Curiosity has stood Matilda Kong in good stead, taking her from banking to CEO of a start-up that has developed a tool to detect stereotypes in popular culture.
How was 2018 for your company and what do you expect for the future?
I quit my previous job at SEB, a Swedish bank, in 2018; I found a team, an advisory board, and some small innovation grants and we began testing different solutions. Now, our pilot projects with Tagesschau, ZDF, NDR and other regional and international broadcasters are starting to show results. We hope to develop a full solution for diversity monitoring of media content in 2020.
Do you expect growth for your company and will you be recruiting more staff?
We expect our company to grow in the coming years; we are a small team but have high ambitions. Hopefully we will have steady growth in Germany and Sweden, and our German rep office will need more staff as we grow internationally.
Are there any technological developments that will have a particular influence on your business development?
Being such a young company we still have to figure out which technological developments we should be driving, i.e. where we should be pioneers. Our business is purely technological which means that of course our business development will be heavily influenced by any technological advancements made by us or someone else. I’m sure that a lot will be happening within the field of applied AI.
How do you recruit the right people?
I don’t know which way of recruiting or maintaining the right people is best, but we are part of the generation that disapproves of the rules of a “normal” business life or career. We question the way work and life are built and I’m sure this approach will help us cater to our competence needs as we grow.
Which characteristic do you value most in your employees?
Honesty. Without a doubt, honesty is the most important thing for a team. That also means being true to and understanding yourself and your emotions, as well as having the courage to speak your mind and disagreeing with others in the team. Honesty is the key to achieving authentic relations both at your workplace and in your daily life.
What do you appreciate about Hamburg as a company location?
Hamburg is so segregated but yet so integrated. Compared to Stockholm the path you can choose to take in Hamburg is much wider – not all fish are swimming in the same direction, like in Stockholm. But when it comes to running a business in Hamburg, I notice that Sweden is far ahead in simplifying and automating things like registering a company, contacting authorities, and hiring staff. In Germany, this takes a lot longer, is harder to understand, and costs much more.
What was the last business achievement that still makes you proud?
There are so many things that we do that make me proud, but one is the campaign we did with BBC at the Cannes Film Festival this year. We analyzed the gender diversity in Game of Thrones by automatically tracking the speaking time between men and women for every episode, and BBC wrote a long article about the results. This was picked up by a lot of other media houses, resulting in Ceretai being featured in more than 20 countries and reaching 3.5 million people.
How do you get into your current career path?
I usually describe myself as an engineer who became a banker who became an entrepreneur. My path has been non-linear. I studied industrial engineering and management in Stockholm and in hindsight I’m happy to have the knowledge that it gave me even though that environment pushed me to a burnout. That’s when my entrepreneurial journey started, but I think I would have gotten here regardless of which path I chose.
Where do you consider home?
This is a very interesting question for me, because where I want to consider home is not necessarily where I actually consider home. I had wanted to leave Stockholm for years, and Hamburg became my refuge when we were accepted to the accelerator program. As of now, I’m not sure where my home is, but I want it to be outside of Stockholm.
What drives you and motivates you to keep on developing your business?
My business actually has nothing to do with my motivation to keep on going. What keeps me going is understanding things about myself and the people around me. The more I learn, the more humble I become to the fact that I know almost nothing. I have always carried an incurable curiousness and I allow myself to change my mind as often as I want or find necessary.
Is there anything that has truly scared you in your life?
I have been close to death a couple of times and have realized that I am not that scared of it, nor am I afraid of pain or of difficult challenges.
Apart from Hamburg, which are your three favourite cities worldwide?
I fell in love with Sydney and it was one of the first places I could really see myself living. I love Latin America and my favorite place there is Taganga on the north coast of Colombia. I have very fond memories of that village, it taught me a lot and was just what I needed at that particular time.
Did you have a mentor who helped you in your career?
Have you been a mentor to others? I have had multiple mentors, all of whom have been just right for the phase or state I was in at the time. Having a mentor is a true privilege, someone you can use as a sounding board for both personal and career related challenges. I am deeply grateful to the women – it’s been only women – who have taken me under their wings.
Do you have a plan for your own retirement?
I think a lot about the future but I’m trying hard not to live in the future. I’m hoping I will not feel the need to retire and will work until I am very, very old.