“Though it may not be popular to say, fear of failure drives me” – CEO Q&A with John Clancy from Chatspace

By Business & Finance
26 January 2022

Pictured: John Clancy, CEO at Chatspace

Chatspace is an artificial intelligence answers and insights platform which allows organisations to optimise AI technology to deliver better business results and increase productivity. Since Chatspace was founded in 2017, it has been honing and applying Conversational AI, Machine Learning & Intelligent Search skills for some of the worlds largest companies including Nestlé, Medtronic and Atos. In January 2022, NUI Galway teamed up with Chatspace to provide 24/7 student engagement as well as generate data to enhance decision making, ensuring the institution is best positioned to serve and encourage its students through every step of their university experience.

What are your main priorities and goals in your role?

In the past two years Chatspace has made significant progress in the Enterprise and Education sectors. My priority now is to build on our initial market momentum, scale our team to support our growth over the next 12 to 24 months, and create real value and impact for our customers.

What are your biggest challenges as CEO? 

Prior to the pandemic I would have been traveling over to the continent, meeting with our clients. I find it easier to make a connection face to face than online, whether that’s at home or abroad. But on the plus side we’ve done remote implementations, including our roll out with NUI Galway, that have worked well and my family are certainly happy to see more of me and I them.

How do you keep your team/ staff motivated? 

I am a firm believer in vision drives leaders, leaders drive culture and culture drives success. We have an open, agile culture built on trust and respect. Keeping our team connected and feeling aligned in this new hybrid world has definitely been a constant focus for me as CEO over the past two years.

What are the challenges facing the industry going forward? 

A part of my job is advising organisations on how to get started on their digital transformation journey, helping them to understand that AI is an enabler, not necessarily a replacer. Despite the positive indicators, adoption of AI has been slow outside of multinationals. So for us, we spend a lot of time building relationships built on trust and transparency. 

What new trends are emerging in your industry? 

Personalisation is one of the biggest trends in EdTech. With the use of AI, students can now have a personalised approach to learning programmes based on their own unique experiences and preferences. AI can adapt to each student’s level of knowledge, speed of learning and desired goals, so they’re getting the most out of their education. Add virtual reality to the mix and voice enabled technology, and it really is an exciting space full of potential.

Are there any major changes you would like to see in your sector? 

On a wider global level I’d like to see more climate action. AI is data hungry but also power hungry. We need to develop energy efficient algorithms. It’s referred to as “green machine learning” and it aims at designing algorithms and models that are more energy efficient that do not require large computing power but still deliver the required outcomes regardless of your company’s size.

As an employer are you finding any skill gaps in the market? 

Ireland actually has the highest rate of AI talent in the EU. However, attracting AI talent to a startup in Ireland can be difficult as the large international tech companies with their deep pockets tend to hoover up new talent straight from college. Also, diversity in your talent pool is so important, not least for tackling potential bias in algorithms. We are very lucky to have a very diverse group of engineers on the Chatspace team and I intend to keep it that way.

How did your strategy develop in the context of the banking crisis and economic crisis? 

Chatspace only entered the European market in 2017 but our momentum to date is reflective of the broader recovery and growth that has taken place in the EU.

How has Brexit affected you? 

It hasn’t as yet but as we potentially grow this year into the UK market we will have to go through the necessary regulation and paperwork. For any country, putting up walls slows trade and opportunity.

How has the COVID-19 crisis affected your business/sector? 

In the past two years the pandemic has skyrocketed the adoption of AI and analytics across many sectors, not least retail and education. At the start of 2021 we had no immediate plans to move into the EdTech space but we were contacted by NUI Galway with the question: “Could your AI platform, designed to safeguard the success of projects be used to safeguard a students journey through university?” The answer was “yes”; when opportunity knocks we answer. 

However on the other side, the continual changing nature and unpredictability of the pandemic has resulted in some understandable inertia and an aversion to risk in enterprise decision making which can make our sales job a bit tougher. Again, it puts more onus on us to develop good relationships based on trust and transparency.

How do you define success and what drives you to succeed? 

Success is making a real impact with our technology. Though it may not be popular to say, fear of failure drives me. It pushes me to excel. So discomfort seems to be the price of admission to a successful business, but I am okay with that.

What’s the best advice you’ve been given, or would give, in business? 

I feel very lucky that I spent a few years working abroad with Digicel in the South Pacific. You just learn so much when you are working in a different culture with different perspectives. My best advice is that it’s okay to get it wrong but try to learn from failure and never give up on the mindset of ‘just go for it’. Also never lose your cool and never look surprised regardless of the situation.

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

There have been a number of key moments I’m proud of from the past year. We  built our first AI product, GoPredict, that can autonomously identify risk in projects for enterprises, we moved into the EdTech space through a partnership with NUI Galway and despite the uncertainties of the pandemic, we raised private equity to grow the business

What’s next for your company?

We will be growing in new territories in Europe, scaling our team and client base. This year I believe we are going from the ‘startup’ to ‘scaleup’ tag, building a sustainable business with a sizeable customer base and revenue to match.

Where do you want your business/brand to be this time next year? 

Next year we will be more established in the EdTech sector, transforming student engagement for even more higher level institutions. We have got some exciting developments with new enterprise clients in Europe that will build a strong platform for growth. It’s just very exciting to be involved in new technologies and seeing the positive impact they bring to an organisation’s goals and purpose.