Samuel Conway is the co-founder and CEO of Zegami Limited. Zegami is an intuitive data discovery technology platform that through combining images and data unlocks the power of visual search for everyone.
The well know futurist, designer and inventor Richard Buckminster Fuller wrote, “If you want to teach a new way of thinking, don’t bother teaching them. Instead give them a tool, the use of which will lead to new ways of thinking.” So, by combining images and data, Zegami with the potential to add machine learning, predictive analytics and auto tagging can unlock a world of possibility and insight unmatched by any other solution available today.
The company was formed as an Oxford spinout on the first of February 2016 out of a collaboration project between the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine (WIMM) and Coritsu Group, an Australian based software development company. In addition to the founders, the team has grown by 5 and has plans to expand much more in the next 2 years as the power of Zegami is discovered by researchers, academics and industry.
What is Your Background? What made you become an entrepreneur?
I grew up in Adelaide, South Australia and after high school and a brief interest in becoming a chef, I studied a double degree in Electrical Engineering and Medical Science (Biomedical Engineering) at Flinders University. Halfway through my degree I decided to have a break and headed to Japan to teach English, after just over a year I returned to Adelaide to complete my degrees and went on to do an MBA (International Business). This led to a business analyst role job within the steel industry a couple of years later this was followed by a brief stint in the automotive industry before returning to the steel industry as the National Quality Manager. An unexpected redundancy offer due to a company restructure led me to starting my own consultancy company in Adelaide around quality management and SharePoint. This is what got me started on my Entrepreneurial Journey.
What is your definition of an Entrepreneur?
I never deliberately set out to be an entrepreneur, growing up in a family where there was a tradition of running your own businesses meant the transition for me was very natural and in many ways, could have been seen as an expected career step. The word entrepreneur has had an evolving definition for me as initially I felt it had almost a negative connotation, because my aim was to just get on with doing business whereas I felt that those around me that claimed to be were just experimenting or playing at business in a way that wasn’t building a sustainable business for their customers (at all).
How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop?
My Entrepreneurial journey can be broken up into two parts, the first being around the initial Coritsu Business based on sharepoint development (Building Intranets, Forms solutions, document management solutions etc). I was invited to speak at a couple of business process improvement events in Australia that yielded a myriad of job offers, hence I thought why not work consult to all of them instead.
The second opportunity came about when I met my CTO Roger Noble and saw the opportunity with the technology that he was working on and developing part time. I instantly saw the data manipulation insight that Zegami can give combined with images and knew it needed to be commercialised.
So what would you say are the top three skills that you need to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
Persistence – If you are passionate about what you are doing never take no for an answer but that isn’t blind persistence. Look at what the market is demanding or create that market demand, as at the end of the day, if you’re not selling or growing, your business is dying.
Creativity – There is always a solution, many people look to follow a documented path of other entrepreneurs as an example, however the best companies and business ideas are created when all elements of an entrepreneur come together knowledge, Experience, creativity and gut feel.
Communication – You may have the best business idea, product or concept in the world but if you can’t sell it to anyone or make others passionate about it then it just won’t work.
What is your favourite part of being an Entrepreneur?
Inspiring people to get more out themselves and what they think can achieve. Also, to teach people that Entrepreneurship isn’t about following an incredibly detailed step by step plan as that’s not what life is. It’s about building knowledge and experience in many different areas that enables you to manage all aspects of a business and challenges when they come your way.
What individual Company or Organisation inspires you the most?
That’s a hard question to answer, I was a child that never grew up wanting to be a superhero, well I did but that super hero was me. I never understood that concept until I had children and its fascinating now when my boys, 4 and 7 are playing dress ups if you ask them if they are superman or Spiderman the answer is always “NO, Dad I’m Angus”. It’s that same strong sense of Identity I have always had as well.
Today, what inspires me is when you see a person or team completely in tune and on form, all the years of training, knowledge, experience and ability is brought to the table and they are using it to get the best possible results out of the situation. It’s almost like a state of nirvana, it’s a learned skill that is now instinct.
If you could have 5 minutes with the above individual/company/org, what would you want to ask or discuss?
I guess based on the above question it doesn’t yield an answer, however that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t want to sit down with a Bill Gates or any of the other billionaire tech giants or business leaders to see what makes them tick.
It would have to be getting the Oxford deal over the line as it stretched both my physical, emotional and financial resources to the limit. If we didn’t get the deal done I had nothing in reserve and would have needed to completely re-access where my company was in Australia and look at taking on long-term personal debt to stay in business.
People are not as passionate or self-sacrificing if they have no financial stake in the business. As an Entrepreneur, generally you give 110% to your business and often you don’t get paid or you work crazy hours to get a business off the ground. Unfortunately, when you bring staff in their motivation and support has a limit and you should be aware and accepting of that. My biggest failure has been just expecting things will happen instead of driving them to ensure they do, which has meant many lost opportunities.
My consulting business in Adelaide was funded through doing business, until I co-founded Zegami limited I had always run cash positive organisations with no debt. The concept being, if we wanted to grow and develop we had no safety net we just needed to make it work.
Zegami Limited is however a different company as it is a funded Oxford spinout, this opportunity excited me as someone who in the past had bootstrapped his company to get it started, and it was hard work. Now I’m learning the challenges of running a funded company with a board and investors.
What is good about being an Entrepreneur in Oxford?
Coming from Adelaide, South Australia it’s a completely different market with much greater opportunity and potential. What I have found amazing is the opportunity to communicate and collaborate with such a diverse range of organisations and departments in fields of innovation and technology that unfortunately just do not exist at home. Living in Oxford does take some getting used to, however at this stage apart from the weather (Which is getting colder) we are loving it.
If a new Entrepreneur or start up came to you looking for entrepreneur resources, where would you send them?
As an Entrepreneur who founded a company on the other side of the world with no contacts and networks, this has certainly been a major challenge. My best advice is in two parts
1. Network, Network, Network
Get out there so that people can learn who you are and what you do and then contact those people afterwards to see if there are any synergies within your businesses and if there are, create a plan and get them involved.
2. Target the people and companies that you want to work with. Being a CEO or entrepreneur is like constantly looking for a job, work out what you need to do and who you need to talk to be successful
Any Last words of Advice?
Stay positive and constantly ask yourself “what could I have done better today and what is it that we are trying to achieve here “, Also ensuring that you are continuing to build a team that is on that journey with you, you can’t do everything yourself don’t let you be the limiting factor in the success of your business.
At the end of the day if it were easy everyone would be doing it and success isn’t always based on whether you win or lose each individual battle it’s about persistence and never being satisfied.