Ilya Levtov, CEO and Founder of Craft.co , the enterprise intelligence company helping organizations make data-informed business decisions.
During the conversation, Ilya shared his thoughts on unstructured data, diversity and innovation, the White House, enterprise intelligence, relentless execution, cells and single malt scotch…
1. What is Craft.co’s mission and what do you see as being the key differentiation for you?
We started a little over five years ago in the UK with an observation that there was no way that aggregated, collected and structured data and information you could ever want to know about a company could be available so easily. For example, if you’re looking up information on a house on Zoopla, Rightmove, Zillow, Trulia: they do a great job of pulling all that together, but what if I want information about a company – there really is no fantastically strong advanced cutting edge one stop shop.
That’s where Craft was born.
We started crawling and aggregating data from companies on websites and then plugging into dozens of available semi structured sources, built around natural language processing to get at the unstructured sources, data such as: blog posts, CEO interviews, job openings.
The end result is that we’ve got inside financials, operating metrics,
locations and social insights, human capital and observations about the team:
who are they, where are they from, as well as a way of figuring out where that company is going.
Our business has really taken off with large enterprises saying ‘I’ve got 20 to 50,000 suppliers and I need a comprehensive insight on them quickly and at scale’.
2. What have been the most significant decisions in the Craft.co journey so far?
Knowing there has to be a better way to pull together and create this powerful resource on companies.
Another big decision was not to guard everything behind a paywall and provide a more traditional data-as-a-service approach that we see with many companies and build Craft to a large extent.
We pursued a different way to the typical real estate models of Zoopla and Rightmove by publishing a lot of insight on companies openly and publicly: it’s paid off beyond any expectations, especially when Google started crawling our website and informing us lots of people were searching for information about companies, so we’ve ended up really benefiting from that and appear quite high in search rankings.
The third decision would be about two years ago: we received an email through our website from a data analyst in the supply chain team of one of the five biggest aerospace and defence contractors in the world, letting us know they were impressed by the quality and quantity of data Craft has. They were looking to build a platform for supplier insights and sought us as a potential partner: now they are one of our largest clients and we’re delivering our full API and powering their entire supplier insights operation internally across their entire global corporation.
3. What do you look for in the perfect customer?
Over the last 2 years, we’ve really evolved and focused on dedicating ourselves to supplier and supply chain management. Size magnitude and degree of interconnectedness of our customer’s supply chain is important, then the higher value they can derive from our particular service for large global companies.
There is also a bit of a slant towards companies that produce physical goods and manufacturing, although it’s not exclusive. Financial sector clients which consist of just information is also interesting, yet Craft does skew towards manufacturers and sometimes Pharmaceuticals where they produce drugs and have a large interconnected international supply chain.
In today’s digitised world, there are breadcrumbs all over the internet which can be turned into predictive insights about what might happen with this supplier. Our clients tend to be impressed that we’re able to give them all of these advanced views advanced lenses that the incumbents don’t have.
We are very culturally different and quite selective about the clients we work with,
but when we do work with someone, we really commit
and dedicate ourselves as joint innovation partners.
As a Silicon Valley based software company, there’s an opportunity for us to go in and say, ‘We know there’s a lot of stuff you know about your business, we don’t pretend to know everything you do, but let’s work together’. We will bring product managers into our meetings with clients and set up proof of concepts, values and multiyear licences that will allow large enterprises to influence our roadmap. At Craft, we keep making sure that our service is highly configurable and tailorable to the specific needs and identify risks of the customer’s supply chain.
4. You’ve been expanding your team at great speed. What are the foundations of a great team?
We’ve doubled our team size in the last year!
There are many mature companies where innovation isn’t the most important attribute execution is at a certain point, but at Craft, we’re very much an innovator. Our foundation is that we have a great innovation team which is very diverse, full of people from different backgrounds with different stories and approaches to solving problems. We clash and challenge each other to get to the best and right answer, compared to some Silicon Valley companies which experience groupthink due to the lack of diversity, yet our company is very intentional and deliberate about looking for diversity in all its forms, as a way of bringing that together and then coming up with new answers to the hard questions we’re solving.
5. As we emerge from COVID, what will you be doing differently?
What a couple of years it’s been for everyone!
Since the beginning, like so many companies we were thrown headfirst into this and had to work from home. From offices shutting in March of 2020 globally, we had to adapt. I think it’s fortunate being a 100% software company and being able to work over the internet where we adapted very quickly. Fast forward to now, we’re able to leverage that as an advantage because we’ve hired so many people: we have people in 15 cities in North America and Europe, so that’s a huge opportunity and we’re going to keep applying that strategy to find the best talent, wherever they are. We are thinking of having some physical hubs as a hybrid approach to working, to enable people to spend some time together in person which is so valuable, as it elicits such a good and positive human energy.
Over the last 18 months we’ve learned we want that back as much
as we can but without training people at a desk or imposing
the nine-to-six five days in an office – we don’t think that that’s ideal.
