Consumers can describe their experiences with companies in many different ways. Auckland-based Thematic quickly makes sense of the survey responses and turns them into interactive reports.

Thematic, established in 2013 as a Natural Language Processing consultancy, now specialises in analysing customer feedback and showing companies how to increase customer satisfaction and loyalty.

A software as a service company, Thematic’s reports shows common themes in what consumers are saying, how they impact satisfaction and differ by customer segment. 

Thematic is replacing a lot of the work completed by market research agencies. "Every week big companies like telcos, insurances, banks and media receive thousands of comments from customers in their own words," says Thematic founder Alyona Medelyan. "Typically the feedback is recorded in columns on an excel spreadsheet. Then they have to figure out what is important for different types of customers. 

"How much information is being ignored in these survey responses? It’s a big problem and we are solving it," says Alyona.

Thematic directors Alyona Medelyan and Nathan Holmberg at the Y Combinator in Silicon Valley

Building a unique platform

"We have built a platform that has access to the all the data and answers all the questions companies may have about customers. Within two hours we can analyse tens of thousands of pieces of customer feedback and provide an insightful automated report." 

"Our points of difference are first transparency – we are not a black box and customers can trust the results, and secondly companies only need to provide us with the raw data – they don’t need to tell us what to look for," Alyona says. 

Thematic’s text analytics and visualisation software – built on Alyona’s 15 years of research in Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning - has attracted international recognition.

We learned how to scale and grow the company quickly … the big thing is we are part of the YC alumni network for life and this opens up doors and provides global opportunities.”

Alyona Medelyan Thematic founder

The Silicon Valley connection

Alyona and her husband and fellow director Nathan Holmberg spent three months in Silicon Valley at Y Combinator (YC), one of the world’s most powerful accelerator programmes.

"We learned how to scale and grow the company quickly; to be focused on the right things and not be distracted by something that doesn’t matter," says Alyona. "The big thing is we are part of the YC alumni network for life and this opens up doors and provides global opportunities."

During the time in Silicon Valley, Thematic gained five new customers including the Y Combinator itself. "Every year they survey their founders and collect feedback. We got surveyed halfway through the programme and pitched a solution to them," says Alyona.

They tested it and within two weeks they became a customer. Y Combinator saw how quickly we turned around the feedback and created actions for them."

Billion dollar aspirations

Alyona, who has a PhD in Computer Science from Waikato University, first consulted for various companies and when several of them asked for a solution to the same problem Alyona switched from consulting to product development. Thematic, providing customer feedback analysis, was born and quickly became profitable.

Thematic gained an impressive list of clients such as Air New Zealand, Auckland Transport, Sky TV, Vodafone, AMP Insurance, Fairfax Media, Infotools and Serato in New Zealand, and ManpowerGroup, CBRE, Greyhound and Stripe in the United States. Thematic has 16 clients across six countries, and it aims to double the number of clients by the end of 2017. Thematic will also be doubling its staff, hiring three more skilled staff in Auckland, and sales and customer success people in the United States.

Thematic wants to become a $1 billion company and is targeting the United States market. "Companies there have the (customer satisfaction) culture and are easier to sell to," says Alyona.

As it developed its customer feedback toolbox, Thematic had strong support from Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED), Callaghan Innovation and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE).

How ATEED helped

ATEED facilitated a NZTE capability development voucher, used for enterprise and sales training, and two Callaghan R&D Project grants worth $300,000 (Callaghan paid 40 percent).

"We collected data sets, tried different algorithms and ran experiments. The grants allowed us to see if the experiments were successful and to develop our product so we could show potential clients," says Alyona.

"ATEED made connections for us and introduced us to customers like Infotools. ATEED’s services are very useful, for sure, and the grants definitely helped us." 

Thematic is applying for a third Callaghan grant to complete further development. "We want to automate as much as possible," says Alyona. "With each grant, we have automated different parts of the process, but there are a lot of unknowns and we have developed a roadmap about what we can risk doing."

At a glance

Thematic's business: A SaaS company for analysing customer feedback. Thematic uses proprietary world-class Text Analytics developed through research into National Language Processing and Machine Learning.

Location: Headquartered in Auckland, with sales and marketing offices in London and San Francisco.

Export markets: Worldwide, with a focus on the United States.

ATEED assisted by: facilitating Callaghan Innovation R&D grants and NZTE capability development voucher, and providing important connections to grow Thematic's business. 


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