Entrepreneur Victoria Kuleshova is innovating in the artificial intelligence space. Learn why, despite all the innovation – and proof it transforms profit margins of major companies AI remains hard sell. CEO and co-founder of Gallantra Business Intelligence, Victoria the challenges of educating customers AND raising enough capital to match the runway you need to educate that market. Plus, advice for women in technology.
Melinda Wittstock: Victoria, it’s so great to have you on “WINGS.”
Victoria Kuleshova: Thank you, thank you very much for your invitation. It was really wonderful.
Melinda Wittstock: Well, I’m so excited, always to talk to any woman entrepreneur, but you and I have something in common, which is a love for big data and business intelligence, in our case it’s social intelligence and AI. I want to start with the big moonshot for you. Where are you going with all of this? What is in your imagination in terms of the company that you’re building right now?
Victoria Kuleshova: As you know, we are working with the big, great vendors. They are ready for artificial intelligence transformation. Everyone talks about big data and how useful it can be. The reality is that big data can be super useful for business in order to create new strategies and, therefore, increase incoming rates.
Thus, it is necessary to mention what big data is. We are trying to explain customers, we are trying to explain a lot of entrepreneurs to small and big business that how big data can outperform their business, how it can help get new clients, how it can analyze the data, how they can include machine learning data science algorithms, which is a special field of science that aims to analyze, structure and get useful information from a large volume of data.
Melinda Wittstock: There’s an interesting nugget in what you’re saying there because you’re in a position where you have to educate a marketplace. On one hand it’s hard enough to innovate, but when you add onto it the fact that you’re innovating something that your potential customers don’t even understand, or don’t even understand why they need it, that’s a big challenge.
Victoria Kuleshova: For example, in 2016 Starbucks began using artificial intelligence for personalization. Starbucks would now generate serving recommendations for customers approaching their stores. They use location data to know when customers approach, it goes so they can detect weather, the timing of your order, and your buying history.
So Starbucks can also suggest food options to pair with your beverage using the same data. This also occurs in real time at the right time. So this is one of the examples how a company has implemented artificial intelligence algorithm to their business.
Melinda Wittstock: The possibilities are endless, which was one of the reasons why I asked you about the big moonshot question for you because I think we’re at 1995, like the start of the internet with relation to artificial intelligence. We’re at the very, very beginning and it’s a very un-level playing field. There’s machine learning technologies where it’s very human assisted, there’s unsupervised, and then there’s a type of artificial intelligence where it doesn’t need humans any more, it’s more intelligent than we are.
So analyze the ecosystem for me a little bit. Where are we in terms of, say, American companies really embracing this? You gave the example of Starbucks, but how many companies are actually missing out when it could be quite easy, actually, to implement a lot of this stuff?
Victoria Kuleshova: It’s not easy because lots of companies in society think that AI is going to kill jobs. However, the opportunity for augmenting jobs with AI is significantly larger than replacement of humans alone. I think that AI, like every major technology innovation, will disrupt and dislocate some jobs, no doubt. But AI’s related technologies are projected to kill five, seven million jobs by 2020, but there are billions of global workers whose jobs will be dramatically enhanced and improved through AI.
I hope that’s the main maybe frustration, yeah, of the companies and implementing of AI. It’s not a very easy process because lots of data that companies have are unstructured, are unnormalized and it’s a long, long process to get this data to normalize, to store this data with some URL-based approaches, or with using some automatic algorithm. Then, only after that, we can start implementing some algorithms. So it’s not a very easy process and it needs lots of effort to make the data visualized and ready to show some results.
Melinda Wittstock: I know this only too well from the early days of Verifeed and even now, because we were using natural language processing to begin with and early machine learning and getting more sophisticated over time to analyze millions of social media conversations. It’s not easy, let me just say to everybody, not easy.
What was interesting is that we could come up with these amazing things that became more and more predictive. We could help people find their customers, we could help people figure out who was the biggest influencer for them that if that got together with that person it would be a game-changer for their business and all these different things.
