Entrepreneur must believe in their products, says Petr Herian

He started out as a typical garage entrepreneur and today his companies, NEWTON Media and NEWTON Technologies, successfully compete with Google. Petr Herian, the guarantor of the Business and Management specialisation, shares his entrepreneurial experience, including why he thinks it’s important to have a product you believe in, and why he’ll never be a tough boss…

You have been in the business environment for a long time. Do you notice any differences between 25 years ago and today? How has business evolved?

Entrepreneurship used to be very elemental  — you learned as you went along and didn't have the experience, but it didn't bother you. Today, entrepreneurs are much better prepared. For example, the basics of entrepreneurship are now taught in secondary schools, which was not the case in our time.

What motivates you in business?

Trust in my product. Since the beginning of the business, I've been motivated mostly by user feedback  — by seeing that we're providing a product that actually helps people and makes their lives easier. In the beginning, it was media monitoring, which meant that our users didn't have to read hundreds of newspapers every day to find information, and everything was available to them electronically. Today, we have a similar product based on speech transcription. It saves users time by transcribing the minutes of meetings, interviews, negotiations, etc.

But the beginnings of your business were not entirely straightforward…?

Twenty years ago, I joined NEWTON, then a financial company, and we did media monitoring for management. The company went out of business after a year. But, we had an on-going project working  with a lot of newsrooms, and we knew there was market demand for the product. So, we agreed to start a new company. I worked for two years without pay and my colleague, Martin, a programmer, worked for the civil service during the day and programmed in the evenings. We actually had a typical garage company — we didn’t look at budgets because we didn't have any money. We started from an idea that we believed in, and it may or may not have been a success. But it was, and eventually it evolved into what NEWTON Media is today. I think our enthusiasm for the product was part of the reason for our success, which is why I encourage everyone who’s starting a business to do it in an area they enjoy.

According to Petr Herian, everyone should lead in their own way, as what works for one person may not work for another

Your companies are involved in computer speech processing, speech recording and monitoring, which have many different uses. Have you identified areas in which you want to move forward?

We want to deploy our system wherever it makes sense — transcribing meetings, evaluating call centres, creating automatic annotations, chatbots, audio bots... The whole area of using AI to work with information is incredibly open to new opportunities.

One of your competitors is Google itself. How do you deal with that?

We try to differentiate ourselves from Google with our products. So we don't use speech transcription to write emails, text, search or other areas they have covered. Instead, we focus on other areas — the media, technical texts, legal texts and so on. Our other two big advantages are that we can deploy the system at the customer's site, whereas Google and Apple always have to work through a server, and we can also modify the system according to the customer's needs.

How would you describe yourself as a boss? How do you think your employees see you?

In last year's New Year's card, a colleague wrote to me wishing me a firmer hand. I can't be strict — I used to be a scout leader, and I think that’s still my leadership style. I try to lead by advising, helping and listening to everyone. It might be good to be tough from time to time, but my experience is that we are all different and everyone should find their own entrepreneurial path and not copy anyone.

You've been a finalist twice for the Manager of the Year award. How did you do it?

In my opinion, by bringing a product to market that people liked.We built a brand and we ran the company in a positive way ,and the numbers were good. So I think it was well deserved.