Martin Vander Weyer

An American in Cardiff

The inspirational personal stories behind last year's finalists in The Spectator’s Economic Disruptor of the Year Awards

An American in Cardiff
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The Spectator’s Economic Disruptor of the Year Awards 2019, sponsored by Julius Baer, celebrates innovative businesses throughout the UK that are disrupting their markets and have the potential for rapid growth, nationally and internationally. In the last of our current series of inspirational personal stories behind last year’s finalists, Martin Vander Weyer talks to Chris Ganje, chief executive and co-founder of Cardiff-based Amplyfi, which claims to transform business research through ‘unbiased machine-driven analysis’ of a vast range of internet sources.

I wouldn’t classify myself as a techie,’ says Chris Ganje, in his soft Midwestern accent. That surprises me: when I first met him — company T-shirt, smartphone to hand, talking the abstruse language of the ‘Deep Web’ — I marked him down as an archetypal IT guy. But his personal story turns out to be a more adventurous journey than that label suggests: from childhood in South Dakota and degrees in history and politics, to a first start-up in India; then a foot on the management ladder of an oil giant, and finally running a digital business with global potential from a former tramshed in Cardiff.

It was the potentialities of the energy industry, rather than the internet, that drew Ganje into the business world. After undergraduate studies at a liberal arts college in New York State, he worked for the Brazilian American Chamber of Commerce, promoting wind, solar and bio-fuel power projects. That led to an interest in ‘political risk around energy’ — and an MSc in politics at the University of Edinburgh, a city he fell in love with at first sight.

Next he travelled to Bangalore, to explore possibilities for wind power in India’s Karnataka state. He started a business there but soon found himself talent-spotted by BP, a world-leading developer of alternative energy. ‘Basically they said, “Come over to us and carry on doing what you’re doing — but do it at scale”. That was in 2007 just ahead of the financial crisis, so I’m happy I said yes.’

As an up-and-coming BP executive his assignments included managing a supply chain in Northern Ireland and working in the group’s treasury. But a career-changing moment came when he was asked to lead an assessment of disruptive energy technologies, looking ahead to 2050. The conventional approach to such an exercise was to survey the opinion of a limited number of experts, who were likely to be biased by experience towards a consensual view. A better way — so he figured out with BP colleague Ian Jones, later an Amplyfi co-founder — was to mine the vast quantum of data available in the Deep Web, using machine learning to map drivers of change and future trends. From that idea, Amplyfi and its DataVoyant search tool were built.

The next question was where to site the business: a matrix analysis led the founders to a choice between Boston in the US and Cardiff. Living costs, wage rates and quality of life were all significant factors, and the ‘extremely supportive’ attitude of the Welsh government helped too. Now with 25 major corporate clients, rapid revenue growth and a Series B capital-raising in prospect, Amplyfi is chasing its ambition to be the Welsh capital’s first ‘unicorn’, or billion-dollar start-up. With applications for the pharma, aerospace, finance and insurance sectors, as well as energy and government, the market for its product has turned out to be ‘much larger than we originally thought’.

So, if Chris Ganje isn’t a techie, what is he? ‘I guess I always wanted to run a company: as a kid of ten, I had my first business cards printed. But I had no idea what that company was going to be, just that I wanted to do something that would create value and allow me to work with exceptionally intelligent people. That’s what I do at Amplyfi.’