“Being an entrepreneur is basically like going from one crisis to the next”. Those are the words of Michael Kingston, co-founder and CEO of Seeda.
At a point in his career when Michael was thriving, he took the daunting plunge from successful executive to entrepreneur and start-up founder. Most people would be too scared to take such an enormous risk; however, this step has been Michael's key toward work-life satisfaction.
Three years later, Michael and his co-founders have built Seeda, an AI-assisted marketing analytics product, purpose-built for Shopify-based eCommerce platforms. Seeda helps marketers make sense of the enormous amount of data coming at them from numerous sources and use it to optimise their marketing activities.
Whether it’s SEO, email marketing or digital advertising, marketers are often stuck with a heavy burden of technical implementation and optimisation. Seeda’s product is the “AI analyst” that helps the world’s 5 million Shopify stores figure it all out, without needing to be a technology or analytics expert.
If you’re curious about start-up life or are thinking about starting your own business, then this episode is for you!
In this episode we discuss:
- How Michael gradually but surely made the shift from employee to entrepreneur
- How Michael figured out what he wanted to work on as an entrepreneur
- How Seeda’s “AI analyst” is a potential game-changer for Shopify-based businesses wanting more out of their marketing efforts
- The scaled data architecture that allows small businesses to take advantage of data practices normally reserved for large corporates
- Michael’s advice for anyone wanting to start their own business, and much more.
Michael on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/michael-kingston-35707217/
Check out Seeda: https://www.seeda.io/
Jonas Christensen 2:54
Michael Kingston, welcome to Leaders of Analytics. I am very excited to have you on the show today.
Michael Kingston 3:08
Hi Jonas. Great to be here. Thanks for inviting me on.
Jonas Christensen 3:13
Absolutely. And you were recommended by one of our former guests, Scott Hayes, who spoke very highly of you on the show, but also after and I believe your company is in the portfolio of Mendoza Capital or that sort of ecosystem at least, is that correct?
Michael Kingston 3:30
Scott is actually our very first angel investor, so we're not in Mendoza's portfolio. Yes, they do focus on AI, but Scott's an angel investor. But actually funny backstory. I met Scott completely randomly in Melbourne about six years ago. And it turns out he had married my favourite teacher's daughter in high school. My favourite teacher was Mr. McGinn and he was my maths teacher. And Scott is married to Mr. McGinn's daughter. So that's how we met and we've, we've kind of formed a good relationship since then.
Jonas Christensen 4:04
How funny. You shouldn't have told us who your favourite teacher is because now we know the key answer to one of your password unlocking questions.
Michael Kingston 4:12
Yeah, the other one is Toyota Corolla.
Jonas Christensen 4:15
All right. Without further ado, let's get into the detail today, because we actually have a really interesting episode ahead of us. And not least, because you're actually a pretty interesting person. Michael, when I looked at your resume, I was quite impressed. You've done quite a lot of different things. You've had a very varied career and interesting. So maybe we start there in you telling us a bit about yourself, your career to date, and what you do now?
Michael Kingston 4:43
Yeah, so I grew up in Ireland on a small farm. So that's kind of where the business interest has come from. Small farms in Ireland are kind of run like small businesses today. So yeah, learned a lot. So my parents worked that farm, every dollar they made was dependent on, directly dependent on their manual labour. So I kind of really got a good understanding for how small businesses work. Born in 1981, through the 80s, which was probably a rough enough economic time in Ireland. And then I was very lucky that Ireland went through an economic growth period from the 90s onwards, they made University free for all their citizens, which I was very lucky to go and study electronic engineering in University College Cork, which was my local, uni. And yeah, I got I got a great education as a result of free education in Ireland, that then took me down the path of working in telecommunications, initially, as an engineer, I was a, my first job was a transmission engineer, which basically built out optic fibre for all the big telco companies, and learned pretty quickly about myself that engineering was great, but it moved too slow for me. And what I mean by that is, the best engineers spend a long time solving one problem, and they get really into that problem. But what I found about myself is I actually got quite bored by solving the same problem for more than a day or two. So I quickly got out of like pure engineering, and looked for something a bit more diverse. My pathway out of that was project management. So I got into call it technical project management for the first maybe five years of my career, and then emigrated to Australia, to Sydney, Australia, with my, my now wife at the time in 2012. And that really, I guess, opened my eyes to the world of opportunity. The big difference I would have seen in Sydney is the amount of opportunity there was to do lots of different things are the second I landed in. In Sydney whilst I had a corporate job working for Optus at the time in telco. I was straightaway hooked by the buzz of what was a budding entrepreneurial startup ecosystem in Sydney at the time, this is 2012. So I got gripped by that whole ecosystem. It was very small back then. And the problem I had though, I really wanted to be part of it. But I didn't have an idea. So I was a wannabe entrepreneur without an idea. And it took me many years to have many ideas over the next 10 years. But it takes a certain amount of confidence to kind of go all in on an idea. So what I did in in parallel was I got involved in the startup ecosystem, by you know, helping out some startups, meeting some investors, going to events, and really building up my skills that I thought I would need, when I finally had the right idea to start my own business. So that journey took about eight years. I moved around a lot. And the reason I did that was I was trying to build up as many skills and as much knowledge as I as I could. The immediate thing I did when I got to kind of stuck to Sydney startup ecosystem was I realised that the internet was the future. This is 2012-2013. So you know, Facebook was, you know, just becoming a big thing. And I was working in telcos which was kind of like flatlining as an industry. So I realised I needed to get into a growth technology sector as quickly as I could. And I got really enamoured by like a lot of people like with software. So I moved to a company called Melbourne