In our latest Founder Feature, we talk to Michael Boham, founder of Skillsize
Michael is a serial entrepreneur with a deep passion for digital technology. Leveraging his professional experience in management consulting, he founded Skillsize in 2019 to help organisations more intelligently align their workforce to strategic objectives using AI and NLP, helping organisations achieve workforce agility by making internal expertise searchable, usable and accessible.
Q: Could you tell us about your company and what you’re striving to achieve?
Skillsize is a cloud-based data analytics platform that helps modern organizations achieve workforce agility through intelligent expertise mapping. Skillsize accomplishes this by utilizing AI and Natural Language Processing to transform your employees’ CV’s into a fully integrated internal skills marketplace and talent portfolio, thereby optimizing project mobilisation and powering firm-wide collaboration.
The recent implications of COVID-19 have increased the need for organisations to become more agile and adaptable in their strategy. Skillsize enables this important shift by providing a tool to align their workforce to their new strategic goals, whilst providing a digital blueprint that underpins the entire employee experience within the organization.
Q: What made you decide to take on the challenge of founding your business?
With a combined 15+ years of professional experience, largely in the field of Management Consulting and other highly project-centric environments, our team (of 3) observed a common theme of disconnection, and a lack of knowledge around people’s expertise, particularly in larger organisations. This significantly, and repeatedly, stifles the process of project resourcing and mobility, mentoring and training and at large, workforce agility.
Having experienced this as a re-occurring theme with organisations at various sizes, we set out to solve this complex problem by creating a robust solution utilizing existing data; employee CV’s. We created a platform that combines unstructured data sources of this nature into one unified, centralised and searchable expertise database – with the employee at the centre. For Managers, Skillsize provides a swift mechanism for identifying the right resources to be mobilized on projects, expertise gaps and opportunities for upskilling and recruitment. For employees, it builds their knowledge of colleague’s expertise to support their own professional experience and career development via peer-to-peer training and mentoring.
Q: What is the core technology driving your start-up’s product/service?
The core of Skillsize sits on the fusion of big data, natural language processing (NLP) and artificial intelligence (AI). Over a significant period of time, we have been able to amass and develop a deep skills taxonomy that covers a wide range of fields, industries and job functions. Our advanced algorithm scans, interprets and analyses the unstructured data in employee CV’s, and then extracts and intelligently infers the relevant skills as a network of semantically connected keywords to capture the unique context of their employees expertise distribution at scale.
Q: Who are you and what is your story?
A professional problem-solver with a deep-seeded passion for venture building.
Having spent a good portion of my childhood years growing up in Africa, it was instilled in me very early on the linear relationship between hard work and reward coupled with the ability to overlook perceived limited resources to progress your goals.
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These ingredients carried me through the years into the Corporate world where I endured the active and daily tensions of focusing on things outside of the scope of my personal interests, to contribute to, and accelerate, my goal of building my own businesses.
Q: Tell us about some of the biggest obstacles you’ve had to overcome?
Building a venture outside of a full time job.
It is no secret that building a business in itself is a full-time job (and more); one of my biggest challenges was having to build this outside of my time as a Management Consultant. Being a Consultant, you are faced with unpredictable workloads, critical delivery schedules and heightened expectations. The challenge for me was juggling my level of focus between my responsibilities of full-time employment, against what was needed to develop the Skillsize venture. I committed to the normal sacrifices of working late nights and completely consuming my weekends with the business. Invariably this level of commitment did take its toll on my social life and indeed, a number of personal relationships. Now that it has progressed out of the critical development phase and onto business development and growth, I have now been able to outsource a number of less sensitive time-consuming tasks, thus allowing me to maintain some semblance of balance whilst ensuring the growth and success of Skillsize.
Q: What’s most exciting about your traction to date?
I’d definitely say it’s the positive feedback we have received from early users and demos to prospective customers. When building a business, particularly one of the digital/ tech nature, it is exceedingly easy to fall into the “creators bias” of assuming the complete validity of all your assumptions and the value proposition you aim to convey without testing the concept with real users. We adopted a very experimental and feedback-driven process of execution from the very beginning which has allowed us to shape and quickly iterate to a version of the product that is already delivering a significant level of value to our early users. It has definitely been very encouraging to receive this positive feedback from our users and has certainly validated our efforts along the way.
Skillsize in action | Photo Credit: Skillsize
Q: How are you measuring your success? What are your metrics?
User adoption – Concept (Demo progression), Business (Trial to paid).
At this stage we are measuring the adoption rate by monitoring both the “demo to trial” conversion and the “trial to paid user” conversion rates. The former gives us an indication of the strength of the value proposition we are offering thus, validating the concept. The latter ratio provides an indication of how well our solution solves the exact problem and if our customers can visualize enough of a sizeable ROI thus validating the commercial makeup of the business and growth potential.
Q: What has surprised you in your journey so far?
People are genuinely willing to help. During the development phase, I spent quite a bit of time reaching out to people (on a cold basis) on LinkedIn to garner some interest in our concept, provide feedback on early versions of the product and potentially get some early paying customers. While it was a largely volume-based process met with rejections and limited engagement in most cases, I was pleasantly surprised by the responses received, some of whom worked in quite large enterprises, willingly offered their time to jump on calls, demos and lend some feedback and advice which went a long way in developing the product to its current state.
Q: Can you tell us who your mentors and heroes are, and what impact they’ve had on you?
Besides the old man, I’d probably say the late great Kobe Bryant. Someone that completely embodied the true meaning of ‘work ethic’ and a near addiction to achieving perfection in his craft.
This was someone I studied and emulated from a very young age where my ambitions were a lot simpler and all I wanted to do was play basketball. Fast forward many years to now, my focus has changed but the same principles remain in applying a near surgical level of execution precision, intense work ethic and a relentless drive to achieve my ambitions. Seeing how many other people he has influenced over his life has been truly inspirational. The concept of “The Mamba Mentality”, the ferocious drive that led him to win 5 Championships and a near poetic sports career as one of the greatest icons of our time. The underlying principles are components that I frequently try to emulate on a daily basis.
Q: What’s one piece of advice you’d give to budding innovators taking the same journey?
A simple approach to “The What” and “The How”:
Focus on problems, not opportunities. Opportunities can be distracting and in most cases, temporary. Find a core problem worth solving; either a personal frustration, one that you feel deeply passionate about correcting or one that you’ve observed but simply can’t find a suitable enough solution to. Check that this is in fact a problem experienced by others, there is an interest or evidence that they are or have invested in at least trying to solve it but to no avail and then obsess over it. It’s this problem-centric mindset that will allow you to unlock real intrinsic value which eventually, with consistent and focused effort, often leads to a thriving sustainable business.
Don’t see things as how they are, see them more as how they could be. There is a common anecdote that if Henry Ford, the famous American industrialist asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse. Steve Jobs also famously noted that “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them”. The concept of being led by deep customer research and well-defined and mutualized problems is important, it is also crucial not to be limited by this concept fully but also be audacious enough to allow yourself to be led by free-flow creativity and “blue sky thinking”.
I have found, and observed a lot of success in the active combination of both approaches.
Find out more about Michael Boham and Skillsize here: www.skillsize.io