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Tadaweb on En­trepreneur­ship & Lux­em­bourg

TADAWEB IS THE FIRST SMALL-DATA PLAT­FORM TO SCALE HU­MAN IN­TEL­LI­GENCE FOR DIS­COV­ER­ING AND AN­A­LYZ­ING IN­FOR­MA­TION ON THE IN­TER­NET. BASED IN LUX­EM­BOURG WITH OF­FICES IN LON­DON AND PARIS, THIS SUC­CESS­FUL TECH STARTUP IS A DIS­RUPT 100 COM­PANY AND MI­CROSOFT PART­NER. SIL­I­CON MET WITH CO-FOUNDER GENNA ELVIN TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THE COM­PANY'S JOUR­NEY, UNIQUE VAL­UES AND PLANS FOR THE FU­TURE. WHAT DOES TADAWEB DO?

Tadaweb fo­cuses on pro­vid­ing tech­nol­ogy that en­ables cus­tomers to repli­cate the pro­cesses they carry out to get their on­line info, and scale it. It is all about the hu­man as­pect of in­for­ma­tion gath­er­ing and un­der­stand­ing this on­line in­for­ma­tion. Our mis­sion is to shape how hu­mans in­ter­act with the web.

HOW DID IT ALL START?

François Gas­pard (CEO and co-founder) spent over 15 years do­ing re­search, and he con­cluded that he needed a much faster way to get in­for­ma­tion. As on­line in­for­ma­tion is con­stantly chang­ing, it's dif­fi­cult for a hu­man to keep up. His dream was to build a tech­nol­ogy that would repli­cate that process. So, in De­cem­ber 2011, with a great deal of en­cour­age­ment and en­thu­si­asm from early in­vestors, we in­cor­po­rated Tadaweb. We then spent the first two years on R&D and build­ing up tech­nol­ogy.

WAS IT DIF­FI­CULT FIND­ING IN­VESTORS?

We started out with fund­ing from friends and fam­ily, which got us through the first year. We then re­ceived sup­port from Serge Rollinger (a Lux­em­bourg busi­ness an­gel), the SNCI bank, and a few other an­gels. Ini­tially, we thought we wanted to go down the ven­ture cap­i­tal route. We got to the end of a term sheet with a VC in Lon­don and then de­cided at the last minute to walk away from the ta­ble. We re­al­ized it wasn't the right kind of in­vest­ment, so we opted to stick with pri­vate in­vestors.

TELL US ABOUT THE TADAWEB TEAM.

We started out at Techno­port with just one de­vel­oper. We've now grown to a team of 37 and there are sev­eral new job open­ings. We don't have a sales team. In­stead, we have for­ward de­ploy­ment engi­neers (aka Tada in­for­ma­tion nin­jas): peo­ple with en­gi­neer­ing know-how who can also in­ter­act with cus­tomers. Two-thirds of our team are de­vel­op­ers, then there's the prod­uct team, and the ninja team in charge of cus­tomer ser­vice.

HOW DO YOU COL­LAB­O­RATE WITH MI­CROSOFT?

We've been working with Mi­crosoft for the last three years across a num­ber of dif­fer­ent ar­eas. They love Tadaweb be­cause we pro­vide them with tough chal­lenges, par­ticu- larly in ar­eas of im­age recog­ni­tion and ma­chine-learn­ing. As a re­sult, we of­ten get early ac­cess to their tech­nol­ogy and help them im­prove it through our test­ing. They also have ac­cess to our tech­nol­ogy so you could call it a tech­no­log­i­cal part­ner­ship.

WHAT'S THE FIRST PIECE OF AD­VICE YOU HAVE FOR EN­TREPRENEURS START­ING THEIR OWN COM­PA­NIES?

Know your mar­ket early on. You re­ally need to know the mar­ket you want to sell to and en­sure you have a prod­uct-mar­ket fit. We were lucky be­cause we had a lot of our own IP. Our in­vestors loved our tech­nol­ogy, and they in­vested be­cause they trusted our IP. For com­pa­nies that don't have their own IP, if they don't know their prod­uct-mar­ket fit, it can be very risky.

WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE STARTUP ECOSYS­TEM IN LUX­EM­BOURG?

We have been re­ally for­tu­nate as we've watched it evolve over the last seven years. It's def­i­nitely grow­ing and flour­ish­ing, es­pe­cially with ini­tia­tives like Lux­in­no­va­tion. The gov­ern­ment is clearly in­ter­ested in bring­ing the en­tre­pre­neur­ial mind­set to the coun­try. There's still a fair bit of work to do in terms of mak­ing it eas­ier to rent of­fice space, for ex­am­ple, or bring­ing in for­eign tal­ent. The visa process is still very long-winded. But the men­tal­ity is def­i­nitely im­prov­ing and a lot has changed in the last few years. We have to re­mem­ber that the cor­po­rate en­vi­ron­ment here is re­ally “safe” so many peo­ple are not mo­ti­vated to risk start­ing their own com­pany. The only way star­tups can com­pete with banks of­fer­ing sky-high salaries and good perks is with en­vi­ron­ment, cul­ture and men­tal­ity.

ARE YOU AC­TIVELY IN­VOLVED IN THE STARTUP COM­MU­NITY AND PRO­MOT­ING TECH HERE IN LUX­EM­BOURG?

