Looking at the biggest names in tech entrepreneurship, one could be excused for imagining that disruptive AI innovation was largely limited to Silicon Valley in the US. Of course this isn’t actually the case. While Facebook, Google, and Elon Musk have dominated headlines on their development of artificial intelligence, Dr. Catriona Wallace has been putting it into practice in Australia. While big names are concerning themselves with attention-grabbing super AI, Wallace is working at the cutting edge of AI technology to develop practical applications and create real value for businesses and their customers.
Her company, Flamingo AI, provides cognitive virtual assistants to financial services businesses to guide customers through their services in order to improve customer satisfaction and conversion rates.
Identifying a problem in need of a solution
Today, Wallace is widely regarded as one of the world’s most respected figures in the field of customer experience. She’s the recipient of Advance Australia’s top prize for Technology & Innovation for Australians working abroad, has won Telstra Business Awards and was awarded a Pearcey Foundation award for tech entrepreneurs. In large part, this success comes directly as a result of her ability to analyse data and identify specific problems, giving her the knowledge she needs to develop novel solutions.
Wallace holds a PhD in organisational behaviour, and combined this education with her extensive professional experience before focusing directly on the development of AI. Before launching Flamingo AI, she also founded two other businesses, a market research firm and later a customer experience design firm. There she worked to help businesses improve their sales processes and conversion rates, before ultimately determining that a software platform could potentially perform better in providing customised customer experiences than traditional approaches.
Finding and tapping available resources
Wallace doesn’t attempt to do everything from scratch, but rather mobilises the resources in her environment to achieve her goals. She talks at length about her efforts to build a top quality, high performing team, and heavily credits the people around her with facilitating her success. Her talents in this regard, however, go well beyond human resources.
In a 2017 interview, Wallace lauded the changing investment landscape for AI entrepreneurs in Australia. At that time, Flamingo AI had just raised over $5 million in less than 12 minutes via a share placement to investors. She credited this success to the growing conversation about the potential of AI in Australia, and an increasing awareness of it among investors. This allowed her and Flamingo AI to access investment at a time when competition for those funds was relatively low. Building on this initial success, Flamingo AI is now working to scale in US financial markets and to begin to establish itself as a global company. Wallace, however, isn’t just focused on growth and short term success.
Like many business owners, Wallace looked for ways to give back to her community as soon as she was in a position to do so. Unlike many entrepreneurs, she has embraced this role to the fullest. Most of her public interviews focus less on her work, and more on the communities she is working to empower. Her non-profit work focuses on professional mentoring and support for women and girls, including women in indigenous communities in Australia. Additionally, she works as an adjunct at the Australian Graduate School of Management in an attempt to pass on her insights and experiences to younger generations of businesspeople. Wallace is passionate about empowering women entrepreneurs, and directly mentors women despite her busy schedule.
What we can learn
There is a lot that entrepreneurs can take away from Wallace’s example. Her passion for advancing the place of women in business leadership is fierce, and it has helped to bring her ideas to a larger audience. Her authenticity in this regard has empowered her business in terms of the press that it receives, and serves as a reminder that social causes can be nearly as important to a business’ success as its operations.
It’s also important to note that Wallace doesn’t operate like other serial entrepreneurs, who often try out a number of different industries. While she has founded several different businesses, Wallace is a specialist. Each new business evolved to solve a problem that she was led to by her previous venture in her pursuit of perfecting the customer experience. She’s a world-famous authority in her specific field, and has established herself ever more thoroughly as the innovative go-to expert for optimising customer experience. As a result, she’s the most natural authority to look to when looking at ways to introduce emerging technologies into her industry.
This shows us that trying out different industries and roles in hopes of finding that ideal niche isn’t always the best choice for entrepreneurs. Rather, a more specialised serial entrepreneur can be just as successful by building on the industry insights gained by each previous project to create something new.