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Thrive is set up by Funding London, a venture capital company bridging the finance gap for early stage businesses based in London. With over a decade’s experience in supporting the startups of London through a variety of funding vehicles, Funding London sensed a need to illuminate the ever-evolving scenario of London’s early stage businesses.

Thrive features interviews with and opinion from budding entrepreneurs, investors and industry experts. A mix of contributors from all areas of the industry is desired in order to spark genuine discussion about ongoing critical issues. While it showcases the effectiveness of successful ventures, it also encourages sharing lessons learned from missteps and unsuccessful projects.

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About

James Isilay is the founder and CEO of Cognism. An inspirational and enterprising businessman who manages one of the fastest growing SaaS startups in London. James approaches work with unrivalled technical and organisational skills, perseverance, precision and total dedication. An expert in lead generation, sales management and alpha discovery using algorithmic technologies, natural language processing and machine learning.

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Cognism

1 May 2019

Tell us about your entrepreneurial journey and how Cognism was founded?

Before I founded Cognism, I worked in trading. Not trading directly – my job involved writing computer programmes to automate the trading process. This provided the inspiration for Cognism, which takes the idea of automating processes but applies it to sales. Over time, I noticed that sales data lacked event triggers and needed an extra dimension. A platform like LinkedIn updates you when someone is working at a new company or when a company is growing, meaning that they’re more likely to buy your product or service. Cognism marries these ideas and aims to help sales teams find the most relevant people to reach out to.

What are your grand ambitions for Cognism?

The big ambition for Cognism is to help B2B companies find new markets and audiences and take away the pain points that sales teams face when locating new customers. In many companies, revenue growth is stalled by a lack of sales capacity and we want to solve that problem, as we’ve done already for our clients Liftshare, Graduate Fasttrack and Asemblr.

What makes you stand out from your competitors?

What makes Cognism different are the dimensions of data that we can provide. Specifically the fourth, time-sensitive dimension of data. Just to give you an example, our database provides real-time data and highlights when companies receive funding or when someone starts a new role. We also provide an “all in one” solution for outbound sales and our customers can use this as easily as they use something like Google Ads. Cognism has become an integral part of the sales process for many of our customers.

What is your view of the Tech ecosystem globally and in particular in London?

I think London is the best place in the world to start a company. Firstly, you have access to a huge pool of talent that can help you to build your company. Graduates are readily available and experienced professionals don’t come with a huge price tag like you would find in San Francisco or New York. For a new company, a rich talent pool is essential.

Secondly, there’s also a huge amount of capital still available in London, which is kickstarting a SaaS revolution. SaaS has already taken hold in the US, but it’s starting to spread globally and London is at the heart of that. With new technologies such as 5G on the horizon, there will be a new wave of technological innovation. It’s an exciting time to have a business in London because all the elements are there to achieve high growth.

What are some of the most exciting innovations you have come across in your sector?

There are so many amazing technologies that have been developed recently, but I think voice translation is particularly innovative, especially across a range of different languages. Using Machine Learning to help companies find opportunities and understand their revenue drivers and sources is also very innovative and is, of course, something that Cognism is very involved in developing.

What are the biggest challenges that tech start-ups and early-stage businesses should prepare themselves for post-Brexit?

It’s always a challenge to run a young company and make it successful. The main problem is always going to be acquiring funding and capital. Brexit could have an impact on this, particularly if European investors are hesitant to invest in UK companies. If a hard Brexit is pushed through, it will put the UK in a difficult position because we will be stuck in a kind of limbo. It will become much harder to do business in Britain. Another huge concern for many London-based companies is talent. We currently have a great pool of talent from Europe and if this supply is cut off, growing a company will be a challenge.

My own personal view is that sitting tight and waiting for Brexit to blow over is the opposite of what you should do. Businesses need to try to ignore the political climate and focus on growing their business if they are to survive.

How easy/difficult is it to raise finance in London in 2019?

It depends on what stage your business is at and it depends on what experience you have. As a series B funding company, we have found it easier to secure capital but prior to that investment, it was difficult to secure the funding. I think there’s still a lot of capital around, but as always, it’s daunting to invest in new entrepreneurs and businesses, so you have to win both hearts and minds to get funding at an early stage.

What advice/lessons learned would you give to new start-ups in London?

It’s hard work! At the beginning of a new company, it definitely feels like it’s a 24/7 job but it gets better as the business grows. My biggest piece of advice would be to find people that are committed and have the same drive as you in order to build a successful foundation for growth.

How do you see the Tech landscape developing over the next 5/10 years?

I foresee a huge drive in new technology and the development of current ones. Without doubt, 5G will revolutionise the current landscape. The landscape will become even more crowded, meaning we’ll all have to become more fluent in technology. It’ll become important for a business to know which technologies will be a hindrance and which ones will be an asset. From AI to VR, there will be more complex technologies emerging all the time and it’s so important for companies to stay on top of these developments. My advice to other business leaders is to take the time to educate themselves on which technologies are the best ones to adopt, and which ones should be left alone.