IT to kind of build up my skills that basically gave me an MBA in the internet, they were an internet services and products company. So I managed to spend three years there, just basically learning about the internet, learning about how products work, learning how to market those products, learn how to sell them learn how to support them. And it was it was really, like I say, an MBA for me, unofficial MBA. And then I got a really good opportunity with Melbourne IT, they bought a company called InfoReady. I had become very interested in data and analytics over the course of my internet MBA. And I put my hand up to to run their Sydney business. They were a Melbourne startup, and they didn't have a Sydney business. So I put my hand up to start the Sydney business and grow it. So I spent two years getting probably what I would describe as another MBA. In this time in data and analytics. They were a data and analytics enterprise consulting firm. And I just got a bird's eye view of the most modern cutting edge data and analytics techniques and practices and software solutions that were available on the market because all of our customers were really wealthy banks, insurance companies, that sort of thing. So yeah, I got an amazing two years exposure there, built the team, built a multimillion dollar business there in Sydney built it up to about 50 people made some great contacts. So my current co founder, Chris is someone I met in that business. And he's just one of the best data guys I've ever met. So of course, when you start up a business, you want to get the best of the best. So I managed to get a relationship going with Chris there. And yeah, so I think at that point, I felt I had built up enough corporate skills, having spent 15 years in corporates. So at that point, I actually jumped out into the startup world, again, because I didn't have my own idea. I said, I would jump in on somebody else's idea. So I had a relationship at the time, I was on an advisory board of an ad tech company, in Surry Hills, SaaS company, a software as a service company. And I took a job with those running their business, I was managing director of that company, that basically, that blew me away that experience because I had come from 15 years of seeing what wealthy enterprise companies are able to do. And then I got into a successful but small startup company, and they only had about 18 employees, they did a couple of million dollars worth of revenue. And it really opened my eyes to the difference between what the enterprise corporate companies have and what the small businesses have. So it was in that job that I worked in that role for about a year and had a great experience. But it was in that role in 2020 that finally I had this idea that I was willing to kind of go all in on and that was a probably brings us to Seeda, which is the business I founded in July 2020.
Jonas Christensen 11:43
What a story, and so much to pick up on there. So as I listen to you Michael, I'm thinking about a few things. Well, firstly, I'm very excited that you fell in love with data and analytics, because I am in the same camp. And we've had a few people on the show that have done that journey where they're very technically gifted with with respect to IT, but then they all of a sudden see the power of data and so on. And you and I are both from a generation where there were no degrees in analytics or anything like that. So it's something you fall into, from something else, or it was at least back then, it was not a path you chose on its own. But when you going through these roles, you're growing in seniority and responsibility, but they are also becoming increasingly entrepreneurial, in a sense, the jobs you take on and they're getting more and more entrepreneurial, but with guardrails and a safety net, and I think, especially the one at InfoReady and Arc Group, which, for all the listeners here, international listeners is a business that's very well respected with regards to technical consulting, and it really is a business that I was always as a potential customer very impressed with compared to the sort of big four consulting firms and what he was able to deliver both in terms of strategy, but also technical implementation. So Michael, especially that role would have, I imagine giving you a lot of entrepreneurial experience, but with the infrastructure around to sort of builds what good looks like I suppose?
Michael Kingston 13:22
Yeah, yeah, actually what great looks like and I guess, I got a front row seat to what entrepreneurialism looks like, because the founder of that business is a guy is a Melbourne guy called Tristan Sternson. And he as I just got lucky in the right time, right place, he as part of me taking on the Sydney job, kind of took me under his wing and basically trained me how to be an entrepreneur, which was very, very lucky for me, I learned a lot of off of him, not just about the technical side of data and analytics, which is, you know, very important, but also how to actually grow a business, how to build relationships, how to sell how to put together products and solutions so that they become more attractive to prospective customers. So yeah, I got a cut a really lucky break there. You know, like I say, right time right place, having built a good relationship with him. And I would say, the guardrails bit just to kind of point out to a lot of people, the guardrails, but I underestimated how important that was at the time, because I absolutely had guardrails. I thought at the time, oh, I'm doing something really entrepreneurial here. I'm taking a lot of risks with this new job. But the reality looking back now with the benefit of hindsight, the reality is I wasn't on the spectrum of risk when it comes to startups and entrepreneurship. It was not a risk at all because I had a guaranteed paycheck. I had the infrastructure that a large corporate gives you in terms of all of your different support functions. So it was it was it was really, I had guardrails, but I was still able to learn. But what I found out the hard way, since I left that comfort zone of rich corporate world, when you set up your own business, and you're out on your own, all of that stuff just disappears. And yeah, it was a big awakening for me to kind of realise, oh, I actually don't have a guaranteed paycheck, I need to really remind me of my parents back in the 80s, I have to really, you know, literally go out and do manual, almost manual labour to put food on the table for my family, you know, so it was a big learning for me. So I would, I would kind of anyone who's thinking of starting their own business that's listening, I would really consider the risk appetite you have, and really consider like, if you do have a comfortable job, and you're going into a brand new Greenfield business, I would strongly recommend you do it. However, I would, I would recommend that you do it with your eyes wide open as regards the risk profile.
