Connect Spotlight: Intropic

Posted: 5 Sep 2021

Data. It’s growing exponentially and you need it for just about any sound business decision. No matter what industry you’re in, knowing how to collect and interpret data is one of those skills you just can’t do without. Enter Intropic. Founded by Ravinder Bhadhal and Sam Shannon, and seed funded by Connect in 2019, Intropic is spearheading a new way for domain experts to unlock the true power of information. The result: cutting-edge self-service tech that reduces uncertainty and helps people make better decisions.

Three years in, Intropic is growing at serious speed, led by a talented team who are all fascinated by the power of information. Together, they’re solving a complex but essential problem in an innovative, user-first way. Rory sat down with Co-Founder and CEO, Rav Bhadhal, to discuss all of the above and more, including how Intropic has created a product that is both empowering and beloved.

Thanks for chatting with us, Rav! Let’s start with your origin story. Perhaps you could share your backgrounds and how this led to you starting Intropic?

Before Intropic, I spent 10 years as the Global Head of Data at a large hedge fund. I was in a quantitative division which was entirely reliant on data: every investment choice depended on it. Getting high quality data, and a lot of it, was key to giving us the edge we needed in the financial markets. Because the company was very acquisitive, I also got an inside view into six other hedge funds and their data problems. It became evident that they all had the same problem: we wanted more data to make better investment decisions in a world where the cost of structuring and interpreting data was growing exponentially. We hired more and more data engineers to fill that need, and they quickly became the bottleneck. Getting data requests filled would take up to three months before portfolio managers or researchers could even begin to use it. I realised this problem needed to be solved at scale, so I left to embark on this mission.

My Co-Founder, Sam, witnessed this problem from a different perspective. He was a portfolio manager who went from a large investment bank to a small hedge fund. It literally took him four months before he could even begin to trade because that’s how long he spent building the data infrastructure. So when Sam and I met at Entrepreneur First, he immediately recognized the problem and wanted to be involved.

One thing to know about Sam is he was awarded the Dean’s List in Particle Physics and has an innate and intuitive understanding of the importance of information and how it’s woven into the fundamental laws of physics.

We share this passion, so Sam and I knew right away that we wanted to work together to unlock the power of information and help people make better decisions. With that, Intropic was born at the end of 2018.

You and Sam definitely have powerful domain knowledge to tackle this. Tell us more about who you are solving this problem for?

We’re solving this for our end users — the capital market experts who depend on this information to do their job. Those tend to be portfolio managers, traders, and in some cases, analysts. For them, bad data can lead to losses and better data sets them up for profit.

Defining your target customer so clearly and so early undoubtedly contributed to your rapid growth. Why do you think your customers love Intropic so much?

I think the main reason is that we give them control. One of our key differentiators is that many other providers will give you read-only information. At Intropic, we think it’s essential to empower our users to apply their specific knowledge. With the Intropic Refinery, they can parametrise any aspect they need to get unique information that leverages their knowledge, and even blend in proprietary information they may have. Our customers love this combination of self-serve control.

The user interface is also incredibly important. We’re a very product-focused company, and as Ben Thomson of Stratechery said, there’s no limit when it comes to how good a user experience can be. This is something we think about daily.

Being a product-centric company, what’s the most opinionated part of your product? And what’s the biggest insight that drives your approach to solving the problem?

People often ask us if we’re an information provider or a data processing software company. The answer is, we are both — and people find that very unusual. We believe that in order to create the best data processing infrastructure (our Data Refinery), we must also produce the most relevant and high quality information and have the market be the judge of it. That means we had to set ourselves up early on as the most demanding customers of our own data refinery. This enabled us to create the information that we would then sell, and that information would compete amongst other information sets. When it comes to data, the devil really is in the details. Unless you’ve been in the weeds and really understood what’s required to structure that kind of data and information, you often miss things.

Many incumbents in this space only get 80% of the way to solving that problem. Intropic provides that extra 20% through our deep understanding of what financial markets require and that makes a huge difference.

By solving our own problems first, we’ve been able to confidently solve our customers’ problems and gain their trust. This gives us an immediate foothold with the customer: they quickly verify that our product solves a problem and that they can extract value from it. They come for the information and stay for the infrastructure.

Can you elaborate on how that’s different to what already exists in the market?

