Dr. Francisco Martin, serial entrepreneur and the CEO/Founder of Strands, has found his niche applying AI solutions to various technology problems. At Strands he has developed an intelligent agent which understands and learns your personal tastes via several different methods.
Strands’ (Strands.com is in beta launch) mission is simply to allow people to “find new stuff”. The core technology is marketed as a recommendation engine which identifies products to consumers based on observations of their past actions. This novel approach requires multiple data points versus a simple purchase or two. It also breaks boundaries as users are able to develop “personal taste profiles” which span the web as a whole, and which are portable by the user. Online retailers can also take advantage of Strands technology. The ‘Strands Social Recommender’ product claims to increase sales by 35% by providing direct, applicable, and relevant products to users for purchase. Here Francisco and I discuss the many faces of Strands.
As you know, my belief is that personalization will be the cornerstone of web 3.0. Thus, what Francisco and his company is doing, is of huge interest to me.
SM: Francisco, tell me about your background. Where do you come from and what is your history?
FM: I am originally from a very small town in the south of Spain near Seville. The small town is Las Navas de la Concepción. We joke because nobody knows this city. My father moved to Valencia when I was 4 years old and I remained there until I was 25.
When I was younger I was crazy. The last year of high school I dropped out and went to the military for a while. I felt it would be a different kind of life. After the military I enrolled in the University and that is when I decided I needed to try and catch up for all the time I had lost when I was in the military. I crazy enough to think I could read all of the computer science books in the University Library. I made a big mistake because I pledged not to read any other literature until I had read each of those computer science books. I did not realize how many there were! It took me many years but I really gained an understanding of the basics.
I earned my degree in computer science from the Universidad Politécnica de Valencia where I had one of the best academic records ever. Because of that I was offered a young investigator grant by the Spanish Counsel for Scientific Research to study a topic of my choice.I went to Barcelona at the end of 1995 and started a PhD in computer science with a concentration in artificial intelligence. At the end of 1999, when I was finishing the PhD, I started a company which began growing very, very fast.
SM: What was the company?
FM: The name was Intelligent Software Components. The idea there was to create small pieces of software that were intelligent and then combine these pieces together to create applications which were more complex.
SM: What kind of software and applications could you create?
FM: There were a lot of options. We could create auctions or applications to help companies to buy cheaper. There were information retrieval components. Very early on we began developing applications for General Electric as well as a number of large European companies. This was taking place in 1999 and there were many companies trying to deliver ecommerce solutions very fast. At the end of 2000 Banco Santander, the biggest bank in Spain and one of the biggest banks in the world, bought a large part of the company.
SM: How big did the company become?
FM: It grew to have approximately 200 employees.
SM: How much were the annual revenues?
FM: That last year I was there, revenue was over €6M.
SM: You were the CEO?
FM: Yes, I was the CEO. The valuation when the bank bought the company was €60M. It is a company that I started with $150K, raised from friends and family. I also took out four parallel loans which meant 25% of the company was based purely on loans. At the time I was a research fellow. I was making the equivalent of $600 a month. I had to take out loans because I did not have enough money, but I was able to make that money multiply greatly.