Scoop Analytics: Dr Phil McParlane

The death of the Saudi Arabian king wouldn't typically present a business opportunity for most people, but for this start-up, it was somewhat of a sign

Name: Dr Phil McParlane
Company Name: Scoop Analytics
Location: Glasglow
Date Launched: October 2016
Twitter handle: @ScoopAnalytics
Website: www.scoopanalytics.com

Tell us what your business does:

We monitor social media to automatically detect breaking news, before it breaks.  Using 10 years of research from our PhDs at Glasgow University, our algorithm automatically monitors tweets to give instant alerts to breaking news stories as they happen, and before they hit mainstream media.

Scoop addresses the need to react quickly to breaking news as evidenced by several markets by providing a web-based dashboard that alerts the user when a new story is breaking, filtering the noise from traditional social media streams.

Where did the idea for your business come from?

It was developed when my friend, James, and I were undertaking PhD’s in Computing Science at Glasgow University. James’ PhD processed social media posts in order to automatically identify breaking news in real-time and before it hits mainstream media.

We quickly realised there was a market for this as every day we would see news stories on TV many hours after we had read about them through our approach. It was from this that we basically stopped what we were doing to create Scoop Analytics, along with our supervisor Prof Joemon Jose.

How did you know there was a market for it?

I think one of the major “eureka” moments came on the 22 of January 2015 – it was on this day that the King of Saudi Arabia died at 10pm. We identified his death only 15 minutes later when an Iraqi Engineer heard this news “through the grapevine” and subsequently posted it on Twitter. It wasn’t for another hour until the state announced the news and it was only then that his death had an impact on the oil price.

When we realized that we knew about this news before it changed the oil price (and that we could have profited!) we realized that the algorithm had incredible commercial potential. This, combined with the fact that financial institutes pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to get milliseconds of advantage by buying servers which “are nearer the door” – we knew that we had to stop our PhD’s and start focusing on Scoop.

What were you doing before starting up?

I was completing a computing science PhD in information retrieval, studying the automatic organization of images, as well as interning at Microsoft in Seattle (USA).

Have you always wanted to run your own business?

Absolutely – ever since I worked my first nine-to-five software development role after leaving university, I knew that I would not last. I am constantly thinking of ways to profit from data with my lifelong passion being the creation of a piece of code which earns me passive income while I sleep!

For example, aside from Scoop I’ve also been crunching football fantasy numbers to try and build the “perfect lineup” using algorithms!

How did you raise the money?

We have received substantial funding through the University and recently I was awarded a Scottish Enterprise RSE fellowship which pays me a wage for one year.

Describe your business model and how you make money:

We adopt a subscription based SaaS model where users pay a monthly fee to access our breaking news dashboard. Users initially get a 30-day free trial in order to test the system for their needs.

What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?

Juggling our PhD with the start-up was difficult – James eventually put his PhD on hold and I moved to America for three months to partly go “beast mode” on my thesis. I’m glad we did this as doing a PhD and a start-up at the same time is close to impossible!

What was your first big breakthrough?

We have had many “scoops” where we have gotten the news long before it goes mainstream. As previously discussed, the death of the Saudi King was one of our major breakthroughs, however, after significant improvements to the algorithm, we pick up on almost all news before its mainstream.

Another recent example of this was that of the Italian Earthquake where we tweeted about it 15 minutes before all major news corporations.

What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?

Don’t think it’s easier than a nine-to-five, because it’s not.

It’s the old cliche: “Being an entrepreneur is working 80 hour weeks to avoid working 40 hours for someone else.”

Where do you want to be in five years’ time?

Apart from a beach in Barbados, I’d like to have taken Scoop to the next level with customers in finance, journalism and beyond! From a development point of view, I’d like to have completed the 100 or so to-do’s that we currently have on our list…

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