Speaking with the young entrepreneur CEO of Invenia.
Matthew Hudson, CEO of Invenia, is only 32 years old and has a bold mission—he wants to optimize all of the world's complex problems.
That's a big statement when faced with an infinite amount of data, but his new team has a solution, and they're not putting themselves in any boxes.
"I think we could be the biggest company in Winnipeg."
We chatted with Matthew about how he and his co-founders got their start, where the company evolved from and where it's going. One of the most fascinating and socially powerful companies that have popped up in recent years, any entrepreneur and business pro can get inspiration in this powerful interview.
How Invenia Got Its Start
"We are a software company that uses artificial intelligence to solve really complex problems in real-time. Our primary focus right now is making the electricity markets and grid more efficient.
"The business got started a few years ago. I had actually come out of university and I was working at Microsoft, and I was looking for something else to do. I built out a business case. We were going to forecast the growth of cities—something totally different than where we ended up. I spoke to two friends who were finishing up at the University of Manitoba, and the three of us founded the company.
"It turns out that the type of data we needed for forecasting the growth of cities was actually very expensive - it was census data. So we went looking for free data that we could build a prototype with. And the best data that we could find was actually from electricity grids. That was publicly available and free.
"We started to built prototypes with it, and our prototypes were so compelling that we did a major pivot. We rewrote the business case to focus on electricity markets, and we started to build out that product. In the process, we realized that it would be a lot more powerful for us to build a platform. [The platform would be] based on artificial intelligence that would allow us to take in massive amounts of data in real-time and solve really complex problems that human beings were having a lot of trouble dealing with."
"We have grown phenomenally since we started out. We started with three people working out of their bedrooms. We didn't have a garage—we weren't that fancy. <laughs>
"At this point, we're 30-40 people across three offices in two different countries.
"In terms of the hard numbers, we had 20 times revenue growth; we did $3 billion in transaction volume last year; we've really started to take off. It's exponential growth right now, which is exciting but challenging."
"There's a lot of challenges with exceptional growth, and we've been very fortunate. The growth of our business, revenue and impact is disconnected from the growth of our organization. [Our platform] is essentially able to grow itself. That gives us the opportunity to choose how to grow the rest of our business.
"The challenge for us is how to make optimal investments in our own growth as an organziation. And it's always a balance in how to do it right and do it fast. We need to find that optimal point. Those are [the challenges] we face every day.
"As a business owner, I sleep pretty well, but I think there's always a concern about whether we've made those optimal choices consistently. It's not always obvious what the answer is going to be, so we need to work hard to make the right choices."
Running a Growing Cutting-Edge Company in Winnipeg
"When people first hear about Invenia, locally there's a lot of interest and surprise. Our technology is highly technical, but I think people get a sense of the impact that we have in the sense of social value, decreasing CO2 emissions, beneficial environmental impacts and things like that. They see the amount of expertise and quality of the team that we have here, and I think that there is a huge amount of excitement and interest around it.
"Outside of Winnipeg, when we talk to the investment and technical community, people are amazed that we were able to build something as powerful as we have with a team that hasn't been poached by all the biggest technology companies in the world, best universities and so on. In fact, we can pull people from those places, both to Winnipeg and our other locations, because of the nature of our mission and the value that we do.
"In the long-term, I think we could be the biggest company in Winnipeg, both in terms of the scale of revenue, contributions we make as a company and in general size.
"Manitoba is an interesting place, being so central and also far away from the closest major cities. One of the effects of that is we have a really tight-knit community. When we are going head-to-head for talent, funds or supportive partnerships with some of the bigger players out there in the world, our ability to rely on our team is phenomenally important.
"I've been told many times, and I've come to realize it's true, that in other places we wouldn't have been able to grow the team that we did because people would have been leaving left, right and centre for other opportunities as we were trying to grow. The culture in many other places is that you're not anywhere for more than a year or two before you move on.
"In Winnipeg, there's a propensity to make a commitment and form a relationship. We've been able to build an absolutely stellar foundation, and I don't know if it would have even been possible anywhere else in the world."
Their Bold Mission
"Our mission is to optimize all of the world's complex problems. I think missions are generally supposed to be big and grand, and ours is no exception.
"We've actually built a platform that allows us to attack all those types of problems in a fairly automated way, and it provides a huge amount of potential value. From our perspective, we're looking for the opportunity to rapidly prototype and enter all the different types of markets that you can imagine.
"Right now, as an example, we see our mission being met by helping people make better decisions at utilities and on the electrical grid. But we see that expanding into enterprise, healthcare, government and eventually retail applications, where you can imagine all of the decisions that you as an individual make every day, where there's tons of data that would support a more efficient, optimal and better decision—we just don't have the capacity to crunch it all. The opportunity is to provide the best answer possible to people for those types of questions."
On Entrepreneurship & Startups
"I love entrepreneurship because it gives you the chance to push things as far as you can. Once you've built a team, it gives you a chance to leverage all of your strengths as a group, to make up for weaknesses and push farther than anyone could individually.
"I think that there's a freedom in the entrepreneurial sense, where starting from scratch and not being defined by where you must go or what you must do, you can fundamentally do new and different things, in new and better ways. Even though it's higher risk, I think the reward is worth it.
"From a practical perspective, risk is one of the main factors that defines entrepreneurships and startups. There's a combination of high tolerance for risk with a very high perception of potential value. You can call it being optimistic or delusional, but there's an element in early stage startups and entrepreneurial ventures where people are making a very big bet for themselves and for their team.
"You have to be able to accept and manage the risk as best you can, but a lot of things early on are out of the individual's control. It's a matter of finding an opportunity that's big enough to justify it, and having the determination to keep going at it until you get there or until you can't go anymore."
Huge Environmental & Social Utility Impact
"My motivation really comes down to the social utility—impact and value we can have on society. Our work in electricity grids allows us to reduce the CO2 and particulate emissions that come from coal plants. It helps mitigate the effects of global warming.
"What a lot of people don't realize is that close to 10,000 people die every year in North America from the particulate emissions that comes from primarily coal plants and electrical generation.
"When we can reduce the waste, improve the efficiency, focus on the environmental and health damages of these types of things, we can have a very real and meaningful and big impact on society, quality of life and health. The more we can do, the more we can help. The motivation for us is how much we can help and how quickly."
We featured Matthew and Invenia in our recent entrepreneurship video series. Watch the below video to get more insight into this young CEO and the growing Winnipeg-based company.
Check out the other incredible entrepreneur videos featured in our Manitoba Business Stories section. If you have a great startup story you'd like featured, tell us in the comments section below.
About the Author
Mark has grown digital blog communities to connect Canadian business and tech pros by focusing on creating relatable content that everyone can enjoy. He developed a North American best practice on creating great experiences on social networks and spends as much time thinking of the end reader as he does writing content. Mark is also a commercial photographer focusing on product and location images. His work can be seen at Wonderlab Photo.Follow on Twitter More Content by Mark Glucki