IIBN asked Jack about his new startup business Voyc. He says Voyc is a voice and context scanning AI startup delivering real-time insights from the original spoken word for journalism, financial markets, and brands to replace subjective tweets as the source of breaking news. Focusing first on some untapped areas of value in media by empowering journalists and reducing misinformation, Voyc will alert reporters of breaking news in real-time and do live-news fact-checking. We were recently an honouree in Fast Company’s 2019 World Changing Ideas Awards.

Jack Say’s that – If you are a potential investor and considering investing in Voyc then please see jackstenson@gmail.com

Give a brief account of your education background?

At NUI Galway I did a B.A. in Economics and I.T. and an MBS in Corporate Strategy.

How did you get the idea/ concept for your business?

As product and innovation lead for the New York office of North Highland Consulting I was helping organise an innovation festival we were hosting. I wanted my team to show that we could solve the greatest challenges and demonstrate the art of the possible so, we created the ‘No Fake-News, Fake Newsroom’. My AI/cognitive services team built a proof of concept – a news anchor desk with a microphone where attendees would speak and be fact-checked in real-time. We received such great feedback in it (including a feature in the Wall Street Journal) that we began exploring with our clients in media, financial services and beyond how else a voice and context scanning AI could add value. As a consulting firm we looked at multiple business model options and realised it would be best as a spun-off venture. This began my journey as its founder.

Did you always know/ever think you would become an entrepreneur when you were younger? 

I joined consulting eight years ago as it’s a career path that offers the most similar challenges to being an entrepreneur. In my area of product and innovation I would be given a problem statement and a few weeks to design a better customer experience, a new prototype or service, or build out a client’s internal innovation function. Usually I move on when after we’ve done the initial heavy lifting so I’m very excited to be owning Voyc going forward.

Is entrepreneurship a common trait in your family?

My father was a journalist who worked with Irish newspapers and RTÉ before becoming the owner/editor of Glór Chonamara (The Voice of Connemara).  He then started MSP Coatings whose products protect and extend the life of buildings from the ravages of time, weather, and pollution in an environmentally friendly way. MSP Coatings have customers in Ireland, the UK, Spain, Australia, and South America. There’s journalism and entrepreneurship in the blood!

Did you have prior knowledge of the industry before setting up your company?

Most of my consulting clients were in media, telecoms, and financial services so I had an in-depth understanding of the challenges they face and lots of contacts to call on to help shape Voyc. In total there were over 80 of the finest minds (and future customers!) in New York and London media from Emmy winning news directors to CTO’s who helped co-create our go-to-market proposition.

What was your previous work experience (if any)? Do you think this gave you an advantage when setting up your business?

I focused my consulting career on growth projects – making new products and services, rather than just cutting costs. My first project was helping a bank design what their first digital experience should be and my most recent work was helping a US state public transportation network reimagine how they connect and communicate with customers. It all helped me build the ‘toolkit’ I needed. 

How did you initially fund your business? (self-funded, government funding, etc)

North Highland Consulting were pre-seed investors and are a minority shareholder.

Looking back, would you have changed the method of funding you chose?

Absolutely not – we have some of the smartest people in innovation, product development, and AI who have contributed to Voyc as part of the investment. Most startups have a single technical co-founder – at North Highland Consulting I’ve got a squad of experts with deep experience in every field imaginable that I can call on.

What difficulties, if any, did you encounter when securing funding?

We recently started looking for seed round funding. The market entry strategy is to ride the wave of the US 2020 elections as a news startup and, after we’ve had a few ‘fake-news’-busting moments that propel us to zeitgeist status (fingers crossed!) we’ll expand into insights for financial markets. News customers have signed up, but many VCs think big money can be made faster if we begin in finance. It’s a tough balancing act between finding the right investors and getting funding at the right time

What characteristics do you feel benefited you most when starting your business?

Willingness to listen and learn, and the humility and confidence to know when, from wisdom you should adapt and to doubt you should just nod and smile.

What is your opinion on the importance of a professional network for an entrepreneur?

I wouldn’t be where I am if not for becoming part of the professional Irish community of New York and London. What’s important is that you pay it forward though – don’t just ask for favours, offer your skills and time so when you need that favour, you’ll have earned it.

What have been your highlights in business over the past year? 

I’ve had so many fascinating conversations where I learnt from amazing people as part of this which collectively would be the highlight. If I had to choose one moment though, it was when out of 2,000 submissions we were recognized as a ‘World Changing Idea’ by Fast Company.

Would you ever consider starting another company or involving yourself in new start-ups again?

I’ve done a lot of pro-bono consulting for startups and will continue to do so. I’m really inspired by positive disruption technologies, and efforts that are at the intersection of ‘for-profit’ and ‘for-good’.

If you had one piece of advice for a new entrepreneur, what would it be?

Have outrageous ambition and unyielding optimism.

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