Jonas Christensen 16:00
So there, there's a very, very tiny chance you're going to become Jeff Bezos or Mark Zuckerberg, but it is extremely small to it, maybe it would be about two and a half billion or something like that probably.
Yeah, my broader point is, it's hard. And then you've got to be able to take take the punishment and stress of that.
Michael Kingston 16:27
Yeah, I thought I was a fairly resilient person, pretty strong person. But this business Seeda is two and a half years old now. And it's really it's pushed the limits of, of my resilience and my, my confidence. So yeah, I would say, you just really, the one thing that's gotten me through a tough two and a half years bearing in mind, you know, that was COVID period is, I really wanted to do it, I really had a passion for the problem that I had found the idea I'd come up with. So I spent 10 years looking for it, I found the problem that I wanted to dedicate a large portion of my professional life too. So if I hadn't, if I wasn't so convinced, and so passionate about solving that problem, I would have given up probably midway through COVID, because it was it was really hard. But you've got enough passion for what what you do. You know, if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life kind of thing. So yeah, that passion has certainly been a massive part of of my journey.
Jonas Christensen 17:29
The thing you said that is so important is you looked for 10 years for the thing that you wanted to do, potentially for the rest of your life. And that is literally, I have to be careful. It's not literally it's one of the key differences between success and failure in startup life, isn't it? Because you're actually buying yourself a job, at least for a very, very long time. And people think I'm gonna get this payout, and I'm going to exit with $100 million and all that. Maybe not, and there's a long way to that, you gotta love it all the way.
Michael Kingston 18:01
Yeah, I think that's the wrong reason to get into it. I think it's if I look back at my, my documents that I was writing at the time to, you know, I write these kinds of position papers, you know, like the Jeff Bezos, Amazon style of, you know, really writing out your your thought process to make sure you're thinking clearly and you can get peer reviews. So if I look back to the documents that I was writing at the time, three years ago, I was really committing to this, I think, this paragraph would have mentioned committing my 40s to it. So I'm 41. Now, so I'm really committing at least 10 years, to this journey, and to this problem, because I'm so passionate about it. So yeah, like, I mean, if I just pay myself, it, this is the best job I've ever done. It's the hardest job I've ever done. But it's the best job I've ever done. If I just pay myself an average industrial salary, for the next 10 years, I'll be happy because I'm enjoying what I'm doing. It might work out I guess the upside of entrepreneurship is if it works out, it could really work out. But if I could just pay myself for the 10 years that I'm enjoying what I'm doing, you know, building a team building, we can talk about the product in a second but building a product like it's, I didn't realise this, but they talk about entrepreneurs as being creators. I didn't realise it, that I was a creator, but I really am I've really enjoyed doing the research in the industry to figure out what my prospective customers' problems are. And then building a product around that but working with very smart people to build a product around that and and the experience of creating that team and creating the product and creating that customer solution has been the most rewarding thing other than my family. My two children has been the most rewarding experience of my life.
Jonas Christensen 19:52
Good on you Michael, let's hear what this passion is actually all about and what the product is. So you're talking about, Seeda your company, which you've co founded. And could you please tell us what the company does and what you're passionate about in terms of solving problems for your customers?