There are two aspects. One is this 20% gap we fill that our incumbents miss. Their data processing software just isn’t able to work as intricately as ours. They’re missing that level of knowledge. The other is those who think they can centrally gather all of the world’s growing number of data sources into a single feed. We think that defies the fundamental laws of physics, that the energetic requirement to structure that information in one place is too great.

Our approach is to empower lots of domain experts with their own Refineries so they can do it themselves at scale, in a decentralized way. This is how we’ll be able to scale and truly harness the kind of revolution we’re seeing in the data space.

With your rapid growth, building your team has been a priority and you’ve taken a unique approach to finding talent. Can you tell us a little more about this?

In his book, What It Takes: Lessons in the Pursuit of Excellence, Blackstone Founder & CEO Stephen Schwarzman talks a lot about A players and how to snag them earlier on in their careers. If you’re a startup, you might not be able to land experienced A players, so we spent a lot of energy creating a strong internship programme, and later a strong graduate programme. We did this very early on, to the point where our first year after being seed funded, we had 14 interns for 7 full-time staff members! We were able to attract exceptional talent from leading universities and offered graduate positions to those who were the best fit.

I’ll admit I thought you were a little crazy at the time but it certainly seemed to pay off. How would you describe the culture you’re creating at Intropic?

We often draw analogies to high performing athletes. We think about setting a holistic base to help people really thrive. We want to help people win, because when people are winning, it recharges their energy, and they get empowered by that. I’m a strong believer in managing one’s time and energy wisely.

You and Sam are very long-term thinkers. What’s the vision for Intropic? Why are you ultimately doing this?

I’d say it comes back to our origin story. Sam and I are fascinated by the power of information and revealing it to the world. Portfolio managers and traders are just one example of professionals who use information.

Information reduces uncertainty so that people can make better decisions. We see a future where all professionals are empowered to make better decisions using the Intropic Refinery. These improved decisions will lead to a better world, and that is just an incredible opportunity to add to the stack of human capabilities.

I agree, it’s a very high leverage endeavour to help lots of people make more effective decisions. What are you most proud of in the Intropic journey so far, and what mistake has taught you the most?

One of my happiest and proudest moments was when our first customer renewed and doubled their spend with us. Renewals mean so much because customers have been using the product, they know it intimately, so when they choose to renew and increase their spend, they’re voting with their money and it’s a great feeling. Thankfully, it’s happened many times since then, but that first one was unforgettable.

In terms of mistakes, we’re constantly trying to learn from everything we do. I think our biggest mistake was being too slow to hire. We were deep in the Lean Startup mentality, iterating to product market fit as best we could. When we started seeing our pipeline fill up, it was almost like we couldn’t believe it until it was too late, and we had scores of customers with questions. Of course, finding great people takes time, so we had several months of lag and that was very painful — both for those on the ground who had to work twice as hard and for us to not be able to grow at the speed that we wanted.

Now, we have great leading indicators and our hiring pipeline is solid and efficient. What I learned was that hiring will always be a constraint on growth and finding the very best talent is essential. That’s why we created those internship and graduate programmes.

You’re definitely not the first to mention that, and surely won’t be the last! Final question: which companies or founders have inspired you the most as a founder?

Sam and I both love history, and we both love business, so the list is long! Sam’s favourites are Rockefeller and Steve Jobs. I’ve learned a lot from reading Henry Ford and Andrew Carnegie, and more recently, Jeff Bezos.

Obviously, Bezos has done a fantastic job in building Amazon, but what particularly interests me, and where I see strong parallels with how we do things, is how AWS is to the Amazon e-commerce store what Intropic’s Refinery is to our information products. To build and host the e-commerce stores, they had to have AWS — they just didn’t package or sell it externally right away. They built the product, ate their own dog food, and knew exactly what was required to create the best web services infrastructure. Intropic is the same: we had to create a data refinery in order to produce really good information products and that made us very demanding customers. Learning from Jeff Bezos and AWS, we were able to release it early and get lots of external feedback.

Others include Ray Dalio, a deep and original thinker whose principles and writing on the changing world order were deeply thought-provoking, Naval Ravikant, whose timeless wisdom on a broad array of topics really cemented my desire to start a business, and most recently Balaji Srinivasan, whose writings and podcast interviews on decentralisation and information diets I found to be spot on.

Thanks so much for sharing your journey with us, Rav. We can’t wait to see Intropic change the world for the better, one informed decision at a time.