Vishal Marria

Listening is so fundamental

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Vishal Marria has been a pioneer in the effective use of big data. Quantexa is one of the fastest-growing UK businesses, closing a series C funding round in 2020. He tells the Evelyn Partners Hall of Fame that entrepreneurship was in his blood.

For Vishal, the lessons of entrepreneurship started young, in his father’s cash and carry businesses. He learned how to turn a profit, to take calculated risks and saw first-hand what was involved in building an organisation.

My father had come over from India in 1961 with one shilling in his pocket. He worked 22 hours a day, building cash and carry businesses across London. All the children were involved in the business. While a normal five-year-old went to play football after school, I went to the cash and carry.
Vishal Marria

However, while his three older siblings followed his father into the family business, Vishal decided that he wanted to learn about business first. After a bachelor’s and master’s degree, he joined the consulting group Detica (now BAE Systems Applied Intelligence) on its graduate scheme. “I give it two months,” his father said at the time. Eight years later, he was still there.

Everyone else in the family had gone into the family business, but I wanted to learn the corporate world. I was the youngest director at Detica, then I was headhunted to join SAS Software & Solutions, and then moved to work at EY as an Executive Director. It helped me blend all the pieces I had from my family with the corporate world. It was while I was at EY that I came up with the idea of Quantexa.
Vishal Marria

The idea was network analytics. He built a machine learning platform that analysed a broad range of data points to build insight into possible threats and a better understanding of a company’s customer base. He was early to see the power of big data.

The first conversation, he says, had to be with his wife. He was leaving a good job, on track to becoming a Partner, to invest £500,000 of his money into an idea. “I just knew I had to do it. It was now or never,” he says. Thankfully, his wife agreed and he resigned from EY the next day, though it took time to extricate himself from the business, “I don’t believe in burning bridges,” he said.

He incorporated the company while in the Maldives, frantically scanning documents while under attack from mosquitos. That was in March 2016. In just five years, the business has over 300 people, turns over £30m and in 2021 closed a Series C $64.7m funding round.

It’s always down to the people: people in the sense of a team, employees, customers and clients. At the beginning I was the only investor, but I was aware that everyone was relying on me. If I got any of the mixes wrong, I would fail. It was a balancing act. As CEO, you don’t just support your 300 employees, but also their families, children.
Vishal Marria

Overall, he believes, he’s got more right than wrong. Certainly, there are areas where he might have been more aggressive and others where he might have slowed down. Nevertheless, nothing was ‘half-baked’ – if the group was moving into a new area, he did it with full commitment.

A wise man learns from his mistakes, an even wiser man learns from everyone’s mistakes. I’m not stubborn. If I got something wrong, I held my hand up and I’d always listen. Listening is so fundamental to being an entrepreneur. With the market, customers, you need to be agile and make changes.
Vishal Marria

The business managed to grow even through the pandemic, but Vishal says the crisis taught him a number of lessons: “Most important was that we need to be prepared for when the market turns for the better. You need to be able to capitalise on the recovery, investing ahead of the turn. The business has tripled over 2020 and we want to continue to grow at that pace.”

One potential route is an IPO. That is more because of the discipline the IPO process imposes on the business in terms of structure, governance and reporting. “It is three to five years away, but it is about getting the right processes in place so we are well placed for any blip in the road. The pandemic hasn’t hurt our business, but we are well aware that there may be something else round the corner.”