By Eleanor Bennett

Interview

7 min read

For the newest instalment in our series of interviews asking leading technology specialists about their achievements in their field, we’ve welcomed the CTO & co-founder of INK, Alexander De Ridder to share his journey to launching the first AI-based web content optimization editor.

Alexander is the mastermind behind the award-winning technology that's helped deliver over a million more organic visitors per month for Fortune 100 companies and freelance content creators alike.

He has also created patented AdWords Phone Conversion Technology, leveraged ML computer vision to create customer “cookies” and analytics in retail stores, and generated no-code web applications for forensic accounting before it was a ‘thing’.

From startups to Fortune 100 companies, he has designed dozens of technologies ranging from patented artificial intelligence solutions to innovative marketing application development.

Tell us about the business you represent, how did the idea come about to found your enterprise?

We created the first AI-based web content optimization editor called INK as we discovered that 90% of published content never actually gets seen by the audience that it was intended for? This is where our solution comes in. INK is the first AI-based content optimization editor. It is not rules-based, so it doesn’t give cookie-cutter suggestions. It gives custom recommendations tailored to each piece of content. It is able to do this because our proprietary AI runs your content against your competitors and gives you real-time recommendations for how to optimize your content to rank.

It is the only content tool that understands what Google wants and helps content creators craft the content with the potential to rank. When you optimize your content in INK, it will give you an SEO score. Content with an INK SEO Score over 91% is 4 times more likely to rank in the top 10 Google results.

When Google first introduced its Rankbrain algorithm in 2016, I noted a massive shift in search. The search engine now understood the meaning behind words and measured user intent with quality signals to close the loop. My immediate thought was: how can we help content creators reach their target audience in a quickly evolving industry. How do we help writers tie their effort to ROI? So, we set up interviews with several writers and content creators, examined their workflow, and listened to their frustrations.

While there was a clear need for a tool to address these issues, it didn't exist — yet.

Our startup recognized a massive shift in the SEO market. We designed an innovative, accessible MarTech solution to help content creators understand and benefit from this change.

In less than two years, we’re proud to have built our own semantic engine at scale, secured a patent, and democratized the content creation market by giving our product away for free. We are rolling out paid versions with additional features, but we will always remain true to our beginnings and offer our free version.

What notable IT challenges have you overcome?

As a fast-growing start-up, there were a few challenges. The way we solved these challenges was to contemplate the idea, listen to our users, and iterate until we achieved that ideal.

The first one was to understand how the heck Google ranks content. We had to relentlessly experiment and isolate all the variables, and we needed to run dozens and dozens of content experiments to conceptually even begin to have an idea of the things that matter. Then we had to turn that insight and those lessons learned into a proven process that we could apply while also measuring what worked best. We then had to be able to pivot and adjust. Then, the next challenge was turning that proven process into a technology.

And, when designing such technology, you are dealing with true semantic artificial intelligence and the meaning of words and text. You have to design this at search engine scale. In other words, a search engine cannot afford to spend 5 minutes analyzing your site to make up its mind about what you mean. This has to all be done in nanoseconds or milliseconds. It has to be near-instant.

Imagine trillions of websites being scanned by Google, and Google needs to come up with a definite opinion on all of them. So, we couldn’t come to the table with an AI solution that takes 5 minutes or more to process one page. That just wouldn’t work. We had to come to the table with a design that could be very fast and very effective but very clever. That’s definitely a big challenge. Related to this is the fact that “off-the-shelf” AIs just didn’t make the cut. You can’t build a product like INK using off-the-shelf AI products. We had to design this from the ground up.

Very early on we had a discussion asking ourselves if we would create an enterprise version and charge for it or would we make this free? And very early on, we decided that we wanted to make the core of INK free for everyone, with later the addition of pro and business features. To think of a way to approach that goal in a way that is not going to bankrupt you and how to make it so efficient that it would be possible to offer a version for free and scale, that was probably the biggest challenge.

How has your business adapted during the COVID-19 pandemic?

