Martina King, Featurespace
The past six years have been a whirlwind for Martina King, who had no experience in the payments industry before becoming CEO of Featurespace, the fast-growing U.K. startup enabling banks to use machine-learning technology to block payment card fraud.
Founded in 2008, Featurespace’s core technology risk-scores transactions to detect potential fraud globally, and King took the helm in 2012, overseeing its U.S. expansion and a key partnership with TSYS in 2016. Featurespace opened its U.S. headquarters in Atlanta in late 2017.
Early this year Featurespace raised $32 million for international growth, and expanded into Asia by launching services to Singapore banks, propelling King to be one of PaymentsSource’s Most Influential Women in Payments in 2019.
This line of work wasn’t originally in the cards for King. She first enjoyed a long career as an executive in the U.K.’s newspaper and radio advertising industry, including managing Yahoo Europe, then directed one of the first U.K. companies marketing augmented reality in 2011.
But then King heard about Bill Fitzgerald, a Cambridge engineering professor doing groundbreaking research in signal processing, which played a foundational role in modern machine learning.
“A colleague asked me to meet with Bill and his colleague David Excell, who were looking for real-world applications for this new technology teaching machines to have adaptive algorithms at a time when no one was talking about machine learning,” King said.
King initially tried to get other industries interested in ML, but suddenly found payments industry executives who lit up at the possibilities for Featurespace’s adaptive behavioral analytics to counter payment card fraud.
“It was a eureka moment, because the payments industry offered a gigantic data set operating in real time, trying to predict which live transactions were aberrations from the norm and likely to be fraud,” she said.
Excell was a key technology mentor for King, envisioning Featurespace's business future.
"It required foresight from a brilliant mind, which is something David, now our CTO, has. Without him, Featurespace would never have had this level of success," she said.
The payments industry itself thrills King.
“I’ve worked in many sectors, but I really enjoy people in the payments industry, because they’re very inquisitive and open and receptive to new ways of doing things. Everyone is aligned in trying to find the best solution, which you don’t find in many other entrenched fields,” King said.
Team-building close to King's heart, and she prioritizes growth opportunities for each individual.
“Our leaders all worked together in the trenches building a company we’re proud of, and we talk about our battle scars and share those lessons with our teams as we grow, which helps keep everyone motivated and moving forward,” she said.
Featurespace prioritizes promoting employees from within and providing the training employees need to rise. Last year the company, which has a headcount of over 200, made 30 key employee promotions, King said.
She also believes strongly in workforce diversity.
“One of the easiest ways to close the diversity gap in technology is to hire women, and we do that. But especially in technology, women need to be encouraged, and I wish more of them knew of the rich opportunities for women in payments,” King said.
King participates in industry forums to promote women in technology and hopes to see more schools and parents recognizing early opportunities to get girls interested in technology careers.
“With our focus on building teams that share our values, and continuously driving diversity across the board at our company, we feel like we’ve created some great chemistry and a culture we can continue to replicate,” King said.