Unfiltered: #ChooseToChallenge with Imogen Low
Cloudflare’s Employee Resource Group (ERG) for all who identify as and advocate for women, Womenflare, is celebrating Women's Empowerment Month in March by commemorating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.
Join Cloudflare’s Amada Echeverría in conversation with Imogen Low, the 22-year-old cofounder and CTO whose AI startup just emerged from stealth.
Imogen dropped out of school, landed a job at SAP as a machine learning engineer at age 17, and now leads NWO.ai, a startup that helps Fortune 500 companies and government agencies identify microtrends before they become exponential.
Guest: Imogen Low, Co-Founder & CTO, NWO.ai
Hello, Cloudflare TV and happy Women's Empowerment Month. My name is Amada Echeverría and I'm on the field marketing and events team here at Cloudflare, and we're excited about the special Choose to Challenge edition of Unfiltered brought to you by Womenflare, Cloudflare's employee resource group, the mission of which is to inspire and elevate all who identify as women.
In celebrating this month, Womenflare is hosting episodes of Unfiltered through March, where we'll be chatting with inspirational women like Imogen about their insights and experiences and sharing how they forge a more inclusive and equitable world.
So without further ado, I'd like to introduce my very special guest, Imogen Low.
Imogen, thank you so much for joining Unfiltered.
Thank you so much for having me. Pleasure to be here.
Pleasure to meet you as well. So where are you dialing in from? I'm dialing in from Australia, from Brisbane, my home.
It's 4 a.m. at the moment. That was my next question asking you the time.
So that's pretty incredible. Are you working around the clock and at strange hours lately?
Yeah, this is a pretty normal time for me to be awake, to be honest.
You know, my whole team's based in New York, so I'm always up in the middle of the night taking calls, touching base with them.
It's becoming a lot more frequent. So this is pretty normal for me. Wow.
Definitely admirable. And I'd love to get into the habit of waking up extra early myself.
So so let me briefly introduce you to get some context. You're the co-founder and CTO of NWO.ai, a predictive AI platform that tracks over 20 million micro trends.
And you told me before that you found your interest in data driven analytics and machine learning at high school, actually, where you developed an interactive 3D maps of complex multilevel campus facilities like shopping malls, airports, hospitals and schools, you know, incredibly impressive for a high schooler, but really for someone at any age.
And this personal project provided you the opportunity to showcase your ingenuity at the Asia -Pacific ICT Alliance Awards Conference, and at just 17, you landed your first job as a machine learning engineer at SAP.
It's hard not to be impressed with anything you do.
And you're also a passionate advocate for young women in IT. You're a West Bank Trust scholar, Asia -Pacific ICT Alliance awardee, Australian award winner and Australian young ICT awardee.
Pretty incredible. I just have my participation medals from track and field.
So very nice to see all your awards. And before we dive in further, quick note for our viewers, if you have any questions, please feel free to submit them by emailing us at LiveStudio at Cloudflare .tv.
You can find the banner right below this video. So Imogen, what do you do at NWO?
So I'm the co-founder and CTO, but I'm also that what that really means is that I'm the data scientist, I'm the software engineer, I'm an architect.
I take a vision and turn it into a reality from a technical standpoint.
So I'm deep in the weeds, coding every day, building out databases and machine learning models.
But then I'm also talking to customers as well and getting a sense of what it is that they want to achieve with the platform.
Wow. So really a very broad range and different activities that require a lot of lots of different skill sets.
And so what made you start NWO? So my co-founders and I were we've always been really fascinated by understanding human behavior through the data that we create.
And we just realized that, you know, in an increasingly volatile world, we saw this grand opportunity to, you know, help businesses leverage massive amounts of unstructured data that's available on the Internet.
So, you know, we're talking about social media, news forums, blogs, comments, posts, posts and analyzing that information so that we can predict global trends and understand the way that culture is shifting.
Wow, that's fantastic. And how did you meet your co -founder?
It's a bit of a funny story. I was actually working in Singapore for SAP and I built out this virtual reality app.
It's a bit of a strange app. It was like a mirror where you could talk to the mirror and you could say to it, oh, I'm going out to dinner tonight, I'm wearing a red dress, you know, I'm going to be going to this restaurant or something.
And the mirror would analyze your conversation and analyze your face and apply makeup to your face based on the conversation that you have with the mirror.
So this is supposed to be used for companies like Sephora or L 'Oreal, where you could try on the makeup before you buy it.
