AI STORIES – Ep. 2 #Hungary

 

What is it like to be a Hungarian fraud fighter in London?

 

Interview with Tamas Kadar, Co-founder and CEO of SEON

 

Hi Tamas, at France Digitale we are very excited to hear an AI story from the other side of Europe! Can you introduce yourself and SEON?

I’m Tamas Kadar, co-founder and CEO of SEON. SEON is an anti-fraud startup founded in Budapest in 2017, with headquarters in London and offices in Austin (Texas) and Jakarta (Indonesia). It all started at university. Back then my co-founder and I were working on a crypto exchange and came across some frauds. As we could not find any efficient solution on the market, we decided to build our own. We are  an API-based platform and we work with several industries across the globe, including crypto exchanges like CoinMetro. Our users are scattered across Europe, Asia and Latin America. We currently have 120 people in the company, up from only 20 just before the pandemic.

There are quite a few anti-fraud companies out there, especially in the US. What makes your startup so special?

Our unique feature is real-time data enrichment. Our product allows customers to see anyone’ s complete digital footprint based on a single input, like an email address or a phone number. It’s a huge engineering challenge, but it really gives us an edge on competitors. We are also investing a lot in machine learning and other AI systems. We strive to do what our competitors do, but in a more innovative way.

Why did you relocate to London?

Eastern Europe is a great place to find R&D and product development talent. But when it comes to marketing and sales, it becomes more challenging, because people tend to have a very local focus and little experience with digital startups and businesses. That is one of the reasons why we moved to London. Launching operations abroad also helped us accelerate growth, as it enabled us to present ourselves as an international company to customers and investors alike.

Who are your investors?

We recently closed our Series A with Creandum, the Swedish VC that has backed the likes of Spotify and Bolt. We have also raised funds from Hungarian and international funds, mainly from the UK. One of our first investors was PortfoLion, one of the few private VCs in Hungary able to finance over 1 million EUR. In general, private VCs enjoy a much better reputation than government-backed funds in Hungary, because the latter tend to impose unreasonable terms and conditions, like taking a 40% share in the startups or requiring them to keep a 2000 EUR reserve to cover potential bankruptcy costs.

What is your relationship with the Hungarian ecosystem today?

Before the pandemic we were participating in various events, roundtables, pitching sessions etc. to give back to the community, helping people launch their business, providing feedback and sharing what we learnt. People are very open to these initiatives. Now that the worst of the pandemic seems behind us, we are resuming activities and taking them to the next level, for example, by sponsoring some events. I wish to see an Estonia-like story in the future and hope that companies like SEON will inspire an entrepreneurial mindset in the Hungarian people.

What are the best practices that you would like Hungary to learn from Estonia?

First of all, an international business mindset. Estonia has a very small population, so startups go international from day one. For software companies, local markets are simply not big enough, so keeping sales national poses limits to companies growth. Another thing that Estonia does very well is attracting foreign talents. Legal procedures to create a company, pay taxes, apply for citizenship etc. are very straightforward and there are plenty of incentives for high-skilled workers to move into the country and join local startups. Hungary could and should do the same. In Hungary the unemployment rate is very low and it is hard to find very high-skilled workers – the world is becoming flatter and flatter in that sense – so it’s crucial to open doors for foreign high-skilled workers. Lastly, Estonia has a great network of angel investors, for example, I personally know the founders of Transferwise, who are making a great contribution to the ecosystem by investing in and providing mentoring to local startups.

What are your plans for the future?

We are preparing for a Series B round targeting US investors. We are aiming for a very high valuation, in line with US standards. We also plan to expand our customer base in the US. We currently have only three people in the Austin office, but we will be soon doubling down on the North American market.

Thank you for sharing your experience with us Tamas, we look forward to welcoming you at the France is AI conference in Paris on November 8th!