Michael Kingston 20:17
Yeah, so Seeda is an AI marketing analytics product. But what we really have done is we've built an AI assistant or an AI marketing expert. That's for everyone's team. So when we talk about data and analytics, it's a massive field, but the problem that everyone's trying to solve is they don't know the answers to their questions. And they're using BI and data and analytics to try and get the answers to their questions. So that they can either they can improve their business, whether it be improving revenue, improving leads, or marketing or reducing costs, improving margin. So what I found when I was working in the ad tech startup in 2019, I did a lot of work on the marketing side of that business. And I was working, they had just one marketing manager, she had gotten into marketing for the creative side of marketing. But in the period that she had been in marketing, it was about a 10, I think she had about eight or 10 years experience, marketing has completely transformed in the 10 years that she had gotten into marketing. So she got into it for the content and creative side. But then all of a sudden, the term data driven marketing, marketing has become more and more about data than it has about the creative, the creative is still incredibly important. But there's a massive technical, analytical, and data side to marketing as well. And when I say marketing, I mean all the different channels, SEO, ads, email marketing, everything has a data component to it. And if you're a marketer, that isn't technical, or isn't analytical, and didn't get into it for those reasons there's a big gap. I saw a big gap in this business where the creative marketer was expected to do absolutely everything. The context here is it was a small business doing about $2 million of revenue, but about 15 to 20 people employed in the business. So it wasn't a big corporate that had a lot of resources. So this person was hired to be the marketing manager. But really, she was actually hired to be the marketing team. So I saw her struggle with a lot of the data heavy side of things. Like if you're talking about running ads these days on Facebook or Google, it's really a technical implementation. There's a creative at the end, but there's so much technical implementation to be set up with running ads. These days, it takes a lot of work. So that was the idea that I mentioned earlier that why don't we build an AI expert to sit in every marketing team out there, and literally be the analyst in your team and tell you what to do. So yeah, we we spent the last two years building this product. And really what it is, is we've narrowed our focus down to E-commerce because for a startup, you've got to look at the low hanging fruit. And at the moment, we've found that ecommerce stores such as Shopify, people who set up Shopify stores have set up that store because they're passionate about the product that they want to sell on their ecommerce store. So you know, it could be scented candles, it could be surfboards, it could be computer equipment, whatever it is, what most of them didn't set the business up for, was to spend hours looking at spreadsheets to implement the business intelligence tools to do data and analytics, they just didn't get into it. And a lot of them, some of the bigger ones can afford to hire people to do that, or hire marketing agencies to do that. But there are just under 5 million Shopify stores globally. And the vast majority of them have less than five employees. And they are so busy in their day to day printing T-shirts, packing boxes, organising, shipping, organising returns, doing all of the day to day things that they do in their business. And what Seeda is is basically an auto analyst to say, Hey, did you know that this ad is underperforming? Maybe think about reducing the budget or this ad is going really well. Maybe think about increasing the budget, or the creative on this ad doesn't seem to be working with the audience that you're targeting? Have a look at it. You know, there's just some of the examples of what our product does.
Jonas Christensen 24:24
So to understand that bit further, what's actually under the hood? If I give you some examples here making tell me whether I'm getting it right, so you've got some standard marketing channels. So say Facebook ads, you got search engine marketing, so the little things that pop up at the top of Google when you search, that has a little ad label on it, you might have display ads. So again, images that are sitting inside a website, and they're sort of reasonably standardised, there are alsmost pseudo monopolies or a few very big players that have big platforms that drive most of this, so is your product sort of integrating into those places, consuming the data that's in those and kind of playing it back to the user is that kind of how it works?
Michael Kingston 25:13
Well, not quite what we're actually doing. There are products that integrate into those platforms and work within the Googles and the Facebooks, but what we found is to really help the business out, we need to actually give them a source of truth that they can trust. So when we did research on how to build a product two years ago, we found that a lot of people were logging into the main marketing ad platforms, they were looking at numbers, and they didn't know where to look, they didn't know how to read the dashboard. They didn't know what insights were important, they didn't know if they could trust the data. So what we actually did is we and I'll tell you how we built it in a second. But what we did in a non technical sense, is we've made a very easy no code solution, where you click and connect, you don't need any technical ability whatsoever, you just need the login of your ad account or Klaviyo account or MailChimp, account all your different marketing platforms. And you just click and connect. And we use some very sophisticated data and analytics in the background to pull all of your data from every single application you run your business on. So for example, Shopify, Google, Facebook, Klaviyo, MailChimp, HubSpot, Salesforce Xero. QuickBooks, like every application that you use to run your small to medium sized Shopify store, or even larger Shopify stores as well, like believe it or not, JB Hi Fi here in Australia is on Shopify Plus. So there are some massive ecommerce businesses on Shopify, which is the reason we decided to help those customers first. So what we've done is, we pull all that data into one place, and what we call we activate the data, we find that I know this from my enterprise days, the biggest problem businesses have with their data is to activate the data. And what I mean by that is ingest it structured and clean it and make it ready for analysis. That's the absolute biggest problem everybody, every business has, right, whether you're a bank, or a small Shopify store, so we spent 18 months building a solution that solves that problem for everyone. And it's literally clicking connect, we make it ready within 30 minutes for analysis. So once we do that part, then we've got a trusted set of data that's stitched together and ready for analysis. And then as you know, when you get a data set that you can trust, the amount of insights, then you can start garnering from that data or asking questions of is infinite. And that yeah, what we've been doing for the last six months is building algorithms to ask really smart questions of the data. And then if the answer is interesting, we've built a Smart Alert system where we alert the Shopify store owner, that you should know about this. Or if the answer isn't interesting, we just keep it in under the hood. And we don't bother with them, because they're busy enough until a particular insight becomes more interesting to that business owner.
Jonas Christensen 28:15
Yeah, fascinating. So you've got this huge data engineering exercise first. So you're actually building an analytical data warehouse, like a corporate, right? So you're doing it first, and then you're analysing it afterwards. And that's pretty much what you spent two years on.