So this product actually became an example of innovation at SAP, and I was flying around Asia to showcase it at a bunch of different conferences.
And actually, at one of the conferences, I listened to this really incredible keynote presentation by this really successful drone entrepreneur.
And I thought, well, this is a really incredible person.
You know, I want to be a part of what he's doing. And he was just about to launch another venture.
He had this grand idea about predicting global trends, and I met up with him and he was like, well, you know, quit your job and come to New York.
So I thought I would join him just like that. Wow. Quit your job and come to New York, something that most people wouldn't be able to say no to.
You had a great reason to do it.
Yeah, that's interesting. I'm excited to use more kind of applications that allow you to, for example, try on clothes according to your measurements, things like that.
So for makeup, that sounds like also a really great use case.
So with NWO, what problem are you solving? And can you dive a little bit deeper into the technology?
And then I'd love to hear an example of one of your customers and why they turned to your platform.
Yeah, so as I mentioned, you know, we're analyzing petabytes of information that's available on the Internet.
So open source information such as news articles, blogs, forums, TV captions.
We're starting to ingest TikTok data, Instagram, all these different data sources, and we're combining that with proprietary data as well.
So we've just recently landed a partnership with SAP.
So we'll be able to take in transactional data and proprietary data sources such as demands data.
And what we can do with that information is that we can predict global trends such as geopolitical tension in the world.
We can anticipate supply chain shocks through demand forecasting, analyze changes in consumer behavior and interests.
This can help businesses with marketing strategies and product innovation.
So there's a lot of different use cases for our technology.
And I think that's probably one of the things we're struggling with is really knuckling down and deciding on one thing over another.
We're a small, nimble team.
So we're able to do a lot. Wow, I'm anticipating sorry, anticipating supply chain shocks that shocks that popped out at me.
I definitely want to learn more about supply chain.
So I'll ask you more about that later. But so what is an example of one of your customers and why did they turn to you?
What problem did they need to solve?
Yeah, so I've hit a couple of major milestones recently.
We've signed up a couple of major customers. One of our first customers was an energy drinks company based out of Europe.
So we're helping them to understand changes in consumer behavior so that they can design marketing messages that resonate with their customer base.
And one of the topics that they're most interested in was sustainable packaging and how conversations around that are driving different interest in biodegradable packaging among customers.
Great. Very cool. Yeah, I've been reading a little bit about sustainable packaging.
That's so important and sustainable construction materials. Those are two kind of trends I've been seeing a lot.
Like, anyway, this is off topic, but I've been reading about like fungi for construction and packaging.
So it sounds cool.
What market or industries were you looking to break into first? And how did you decide that?
And kind of like what regions are you targeting? If any, maybe you don't have a regional approach.
Yeah, we don't really have a particular regional approach at the moment.
We're not specifically targeting one country over another.
As I mentioned, our first contract was based in Europe. So we've managed to tap into that market.
I think that the great thing about winning a partnership with SAP is that it opens up access to so many different customers that we're able to leverage the sales channel.
So that's kind of our strategy at the moment is to leverage that partnership.
Oh, fantastic. Pick up different customers.
Great. So fundraising, I always like to hear about fundraising stories. How do you ever raise money before?
How did you learn to do it? And just talk to us a little bit more about that.
I mean, yeah, this is my first venture. I've never actually raised any money before in my life.
But I think I've been really, really fortunate because my co-founders, you know, they've raised millions of dollars before me in previous ventures.
So I'm really the inexperienced one of the team. So I just sit there soaking up the experience like a sponge, learning as much as I possibly can about the fundraising experience.
And I think if I was to go out on my own next time, I'd have a lot more confidence.
But I think one of the things that I've learned, and you might think this is a bit interesting, is that there's actually an abundance of money and money is cheap.
If you have an idea and you have a bit of credibility behind you, you know, and you keep persisting, someone's going to invest in you, which is, you know, actually really surprising.
But the thing is that some money is what we call dumb money and some money is actually can actually be creative to the brand.
So we were really lucky in that we were super oversubscribed in our funding rounds.
We're actually able to pick which sources of information, which sources of money we wanted to take advantage of that could be accreted to the business.
Wow. You were able to kind of cherry pick who you're going to take funding from.
Yeah, that's right. Very cool. So let's talk a little bit about being a woman and in your field in general.
How has how do you think being a woman has made your career more difficult in terms of maybe how people perceive you?
It's kind of a leading question. But how has it made your career more difficult?
Yeah, look, it definitely it's definitely been a lot harder for me to, you know, prove my worth in the industry.
