TrueTalk with Ossama
Ossama Soliman joins TrueLayer this month as Chief Product Officer. An engineer at heart, Ossama has led product and strategy for American Express, where he deployed one of the company’s first large-scale machine learning programmes and was a product leader in Amex’s digital bank. He was most recently the General Manager of Business Lending at Amazon, where he built the business from scratch and launched machine learning powered products serving millions of customers globally.
How did you get into tech?
I was born and raised in Cairo – and was extremely lucky to get a computer at age six. I was one of the first people to get on the internet in Egypt. My mom, a professor of statistics, used to write Basic programmes for her research. Somehow I picked it up and started doing a bit of coding of my own – I then went on to study computer science and AI at university.
After graduating, I worked as a software engineer and, among other things, I built software for Black Hawk helicopters. It was a lot of fun, but I realised that I also wanted to conceive of products and build businesses, so I went to Columbia Business School in New York to get an MBA.
Why the move into fintech?
It was a little bit of dumb luck, really. After the MBA I joined American Express as it was a great company that was based in New York, which I really wanted to continue to live in. It turns out that fintech is a good place for me because it has three things that I enjoy and I think I’m good at. First, it has a lot of tech, which as an engineer, I love. Second, it’s one of the most data intensive industries out there (as someone who was trained in AI, that appeals to me greatly). Finally, it’s an industry in flux which means that there’s a lot of work happening to figure out new business models, which is extremely exciting. That combination is rare – fintech is one of the perfect places for it.
What did you build at American Express?
I led a project to overhaul pricing for 60 million customers. We changed the algorithms that set interest rates to match customers with the right rates. In another role, I deployed the company’s first large-scale machine learning programme in order to detect and identify sources of customer issues. This programme reduced customer complaints by 50% in one year.
I went on to be the Director of Product Management for American Express’ digital bank (since sold). We scaled the product there, getting it into the hands of a few million customers and processing billions in transactions.
Tell us a career highlight.
In my last job I had the privilege of building a business from the ground up at Amazon. It was quite a journey! We built lending and payments products for businesses to allow them to purchase from Amazon Business.
The team grew from zero to 90 across product, engineering, data science, business analysts and operations. During that time, we had around 40 different promotions – I’m proud that I was able to help the team develop their careers.
Do you miss being an engineer?
I miss a lot of things about being an engineer, especially the joy of solving complex algorithmic problems, but I don’t miss the bug fixes! I still enjoy getting into the details of our technology. A big part of a successful product manager’s role is to understand the tech stack and make sure that the business strategy is matching up to it and that we are building things in ways that allow us to scale.
Why did you join TrueLayer?
I really enjoyed my time at Amazon in Seattle, but earlier this year my wife was offered a dream job in London as a professor and since we both love big cities, we decided to move.
Once here, I looked at opportunities within Amazon and outside of it. I talked to big companies, fintechs and other startups. I chose TrueLayer because it was the full package for me. I was looking for four things: an amazing team; a great culture and values that align with mine; a company that is extremely ambitious and one that is at the leading edge of its industry.
I believe TrueLayer has all these things and I’m excited to be here to take us on the next stage of the journey and to build killer products for open banking.
Where might we find you in your downtime?
These days mostly hanging out with my two year old daughter, she’s a riot. If not, then probably travelling (when people did that), possibly bungee jumping, or playing board games!
I love thrilling experiences – I’ve tried skydiving, bungee jumping, blackwater rafting, parasailing and piloting a plane.
But I’m also an extreme board game nerd. When the AI Deep Blue beat world champion Gary Kasparov at chess in 1997, it left a big impact on me. Two decades later Alpha Go became the first computer to beat a world champion at Go. I learned how to play Go just so I could follow the match.
Between these two milestones in the history of AI, I tried to leave my own (very small) mark on the genre. For my university graduation project, I built an AI much dumber than those two, but it still beat the best Seega player at my university (Seega is an ancient Egyptian board game, a cross between Go and Checkers).