Michael Kingston 28:31
Yeah. So we took all of the best practices that we learned at the enterprise level, and we built it and made it accessible for small business, our cost for our product is a fraction of what it would cost you to do it yourself. And that for the anyone technical, it's a data and analytics podcast. So for anyone who wants to know how we've built it, it's a, it's a global serverless architecture on on AWS, we use Snowflake for our analytics engine. And we also we're big fans of DBT, as well, for those of you know what DBT is. And lastly, we use FiveTran, which is a great product, which is what enables us to connect, to integrate the data from one data source into our platform. And it's a really good product. So that allows us to safely securely ingest data from one point to another point without having to build sophisticated technology or infrastructure ourselves. So it's a great it's a great time to be in startups because, you know, like you mentioned at the start, cloud computing has changed the game. We've got DevOps, we've got CI/CD, we've got cloud global cloud infrastructure. And without all of that having been around for the last 10 years, we wouldn't have been able to build what we've built in just two years, it would have taken us a lot longer so it's a very exciting time to be in business.
Jonas Christensen 29:55
Yeah, wow. So you're cobbling together all these big in the town corporate Enterprise Services, data services, right? You're building a modern data stack that's fit for a, I don't know, a big bank, Wells Fargo or something in the US, right? And then you just distributing it across all these millions of little tiny entities. So that's quite clever actually, I like that.
Michael Kingston 30:17
Yeah, we're trying to level the playing field, right? I mean, these businesses are so busy, they can't afford it, they don't even know this sort of stuff exists. So, so again, comes back to like the passion I mentioned earlier and passionate about helping these small businesses. So we could we could actually go and sell this to Wells Fargo, you know, and, and consult into them or something. But we've we've decided from more of a passion perspective, that there's 5 million passionate Shopify owners out there that we can help. And so let's build a product that's cost effective and smart enough for them to, you know, basically, what we do is we spot the gaps in their business, that they're too busy to spot themselves, and we tell them about it. And then it's as simple as that. But as you know, under the hood, it's quite sophisticated, but we don't bore them with any of the heavy technical detail.
Jonas Christensen 31:06
Yeah, so maybe we talk a little bit about that, Michael, because this is one of those interesting exercises of taking data and analytics, data warehousing, which is kind of boring to a lot of people and making it into products. And throughout your career, you've been very successful at combining data and analytics and technology to create products and solutions that are relevant to a wide range of businesses in different industries, big and small. And now you're doing it for all these Shopify accounts. So what what is your advice to our listeners here, the sort of analytics leaders who are wanting to become great at parcelling up and productizing, I should say, their team's output? How do you do that?
Michael Kingston 31:54
Yes, start with the business problem. There's a great book that I read about eight years ago, called Competing with Lady Luck, it's around the "job to be done framework", very, very popular. And really, what it is, is, in its simplest form, is start with the job that the customer wants to solve, and work backwards from that. I know from being an engineer back in 2004, I would never back then we never got to see the customer, we never even got to talk to the customer facing teams. So we had, we were so removed from the job to be done for the for the end customer, that could be a like a consumer or it could be an internal business customer, we, you know, engineers up until very recently have been so removed from the problem, they're solving the problem that they think it's in their head that they're solving. And I've just found over over my 20ish years of work that the first thing you need to do is just get everyone together, really understand what the job to be done is in certain terms that that problem. And then once you understand that, you can kind of work backwards and start architecting solutions and that sort of thing. But I think, you know, jumping to solution mode as a common, a corporate saying, it's absolutely true, because especially me being an engineer, or an I would call myself an ex engineer, if my co founders heard me describing myself as an engineer, they, they would start laughing, but I'm an ex engineer. And I know that my DNA, my mind is wired to try and jump into solution mode as quickly as possible. Because I'm because that's the way I like to think I like to kind of go, oh, that's an interesting problem. How could I solve that problem? And it happens all too even 2023. It's still happening everywhere. People are jumping into that mindset. And I think the biggest advice is, yeah, really slow down, spend a lot of time upfront understanding what exactly the problem is defining the problem defining who it's for what the solution isn't actually going to solve the problem for the customer. And then once you've done that, then yeah, think about some solutions after that.
Jonas Christensen 34:13
So design, define, design before you build basically.
Michael Kingston 34:19
Yeah, human centred design has become very popular. Yeah, like, I mean, I'm a massive believer in it, but it for every engineer that listens to your show, you know, it may not feel natural to engage in the process with designers like UX UI designers, it may feel like not the best use of your time. I would just say having seen - I've got a quite a diverse background. I've seen it from every angle, and I would say you know, just be patient and go with the process. And you might be surprised but once you find.
