What is your background briefly?
I grew up in the Netherlands with an Irish mammy and Dutch father. There I completed two bachelor degrees in law and received a full scholarship to do a Masters in E-Law and Intellectual Property at UCC. After completing that I did another Masters in Business Information Systems to make sure I could bring together the three disciplines of law, business and technology to successfully run EuroComply which is a Regulatory Technology (Regtech) company. Since then I acquired my Copyright certification from Harvard Law School and participated in UCC’s Ignite Incubator. EuroComply is now on Enterprise Ireland’s Female Founders programme in NDRC to get us investor-ready by December.
How did you end up doing what you do now?
Prior to pitching at Cork Startup weekend, back in 2013, I never thought of myself as an entrepreneur. When Pat Phelan (Trustev) and Sean O’Sullivan (SOSVentures) gave me good feedback on the initial concept, I was bitten by the startup bug. There was no going back. The idea was born out of my first Master thesis on the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) back in 2013 and I could not let the idea go. I battled with fear of taking the risk for a while but eventually jumped into full-time entrepreneurship after being accepted by IGNITE at UCC in 2015.
— Emerald de Leeuw (@EmeraldDeLeeuw) August 27, 2016
1 min pitch for what you do / what’s a typical day like?
EuroComply is Data Protection Compliance software (SaaS) that helps companies assess, track and demonstrate compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). We take an accountability-based approach to compliance. Our offerings include gap-analysis, training, reporting/audit trails as well as analytics and benchmarking capabilities.
At the moment I’m spending a lot of time with early adopters to support them in becoming GDPR compliant and learning from their experiences using our software. We’re also do a lot of work on the investment side of things as we want to make a compelling case to potential investors towards the end of the year. We are a new company and product development is high on our priority list. It’s a continuous feedback loop to make sure we keep improving our product as we grow. In addition to this I’m seeking out talent as we are looking to expand our team.
How do your deal with the challenges of a constantly moving landscape in terms of tech innovation and development?
We are a RegTech company and by our very nature we take a very agile approach to an industry that is very traditional. Regulatory compliance is usually achieved by bringing in a team of consultants. We believe that Regtech and consultancy go hand in hand. Our biggest challenge isn’t so much staying ahead, it’s rather getting companies to see that Regtech is more efficient and cost-effective than traditional consultancy.
— Emerald de Leeuw (@EmeraldDeLeeuw) August 28, 2016
Many tech companies, sometimes implicitly rather than explicitly work on an ‘act first apologise later’ in terms of data usage – is this a problem you encounter often, or have things changed?
Things have certainly changed. Data protection is becoming a must-have for all companies. Not just to avoid the fines of up to 4% of their annual global turnover themselves, but rather because they are at risk of losing big clients.
We see that larger corporations will no longer engage with companies who do not guarantee GDPR compliance. The reason for this is that as a data controller, you are responsible for the data processing activities of all sub-processors. Now that the European Commission has created such an effective deterrent in the form of the high fines, Data Protection has moved up the priority list on the corporate agendas.
What trends are you excited / concerned about in relation to data protection and the work you do at the moment?
I’m concerned for companies that do not have the budget to hire a large team of legal compliance professionals. While we are solving this issue for them, we are not that well-known yet. The GDPR comes into full effect in May 2018, While almost two years may seem like a lot of time, the breadth of changes is very significant. Particularly with the magnitude of risk at stake: fines of 4% of annual Worldwide Turnover or €20 million.
I’m very excited about Regtech in general and what we are doing at EuroComply of course. There is still so much scope for innovation in the legal and compliance space and we are seeing a lot of fantastic businesses pop up. It will make life easier for consultants, legal professionals and businesses alike.
What advice would you give to companies and individuals in terms of managing their data securely?
To companies I would say that more is not always more when it comes to storing data. Look into data minimisation, pseudonymisation and privacy by design. Educate your engineers and build privacy into your products and services. Individuals should be more wary when it comes to clicking ‘accept’ to certain terms and services. It’s okay not to value privacy as much as you value the ease of using certain services. You have a right to do as you please with your own personal data, just make sure you know what you’re getting into.
Who do you follow for your inspiration and insights?
Mark Suster is fantastic for business know-how as well as Tim Ferriss and Marie Forleo. I enjoy watching Inside Quest (Tom Bilyue from the protein bar company Quest Nutrition) on YouTube as he interviews the world’s top achievers from all industries. There is so much knowledge there and while I love business, I don’t just live to work. I want to be the best version of myself and that means personal development is high on my priority list. It’s important to be a well-rounded individual so I like to read books by people who have achieved excellence in their field.
— Emerald de Leeuw (@EmeraldDeLeeuw) September 7, 2016
We can be online 24/7, how do you manage your work life balance?
I have to admit that right now I don’t manage it well. It’s a learning process for me as I tend to get very absorbed in my work and I have always been very ambitious. Running EuroComply is taking up more than a regular work week, but I love it. The gym is my happy place and where I go off the grid. I also have dedicated times for friends and family. This makes looking at my calendar a more balanced activity as there are many blocks of lilac that represent family and friends time.
Anything else we should have asked you / you’d like to add?
We know many emerging tech companies are under pressure to become GDPR compliant to land big clients or get the next investment. This is why we are launching a free GDPR assessment tool next week which you can use for free. It will consist of a gap-analysis as well as a report with guidance on what steps to take. I would recommend keeping an eye on my twitter page or just sign up to our newsletter if you want to be kept in the loop.