. Again, we want to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule. Let’s get this interview started!
Let us start off with some basic questions to learn more about who you are as a person.
Can you tell everyone your name, please?
My name is Gregory Roberts.
Tell me about your education?
My background is in linguistics. I studied as a computational linguist and have degrees from Illinois Central College, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and Georgetown University. I have been actively working with Natural Language Processing (NLP) technologies for over 20 years. I started as a linguistic intern for a small NLP startup and have gradually moved up the food chain to where I am now with Rosoka Software.
Can you give an example of an early lesson in life that helped shaped who you are today?
I think I have always had that entrepreneurial spirit. For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to run my own company. My first go at being an entrepreneur was in grade school. When I was in 5th grade, I got a Commodore 64 computer. After playing with it for a couple of months, I had an idea for a game. I didn’t quite have the coding skills to create the game, but I was able to convince a couple of my friends that it was a good idea and we could make some money selling the game. Our grade school was Oak Grove, and our mascot was an eagle. So, I named the “company” Eaglesoft. I paid our “lead developer,” who was the older brother of one of my friends a case of Pepsi to code the Pit Fall style game. We gave out a few copies to our friends, but couldn’t figure out how to sell it. I think that experience taught me that you don’t need to know how to do everything, you need people to believe in your vision. From that, you can work together to achieve your dreams.
We all have entrepreneurs whom we look up to in our industry. These business leaders help influence, shape, and drive our ambition to succeed. These entrepreneurs could be someone that we have worked with on a project or could be someone that we look up too from a distance. For example, Bill Gates is a big inspiration to me not only because of his work in Microsoft but his outstanding contributions to society.
Who would you consider to be a significant influence on you professionally and can you explain why?
I would have to say Chris Westphal and Dave O’Connor formally of Visual Analytics. I respect what they have done as entrepreneurs and view them as mentors. They are always there for me to ask questions and provide advice on what I could do in certain situations. I know they believe in me and are always there to help. They are not just mentors; they are friends and champions. I appreciate the extra time they take for me.
Thank you for providing background on who you are as a person. I always find it fascinating to learn who a person is and their early life lessons. Let us move forward with the interview and discuss what you are doing now and how you are making a difference in your industry.
What is the name of your company?
Rosoka Software, Inc.
Where is your company located?
We are located in Herndon, Virginia, a part of the Washington, DC metropolitan area. However, we have a global reach, so where we are physically located doesn’t much matter these days. We have customers and partners in the UK, Europe, Australia, Singapore, Middle East, and South East Asia.
What services or products does your organization provide?
We provide a natural language processing (NLP) engine that can identify people, places, and other ‘things of interest’ in over 200 languages. The Rosoka extraction products support nearly 50 entity types out of the box and can be ‘taught’ new entity types. Rosoka also natively performs Language identification, Geotagging, Relationship Extraction, and Sentiment Analysis.
What problem is your business trying to solve?
We bring understanding to Big Data.
How is your business unique against your competitors?
Rosoka uses a hybrid-solution to entity extraction, combining both ‘rules-based’ and ‘machine-learning’ approaches. Using a quantum mathematical model to implement novel multidimensional transient state vector machine logic eliminates the need to hand tag large sets of training data because Rosoka is effectively self-tagging. Ultimately, the resultant product from both the ‘rules-based’ and ‘machine-learning’ approaches are human-readable files that can be managed with version control and configuration management solutions.
How did the idea for your business come to fruition?
I was managing an NLP product group in a large organization when that organization decided that they no longer want to support the product. I thought that since I could do a better job with the product outside of the large organization, I would try to buy the product myself. So I put a holding company together and started collecting a team and put out a bid for the product. Long story short, the large organization ended up selling the product to someone else, and I was left with a holding company with nothing to hold. The team I had put together came to me and said we could build a better NLP tool ourselves. We knew the issues with the other product that we were going to fix. We understood the customer need from our surveys. We could start fresh. So that is what we did, we started with a clean slate under three guiding principles. The product had to be Scalable, Portable, and Truly Multi-lingual. Also, over the last ten years, that is what we have been doing.
Where can people go on the web to learn more about your business?
Our website is www.rosoka.com. Also, here is a link to a video that briefly describes our latest product the Rosoka RTA plugin for IBM’s Analyst’s Notebook https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QYtCs7mA5eI&t=56s.
Final question. We want to thank you for the interview. We have one last question to ask you about imparting some wisdom to future entrepreneurs.
What three tips would you give to other entrepreneurs who are starting out on their journey?
- Believe in yourself.
- Be prepared for the roller coaster ride of ups and down.
- Cash is King.
When I decided to create Rosoka Software, I had a long talk with my wife, and we decided to cash out a couple of our retirement accounts to start and fund the company. So, in a way, my future self-was our Angel Investor. Those with the entrepreneurial spirit will understand when I say that you want to be in control of your company’s decision making. You don’t want to have to work for someone else. That is probably why you want to be an entrepreneur in the first place.
Cash is King. You can get by making a lot more mistakes with money than without it. I think that, for us, we have been very thoughtful and frugal with our spending decisions. I remember asking my CTO “Why do you need 200 business cards right now? Couldn’t you get by with just 100?” That would save us like $10. Even now, that we are a bit more secure, every penny we spend needs to be justified against what we could be giving up if we don’t spend.
I think that when the entrepreneur starts thinking about securing financing, they should think long and hard about how much funding they need, why they want the funding, and what they will be giving up with that financing. I view outside funding in three ways: use it to accelerate getting to market; accelerate expanding your primary market; or accelerate expanding into a different market. I don’t see any other need for seeking outside financing. If your sole reason for wanting to finance is so that you can quit your day job and focus on being an entrepreneur, you are not yet ready to become an entrepreneur. You won’t be working for yourself. You will be working for the financier. You might as well stay with your day job.