Jonas Christensen 34:53
There's a book that you're making me think of, I'm trying to just find the title here, because I do have it in my, my Kindle somewhere. Oh here it is: Ruined by Design, which talks about this, which is a guy who was a back end engineer or designer, and he talks about how everyone is a designer, whether you like it or not. And if you don't realise that, appreciate that and take on that responsibility, you're going to create all this havoc, unintentionally around you. So he used examples of tech businesses using data for experimentation, but it actually is hurting lots of people at the other end, because you're experimenting with real humans. So for instance, some big social media platform, experimenting with whether they can change political views by serving up certain things or what have you, right? Wow, what a fun experiment. Well, guess what it's actually pretty mean and horrible at the end of the day, but yeah, from that, even down to the smallest things that you design, industrial design or technological design, out in society, you have a responsibility for more than the functional spec or the functionality of the thing itself. It's also about how it impacts the greater society. So that's another book to add.
Michael Kingston 36:13
I haven't I haven't heard of it. But thank you sounds very interesting.
Jonas Christensen 36:16
Yeah, I've read about half of it. And it's a big rant. I really liked it, actually. But by the time I got halfway through it, I got the message. Maybe maybe the second half is, I've missed something out. But the point is what I've, what I've raced here. But do check it out. Now, Michael, I'm interested in hearing a little bit more about tech startup life, right. So you are now established enough to have gone through the process of, as you said, you've received funding from external investors and so on. So you've got it set up, you're a couple of years, and you've got a product that works. You talked a little bit about it in the beginning, and having the feeling of losing all your guardrails, when you really went into true entrepreneurship. What have you learned about startup life and about yourself in the last two and a half years?
Michael Kingston 37:14
That's a long question to answer, but I'll try to condense it down. Look a startup is really, really hard starting any business is, even though I was very well equipped, I was 39 when I started it. I had spent 25 years building up a lot of skills and a lot of relationships and a lot of networks. I read somewhere recently that 39 is like the age that gives you the best chance of succeeding with starting a new business. So I was coincidentally that age, but I'm not, I'm not putting up the success flags just yet. But I was very, very well equipped to start Seeda. And even still, it's been the hardest thing I've ever done, it's literally 10 times harder than you think it's going to be or actually 100 times harder. If you were in sales before you start start up your business, if you think you're good at selling when you build your own product that no one really wants to talk to you like I mean, you don't have a big brand behind you. You might have been selling a big brand previously, but now, no one's ever heard of you selling becomes a hot a completely different thing. I spent most of 2022 trying to give away my product for free, and nobody wanted it. So it's like, it's so hard to so many products out there, the industry is flooded. And I would just say like, like I said earlier, you need to be passionate, I know the problem that I'm trying to solve. There are a million different ways I could solve that problem. And we're still, me and my co-founders are still doing a lot of customer research on we haven't found Product Market Fit yet, which I could explain that for your listeners if you like but we haven't found this organic uptake of our product just yet. Because we're still doing customer research. We're still loading customers onto our software, and it moves. You know, every time when I was in corporate world, I would do a 30, 60 and 90 day plan just personally for from my own role. And maybe for some team members. In those 30-60-90 Day plans I was always reasonably accurate around how I would travel over those timeframes. I've actually stopped doing 30-60-90 Day plans and startup world because it's so unpredictable. They're a waste of time. So I've actually started doing one year plans and trying to kind of do really high level targets to try and give us some direction and and figure out what bets to make for that particular 12 month period. But yeah, like I mean, it's so challenging that like the ones that you're reading In about in the media, the overnight success stories are the ones who got 50 million or 100 million from investors. That's like the point 1% or less point zero 1% of startups. The reality is, and I know I'm in Sydney startup hub here in in Wynyard in Sydney, in Australia. So I'm, I'm surrounded by my, my peers, and I, we talk about it, we know how hard it is, most startups are in the same boat, it's just really, really hard, especially at the start. And then as you move on, and you get a bit of traction for us traction took years, not months. And as you get a bit of traction, things start to get a little bit easier with the revenue, maybe the revenue or the sales. But then as you know yourself, other issues start creeping up, like operational issues, or hiring issues or the product might break for some unknown reason, you've got to spend a week troubleshooting it. One of my mentors, he's a successful entrepreneur, X entrepreneur, he basically says it's like going from one crisis to the next, over and over again. So that's the life of most startups. And you've got to be really, really sure that that's the life you want. I think a lot of entrepreneurs and startup, folks are a little bit mad, to be honest with you. Because why would you choose a life like that, that you're going from one crisis to the next? And, yeah, it's a bit of a bit of a vocation. For me personally, I feel like, it's what I was meant to do. So I'm doing it, I enjoy it. But I would say the vast majority of people wouldn't, wouldn't enjoy it.
Jonas Christensen 41:39
I would tend to agree with that last statement. And I think the main thing we got from that was it's actually really, really, really hard. And we said that in the beginning, and it hasn't changed. One thing I've been reflecting on since you started talking is this is a unsubstantiated comment, but I'm going to make it nevertheless, it seems like a lot of startup founders are key kids of, like you, people who had a farm, or immigrants who had, their parents were immigrants, and they had a fruit shop or some sort of business like that, where if you don't do the work today, there will be no food tomorrow. How do you think that that kind of feeds into this ecosystem? Is that a reasonable kind of observation?
