Synthetic data, real people: A chat with our CPO
We recently sat down with our Chief Product Officer, Marisa Teh, to ask about her experiences of working in the tech space across her career and hear her views on where the industry is headed.
Here are the highlights of our chat.
How did you get into the tech space?
I was an engineer to start with. I studied engineering, and after graduating worked in designing semiconductor chips for mainframes, fabric switch routers, and very quick internet connections for Cisco, Google and the likes.
I've always been in love with technology. The curiosity led me to work on next gen projects like fabric switch routers, Internet of Things, digital health shortly after that, and 3D printing as well.
After that, I moved to FMCG where I crossed over to the ‘dark side’ in an attempt to dig into where my passion really lay: with the technology itself or another aspect. So I found myself in category management. How do you understand the consumers more? What's the right pricing? What's the right packaging? Really, how do you get it into the hands of the customers?
Up until FMCG, I was very much involved in the development of the products and the technology, but really had done nothing in terms of ‘how do you get it into the hands of users’.
Growth and revenue were my day life, but in my night life I was brewing start-ups; technology became my mistress at night. Then I realized that I couldn't have both - a divided life. I had to go back to just having one, so I went to Tungsten - an established start-up building an automated invoicing platform. Tungsten had the technology, it was past MVP stage, and it was looking to scale beyond the small slice of an ecosystem. That was when I circled back into product management in its full capacity. And I'm now here at Hazy, post-successful acquisition of Tungsten.
What were your key learnings when you were readying for funding at Tungsten?
Some of the things I learned there were that just because you have a technical offering does not mean that it is sufficient for funding.
Investors want to understand whether there is a business value behind what you're creating. Otherwise, it's pretty much a hobby, right? An expensive hobby. How do you make sure that it extends to a business value, and is it scalable in terms of upsell and cross-sell? Is there potential for growth across sectors?
At Tungsten specifically, it started out with invoicing then expanded into payments, via partnerships and an ecosystem. Once you have an invoice, the next natural step would be payment for the invoices received, and the next compliance. How do you make sure that the taxation around the invoicing makes sense or not?
With supportive proof points and professional service wrapper, we were able to show that we could expand. That was a great tick for the investors. So much so that Tungsten got acquired by Kofax.
What first drew you to Hazy?
The world of synthetic data sounded really exciting. Everywhere you go and every article you read, there is something about AI. Having come from FMCG, where we were working very heavily with data to enable insights-led decision making, I immediately understood the power and potential of synthetic data. Really, at the heart of everything in today's world, data is the currency, and having synthetic data be the unlock for that and bridge gaps across businesses sounded exciting.
What then convinced you that Hazy was the right place to be?
I spoke to several people in Hazy, and it seemed like there was great chemistry and that we could work well together. I think that's really important because there are many companies out there but at the end of the day, how do you make sure that there is a good chemistry fit? How do you make sure that we're all excited about the same vision? That we're not going to be competing with each other on the trajectory? At Hazy it’s more about ‘how do we work together on the same trajectory’; it felt like there was a good alignment of vision for me to take the leap.
What have been some of the highlights or surprises of working here?
The people at Hazy are just fantastic! There are so many smart people here. I'm getting schooled every day and I'm learning loads, which is exciting. There's a huge growth culture here, not a defensive culture, which is great as well.
What surprised me about Hazy? I think what I didn't realize was how much of an infancy synthetic data is in the industry and how many more doors could we unlock. Today, we're using synthetic data for helping enterprise companies with compliance, but that's only one segment. As I said before, if data is at the heart of everything, what else can it open beyond compliance? The possibilities are really broad.
What sort of impact do you see synthetic data having on businesses or society at large?
That’s a big question. I think if people feel safe that the data they’re producing doesn't come back to haunt them from a privacy perspective, businesses would be more liberal to think, collaborate and create. Data is core to innovation and transformation and synthetic data can accelerate that even further too.
How do you see the Hazy product evolving?
Right now we’re focused on making it even easier for people to use. It's a small niche of people who really, truly understand data the way data scientists look at it. So how do we get it into the hands of more people across our enterprise customers? And, how do we help companies mature their confidence in synthetic data as well? We see our product evolving with that.
Today the product is very much focused on the producer side of synthetic data. With more confidence in synthetic data, we are hoping to see consumption start to kick in in the near future as well. There would then be a new user journey, there'll be new products, and naturally there will be new challenges.
Now, a bit about you!
I'm Malaysian-Thai-Chinese. Sometimes people get confused as I sort of oscillate. One day I say I'm Thai, and another day Malaysian. It's not because I'm being deceptive, it actually comes down to my appetite and what I feel like eating on that day! But truly, I am Malaysian and Thai since I have lived in both countries and my parents are from both places and I love traveling through food.
I tried to make some Korean dishes over Christmas. I got a table barbecue set for a gift, and we've been trying to hand grill it ourselves and make some Korean bulgogi beef marinade to go with it. It’s really nice, especially when the weather is really cold - it’s a barbecue on your own dining table!
What are you passionate about outside of work?
I love coaching my kids in Taekwondo - I have a black belt! I did that for many years when I was a kid and then stopped at the age of 28. I don't think I'm physically as fit as before, but I still love the art of it. I particularly love it when I see my kids trying to do it!
I also love oil painting. I started that when I was living in the Netherlands, the country of Van Gogh and Rembrandt. Whenever I have free time, I try to pick up a paint brush and do something. My latest painting was for my son, some planets for his room.
Find out more about Hazy here.