Oksana Goncharova is one step ahead

She used her expertise to help build Ansarada's platform that lets dealmakers predict buyer behaviour.

Not long after investment entrepreneur Oksana Goncharova hatched a plan to use AI and machine learning to help smart entrepreneurs manage investment capital, she met Ansarada Founder and CEO Sam Riley. Instead of convincing him to finance her startup, he convinced her to join the virtual dealroom company and reshape its business model.

The future of dealmaking, says Oksana, is being one step ahead and being prepared for deals and transactions at any given time. 

“Every day that you don’t close the deal, something can happen to your business, your country or your industry. Early preparation is your best competitive advantage.”

Oksana is the kind of person you wish you had in your high-potential startup. She sees the future one step ahead of rest, gets organised and makes it happen. “When people see the word strategy in my title, they confuse it with theory,” says the chief strategy officer. “Strategy is about resolving daily issues, execution and staying on course to achieve the vision.”

Connecting people and driving speedy execution has always been key for Oksana (30), who hails from St Petersburg in Russia, but spent time in some of the world’s most exciting cities - Barcelona, Milan, Berlin - at a young age. “I still love travelling. I am the kind of person that gets excited by sailing uncharted waters,” says Oksana, who added World Economic Forum, Citibank and Bain & Co to her CV in her early 20s before joining the German startup launch platform Rocket Internet in 2011.

A year later, she was deployed to Sydney with a small startup team to launch The Iconic, an online retailer, which is now one of Australia’s largest fashion and sportswear stores with more than 300 employees. 

“We would typically get new ventures off the ground in six to twelve months and move on, but I fell in love with what we were building. In the first few months we didn’t know whether we were going to make it. We had limited capital and ambitious goals, which is a deliberate startup recipe. We were working out of warehouse and it has been incredible to see the baby growing up.”

In May 2016, Oksana decided to build her very own software-as-a-service startup called Rabble. “I always wanted to be an entrepreneur myself. Fundraising is too complex, expensive and time-consuming for founders and Rabble provided an intelligent platform to manage corporate documents, fundraising and shareholder relationships.”

Prepare better and earlier
The reason Oksana knocked on Ansarada’s door was to ask for capital. “But when I presented my message, the CEO Sam Riley admitted they were working on a very similar idea. He was thinking of how to expand Ansarada and use the insights from more than 25,000 transactions to bring more value to customers. He wanted to look beyond data rooms to build a platform that helps businesses to prepare better and earlier.”

Oksana joined Ansarada as the managing director of the Material Information Platform, but the new way of working soon became the core of what Ansarada offers its clients. “The launch of the platform spearheaded the transition of the entire business to move from a fairly non-transparent legacy pricing model of data rooms to a simple monthly subscription fee for an always-on platform.” 

The smart use of AI and machine learning means a lot less time needs to be wasted. 

“Through our data, we have the luxury of understanding behaviours. Dealmakers asked us to help find out which buyers are more likely to proceed with a transaction and the data allows us to make a 97 percent accurate prediction.” 

Similarly, Ansarada is in a position to connect clients with the right advisors, based on historical data.

Where five years ago 80 to 90 percent of Ansarada’s clients were advisors managing data rooms on deal by deal basis, 60 to 70 percent of the clients now consist of corporates. “It is a mindset shift. Managing your documents, risks and opportunities is a process that is ongoing and doesn’t just take place when a deal is on the table.”  

AI allows for standardised due diligence
The future, Oksana says, is coming at speed. “Technology is developing so fast, it is hard to make predictions. What is clear is that AI technology allows for faster deals, faster capital raising and a standard set of rules that apply to due diligence. This makes dealmaking more accessible. People can now build a product and business quite fast and, because capital is more democratised, get faster access to money.”

While deal advisors are currently often “really expensive translators” between various parties in the M&A scene, they won’t vanish from the scene as this “translation” is being taken over by machines, Oksana says. “To complete a deal successfully still requires insight and positioning. That’s more an art than a science. Machines make the data available and visible. The potential for dealmakers to use this to their benefit is incredible.”

Ansarada partners with other cloud-based systems like Dropbox and Google, which is also one of the biggest clients globally. “They manage their sell side and buy side transactions on our platform. But we are just as active in for example the energy and mining space or real estate. These are industries that need a secure platform to run different information flows and the companies need to be able to go quickly into a transaction if they need to divest or invest. Holding companies and asset managers have also started using the platform.”

Welcoming and warm
According to the 2018 CFO Day survey, 92 percent of South African CFOs want to get more involved in dealmaking. Oksana says that “timing” is her number one tip for them: 

“You need to prepare early. The longer a process drags on, the higher the risk. I know many horror stories of last-minute discoveries that ruin a good deal. By being prepared in advance, at all times, you know that the metrics are right and you can finalise the due diligence within a month, while still running your business.”

During Ansarada’s pilot phase, Oksana spent some time in South Africa and loved it. “People are very welcoming and warm, which is not always common in the M&A space. At the same time, dealmakers are a bit more cautious than in the rest of the world. It takes a while for new ideas to really stick, but once you build a relationship, you build a lot of trust. In a place like the United States, people are keener to try anything. South Africans are more reflective.”

The most remarkable part of Oksana’s story is that what once the rationale behind her own startup is now the future of Ansarada. “The vision has remained the same compared to what I wanted to build four years ago,” she says. “It is all about empowering businesses to maximise their potential, bridging the knowledge gap and helping people express the value of their business. We’re trying to connect people. In the end, everyone who works on a deal wants to succeed.”