How many times do you hear a business owner admit: “Had I known what I was in for when I started, I would never have done it?” The CEO and Founder of Meeco, Katryna Dow, says exactly that. Maybe it is partly tongue-in-cheek as Dow has been able to create a global business based on a platform that aims to protect an individual’s personal data. She is also an advocate for digital rights and speaks globally on privacy and data protection.
“For me at the beginning it was a mixture of crazy and naivety,” she admits. “In the early days people kept telling me it wasn’t possible, so I’m happy that my naivety helped me keep going, and of course you face the challenges and solve them as they arise.” When we catch up with Dow she is in London working 16 to 18 hours a day.
“We are in the middle of expanding our European development so it is very demanding.” Dow founded Meeco in Sydney in August 2012. “I was looking to the future and the increasing value of personal data and could see how important it would be for individuals to be able to control their own data and only share it if they want to.” She has a bold vision that everyone on the planet will get value in exchange for the information they share.
“Personal data around the globe is a valuable asset. Most of what we receive is in a digital format – bills, bank statements, airline boarding pass etc – and that data is yours,” Dow says. “However, personal information is monetised every day – in fact it is traded for billions of dollars and currently we don’t share in that value. What Meeco does is put the control back with the individual, and supports their legal rights. “Meeco enables people to manage their personal data and exchange it for value with the people and organisations they trust.”
Meeco has already won five awards for innovation in the Netherlands, the UK, Australia and Germany. “It has been an amazing ride so far. I have some really great advisors and mentors that I can call on when things are really challenging or to fill the gaps in my knowledge.” In developing the platform, Dow says she took a bet that somewhere around the world there would be some regulation that would emerge that would accelerate what Meeco was creating.
Personal information is monetised every day – in fact it is traded for billions of dollars and currently we don’t share in that value. What Meeco does is put the control back with the individual, and supports their legal rights.
KATRYNA DOW, MEECO FOUNDER
That came in April 2016 when the General Data Protection Regulation was adopted by the European Union which is intended to strengthen and unify data protection for individuals. Its primary objective is to give citizens back control of their personal data and to simplify the regulatory environment. It comes into law on 25 May 2018. Australia’s Productivity Commission is looking at similar legislation.
Not only was this validation of the work Dow was doing, but also strengthened her resolve to be one of first to market with a solution. “The key is understanding that your personal data is an asset, just like money or property and individuals should have the right to share it – if they want – and to value it as well.” Meeco now has teams spread around the globe in Sydney, Adelaide, London, the US and Israel, with a plan to open a new office in Berlin by mid-year.
Dow admits that in the early days getting the right advice on setting up her business was vital. “I was still doing market research and looking at a future business model. The advice I got from Marc (Peskett at the MPR Group, which is now part of Prime Financial) in those early days was vital.
“MPR helped us access business incentives such as the R&D Tax Incentive. I love that Australia promotes companies that innovate. It is much more difficult to access this type of money elsewhere in the world and without this I don’t know where we would be,” she said.
Dow never saw herself as becoming an entrepreneur. Prior to founding Meeco she was self-employed working as a strategy consultant across a range of industry sectors including technology and financial services.
“There was always an innovation thread in some way shape or form,” she says. “I never saw myself as an entrepreneur. I worked for myself because I wanted the freedom to work on projects that I believed in. I didn’t really think about the risks I was taking with my career, I was focussed on working on the projects I wanted to work on with people that inspired me. It is only now that I realised how important this has been in understanding the social shift we have around life and work.
“Consulting teaches you are only as good as your last gig, so reputation is critical. Think of kids today, their lives are digital, and their data shapes their reputation. It’s just crazy to think they won’t be able to realise the value of all this information. “When I founded Meeco – it was something I really wanted to do and it’s been continual learning on the go.” However, Dow is now starting to convert that learning into practical value.
Meeco is working with leading enterprises and governments around the world, helping to design new business models, and see how data transparency builds trust. Meeco has raised $3.2 million in seed funding and is has just successfully closed a Bridge round that will enable Meeco to advance their commercialisation.
When asked about her spare time, she replied: “I’ve become an incredibly boring person, I think, eat and sleep all things data, but at least I have managed to keep my sense of humour.”