We’d create all this value, and people would not necessarily understand the value of that, which always left me scratching my head, like, “Wait a minute. What, you can know or not know and you prefer to not know? This doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Victoria Kuleshova: People should not think Big Data is used by only people who want to sell you something. Big Data has great potential, and it can make healthcare even better. We are working, our company Gallantra, is working in healthcare industry. So big data analytics help to decode DNA and create new effective cures. We are finding new diseases, we are understanding them and their patterns.
I have the big data and data science can help millions of people all over the world who struggle with different diseases, so we can just imagine that in the future people will be able to find a cure in a very short period and the cure will be 100% effective. Big data is a very powerful source of information.
Melinda Wittstock: I love that example of healthcare because a friend of you listening who’ve heard of Naveen Jain who is a billionaire, he has the only rights to travel to the moon, literally a moonshot. But he has a company called Viome, which is doing a whole bunch of stuff with DNA and gut bacteria of many people, and AI, to actually understand what is causing diseases so he can prevent them.
It’s very disruptive because if we can prevent all these diseases, suddenly, wow, we don’t need all those expensive drugs that treat the symptom, so very disruptive of Big Pharma and very swiftly indeed. There’s so many different applications to this. I have a question for you as a woman working in this space of big data.
I see a lot of women going into this because I think we bring something to it that’s quite unique, and it’s to do with the way our brains work. We’re very good at connecting the dots and seeing patterns and being able to do multiple things at the same time.
Often the data that’s the most effective in this case is not linear, it’s actually much more ‘matrix-ey’, if you will. Our brains kind of work like that. Do you think we have a natural advantage in the big data, artificial intelligence space for that reason?
Victoria Kuleshova: I started this company together with my business partner, who is also a woman, her name is Julia. We started this business and we think that women have great data analytic skills, so they can maybe think and understand the problem wider.
All of us are in the middle of the largest technology revolution in the history. Everything we touch seems like it is leading edge. I think that women can help this technology revolution, revolts in the industrial revolution in terms of overall size and strength. By the way, I’m absolutely sure that it’s much more easier for women to manage men’s teams.
Melinda Wittstock: That’s interesting. Why do you think that? What makes us better at that?
Victoria Kuleshova: I have been working as the senior vice president of an IT company for two years. We had four R&D centers in different cities and even in different countries. And the company grows after I came to this company, and it’s increased the number of projects and the number of employees in the factor of two during this time.
Because, as I’ve said, we are passionate and we can manage all the process from the other point of view, not only from the logical as men do. I’m absolutely sure that this is a great advantage of our company that we are women on the executive level and the founders of the company.
Melinda Wittstock: One of the things that I really want to do with this podcast and one of the reasons I do it, is to really encourage women who are entrepreneurs already, or who are thinking of being entrepreneurs to really think big because this is a whole opportunity. An industry that in many ways I think we are uniquely suited for and to not be intimidated by it.
I think a lot of people, and not just women, I think men can do this, too, can cancel themselves out of things because of a limiting belief, or because of something like, “Oh, that’s not for me. I don’t know how I could do that.” But this is a whole industry where women can do this.
I mean we were the original, God knows, code-breakers in the Second World War. Some of the original coders were women and I’m a passionate advocate of STEM and girls who code and getting women into coding and data and all that stuff because we’re suited for it. What do you think has to happen in the world to encourage more women to take their careers and their entrepreneurial journeys more in this path towards artificial intelligence?
I think that the hardest and maybe the biggest challenge is that it’s hard for women to balance work and family. #WingsPodcast #WomeninTech @gallantra_biClick to tweet
Victoria Kuleshova: I think that the hardest and maybe the biggest challenge is that it’s hard for women to balance work and family. However, I attended the harmony with business and family but following several rules I have. I hope that if the woman finds the way how to make the balance between work and family, it will be much more easier to make the first step in the business and to find some hobby and something else.
Maybe my parents helped me. I got to higher education and I held several managing positions from the start of my career. Also, my husband supports me and my babies understood that Mom is working and it’s very important. So this is coming from the family and from the people surrounding us.
Melinda Wittstock: This is so true. This is true of any kind of entrepreneurial endeavor for women. It’s true of women executives and all of it. I guess I was focused more though specifically on getting women into tech. How to encourage more women to get into technology and technology-based companies, really scalable companies. Right?