A lot of people, you know, when they when they see me, especially when I was working at SAP, they just automatically assumed that I was like a sales intern or a marketing intern, that I was more on the business side of things, that they didn't really understand that I was a software engineer.
And even within my team, you know, my manager, he used to just assume that I wanted to do all the design work and the marketing work and the documentation that I didn't want to be a part of actually building our systems and coding.
So it has been, you know, at least in the beginning of my career, it was a lot more effort that I had to make to be able to show that I was actually an engineer.
Wow. Yeah, that's I think I experienced that from from family friends when, you know, I said, you know, kind of we're a bit older, like, oh, I'm moving to New York automatically.
Oh, what are you studying? Cooking? You know, chefs are amazing.
I love chefs. But, you know, it's the fact that they just assumed that as like, no, computer science, like, oh, OK.
No, that doesn't come naturally to anyone, does it?
Right. But yeah, it kind of shows people's unconscious biases. But yeah, it's great that people like you are changing that over time.
So definitely working.
You're definitely moving, moving the needle. So do you think that since you started, though, the game has changed a little bit?
Is it still as much of a boys club or how has that landscape changed for you?
Yeah, look, it's definitely it's definitely a boys club.
It has been since I started and it hasn't really changed that much.
You know, when I started working at SAP, I was I was the first girl on the team that they had had in a very, very long time.
And I could tell because, you know, when I walked up on my very first day, my my manager, he actually he introduced me to the beer fridge before he introduced me to the rest of my team or my desk.
It's like this is where we drink. This is where we drink beer. I'm thinking, you know, I was a 17 year old girl and I was thinking this is, you know, this is not the expectation I had of a professional environment.
But I guess that's just the nature of being in a technical team is that, you know, you're surrounded by a bunch of boys.
And it hasn't really changed much since then. OK. All right.
So what are your thoughts on on imposter syndrome? Is that something that you have?
I know it's not fair to assume everyone has it. So I wanted to hear your take on it.
Yeah, look, I wouldn't say that I've I've ever had imposter syndrome. I, you know, I have I have a lot of conviction and confidence in my own capabilities.
It's just that I've had to go the extra mile to be able to prove myself to different people, at least in the beginning of my career, especially since, you know, I'm I'm self-taught and I dropped out of college.
It's not I don't really have that degree behind me to prove that I have the capabilities that I say that I do.
So it's been it's been a lot harder, but I haven't necessarily had imposter syndrome.
Great. OK. Yeah, that's nice to hear. Yeah, I love stories of folks who are self-taught and what kind of resources did you use, maybe free resources online or what did you use to teach yourself?
Yeah. So everything that I that I know, I've taught myself from, you know, pretty much just online.
So when I started off in I.T., you know, I started off teaching myself computer science through Harvard University and MIT.
And all that information is freely available on the on the Internet.
So, you know, you can enroll yourself into a course, you get access to all the lectures, all the course content, you have access to different assignments and you can teach yourself how to, you know, start to learn to code or start to understand how different systems work and databases work.
So that's pretty much where a lot of my knowledge has come from.
Fantastic. So can you tell us a little bit about your life before NWO?
What was your your first big dream? And how did that dream turn into the career you have now?
And I know we actually both went to a women's school.
So I wanted to hear about that as well. Yeah. So when I was about 16, I started watching these lectures from Stanford University, and this is where they would have entrepreneurs come up and talk about their experience of building big businesses.
And I always thought it was incredible how, you know, these seemingly everyday people could take an idea that they had or a problem that they wanted to solve and turn it into a huge multi multinational business that creates a real impact.
And I was kind of analyzing each of these individuals.
And I realized that each one of these people, they all seem to possess a similar skill set, and that's that they have like a deep understanding of how technology works, you know, whether they're an engineer or a programmer or, you know, someone who comes from the data side of things.
So I always thought, you know, I wanted to be able to be a part of this huge change that was happening.
And I felt that if I wanted to do that, I would have to teach myself how to code.
So this is when I started to enroll myself into all these online courses when I was 16, 17, 18, and start to teach myself how to build different systems.
And then when I was 17, I built out a an app, which was, you know, this augmented reality app, this indoor navigation app, which started to win prizes nationally and internationally for, you know, innovation.
And at one of these at one of these conferences, a leader from SAP noticed me and he said to me, oh, well, you should come, you know, work in our innovation department at SAP.
So, you know, he really brought me on board.
And then from there, I was working in Australia. And then I also worked in Singapore for SAP.