Michael Kingston 42:32
Yeah, yeah. I don't have any data to kind of support that. But I mean, yes, I think a lot of people have had some exposure to people running small businesses may not be their parents, it could be their, their uncle, their aunt. But yeah, I mean, to want to do the job, you've got to have some inspiration in your background, to kind of open your eyes to that and get some value from that you might, you know, you might have everyone's got like, a friend or a family friend, that's that's had a successful business or sorry, not everyone, but some people are lucky enough to have, you know, a loose connection that's been successful in business. And, and maybe people draw on inspiration from that. And for me, even though my mom and dad ran a really small business, it was still, you know, success back then was putting food on the table. So it was successful in that context. And yeah, I certainly got inspiration from that. And then I've been very lucky through my engineering degree and, and subsequent jobs. I've been very lucky to know a few entrepreneurs who've who've done some really cool things. And yeah, I'm like, "Yeah, I want a piece of that success". I know how hard, or well, I thought I knew how hard it was gonna be it turned out to be 100 times harder. But yeah, I definitely think that that drives me as well, that creating something from literally from nothing, we all want a sense of purpose in our in our lives. And if I can create a piece of software, that helps even 1% of the eCommerce 0.1% of the eCommerce businesses out there to have more revenue, give them a few hours of the week back because they don't need to do some data analysis. Like I mean, I that drives me as well getting the sense of purpose and satisfaction from creating a product that does that for these people.
Jonas Christensen 44:18
Nice one. And actually, I think that leads me to the next question that I'm pondering because right now is such a changing time. We talk a lot about AI these days. And at this time, when we're recording ChatGPT is sort of revolutionising people's thinking or our ideas of what AI can be and all of a sudden is this textual thing that the you can almost have conversations with and your product is it's not quite that but it's an aid in a different way to what maybe people were thinking about people who are not into what AI is necessarily, what they thought it would be. Where do you see all this going for your business and for your industry? Where the challenges and opportunities in the next few years?
Michael Kingston 45:04
Yeah, I think firstly, AI people have just got to the way I think of it, it's just a tool, right? There's lots of ways we can go and do our job or live our lives. They're just tools like Siri, on our phones, or Google, on Google Home, its AI, they're just tools that if we use them correctly, can give us a better quality of life. And that's the way I think about ChatGPT, or I was using, I've been using a similar product called Jasper for like, a few years, all these products have been out there. And they're just tools that to, if used correctly, can enhance our lives. So I think that's going to be the case for the next five years, you know, they will get the tools will get better, and it will be easier, they'll become more user friendly. And they'll become easier to use to enhance our lives to get the job to be done that we're trying to get done to make our lives easier. But in terms of to your question around the challenges and opportunities. Did you mean for my business personally? Yeah, yeah. Yeah. So um, I think the founding, I've been very lucky to have two incredibly smart and experienced technical co-founders, Chris and Mahmood. And I think the challenge will be, I guess, there's got to be so many options to pick different tools, the challenge will be to pick the right ones. And luckily, I trust Chris and Mahmood to kind of to make those correct decisions. And then, for small businesses like us, to have the opportunity to use some of these enhanced tools over the next few years to, I guess, use them properly to then pass the value on to our customers is it is a massive opportunity. So one thing we're looking at at the moment, it's very similar to ChatGPT in the way that all ChatGPT is a natural language processing tool, we're looking at a separate tool that's similar, that can let you ask natural questions of your own business data. So if you're a Shopify store owner, and you're wondering how many red T-shirts did I sell last week, or what's my highest selling t shirt, we're looking at building into our tool, whether it be a text or voice, you know, you can ask questions of your own data in natural language, you know, what's my highest margin product without having to spend an hour looking at spreadsheets, you can literally ask because we've put the data together for you in a consumable manner, then you point a natural language processing tool at that clean data, you can get accurate answers to the questions that most business owners probably spend keeps them up at night like I mean, have I ordered enough stock? Why am I wasting money on ads? Am I missing an opportunity with email marketing that I should know about? You can literally ask these questions you ever data in, in natural language? Which is which, beyond the business opportunity there, I'm actually just excited about building that product. Because it's pretty cool, you know?
Jonas Christensen 48:02
Absolutely. And you know what, I think of this thing a lot, because this is where BI or business intelligence analytics, the basic question and answer stuff, it needs to go there. Because you think about everything else. We can search on Google. But we're still going to the library when we're inside the business, which is the library of reports right to, to figure out that little insight, but actually, it's it's kind of an inefficient way to organise and find information compared to what we can do. So yeah, great feature. I can see how your marketing Shopifyers, and marketing managers and those or moms and dads running those businesses however big they are, they can really, really be revolutionised and step into a different paradigm and what you're serving up. Hi there, dear listener, I just want to quickly let you know that I have recently published a book with six other authors, called 'Demystifying AI for the Enterprise: a playbook for business value & digital transformation'. If you'd like to learn more about the book, then head over to www dot leaders of analytics.com/ai. Now back to the show. Michael, I've got just three questions left, one big one and two easy ones. We'll start with the big one, because we've already talked about the fact that you have a very varied and broad ranging career you have had to date. So I'm interested in your non-obvious, emphasising non-obvious, advice to anyone wanting to get the most out of their talents, whether that's the most fun and most success however you define that.
