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George Mathew Of Kespry, Adaptability And The Forces Of Change Of Data
Why data leadership means adaptability and how Mathews guided Kespry through a hell of a journey.
This is the Three Data Point Thursday, making your business smarter with data & AI.
Let’s dive in!
“June 2019. The Muir Snowfield, Mount Rainier. Over a 30-minute period, the bluebird skies gave way to a significant storm cell. What was shorts weather with full sun, no wind, and 50-degree air temps quickly became winter. Wind at about 30mph drove the rain sideways. We took 3-minute breaks instead of the usual 15 minutes, and gained the final 2,000 feet to Camp Muir over a couple of hours. By the time we reached the shelter of the hut, we were all covered in frozen gunk on our left (windward!) sides.” (Adaptability & Resilience)
Leading a business in an industry dominated by data is like standing on top of a mountain.
It’s windy at the top of mountains, much more windy than on smaller mountains or the ground.
But at least you’re on top of the highest one!
It’s a strange place, though, with lots of changes of direction and ever-new dangers; many people fall off because they are caught off guard.
The key to being a great mountaineer? Never bring yourself into a situation that requires great mountaineering. In one word: adaptability.
It’s the same for businesses that utilize data. The leadership needs not just to be able to adapt to changes but to never bring themselves into a situation that requires reaction. Leadership needs adaptability, not in the reactive sense, but in the proactive kind.
Let’s examine the story of our character for today, George Mathew, to understand this better.
George Mathew, Kespry, and data
I first learned about the drone market in 2012 when I read ex-wired editor Chris Anderson’s book “Makers: The New Industrial Revolution.”
Chris had just launched a drone company called 3D Robotics. But back then, it was all just that: hackers and DIY.
But that’s not true anymore; drones are a mature industrial sector, and they do exactly one thing: capture data.
The drone company Kespry was founded in 2013, when George Mathew was still the COO and president of another big data player, Alteryx.
In those days, Kespry was building the software and the hardware together. Drones + software. Not so when Mathew took over as CEO in 2017.
Mathew led the company successfully through 4 turbulent years, including a troubling COVID-19 pandemic, regulatory challenges, technological advances, and market evolution until its acquisition in 2021.
The three winds of change for Mathew
In 2017, Kespry was already seeing the winds of change and made a proactive move.
“And so, you move forward to 2016 and you start to see more focus come into the market. And we made an explicit choice to say our focus was going to be on the analytical data processing, machine learning and the software experience for our users.” (Source)
With Mathew on board, the company doubled down on this idea by adapting to the new emerging industry structure. Over the years, many specialized companies emerged, so Kespry ended up dumping their own drones and renting DIJ drones instead.
With this, they adapted to a new reality and a new drone analytics market forecasted to grow by 32% CAGR over the foreseeable future, separate from the increasingly commoditized drone hardware market.
But it wasn’t just the industry that changed; customers' behavior also changed, and Mathew saw that clearly from the beginning. Everyone needs data, and data governs everything. So, everyone is a (very distant) potential customer for every data company.
However, because data and computing abilities are growing exponentially, these customer behavior changes are almost impossible to foresee. It means the customer behavior of the not-yet-existent and existent customer is in constant flux and needs to be monitored and adapted quickly.
Kespry, under Mathew, took advantage of this and expanded from their original mining focus into insurance and construction (roof inspections).
Finally, Mathew managed to navigate the ever-looming two-faced character in the picture, the regulatory system—sometimes looking to advance business interests and bring more value to end users, sometimes overreacting to data security threats.
Regulations around drones, data, and flying are still in constant flux, requiring Mathew to adapt repeatedly.
Sadly there is no evident practice we can take away from George Mathew's story. Yes, he did successfully guide Kespry through a complex and ever-changing time. He helped to create the whole market of drone analytics and adapted it again and again.
But, as with the mountain winds, it’s impossible to forecast what winds will hit your business. For Mathews, it was the regulatory system, the changing customer behavior, and the industry structure turmoil.
For you, they will certainly be different. However, there are a few key lessons we can take away.
First and above all, adaptability is crucial to success. You won’t see it coming until it’s so close to hitting you off the mountain; that’s just the nature of wind; it will change, so you will always need to stay alert. If you’re off guard for a second, you will be swept away (which may have happened to Kespry at the end).
Second, data is everywhere, so customer behavior will be more volatile than you experience in any other industry. Customers will disappear into nothing and appear out of nowhere.
Third, data is growing exponentially, so technological advancements in everything related to data are not easy to forecast for humans. Industries change without notice.
Fourth, adaptability is not about reactions; reacting is trying to reach for a rock to hold on while you fall off the mountain. Adaptability is feeling that the winds are about to change and proactively positioning yourself in a safe place.
Adaptability is feeling that customer behavior will change and thus position yourself ready to capture it.
And it’s precisely why strong data leadership necessitates strong adaptability.
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