There’s a couple of themes COVID-wise for us as a team. It was such a big shock to supply chains. We’re a member of The Digital Supply Chain Institute, founded by Sam Palmisano, who led IBM as its CEO and Chair for a decade. In the early days of COVID, he came to us because people high up in government were asking him to provide data and insight on the geographic position of various sectors, including supply routes, which we did a lot of analysis on based on our data.
6. What is the vision for Craft.co in the future and what will be most important to achieve it? What does great look like in five years?
The really large category that we see emerging is enterprise intelligence, which is even broader than supply intelligence. It gets out into every large enterprise working with thousands to tens of thousands of third parties and we are very dedicated on being the best-in-class provider to the supply chain and its managers. As we go deeper and develop and evolve in this area, it provides room to broaden out into other areas and provide the same type of advanced third-party insight and intelligence that perhaps might touch different ecosystems beyond their supply chain.
For example, one of our large industrial clients told us that they have 8 separate teams all using the exact same service. The Craft portal is loaded with companies that they care about and it’s heavily focused on their supply chain because that’s our buyer; that’s our customer, so they get top priority for everything.
International business development, strategic HR, legal compliance
and a bunch of other teams are all benefiting from the same data insights
in the portal which is tremendous and very exciting.
Extra: How much do you look at your partner ecosystem and how does that play a part in it?
There are two sides to partners and we’re active in both. One is partnerships on sourcing data and the other, distribution partnerships, as well to large established platforms integrators and so on.
To see highly specialised very advanced data sources that have been developed over years and years come to us often enough because they also spotted us just out on the web via a random Google search is invaluable. For example, SecurityScorecard: they’re a fantastic partner for us as they’ve spent years developing the ability to assess any third-party company’s cybersecurity footprint and defences. On our Craft profiles, anybody can get a quick view which piques their curiosity. When we start working with a large enterprise client and there is an appetite for a particular premium data set, then that’s an add on and we work together on that.
We’ve got CSR hub which is a fantastic example of that deep data focused on corporate social responsibility.
7. How are you doing good for the planet?
This couldn’t be more strongly on the view on the side that:
any business has an opportunity or more so an obligation to have a positive
impact on the community, society and the planet.
The Milton Friedman approach says that a business should do nothing more than generate profit, and I’m happy to argue against that one all day long!
We consider it a real privilege to be able to have direct impact on the sustainability of supply chains, where we have helped companies get a better handle on to make them healthier and more environmentally sustainable.
We can shine light on suppliers that are leading and others that are lagging and help enterprises make decisions to orient their supply chains towards greater sustainability.
I’m also a fan of the Marc Benioff philosophy coming from Salesforce that a business is the greatest platform for change, so participating with the community and participating in conversations with others, being a good citizen on a global basis – physically and digitally.
INSTANT ILYA INSPIRATION
1. What is your favourite book or blog and why?
The the book I’ve been most impacted by is Good to Great by Jim Collins. It focuses on the vision of how to build a large successful company over a long haul. There is a model of level five leadership. Humility led leadership, not the traditional chest beating on the CEO type stuff, but more being a humble servant of other people’s talents to maximise the growth and impact of individuals on a team. Even now I find it very powerful and connected to essentially get the right people in the right seats on the bus, which is probably my most important job.
2. Who is your favourite inspirational leader and why?
I would say the relentless execution, growth and pursuit into new categories that no one could ever have imagined from when it started off as a bookstore is quite inspiring. However, this raises the question whether it got a bit too successful. It will be fascinating to see how far he pushes it into Amazon business as well because that is shifting the world too.
3. What is your favourite app (not your own) or piece of technology?
I would say as a technologist and someone deep in the software industry for about 15 years, I’m quite sensitive to what too much technology can do. Especially in our lives full of social media: I think about this with my daughter who’s five and how much technology I want her interacting with.
I’d say one of my favourite pieces of technology is a good walk in the park! It’s about making sure not to forget to enjoy the trees, a camping trip and switching off the phone. I’m on Twitter mainly as a consumer: I find it incredibly valuable as a personalised newspaper aggregated from a whole bunch of people and publications that I follow.
4. What’s your favourite way to celebrate a success?
My favourite thing is to share credit with the people that achieved it because it’ll very rarely be just me. The company is doing thousands of things per hour that I would have no idea how to do. It’s important to shine a light on where that success is coming from which is really fun. The North US team got together and we’re able to celebrate the things we’ve accomplished to date while also all agreeing to commit and double down on all the things we have yet to do.
5. What is your favourite cocktail?
There’s an array amongst the team, but for me, it depends on my mood, just like my taste in music. I do, however, like a good old fashioned single malt scotch.
1. Recognise market trends and stay ahead
2. There is a better way to pull together powerful resources on companies
3. Don’t guard everything behind a paywall
4. Don’t be afraid to stand out and pursue a different direction from competitors
5. Evolve and focus on yourselves, suppliers, customers and the supply chain
6. There are breadcrumbs all over the internet which can be turned into predictive insights
7. Be innovative, diverse and embrace your culture
Craft is an enterprise intelligence company helping organizations make data-informed business decisions. Our platform provides comprehensive, validated and always up-to-date commercial data, analytics, and actionable insights.
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