Founders Interviews: José Tenório de Figueiredo of Data4Deals
This month we bring you an interview with José Tenório de Figueiredo, Co-Founder and CEO of Data4Deals. José previously founded ComparaJá.pt, the largest comparison website for credit, energy, telco and insurance products in Portugal, and his new company was part of the most recent batch of our Indico Founders Program.
Data4Deals uses artificial intelligence to understand customer preferences and behavior from financial data to enable brands to reach new customers and deepen the relationship with existing ones.
*This interview has been slightly edited for reading ease.
First, can you tell us about your professional background and the path that led you to Data4Deals?
So I’m an engineer, that’s what I first studied, and after that I went into consulting, working for Boston Consulting Group. I then went to take an MBA in the US, in Boston, and subsequently came back to work for one of the biggest private equity firms in Portugal, Oxy Capital. After that experience I built ComparaJá, which is the biggest price comparison website for things like loans, credits, telco, etc. Now I’m here, doing this!
So how is Data4Deals born exactly? How did the idea come to be and how did you decide to start on that path?
So, I’m good friends with Pedro Santa Clara, who is a professor at Nova, and one time I was at his place and he explained to me how he thought that banking data could be used for marketing purposes. There was a really nobody else doing this, so that idea stuck with me for some time. I did some research and learned that actually, in the US it was reasonably big business. On the other hand, in Europe, there wasn’t anything sizable regarding this problem. So we figured that there was a good opportunity and started working together. We went back and forth a couple of times until we finally spoke with the CEO of Santander. He thought it was a great idea, we closed a contract with them, and we went from there.
How is your solution different from current offerings on the market? In other words, what’s your secret sauce?
What we do very differently is that we have an approach to data privacy that is quite unique. It’s a strategy that allows us to circumvent the fact that processing any data outside its first party is quite complex today. So we developed a system where we really minimize the movement of data. Our technology allows us to guarantee that we take the maximum out of data without having to push data towards us or towards other parties. That’s the first thing.
Secondly, we focus a lot on managing our relationship with banks and on the management of the merchants using our platform, to guarantee that both parties really get the most value out of it possible. So basically, we have data, we have clients, we have banks, and we have merchants, and we try to optimize value for all these parties. Thinking like this is really what makes us quite unique and I think we can already be considered a bit of a success here, in the Portuguese market. The idea is to grow very fast outside Portugal, and I do really think we have an approach to a number of problems that we haven’t seen elsewhere. In that sense, I think we are quite powerful.
What would you say was the most crucial moment in the history of your company?
I think it was the moment when we signed the first contract. From that point on we really believed that this would be a business and we started investing more and more. It was the moment when Pedro Castro e Almeida told us that he thought that this could be a great business and that he thought it was a very interesting thing for Santander. That’s where it started and we went from there.
If you could go back in time, is there anything you would have done differently?
Well, so many things, it’s always like this in life. I’ve learned a ton, so I would have done many things differently. I think that our product evolved a ton, today its a completely different thing compared to when we started. The setup is much easier nowadays for both banks and merchants. The way we currently think about ourproduct is also much more mature than it was before. So yeah, if I had learned these lessons before I would have done lots and lots of things differently.
What can we expect from Data4Deals no that you’ve raised a €1M round?
That money, while it’s going towards R&D because it’s a SIFIDE investment, will also allow for other funds to be allocated to other priorities and growing outside of Portugal is certainly the most important of those. Our focus is to develop the product and develop the algorithm, making the solution more robust, and at the same time, really grow fast in other markets that have the same problems and the same interests.
What has been the most challenging part of growing your startup?
Look, it’s always the same thing in startups. I found out exactly the same problems in my previous experience. We have very little resources, both in terms of human resources but financial resources as well, to deliver on a very big mission. That’s obviously very complex. We have to be very thoughtful, we have to be very pragmatic, but we also have to be very strategic to guarantee that we are doing all the right things to get where we want to be. We are trying to solve a problem in a different way, and, in our case, tackling issues that banks have that are quite complex. So, all this considered, it’s really challenging. I think now we can say that for at least the first part, we have overcome those issues, but it’s always very challenging to do so much with so few resources.
And the most fun part?
Well I think starting companies is a vocation, right? It’s like a sport. A sport gets you tired, for sure, and getting tired is not good in itself, but there is a pleasure in doing things that you think are powerful and rewarding. The pleasure is just a byproduct of your work. If you are excited about what you’re building, then every day can be fun.
The pleasure is in the pain.
Yes, exactly. So it’s exactly like sport. You love it, and there are times that you get tired, but because you love it you do it anyways. So the most fun part for me is the challenge, it’s the fact that you are delivering value to others and to society as a whole, that you are doing things differently and moving further, closer to your goal. That is what makes it so exciting and fun.
As an experienced founder, do you have any advice for someone that’s just embarking on their entrepreneurial journey?
Yeah, for sure. I think that people have to be very thoughtful when they start a company, because we have been told for a long time, with stories like that of Bill Gates, or Mark Zuckerberg, or Elon Musk, that we can all do these things. It’s important to understand that those guys really went far in the risks they took, and at the same time a lot of people took similar risks and you never heard about them.
I think that it’s useful to think very deeply about risk. With the companies I’ve started, I always managed to bring the risk down without negatively impacting the opportunity or the possible outcome. There are lots of very risky things with dreamy outcomes. The most important thing is to find the things that could have incredible outcomes, but where the risk is not so high. That’s why I told you, we started this company by closing a deal with Santander, one of the biggest banks in Portugal. The fact that we were working together with them from the start massively reduced the risks we faced. If we were to have started with the idea, worked on it for a couple of years, and then nobody really cared about it, we could’ve suffered. So my piece of advice is that you really look for things that match the risk that you are comfortable with, and really manage and understand the underlying risk of what you are doing. If possible, of course for the same outcome, always look for the things that have the lowest risks. I’m saying for the same outcome because I think it’s also very exciting to look at things that really can have a huge outcome, but if you can do that with a lower risk, that’s even better.
*Interview by Álvaro Furtado