Build a talented team with clear sense of purpose and shared belief — the common goal is key
Build your infrastructure
Protect your IP
As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women Leaders in Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Katy Wigdahl, a fantastic CEO and brings with her a wealth of experience in leading finance functions and improving the overall quality of data and decision-making. Katy, who has worked previously at Unilever and Transversal, is a hugely valuable addition to the Speechmatics Leadership team as we embark on the next stage of our expansion.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
There isn’t a specific story that bought me onto this career path — more a series of events that led to where I am today. My experience in taking an FMCG product to market and maximizing the opportunity by using product diversification to create excitement and stickiness was a real game-changer. The opportunity for technology is vast and it has always interested me. This specific interest led me to implementing SAP in Europe for Unilever where I saw how technology could enable efficiencies across the customer journey and supplier chain but also how it enabled optimization of resources and transparency of performance. I am also a qualified accountant which allows me to understand how to create business value and growth through my holistic approach to management.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
Since I have started at Speechmatics — initially as CFO — I have been really impressed with how — despite COVID-19 and the challenges it has presented — our business is still growing at over 40% YoY. The growth of the business is testament to a hugely talented team and a great product at the core of what we do with everyone working towards the same common goal.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson did you learn from it?
When I worked for Unilever, I went away for a two-day corporate annual event. I stayed up too late talking to the board, but whatever good I did in relationship building that night was completely undone when I slept through my alarm. Never again… it was excruciatingly embarrassing walking in late! Top tip — always get your sleep and rest!
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I am very resilient and calm by nature and have taught myself to let things go that I can’t control. Working long hours in a male-centric industry when I was bringing up young children was tough. I worked through and kept pushing because I knew that it was important that I continued to grow intellectually, to achieve and learn each day. I wanted to be a good role model and that kept me focused on the positives and looking forward to my goals. A challenge is simply an opportunity to think differently.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My father was a great role model. He worked with Tim Berners-Lee on creating the WWW. His intellectual brilliance and endeavors to push new boundaries in his academic research at CERN made me realize the importance of teamwork, intellectual curiosity and challenge of the norm.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Your brain is in your head, feet in your shoes, you can go in any direction that you choose.
“Grow fast or die slow” (McKinsey)
What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?
Speechmatics powers applications that require mission-critical, accurate speech recognition to derive meaning from voice.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Speechmatics was born out of an idea in an attic. World-leading pioneer of automatic speech recognition technology — Dr. Tony Robinson — developed the concept of applying neural networks to the problem of speech recognition in the 1980s. It wasn’t until the early 2000s that compute power was fast enough to bring his concept to life. Speechmatics still uses the same concept technology that was built in the attic. This technology was the foundation of building the multi-billion-dollar global business that it is now. It’s a constant reminder to the whole company that no idea is ever too ambitious.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
At Speechmatics we are continually innovating. We have a dedicated machine learning, innovation team looking at game-changing technology advancements and research that excites and defines our market. We are using machine learning to ensure our models are faster and smarter which has led to our recent uplift in accuracy for our Global English language pack. Our product advancements are dedicated to being the best provider or speech recognition technology on the market and ensuring our customers and partners are continually using the best technology available in their products.
Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in Tech? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
I don’t believe in playing the “women in tech” card. We create our own opportunities no matter our gender. The key driver is education and creating excitement so that children aspire to learn STEM subjects and thrive in the space and opportunities in front of them.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?
From my experience, the biggest challenge faced in the gender gap is income/remuneration and recognition. I believe this will continue to be an ongoing challenge that will slowly correct itself overtime as women begin to push the boundaries of what can be achieved.
What would you advise to another tech leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth or sales and “restart their engines”?
You need to look at things a different way and take some risk if you have reached a standstill. Look at your product market fit, your ideal customer profile and really challenge your team to prove you have it.
Do you have any advice about how companies can create very high performing sales teams?
Firstly, understand your product market fit and your ideal customer profile. You then need to ensure you get reward and recognition correct from the offset to keep the team motivated. FOCUS on the target with a great team set with clear goals.
In your specific industry what methods have you found to be most effective in order to find and attract the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?
You need to understand what issues you are solving for your customers and deliver a solution without being asked. Look to always be creative and innovative so you are seen as the expert and the team and technology they cannot live without.
Based on your experience, can you share 3 or 4 strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?
You must have:
- A partnership model
- A customer success program
- A strong customer support model
- Product roadmap delivery that is timely and transparent
- Retaining customers can be far more lucrative than finding new ones. Do you use any specific initiatives to limit customer attrition or customer churn? Can you share some of your advice from your experience about how to limit customer churn?
At Speechmatics, we have exceptional customer retention. The key to our success is to have a sticky product that works and creates true gains. A strong product needs to then be coupled with an engaged customer success team through active communication. Our partnership model has also been a strong asset to us as our product benefits from working on a partnership basis — ensure you understand your customers and what they need.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful tech company? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Have at least one USP — we have three that combined, set us apart from the rest
- Build a talented team with clear sense of purpose and shared belief — the common goal is key
- Build your infrastructure
- Protect your IP
- Get a route to market and understand the opportunity
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
To find a way to break down the barriers across class, race and gender.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
Marc Andreessen for his inspiring insights.