Great. And you also got to go to go to Taiwan and win a competition there, right?
Yeah, that was the the Asia-Pacific ICT Alliance Awards. That was a really, really fascinating competition.
You know, I got to see what the forefront of technology is, particularly in Asia.
Well, great. And when you were a little girl, did you always or what was your dream then?
What did you think you wanted to go into?
Oh, well, yeah, when I was a lot younger and this is probably swayed by my parents' opinion, is that I actually really wanted to do medicine.
So my parents actually sent me to a much more academic school so that they could, you know, so I could increase my chances of getting a good school and getting into medicine after I finished.
But while I was there, they also had a really good IT program and a really exceptional set of IT teachers, which, you know, they they saw that I had a bit of a knack for technology and they really encouraged me to go down that path.
Great. So kind of in line with with that and the theme of encouragement, what do you have you had a mentor or kind of a key figure or key figures in your life that you consider to have been most inspirational or influential in the direction that your career has taken so far?
Absolutely. There's been some really important people that have been part of my journey.
I think it started off, as I mentioned, with my my high school teacher, my IT teacher, who noticed that, you know, I had a bit of a knack for for technology.
And he he's the one who encouraged me to build the app to teach myself a little bit more on how to code, encouraged me to enter these different competitions.
And then the next really important person in my life who helped me get to the next stage was this leader at SAP who, you know, brought me on board at such an early stage and was an advocate for me in the business and really helped me to find my way within the business and find which aspects of the business within SAP I I could pertain most to.
And then I think, you know, the next person that really helped me was or as a group of PhDs, actually.
So they noticed that I had a bit of an interest in machine learning.
So they actually helped me to get myself up and up and running with machine learning, and they taught me how to get started with all of that.
And then finally, I think the most important people have been, you know, my co-founders who really took a chance on me when they saw some of the work that I was doing in Singapore, and they invited me to join them on the business journey.
Right. So, you know, this theme of women supporting women comes up fairly often.
But with that in mind, what does support mean to you?
And you just touched on that a bit. And how have you supported women in your field?
Yeah, I think I think it's really, really important to support other women because, you know, the more women that we have in technology, the more women that there are that are going to follow.
So if we can encourage women to join the field, then it's going to create a kind of a follow on chain event where we can encourage more women to join because we can create these role models that women can look up to.
So, you know, if I ever get, you know, some kind of an inbound message from anyone in the industry, whether it's a man or a woman who is interested in learning about technology or particularly machine learning, you know, I'll happily jump on a call with them, answer any questions that they have, introduce them to different people in the network.
And it's just something that I can do to it. That's that's easy for me that I can give back because, you know, there's been a lot of people who have helped me along the way in a similar manner.
That's that's that's very generous.
And speaking of, you know, making introductions and and helping folks with your network, I know you're a West Westpac Bank Trust scholar.
And I think you mentioned this sort of changed your life and you got to meet a lot of people through it.
Do you still get to go to their networking events? Yeah. Yeah. So, I mean, I dropped out of college, so I'm not part of the scholarship anymore, but I'm still part of the the network that Westpac offers.
So, you know, I feel that your your network is your most valuable asset or at least one of your most valuable assets.
If you can surround yourself with people who inspire you that you want to be like or you're motivated by, you know, they're the people who are going to help you when you go through challenging phases to open up new opportunities and motivate you to keep going and being a part of this is Westpac scholarship network.
It means that I get to network network with some really incredible minds and some really inspiring people.
And it's a lifelong membership. So I can be part of that for forever.
Great. And so often women are told what they should or could be doing. We even do it to ourselves.
And tell me about some advice that women shouldn't follow.
Hmm. Women shouldn't follow. OK, so I think one of the one of the things that women are told to do is to try and follow a balanced lifestyle.
You know, people, you know, we try to do a lot of different things at once.
But I think that if you try to live a balanced lifestyle, at least in the short run, you probably end up burning yourself out if you're trying to do big things.
So I read this great book called The One Thing by Gary Keller.
And one of the chapters is dedicated to, you know, living a balanced lifestyle, but in the long run.
So, you know, the way that I've implemented this, this idea is that, you know, I'm focusing heavily on my career early on so that I can spend more time focusing on friends and family down the track.
Oh, it's interesting. Yeah, I think it's so tempting to put a million things on your plate and try to, you know, accomplish as much as possible before a certain age.
But like you said, we have to be, you know, cognizant of of not not getting, you know, burnt out.
