I recently had the good fortune to sit down with John Graham, CEO and founder of Reveela.com, an AI-powered digital publishing platform that connects publishers, journalists and business communities for increased efficiency. To understand John’s vision for Reveela, we had to go back 20 years to when he founded Distinctive Publishing, an industry magazine publisher based in Newcastle upon Tyne in the North East of England.
Getting started in publishing
“I hadn’t planned nor expected a career route into publishing. After studying micro-electronics at college, I developed my own central processing unit which assisted my entry into Sunderland University where I studied Technology Management. I did a postgrad in Marketing and finally in later years, my MBA at Newcastle Business School.
I was managing contact centers for a multinational corporation, but I never really enjoyed the culture or politics involved at that level. I’d always been fairly entrepreneurial, so I decided to start publishing a magazine to help aspiring middle managers cope with issues surrounding culture and politics at work.
After early successes, we started a second publication and then we grew the portfolio to around 12 titles covering a range of topics and industries across multiple countries.
Jumping forward around 15 years, we realized that the publishing organization was difficult to scale. I began looking for something that would allow growth and scalability while having a significant industry impact. Thinking about impact, I began to consider the environmental impact my founding company had in its previous years of operation.”
Considering the environmental impact of publishing
“We were a relatively modest sized enterprise, but the impact in relation to deforestation and natural water resources was enormous, not to mention the CO₂ impact of distribution. The environmental impact of even a relatively small enterprise like ours was startling. The traditional publishing industry does many things to combat environmental impacts and is often at the forefront of sustainability measures, but often additional measures with significant impact are stifled due to existing business practices, workflows or business models.
We wanted to do better and see how we, as entrepreneurs, could not just add some value to the environment, but encourage growth in the media industries as well. It wasn’t just about making money. I met with a long-term friend Kerry Veitch, who had significant experience within the print industry. We discussed solutions and approaches to encourage economic growth in sustainable ways, and the problems traditional publishing had faced over the years. Together, we founded Reveela Technologies and the concept of Reveela.com was born.”
Understanding what needed to change and developing an MVP
“In the UK alone, there are five million registered companies. Many of them lack the skills, experience, knowledge or budget to market themselves from a digital perspective. Around 95% of those companies have fewer than 10 employees, meaning that any advertising they do tends to be sporadic and even misdirected. The publishing and media industries want to write about stories that engage readers across a range of diverse topics and industries. It encourages economic growth by raising awareness. It’s the ethos behind an industry specific magazine. There were already many ways in which companies could do this of course, but they were expensive and time consuming, often requiring a specific skillset. They mostly created opportunities to spam irrelevant content to uninterested recipients. The role of a marketing communications professional was becoming increasingly difficult.
Conversely, Publishers of trade publications have been quicker to adapt to new media, but have lacked the technical skills to leverage the opportunities new technology brought due to expense and a lack of skillset. Journalists and editors in the media are also time starved and need relevant content in a timely fashion to satisfy their own targets for their niche audiences.
We wanted to help them all in a way that could be easily adopted, and that was more targeted, relevant, timely and, importantly, sustainable. This was the idea behind Reveela.com, but how could we get such content into the hands of relevant people on a global scale?
Leveraging big data to reshape an industry
We reached out to local resources such as Sunderland Software City and ended up partnering with the Institute of Advanced Research Computing at Durham University which was led at that time by professor Georgios Theodoropoulos, who was previously the Senior Research Scientist at IBM’s research facility in Dublin.
We worked with the team at Durham on approaches to big data analytics and machine learning solutions to understand the global media and the nuances of language with an almost endless number of idioms.
We also wanted to reduce the over reliance on printed publications which would impact, not just the environmental resources involved in printing and distribution, but also drive profitability through to publishers.
We knew it was going to be difficult. Our goal was to create a publishing platform that hosted the world’s traditional print media, with the ability to match a piece of content, a news story or press release, to the most relevant publisher, journalist and social media influencer, using machine learning techniques. It took us five years but now Reveela.com can do that in under 2 seconds, understanding over 40,000 media outlets in over 60 languages, 24/7. We are monitoring and tracking the way the world’s media reflects society and providing insights, direction and inspiration to marketers and the media, based on relevance of topic.
Our platform provides a full digital publishing function and makes cutting edge artificial intelligence available to publishers who have little or no knowledge of digital marketing or technology.
It reduces the need for traditional printing and distribution and positively impacts the environment both economically and environmentally, generating sustainable and continued revenues. Many of the stakeholders are of an age where change is challenging, but we believe that Reveela can harness the power of big data to help them tap into new revenues with limited risk and immediate upside.”
Aiding digital transformation from outside a traditional tech hub
“Technology has never been the biggest thing that the North East of England is famous for. Historically it’s been coal, shipbuilding, and heavy industry. But the region has evolved greatly over the past few decades and technical innovation in areas such as bioscience is becoming a mainstay for the area. Of course, additional investment is always needed to increase local prosperity.
I imagine that the regional issues that we face up here are probably no different to other regions that are reasonably far from London where the majority of investment lies.
As far as expanding our solution beyond the UK, America is the most obvious target. We have spent years training our system to understand the English language and all its idioms and idiosyncrasies. Now our system operates just as well using American phraseology.
The UK and the US are very much blended for us as a marketplace. We’re almost ready to launch Reveela.com in the States and we expect to make an enormous impact there shortly.
The next stage after that is understanding the idioms of additional languages around the world. French, Italian, German and Spanish are all within our grasp.”
Challenges of delivering digital solutions to an analog industry
“I wish I’d known how difficult it would be. Reveela has faced enormous challenges during its early years. Finance and recruitment have been the most pressing issues. Finding the right talent with the most appropriate skillset has been a struggle. Those skillsets are rare, one of our engineers was the 95th, I think, that we interviewed. However, it meant that when we made our hires, we were building a team with the right attitude and skillsets to circumvent problems and reinvent an entire industry.
Personal issues have played a big part in our story, things that can’t be planned for, only managed. Four of our founding team lost parents and loved ones during our development years. The toll this takes can either make or break a team early on. For us, it galvanized us, and the acronyms we use for our proprietary tech memorialize the people we lost; AGNES, WINNI, FRANCIS and LINN.
With hindsight, we may have been better off tackling a smaller project that we could have completed in months. But we wanted to make a big splash and say this is who we are, this is how we see the world, this is what our careers have been about, and this is the legacy that we would like to leave. We wanted to reinvent an industry and to change the world for the better.”
Making the most of Microsoft for Startups Founders Hub
“The relationship with Microsoft has been critical for us. The Azure credits allow us to scale… and fail, without significant consequences in terms of finance. We can deal with things both synchronously and asynchronously and spin new aspects of tech up in the Microsoft cloud to understand how things will work before we have to pay for it ourselves.
Microsoft understands that these things can’t be done overnight. Reveela has to hit certain milestones to see whether it goes to year two or year three. That was critical for us because it means the benefits become available exactly when we need them.
In addition to the credits we receive, we are just starting to explore GPT-3 now as part of the OpenAI benefit from Microsoft for Startups Founders Hub.
We have found enormous value from FH and hope to continue to use our relationship to scale long after we graduate from the program.”
There are different types of passion that you encounter in the world of entrepreneurship. John Graham at Reveela Technologies is determined to bring about change to an industry he has been part of for many years in a way that benefits business and the environment. It’s an inspiring, mid-career pivot to embrace digital transformation and I’m excited to watch John’s company break out across the world.
To learn more about the benefits available for entrepreneurs and their companies, sign up to Microsoft for Startups Founders Hub today.