Victoria Kuleshova: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Well, here in Ukraine the girls starting their career from a HR place sometimes. They think that’s the stop point and the last point how to get in IT, but I’m not sure that this is true.
So, yes, sure, IT if you want to be the developer, the quality assurance engineer, or the data science engineer, you need to have a great mathematical background. This is the main point why those don’t go to the IT because in our mentality, 80% of the students on the technical facilities are boys, so I hope this is the [crosstalk 00:21:07
Melinda Wittstock: Well, women feel they don’t fit into what here in The States is called the ‘bro culture’. We had all kind of scandals like last year at Uber where women coders were harassed and just made to feel awful and so ended up leaving. So maybe the alternative is to create our own companies. I just want to encourage women if you have a big dream about creating new technology or whatever, is to get together with a bunch of other women and go do it.
But I also think that women who are in our positions, Victoria, who have the increasing power or ability to invest in other women or support other women or mentor them, to really create those opportunities or open those doors for women and girls to start to get into technology.
Victoria Kuleshova: You’re doing a great job. When I looked through your website and listened to several podcasts, I decided that would be great if we try to do the same great work and the same project here in Ukraine to involve more women into IT, into tech and to help them to start their own business, not to be afraid of starting their career even if they have children and after 30 years old, for example.
Yes, especially entrepreneurs often have to take on accounting, marketing, sales, project management and everything else between, and it can become overwhelming at times. The best way to handle this problem is to do what you must and delegate what you can. So this is maybe the key of success for me personally.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh, my goodness. I have a big grin across my face right now because that’s the kind of impact that I want to see. I set out to catalyze this, so that would be wonderful. You just like create a Ukrainian “WINGS?”
Victoria Kuleshova: Right, yeah, that would be great.
Melinda Wittstock: That’s awesome, Victoria, no really, because I think that’s important. The more we start to do this, the more we encourage other women to do this, the more of a game changer it is. It’s interesting though. It’s like women, I’ve found here in The States, get into entrepreneurship a little bit later in life. It’s sort of like we need more confidence before we take the leap. The entrepreneurial profile here of a man going into entrepreneurship is in their 20s, and of a woman it’s kind of mid 30s.
A lot of women re-invent and take the stress so they’ve done things, they’ve worked up, they’ve developed domain expertise or expertise in something. They have much more of a confidence because they’ve hired or they’ve fired. They have some management expertise. They know a lot more about the world and perhaps they’ve had their children already. So maybe their kids are really, really young, but they need flexibility, so entrepreneurship is a great way to have that flexibility.
Consistently, we see that women really get into the zone, get into the flow and they’re able to create these amazing businesses in their late 30s, in their 40s and in their 50s and that does not fit the profile for the venture capitalist. Because they think, “Oh, that person’s too old, they can’t be an entrepreneur,” which, I think, really impacts women and funding decisions is because they look at us not as women necessarily but as being too old, which I think is crazy because it’s just not true of us. We get really energetic and really focused when we’re older. I know this personally, so really I’m curious what it takes to change that game.
I wanted to ask you a little bit about how the funding has gone for your business? Do you have venture capital or how are you capitalized? How did you get the growth capital you needed to really build your company?
Victoria Kuleshova: It’s maybe an amazing answer will be but all the funding is from our own pockets, from myself and from my partners. My husband supported, thanks him very much, because it was really very hard to start the company from the ground up to hiring new people and to fund them, funding. But thanks God we have great partners and clients who are absolutely firm with us and help us understand with the late payments and so lots of other problems that the young business always have.
But I think that my success is the support of my family and my friends. I think that if we surround ourselves with people who trust and who will give the honest feedback to us, then we will be successful. My husband and my friends told me that you can, everything will be okay, you’ll find the right partners, the right clients, you will be successful in any way. If you fail, we will support you, too.
Melinda Wittstock: Victoria, it’s so good that you have those supportive people around you, including your husband. A lot of women don’t have that and if you don’t have supportive people around you, go find them because you need it to succeed, don’t you?
Victoria Kuleshova: Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: It’s a critical part of entrepreneurship to have that kind of, “Go team,” supportive people around you.
