1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became a Zapnito advisor?
I'm a Software Engineer by background and currently run my own small consulting business in London. I've been working in Software Engineering for twenty something (!) years, in various technical roles across different industries. I'm particularly interested in data mining and visualisation, and in publishing and scientific research products. These days I try to focus on Technical Product Management roles, which allows me to stay technical but be more involved with business decision making, operations, etc. I became a Zapnito advisor after creating a few data visualisations of the Zapnito expert network a few years ago, and publishing them on my blog The Variable Tree.
2. Why, would you say, is Zapnito necessary and important today and how do you see Zapnito’s business developing in the next 5 years?
The recent news about Cambridge Analytica illustrates, for me, why a platform like Zapnito is needed and what the future platform might look like. The internet had brought many amazing benefits in terms of opening up information sharing across the world, but as humanity has become more reliant on the Internet as our primary means of communication we're discovering new (or at least more visible) challenges in terms of news and opinion manipulation. So for me, I see Zapnito starting to moving into areas such as bias detection, reputation management, information provenance, etc.
3. What in your opinion/experience is the single-most important skill in running a successful start-up?
I've never run a serious startup aside from my consulting business, so I can't claim to know personally. However from what I hear the main skills are persistence and adaptability. A startup is hard work that pays in the long run, but it can be a hard slog to get there and there are many factors that can require changes in direction along the way so you need to be ready for that.
4. What has been the biggest lesson you have learnt in your career to date?
I think my biggest lesson would be in realising that "anyone can do it" - there are many accomplishments or senior positions that seem, when you first start out, completely out of reach. But I've learned over time that those many impossible-looking objectives are really within reach for most people, it's just a case of how hard (and smart) you're prepared to work, and how persistent you are.
5. If you could advocate one company to the world (aside from Zapnito & your own), what would it be and why?
Good question. I'll probably answer with two actually.
The first would be DeepMind, who as many readers will know have done amazing things in Artificial Intelligence. I love that DeepMind have such an ambitious goal - to "develop programs that can learn to solve any complex problem without needing to be taught how", and they appear to have a strong ethical framework focused on making the world a better place. They also have an interesting approach to combining scientific research with a startup mentality. I wish DeepMind every success - and I really hope they don't get drawn into some of the activities of their sister company Google, who are starting to help the US military to build automated killing machines :/
The second company would be Equal Experts, a London-based consulting company I've worked with a couple of times in the past. Equal Experts have a healthy attitude to Software Engineering and delivery, in terms of recognising the value of maturity in Technical people, and in terms of having a high bar and only hiring great people.
6. If you had £1 billion and had to invest it in only one of the following three, which would it be and why? 1. Virtual Reality 2. Artificial Intelligence 3. Renewable Energy
Artificial Intelligence, because it gives you the other two.
Please do contact me if you would like to learn more about Zapnito or to get in touch about my work. James Siddle