As co-founder and CEO of global data and technology company Spherex, Teresa Phillips is pioneering technology that is changing the future of entertainment.
Leading a team of data scientists, AI engineers and content analysts, Phillips and her team are making sense of the crowded content landscape worldwide so media and entertainment companies don’t get lost in translation. Collaborating with major studios, networks, streamers and content creators, they are transforming how media and entertainment enterprises create, adapt, and deliver film and television to audiences worldwide through AI and machine learning.
Prior to establishing Spherex, Phillips was the founder and CEO of venture-backed startup Graspr, a platform that housed a library of DIY videos where users could also share their ideas and expertise. Phillips held executive roles at both Yahoo!, where she helped craft the company’s successful partnerships with SBC (now AT&T), British Telecom and Rogers Communications, and at Time Warner, where she was part of the cross-company effort to migrate systems, products, and operations in support of Time Warner/Media One's joint venture - Road Runner.
Q: What is your background, and what are you working on?
My career began in the U.S. Army as an executive assistant to four-star generals and diplomats. I served two tours at the Pentagon and NATO. The five years I spent supporting the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe at the end of the Cold War was particularly pivotal in shaping my global mindset, leadership style, and career. Collaborating daily with NATO nations’ civilian and military personnel, I quickly recognized how individual culture shapes how we think, communicate, express emotions, and interact in business and personal settings. Culture influences every aspect of our lives.
Over the past two decades, I’ve held executive positions at both Yahoo! and Time Warner, as well as founded a venture-backed startup. I’ve built a career at the intersection of technology and media, leading teams in product development, business operations, and business intelligence.
At Spherex, we are creating a new business category in culturalization for the Media & Entertainment (M&E) industry. Spherex has developed the first-ever cultural intelligence platform that applies machine learning and artificial intelligence to analyze and process millions of hours of video content created daily for innovations in content recommendations, audience targeting, and cultural compliance with global regulations. We assess every movie and TV series on every platform to make it culturally relevant and appropriate, from compliance and ratings to audience demographics and title, down to religious references and cultural taboos. Through this process, we save content providers and streaming platforms money, increase their audience reach, drive new revenue, keep them brand safe, and make their content more appealing to all audiences.
Q: What motivated you to get started with Spherex?
Since my time at NATO, I’ve been interested in culture and globalization. I believe that cultural awareness and tolerance achieve understanding and harmony, which are the gateways to globalization. Media & Entertainment helps us get there faster. It is the only industry that can produce a product (e.g. a movie or TV series) and simultaneously release it worldwide. A movie has the powerful capacity to connect us emotionally, opening our hearts and minds to different cultural, religious, and gender differences in countries around the world. Today, tens of billions of dollars are spent annually producing content for global distribution, yet very little time and money are spent considering how that content will be perceived by local audiences. My vision for Spherex is to create a cultural dimension that can be embedded in content and associated with viewers to meaningfully connect global storytellers with their local audiences.
Q: How have you attracted clients and grown your company?
Most of our growth has come from referral business and word-of-mouth. In the industry, we are known for our deep domain knowledge and expertise in facilitating international expansion by way of providing local age ratings, supply chain operations, and metadata. The wonderful aspect of our industry is its connected ecosystem. In a global marketplace serving both supply and demand sides, every transaction touches at least two entities. Even though M&E is a huge global industry, it is still quite small in terms of how closely companies work together across the supply chain. This tight integration allows us to grow organically and very quickly.
Q: What are your goals for the future?
Because we’re creating a new business category, we must educate the marketplace about culturalization and the need to adapt content worldwide. We’ll continue to evolve our technology platform in order to scale. The ultimate goal is to be the ubiquitous provider of culturalized listings worldwide, which entails applying artificial intelligence to generate personalized versions of artwork, trailers, and other assets that resonate with cultures around the world. Our industry has a high level of reusability in that once a title is created, it can be relicensed in perpetuity. This means our culturalized listings can be used in every country by every storefront at any time.
Q: What are the biggest challenges you have faced so far?
It was a herculean effort in analyzing cultures around the world to gain insight and knowledge; then codifying that knowledge and embedding it in systems so that we can act on it. Without machines, humans alone cannot determine how a film should be adapted to better connect with audiences, in say, Brazil, Singapore, Russia, and Indonesia – all at the same time. Another challenge is that cultures and societies are always changing and evolving, so we must stay closely aligned with content regulators worldwide to update our system rules when they update their policies and laws.
Q: What is your advice for female founders who are just starting out?
My advice for new female founders is to find your north star and follow it – day and night. While others can give you advice on stops to make and things to pick up along the way, only you can choose the path that’s best for you. There is no simple formula, no secret to success, or no “one right way” of doing anything. Pack the 3 C’s and you’ll do fine: Courage, Compass, and Conscience. Trust your instincts, open your heart, and sharpen your mind. Above all, take care of yourself and enjoy the journey!