Taskize - Interview John O'Hara
Who is John O’Hara? And what’s Taskize?
Co-founded in 2012 by financial technology veterans John O’Hara and Philip Slavin, Taskize provides a unique service for banking operations staff to get work done faster. How and why this unique company got off the ground and why such excitement surrounds what they have to offer is explored in the FinTech interview.
Who are you and what’s your background?
I grew up on the family farm in County Antrim, Ireland. An early interest in electronics led to me getting one of the first 8-bit computers sold in Ireland at the age of 11 and I was hooked – part of the ‘Wizz Kid’ generation. I was coding games for CP/M in assembler when I was 12.
I studied Electronic Engineering and Computer Science at Aston University, one of the best systems courses in the country and was sponsored by Ford Motor Company. Ford was great fun, it brought me to the South East of England and had lots of added interest for a young guy – driving the bosses’ RS Cosworth put a smile on my face! Ford also had some great tech for then; early photo-realistic CAD was just starting to replace full-size clay models of cars. I programmed the PDP-11 driving the 3D clay model digitizer.
Then Ford had a bad year and I took voluntary redundancy in the hope of starting my own business. But a chance visit to a special event in the Waldorf hotel led to me being hired on the spot by JPMorgan and my life was transformed.
In the 90s, JPM quipped that it had “more PhDs than NASA and more developers than Microsoft”, and it was true. I will never forget my first time at 60 Wall Street looking out over a sunny Hudson to the Statue of Liberty and thinking “How did I get here”? I was one of the top technologists in the bank and my peer group is still defining how technology works at the banks today.
The CIO, Mike Ashworth, gave me the latitude to invent AMQP, which became hugely successful when both Microsoft and Red Hat adopted it. There were a lot of amazing projects I can’t talk about, but spending $1bn per annum building one of the best banks in the world gives you the idea of what we were up to.
Can you give us an overview of your business?
Taskize connects the right staff performing the right roles in the right firms right now. This shortens settlement times, reduces risk and improves controls. Through economies of scale we can deliver this at a price-point that is lower than a bank could do for itself. Also, Taskize integrates legacy systems and processes and doesn’t require huge spend or rip-and-replace of old systems.
We have a couple of unique inventions at Taskize; a Smart Directory that learns who-does-what in an organisation, secures micro-project workspaces we call ‘Bubbles’ – a way of managing literally thousands of manual tasks per day and a built-in understanding of the structure of these complex businesses. All packaged as an easy-to-use utility with simple subscription pricing.
Taskize is a network business and kick-starting any network is tough work. But I think my experience with AMQP and FpML will stand us in good stead, plus it’s one of the reasons we took investment from Euroclear.
Our customers have to be in the financial services industry to use Taskize. This is a niche market and incredibly difficult to penetrate with demanding, regulated customers. So, in addition to making a compelling solution, we have to be able to talk to the banks in their language and deal with them to their arcane standards.
Today, and despite numerous attempts to perfect automation, there are literally tens of thousands of people working behind the scenes in investment banks. Those people are starved of effective, modern tools. Next time you visit a high-street bank, look at the tech the teller is using. Most likely it will be quite antiquated. Also, banks aren’t well connected in the back office despite the fact they need to work with each other frequently.
We’re really excited about what we can do for banks – and so are the banks and their customers. We’re entering a pilot phase now involving half-a-dozen or more banks, and we will then be opening to other market participants.
Banking will get better and safer because of Taskize and operations staff may even get home to their families earlier each night!
Tell us how you are funded.
Taskize ran super lean during its early years while we were validating the business and building our MVP. There were three of us in the early days and we did contract work with the likes of BP and VMware to make ends meet. When we started to talk with banks the interest was huge and we realised that we were going to need an industry partner.
Now we have Euroclear as our investor – they see the value in what we do as a great strategic fit for diversification and geographic reach. We value them for their neutrality and their huge experience as a utility. Euroclear leave us to our own devices and they have been fantastic to work with. Of course, Euroclear Bank is our first paying customer, too.
Why did you start the company? To solve what problems?
Taskize builds on a lot of themes I’ve experienced during my 20 years in this peculiar industry.
When I invented AMQP at JPMorgan, I worked with many firms. One of those was RabbitMQ. Alexis Richardson, their CEO and founder, got in touch out of the blue one day and said “We’ve implemented your spec”. It was really interesting to watch Alexis build Rabbit into a huge success…
I wanted to do what Alexis had done; to see a vision through from conception to full commercialisation. So I looked at the industry I knew best, banking, and looked to the place where there was a need that was being underserved – operations. Everyone else was doing low-latency in the front office. At this point I was at Bank of America Merrill Lynch and was considering an offer as Technology Fellow at perhaps the best name on Wall Street. Then my father suddenly passed away and that spurred me into action. I stepped out into the cold lonely world of starting up in January 2012.
Privately owned and backed by Euroclear, Taskize was co-founded in 2012 by financial technology veterans John O’Hara and Philip Slavin. It provides a unique service for banking operations staff to get work done faster - helping the financial services industry make work flow by enabling clients, colleagues and counterparties to address manual interventions efficiently, intelligently and securely. Taskize complements existing middle and back-office processes to enhance control and efficiency.