Michael Kingston 49:50
Yeah, yeah. Tough question for me, I'll just give my own one. I didn't know what I wanted. Right. I struggled for years, not knowing what it like if we all knew what we wanted. That would be great because then we can go and try and build a plan to get that thing. But for me, I didn't know 20 years ago, I wanted to run, you know, an AI marketing analytics company, if I'd known that 20 years ago, like I could have started up Salesforce, right? So yeah, is Shopify 20 years old? No, Shopify is only about 14 years old, Salesforce, or WordPress, or WooCommerce would be that old. But the point I'm making is figuring out what we want has been a big part of my journey. And I definitely, if I had done a 10 years, or if I knew what I want to 10 years earlier, I could have made a lot more progress. And what I did was I just started talking to people, I started getting, seeking out smart people seeking out people that were in the area that I thought I wanted to work in, or start a business in. And then you know, I've spent for every 100 hours I've spent speaking to people, I've probably only only 5% of that has has been useful. So five hours out of 100. The other 95 has been great research, but a lot of it's like eliminating things because you have a conversation, you learn about a certain area and you and you think to yourself, oh, actually, no, I know, I don't want that thing. So yeah, you've got to spend so much time researching, I suppose it's great these days, you've got the internet and, you know, ChatGPT could search the internet for you and answer questions maybe quicker than in the past, but there's no replacement for speaking to smart humans as well. But um, yeah, I would say figure out what you want talk to a lot of people around and researching whether, you know, validating if that's what you want to do or not. And then when you kind of figure out what you want, like take my journey, I was working in telco my research told me that it probably wasn't going to grow as fast as some other technology industries were. So then I started researching "Okay, do I get into biotech? Do I get into EVs do I get into software as a service, etc." I did a lot of research, I decided I want to get it I wanted to get into the internet, which is the internet is basically software, I went down there, that the internet, as an industry is quite broad, I got into that for a few years learned that I was really passionate about the power of data and analytics have sought out an opportunity to get deeper into that discipline. I got, like I said earlier, I got extremely lucky to be given an opportunity to work with a really good company and a really good entrepreneur learned more about that particular thing, then I realised I wanted to do something else. And I just kept moving. And as a coach of mine said about 15 years ago, it's about don't overextend yourself, he used the term, find your adjacencies. And he talked about rock climbing. So if you're rock climbing, which I used to do, like a long time ago, you know, you're climbing up a difficult climb, you've got your anchor points of probably your legs and your arm, and then you're feeling around with this other arm for the next position. So that's kind of what I did, I held on to my anchor points, which were my people skills, my technical skills, my communication skills. And then I reached out into data analytics, which I knew nothing about. And then I just learned, and because I had some solid anchor points, in other areas, I was able to kind of survive. And then learn more. And then you kind of go from there. It's been a meandering career for me. But I did it very intentionally. And to get to the point I'm at now or even, you know, I've still not stopped meandering, I'm, I'm still always trying to learn, always trying to meet new people figure out what's the next new thing. I love talking to people. So you know, like I'm talking to you now I really enjoy it. That's a strength of mine. And something that I enjoy doing. It gives me energy. So I'll go out and I'll talk to people just for the sake of talking to them. The trick is to try and pick the right people to talk to because sometimes conversations aren't as valuable. And then yeah, just keep going and still try to try to figure your way through this challenging world we're living in.
Jonas Christensen 54:18
So Michael, last question for the day is, we've all heard now about your story. It's really interesting. And we've heard about Seeda, which is also really interesting. So we want to know more, how do we connect with you and follow you and see that from here on?
Michael Kingston 54:33
Well, LinkedIn has become the business social network. So I'm only active on one social network and it's LinkedIn. So yeah, follow me on LinkedIn and our website is www.seeda.io. spelled S E E D A dot I O. And yeah, all my details are online. If anyone is ever interested to talk more then feel free to reach out via LinkedIn or email.
Jonas Christensen 54:57
So that was iS E E D A dot I O, please go and check that out everybody and follow Michael and his company on their journey there. And if you have a Shopify website, then you know what to do next. You definitely need to go over there and have a look. Okay, Michael, we're at the end. So, Michael Kingston, thank you so much for being on Leaders of Analytics today. It's been really, really interesting to learn about you, your company and your personal journey, which is quite inspiring for me personally, and I'm sure listeners will get a lot out of listening to it too. And all the best for you and your co founders with Seeda.
Michael Kingston 55:35
Thanks very much, Jonas. It's been a it's been a pleasure to talk to you.
Jonas Christensen 55:41
Hi, dear listener. Just a quick note from me before you go. If you enjoyed the show, then please don't forget to subscribe to future episodes via your favourite podcast app. I have loads more great stuff coming your way. Also, I'd love some feedback from you on this show. So please, please leave a review on Apple podcasts, iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Thanks for listening and catch you soon.