Victoria Kuleshova: I think that some kind of the successful story of the women that you have on your podcast can maybe give some powerful advices to the women who just dream about their own companies, about entrepreneurs, maybe kind of work about their own business and you are doing really a great job. I will try to share your podcast here in Ukraine and maybe to think about something similar, how to-
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, no, that’s wonderful. I like this idea of all these different WINGS taking flight all over the world. Why not? That can be my moonshot, that’s awesome. No, I love that. What were you like as a kid? Did you know that you were going to be an entrepreneur when you were little or was this something that just came to you much later in life.
Victoria Kuleshova: I dreamed about my own business from the school maybe, and I had several attempts to do my own business. From my school, if I’m not mistaken, school years and when I was in the university, when I was a student on the two facilities at the same time. I was studying at the same time on the information technology and on business management. It was very hard but I tried to do my small business. I was doing some complex and some project management jobs for other students and tried to earn some money. I dreamed about my own business from maybe 15 or 14 years old.
I understand how my parents working hard, and I thought that I don’t want to do the same. My mother is a teacher and my father is an officer. By the way, I dreamt about it. So when I understood that I have the appropriate level of the knowledge, and I’m a good experience right now, I decided that the next level is to develop my skills in management and to do my own business. I understood that the time has already come and then tried to do that.
Melinda Wittstock: That’s wonderful. Well, I love that. I think that so many people if you look back and you think about what you’re doing right now and then you look back into your childhood, the clues are there. The things that you liked to do as a kid are often a really good indication of the type of business, or the type of career you should actually have. All too often we end up doing things that we think we should do as opposed to the things that really make our heart sing.
I always encourage any entrepreneur, anyone who’s thinking of taking the leap or is running a business right now that they don’t feel happy with, to look back in their childhood and think about things like what did they love to do. I used to like to play dress up, I used to produce a whole bunch of kids. I used to make them all go and do things, so I was kind of like a producer, that sort of thing. Or I was really into exploring, for instance, or like traveler, I don’t know, things like that. And you see where those things start to play out in your life as an adult.
This is a very long and round about way of getting to a question, forgive me. But do you feel that there is this kind of alignment in your business between who you are as a person and what you’re business is?
Victoria Kuleshova: I was leader from my childhood, and I was fond of mathematics. This was my passion. I love mathematics and I decided that my future career will be related to mathematics and so, so on. When I was starting at the National Academy of Telecommunication in Odessa, I hold an MA degree in Information Technology, so I decided to go to the facility where only boys study.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh, that’s awesome.
Victoria Kuleshova: Then when I was on the third course, I understood that I also need to develop my management and leader skills. Then I decided to go to the business management facility and now I’m pursuing my PhD studies on information technologies, and I am working closely with science right now and with business.
According to this, I’m trying also to bring some well view into the science in Ukraine, and to bring maybe some my knowledge from the business point of view to the science and also to bring some new, how do you say, some new maybe science investigating, technologies into my business.
We are working closely with PhDs from different universities. We are taking the best students from the last courses, and we are involving them to our company. We are studying and we are working with juniors and growing them inside of our company. I started to answer the questions about what my passion and then I just decided to-
Melinda Wittstock: Oh, but it’s great. You can feel your passion, you’re very enthusiastic about what you’re doing, and I think that’s really important for people to hear. To succeed as an entrepreneur you have to love what you’re doing.
Victoria Kuleshova: Yes, yes. That’s the main focus and the main reason why I hope I will be successful in the next several years because I’m passionate and I really love what I do. So I can spend 12 and 15 even hours in front of the computer because I’m doing my PhD studies, and I am also doing my business, and I am working closely with my clients so I’m doing this because I love it.
Melinda Wittstock: That’s beautiful. Victoria, how can people find you and work with you and if they need a business intelligence or AI solution for their companies, what’s the best way to work with Gallantra and find you?
Victoria Kuleshova: I can share the website of our company, gallantra.com. Also, people can find me on my Facebook and Instagram pages. I am open to any new opportunities, and I’m open to conversation and will be happy for new friends and answer all the questions.
Melinda Wittstock: Wonderful. Thank you so much for putting on your wings and flying with us today.
Victoria Kuleshova: Thank you, Melinda.