And yeah, and then yeah, it's and then you kind of start to wonder, like, should I maybe just start focus on one thing and do one thing at a time?
So so I like that the idea of thinking of your life long term.
Yeah. Great. So we we have an audience right now, so we'd like to make use of that.
Is there anything you want to ask of our viewers? We need for your business right now.
Yeah, we we're actually looking for some really incredible natural language processing talent.
We're trying to find someone who can really take ownership of our NLP efforts, take take leadership of that and try to help us take our platform to the next level.
So, you know, we've been interviewing a lot lately and we've been interviewing people from from academia, from industry, some really credible, talented people.
But we still haven't found that that one person.
So if there's anyone out there that has experience in NLP and predictions, then definitely give us.
Let us know. Great. As long as you're not from Cloudflare and leaving, I endorse it.
So, yeah. What are your predictions for predictive platforms?
Where do you see this technology going in 10 years or so? Where do you see intelligence amplification platforms that harness ML techniques and human metadata going?
Well, I think at least for for NWO, what we really want to be able to achieve is future scenario modeling.
So at the moment, we're good at extrapolating, forecasting predictions in that sense, but what we want to be able to do is take a hypothetical event or a hypothetical cultural shift and being able to model the ongoing effects, the ripple effects of that event on the world.
So you could say something like, how would a new policy that's introduced be lead to maybe social unrest or violence down the track?
Or how would you know, how well would a new product innovation be received by different market groups?
So that's something that we see would be possible with a lot more data and a lot more insight.
That's something that we're working towards over the next couple of years.
All right. That's fascinating. I'm excited to see that evolution.
So it's cybersecurity. You know, we're an Internet security company, so I have to ask if cybersecurity is important to your role and to your company.
Yeah, absolutely. So, I mean, we are ingesting a lot of publicly available information, but at the same time, we're also looking to acquire proprietary customer data.
So this is, you know, low level transactions from individuals.
So we need to be able to keep that information secure and safe. So cybersecurity is definitely something that is important to us.
Fantastic. Yeah, Klaflor can help with that, by the way.
Just saying. How do you keep up with the latest trends and movements in your industry?
Well, I mean, yeah, we are operating at the forefront of natural language processing.
So for me, it really comes down to, you know, reading a lot of papers within NLP, you know, reading lots of blogs and forums and posts about, you know, what's happening in the NLP front and watching lectures.
There's a lot of resources online from some really credible people where we can understand the direction of the technology.
OK, great. And so the International Women's Day and Women's Empowerment Month theme is Choose to Challenge.
So when I think about Choose to Challenge, I think about challenging myself to try new things, you know, every month or just about.
So we're asking this question of all of our guests this month. So how do you choose to challenge yourself, your environment and the status quo?
Yeah, so I mean, I am I absolutely love the theme this year because I've always been a challenger.
And I think what I choose to challenge this month is gender biases.
So particularly while I was working at SAP and, you know, when I was starting out in my career, as I mentioned, people always thought that I was on the business side of things and that, you know, I wanted to do design work rather than technical work.
So I decided one day that I would I would challenge these assumptions that people were making and step outside that box that people were putting me into.
And I went up to my manager and I said to him, you know, can you can you give me a task that you think is so challenging that you don't think that I'll be able to achieve it, a technical challenge?
And he said to me, sure, predict.
I want you to build out a machine learning model that can forecast customer churn in the banking industry.
Here's a data set that you can start working with.
And I came back to him the next week with a model that could do exactly that.
And from that point onwards, you know, I was treated like a real engineer and being able I was given much more technical tasks.
Incredible. I'm in awe that you you asked your your manager that that's that's very that's very bold and great.
So we've got some rapid fire questions. What is the last show you binged?
Although it sounds like you don't have time to watch TV. No, I don't really watch much TV, but I I did really love Silicon Valley and also Gossip Girl.
Oh, well, and they're making a reboot of Gossip Girl, might I add.
Don't tell me that I won't get any work done.
Yeah, if you're coming to New York, you might see them filming it.
So and what are some guilty pleasures that you have? I love ice cream and I can't live without coffee, you know, especially in the middle of the night.
Drink a lot of that. Fantastic. Me either. And a favorite snack. I'm a bit of a health freak most of the time, so I try and stay as healthy as possible.
So maybe like an art slice or a chia seed cup or something like that.
Coconut ice cream. Delicious.
Well, thank you so much for your time today. That's it for our time. And thank you.
Thank you so much. Thank you for having me.