We've been working remotely with a global workforce from the beginning. When many businesses shifted to remote work due to the pandemic, I feel like the world has finally joined us.

Perhaps the most vital element of remote work is to have clear communication. It's essential to create a communication framework that everyone in the company understands and knows how to use.

This includes how to cascade information, who to cascade it to, when to escalate things, and how to do so.

What are your plans to expand your service?

We are excited to be rolling out paid plans with expanded features and the option to add teams for our INK Editor.

Also, we just launched over 40 amazing new AI Tools that can help you write all kinds of content, from Facebook Ads and YouTube intros to meta descriptions and more.

Being the CTO, what does your day to day responsibilities look like?

I just recently changed my schedule. My whole day used to be meetings. When I was in meetings all day, I didn't have as much time to devote to creating and innovating. I now have shifted my meetings to be held in the morning.

This allows me to devote my afternoon time to get 'in the zone', be creative & to focus on new ideas, as well as strategising how to execute them.

I work with a worldwide, globally distributed remote team. I start my day at 6:30 a.m. online. I use this time as a common touchpoint to connect with my team. In the morning, I have my CTO hat on. I coordinate with the team, work on technical developments, and give marketing guidance.

In the afternoon, I shift to a creative, innovator focus and mindset. I put on my visionary hat. This is my time to work distraction-free, be creative, and come up with innovations that push our platform forward.

What advice would you give aspiring CTOs and entrepreneurs?

I would advise aspiring CTOs and entrepreneurs to choose company values early on and use them as a guiding force for building the team.

It is crucial to have strong company values. Our company values are: Innovative, Driven, Passionate, and Elevating. Our clear company values and mission are critical to our success.

They are the glue that binds our remote team together. They keep everyone rowing in the same direction and guide our daily work. They are instrumental in our hiring decisions. They are also critical in assessing if someone is the right fit for their role.

What new challenges are CTOs facing today?

With an increasingly remote world of work, having channels and systems in place for clear communication within and across teams is critical. We have been a remote workplace from the start, and we have found that implementing Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) and weekly company-wide meetings early on has been a crucial element to our success.

To facilitate communication and productivity, EOS has been a key tool that provides a clear structure for communication. It also allows us to address issues effectively and to resolve them before they escalate and become blockers towards workplace success.

No matter their location, this helps our team members to clearly understand what we are trying to achieve, how we operate, and where we are all going together.

Weekly company-wide meetings are also a must-have, especially in a distributed environment. One key way that we keep our team engaged in our company culture is through a weekly company-wide meeting held every Friday, The Week That Was (WTW).

This is a 30-minute all-hands video meeting where we reiterate our company values centering on innovation and elevating those around us. Each lead shares slides highlighting their team’s biggest accomplishments and how team members exemplified our values.

We also use this space to communicate important updates and any policy changes. This meeting provides a common touchpoint to celebrate all of the departments’ achievements, week over week.

These approaches provide a common framework for achieving our goals and common touchpoints to communicate both our issues and our successes.

What do you see as the hottest trends within your industry today?

Some trends that excite me are transhumanism, quantum computing, fusion energy, and artificial general intelligence. I am also fascinated by the intersection of technology and human psychology. I study why we make the decisions we do and reverse engineer what made AI make the choices it did, and why.

What can we hope to see from your business in the future?

Look for continued innovation! Both with our INK Editor and our AI Tools, we are constantly updating and adding features to our Editor and will be rolling out exciting new AI Tools coming up in the near future!

We’ve also just launched a series of exciting, informative new webinars where we demo how our INK Editor and AI Tools work and have Q&A. These are a great way to learn about what we do and we are happy to answer any questions you have about INK. You can also connect with our INK company LinkedIn and Twitter where we share optimization tips, ranking strategies, and more resources for the community.

I post industry insights along with ideas and success stories on my personal LinkedIn. Please feel free to drop by, connect with me and join the conversation!

If you enjoyed this article then why not check out our previous guide on how to learn Java with zero prior programming experience?

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