Very much so. In fact, every­one on the team at­tends mee­tups and is pas­sion­ate about get­ting young peo­ple in­volved in tech. As well as lec­tur­ing an­nu­ally at the Univer­sity of Lux­em­bourg as part of the Mas­ter in En­trepreneur­ship and In­no­va­tion pro­gram, I was one of the coaches for the Jonk En­trepreneuren com­pe­ti­tion, I'm on the board of Equili­bre, and in­volved in Lux­in­no­va­tion's Fit 4 Start. I'm also on the working com­mit­tee of the ILA (In­sti­tut Lux­em­bour­geois des Ad­min­is­tra­teurs) where we fo­cus on board com­po­si­tion.

Our aim is to find a way to fu­ture-proof some of the big­gest or­ga­ni­za­tions in Lux­em­bourg, es­pe­cially in the bank­ing sec­tor. Our goal is to en­cour­age them to fu­ture-proof be­cause oth­er­wise, in 10 years, there will be a huge gap and no one to fill it. That could spell dis­as­ter.

HOW COULD WE AT­TRACT MORE TECH PEO­PLE TO LUX­EM­BOURG?

We man­aged to get some­one who worked for 15 years at Google to come to Lux­em­bourg so it is pos­si­ble! How? Be­cause of our board and be­cause of the net­work we have. Per­haps Lux­em­bourg needs to re-ex­am­ine its net­work­ing strat­egy. At Equili­bre, we've talked about go­ing on a trade mis­sion to the U.S. where we can show­case Lux­em­bourg. More ex­po­sure is cru­cial.

HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH TAL­ENT MAN­AGE­MENT?

Tal­ent man­age­ment can be tricky. That's why we cre­ate the kind of en­vi­ron­ment that helps us bring in tal­ent from all over the world. It takes a long time to find the right peo­ple and we're re­ally strict on the peo­ple that we hire. We def­i­nitely don't hire peo­ple that we don't be­lieve in, and a big part of that is tak­ing into ac­count the cul­tural fit. We've had to turn down some amaz­ing tal­ent be­cause we didn't feel they fit in with who we are as a com­pany. Driven by our core val­ues, we re­ally care about our team. Work hard, play hard and fam­ily first – it's not a men­tal­ity you see of­ten here in Lux­em­bourg. We have var­i­ous re­cruit­ment strate­gies: there are a few head­hunters we work with, and we also of­fer in­cen­tives in­ter­nally – if some­one finds new tal­ent, they get €3,000.

HOW DO YOU CON­VINCE PEO­PLE TO MOVE TO LUX­EM­BOURG?

It's quite hard to bring in younger tal­ent, but Lux­em­bourg is a great place to raise a fam­ily. Its cen­tral lo­ca­tion is of course a big plus in terms of travel and ex­plor­ing Europe, es­pe­cially for col­leagues com­ing from as far as Brazil, for ex­am­ple. We also of­fer a gen­er­ous re­lo­ca­tion pack­age as well as stock op­tions. Lux­em­bourg has a lot go­ing for it. Bel­val for in­stance is an ex­cit­ing place to be as it's grow­ing and trans­form­ing into one of the coun­try's tech hubs.

SO TADAWEB IS A VERY IN­TER­NA­TIONAL COM­PANY?

Ab­so­lutely. We have around 15 na­tion­al­i­ties in our team. In ad­di­tion to cre­at­ing jobs, the di­ver­sity and qual­ity of tal­ent we are bring­ing in is quite an as­set to the Lux­em­bour­gish econ­omy. And, most im­por­tantly, hav­ing peo­ple from all over means every­one thinks dif­fer­ently and does things dif­fer­ently, and so we learn from each other.

AND YOU'RE A PRETTY YOUNG TEAM TOO…

Yes, the age range is from 26 to 34 so we're a re­ally young team. I am pas­sion­ate about bring­ing the next gen­er­a­tion into boards and po­si­tions of lead­er­ship. I started Tadaweb when I was 22 and that's rare to see in Lux­em­bourg. En­trepreneurs need to be­lieve in the younger gen­er­a­tion and start bring­ing them to the ta­ble more. Right at the start, we were working with banks that didn't take us se­ri­ously. Now, how­ever, we're working with one of the most se­ri­ous mar­kets and we've proved that you can have fun, and suc­ceed at the same time.

WHAT TRENDS DO YOU SEE IN THE WORLD OF TECH­NOL­OGY?

I think IOT - In­ter­net of Things - is go­ing to be mas­sive. The in­ter­con­nect­ed­ness of tech­nol­ogy is ex­cit­ing for us as a com­pany as it's the area we are delv­ing into now – how in­for­ma­tion can em­power de­vices and how they can be more in­tel­li­gent.

WHAT ARE THE NEXT STEPS FOR TADAWEB?

With no plans to move HQ, we are fo­cus­ing on ex­pand­ing in Europe over the next few years. With our Lux­em­bourg team grow­ing, we'll soon move into big­ger of­fices span­ning four floors. Ex­plor­ing new verticals is our main mis­sion. We plan to ex­pand cross-verticals and grow what we al­ready have in Lux­em­bourg. Push­ing our tech­nol­ogy fur­ther into the cor­po­rate area is an­other of our ob­jec­tives.

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