Editor’s note: This is the second blog in Meet the Google Cloud Data Champions, a series celebrating the people behind data and AI-driven transformations. Each blog features a champion’s career journey, lessons learned, advice they would give other leaders, and more. This story features Emily Bobis, Co-Founder of Compass IoT, an award-winning Australian road intelligence company that uses connected vehicle data to improve road safety, infrastructure and city planning. Read more about Compass IoT’s work.
Tell us about yourself. Where did you grow up? What did your journey into tech look like?
My journey into tech was unintentional — I always had a perception about the type of people that worked in tech, and I wasn’t “it.” I was in the last year of my undergrad degree at the University of Sydney and I applied for a scholarship for a short-term exchange in Singapore. Turns out, there were four scholarships available and I was one of only four people who applied so I got the scholarship entirely based on luck. On that trip is where I met my co-founder, Angus McDonald.
I worked with Angus on his first startup, a bike sharing service called Airbike. This was my first experience in tech-enabled mobility. Airbike exposed a big data gap in smart cities — how could we design better and safer cities that reflect the way people actually move around them? This problem became the foundation of why we started Compass IoT.
Which leaders and/or companies have inspired you along your career journey?
We’re very fortunate in Sydney to have a startup ecosystem that is full of founders that genuinely want to help each other succeed. Alex Carpenter who runs the Guild of Entrepreneurs online community and Murray Hurps who spearheads University of Technology Sydney startups are two of the most generous and kind people you could ask for to represent the space.
It might sound odd, but my Taekwondo instructor, Alan Lau, also deserves some recognition. The skills I’ve learnt during my training with Alan — resilience, perseverance, and integrating constant feedback to improve — are skills that directly translate into me being a better entrepreneur. Something people don’t know about me is that I’m a black belt in Taekwondo! 2023 will be my 13th year of training.
Why was having a data/AI strategy important in developing your company, Compass IoT?
Managing data on a large scale can become very expensive and messy. A long-term strategy helps to build products that scale, without huge increases in complexity, cost, or compromising the quality of the product you’re delivering. In the case of Compass, having a strategy and using globally scalable tools from Google Cloud such as BigQuery, Pub/Sub, Cloud Run, and Google Kubernetes Engine enabled us to grow without impacting our data latency and end-user experience.
What’s the coolest thing you and/or your team has accomplished by leveraging data/AI?
We’re incredibly lucky that our customers are great people that jump at opportunities to apply data-driven problem-solving, so it’s difficult to narrow down to a single project. The coolest thing is seeing all the different applications of connected vehicle data across everything from understanding freight routes, improving road safety, to helping local governments prioritize road maintenance and repair after severe flooding.
One of the coolest things was seeing our data used to halve crashes on one of Sydney’s busiest roads, and reduce rear-end crashes on a highway offramp simply by changing how long drivers had to wait at the traffic lights — read the full case study. We ingest billions of data points across Australia every day; Pub/Sub is critical to our ability to deliver near real-time results to our customers with incredibly low latency. Google Cloud’s data processing capabilities makes it possible to monitor changes on a road network where the lives and safety of drivers could be at stake. Road accidents are one of the biggest killers of young Australians under the age of 24, so it’s awesome to know that our technology is being used to proactively save the lives of some of the most vulnerable road users.
What was the best advice you received as you were starting your data/AI journey?
I always refer to one piece of advice that we received from a mentor and friend Brad Deveson: When in doubt, do something. It’s so easy to become overwhelmed and hyper focused on making the ‘right’ decision and avoiding failure, that you don’t make any decision at all. If you’re not sure what decision to make, doing something is better than doing nothing. And if you make a mistake? Take a page out of Ross Geller’s book and pivot.
What’s an important lesson you learned along the way to becoming more data/AI driven? Were there challenges you had to overcome?
The most important lesson I’ve learned, particularly in a data-driven and relatively new industry, is that innovation does not equal acceptance. There is no guarantee your intended customers will be chasing you down for your product or service, or even know that you exist. It is incredibly important to invest a lot of time, patience, and empathy into education and upskilling your customers. Your customers are the main character of your brand story and you are the guide that helps them succeed, not the other way around.
One of the biggest challenges for non-technical founders of a tech company to overcome is to understand realistic timeframes for development tasks and then managing the expectations of your customers accordingly. Being able to communicate why timelines need to be certain lengths is crucial for delivering high-quality results while keeping both your team and your customers happy. Having a development team who you can trust is essential here.
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