From Terminator to I, Robot, the cinematic depiction of Artificial Intelligence (AI) – robots with dawning self-awareness seeking to annihilate their human creators – has become one of Hollywood’s most lucrative clichés.
The storyline is often the same. In the ongoing pursuit of efficiency, humans create technology with the power to learn. This ability to learn (search, interpret and create understanding and insight) quickly leads to artificial consciousness. Not blessed with the morality of most humans, the self-aware computer quickly decides we are a threat and seeks to eliminate us. Throw in some big budget CGI and a bankable star and you have a blockbuster.
While reality will never be able to match the drama of science fiction, a small team of data scientists and software engineers sitting quietly in a North Sydney office is quietly creating an AI-driven revolution that could change the way business interacts with customers, minus the violence.
The leader of this small, but growing, revolution is the Founder and CEO of Daisee (Deep Artificial Intelligence Software for Enterprise Ecosystems) and Macquarie University MBA Richard Kimber.
“At a high level we build software that uses AI to solve everyday business problems,” Kimber told MBAlive!. “We take unstructured data and use AI to make sense of it. On a practical level our niche is using software to interpret spoken language and giving it meaning.”
Daisee’s ambition is to see its Linguistic Interpretive Semantic Analysis (LISA) technology driving call centre and customer service efficiency around the world.
“Lisa is not just about hearing what has been said in interactions with customers, it is about understanding what’s being said. It is a tool that can listen to literally millions of conversations and provide concise insights from a compliance, quality and training perspective.”
The company has secured the backing of some of the country’s most astute technology investors including Alium Capital and Thorney Investments and last year raised nearly $10 million in its first capital raising. Deakin University, where the initial technology platform was developed, remains a shareholder.
With staff numbers now approaching 50 and ambitions to open offices in the United States, Asia and Europe, Daisee’s future hinges on the passion, leadership and skills of its CEO.
An unorthodox MBA
While the Daisee story is relatively short, the journey of its founder and CEO Richard Kimber is, like so many other MBAs, one of lifelong learning, ambition and success.
Completing his Bachelor of Science (Psychology, Statistics) at Macquarie University in the early 1990s it was his father who encouraged him to enroll almost immediately in an MBA.
“He always encouraged me to do an undergraduate degree in something I was interested in and then get an MBA to get that general business understanding that is required to be a manager or leader in any organisation,” he said.
“I always felt it was good to have that multi-disciplinary theory and understanding that an MBA provides.”
Progressing to a full-time MBA less than two years after completing your undergraduate studies is not typical or recommended for most MBAs, where some experience in the commercial world can play an important part in your ability to benefit from the content matter.
Richard Kimber is the keynote speaker for MBALive! in Sydney, October 5, 2018. The event is specifically designed for anyone looking to give their career and salary boost with an MBA. Kimber will headline a day of talks, panels and presentations at the Aerial UTS Function Centre Building (10, Level 7/235 Jones St, Ultimo).
Entry to MBAlive! is FREE so register today to receive speaker and event updates.
The decision to take on an early career MBA is not one Kimber regrets and puts it down to youthful exuberance and impatience.
“I was always in a hurry to get on with my career and knew it would be of value so I wanted to get it done early and put the theory into practice.”
Graduating as one of the youngest members of the Macquarie University MBA Class of 1992 he immediately set about making his mark on the corporate world, spending more than 10 years in the financial services sector in New York, Hong Kong and London before returning to Sydney in 2006 to be the first regional manager in South East Asia for Google.
Kimber remembers it as a particularly exciting time to make the switch into a pure technology enterprise.
“Back then it wasn’t the global behemoth it is today, but it was certainly well on the way. It was large enough to be recognised, but internally there was still a clear growth path,” Kimber said.
“The focus at the time was really unambiguous – to scale up. We grew really quickly in terms of people and also market expansion through focusing on broadening market coverage, and then also effectively understanding what the go-to-market strategy was, which industries, what order.
“When I joined, the biggest vertical for Google was travel and when I left, it was financial services, so we pivoted quite dramatically in the space of a couple of years.”
His experience with driving Google’s expansion lead to a role with social gaming business Friendster before returning to the financial services sector as Chief Executive Officer of ASX-listed payment services group OFX (previously OzForex).
Throughout his career Kimber has never doubted the value of MBA or forgotten the lessons learned in the intense heat of an environment where everyone in the room is looking to fast-track their ambition.
“The classroom environment of the MBA was quite different to my undergraduate studies,” he said. “I think in the undergraduate environment was a bit slower; the MBA was pretty full-on and sometimes with assignments and group assignments you’d end up pulling all-nighters to get them done.
“The work load was huge and the topics were complex and there was a lot of interaction with lecturers and other students. Because it was a relatively small class, there was a lot of discussion and debating and that part was the part I really enjoyed the most and something you don’t experience in in an undergraduate course.”
Like many MBA courses Macquarie (now the Macquarie Graduate School of Management at Macquarie University) utilised case studies as a key learning tool for students.
“We had a pretty dynamic lecture environment and quite a lot of debates. And the case studies themselves, were probably the things I really enjoyed the most, really getting into a situation and working out what you should do, and what your options were.”
“The average age in my class was 36, so people were quite well established in their careers and there were some pretty senior people and business owners as well. I found I learned a lot from them and it was really another great source of knowledge.”
“Despite the collegiate atmosphere amongst my cohort and the desire to share experiences and knowledge it was competitive and there’s no two ways about that. Everyone was looking at how you ranked on every assignment and how we did. That pushed me and I was keen to step up.”
Despite being part of the “old-school” MBAs before digitisation and the Internet swept the world Kimber wouldn’t take back the experience for anything and the head start it gave his career.
Daisee Gets Ready To Flower
Despite his many corporate successes to date, Kimber is looking forward to the new challenge of turning a technology start-up into a global enterprise and wrapping up some “unfinished business”.
“A lot of times in my career, I’ve been hired as either a change agent or a fixer-upper’er. Even in my last role there was a lot of remediation to do to, both in terms of the branding as well as the technology.
“The opportunity to start something with a clean sheet is incredibly exciting. You can look at all the options and strategies free from baggage. You’ve got to make the right choices and every decision you make has an impact. It is a dream come true to be in this position.
Like all start-up founders, Kimber’s ambition for Daisee is limited only by the imagination.
“I think we can be Australia’s best technology company. That’s my hope and my inspiration. I think Australia can build great software companies. Everyone talks about Atlassian and the incredible business they have built but I think there is plenty of scope to build another one or two if not many more. That’s really what I’d like to do and I think this space we’re in, is a very relevant space and a huge amount of upside, so it’s just a question of focusing our growth.”
And of course, Kimber is already on the search from young MBAs to help take the company to the next level, particularly highly-skilled technicians who want to be part of the bigger picture.
“Being a computer scientist, software developer or data analyst is an incredibly valuable skill but I think the focus on just doing pure technology will change, because ultimately to be a good technology leader, you need skills that are way beyond the technology.
“To be able to lead and manage teams, those are the soft skill an MBA opens your mind to. I think there are a lot more people in the software industry that should do MBA and study the other subjects besides the technology.
“It’s fundamental that you come from somewhere and you’ve got a good grounding. But an MBA is not just a new skill-set, it is a mind-set that is the gateway to success.”