Sramana Mitra: What year did you leave Summit to do this?
Vincent Yang: I left Summit in 2012. I didn’t start the company back then. I actually went to Stanford Business School. I already had the idea. We raised some angel money. It was in Stanford where I started the company. We hired a bunch of Stanford Ph.D.’s in the neuroscience team to help us write very sophisticated algorithms. We hired a natural language processing expert to analyze companies. That was the turning point from having the idea to making things happen.
Sramana Mitra: That was in 2014?
Vincent Yang: We started in late 2012.
Sramana Mitra: What was the premise on which you raised the angel financing? What was the business that you told your investors you were going to build?
Vincent Yang: That’s a very good question. I’m sure after talking to a lot of entrepreneurs, most of the idea they tell the investors is not the product that they finalize. The vision is the same and has never changed. It’s to use data mining and artificial intelligence to help business make better decisions. That was the idea that I told the investors.
We raised $1.6 million from Sequoia, IDG Ventures, Summit, and from early members of Facebook. They believed in this vision as well. One day, somebody who’s good at machine learning and artificial intelligence is going to help businesses make better decisions. Back then, we were still focused on building the tech infrastructure. We were not really so much into the application layer but into getting the crawling engine to analyze every single company. Two years later, our tech infrastructure is pretty good. While we are talking, there are millions of crawlers analyzing every single US company and figuring out what they’re doing.
Sramana Mitra: What market were you going to go after? You didn’t work in the application layer, but did you have any vertical positioning where you were going?
Vincent Yang: In the very early days, we focused on building the technology. We then got a phone call that was a turning point. We got a phone call from a very senior guy in MacAfee. He called us and said, “We heard about you. Can you help us in demand generation?” That really inspired us. The business pain point for him is, “We have millions of leads in our CRM database, but only a few of those actually convert. The rest of those folks never convert. We’re wasting a lot of resources on calling, emailing, and marketing. Can you use your technology to analyze those companies and predict who are going to be the customers?”
If you look at the early team for us, my co-founder was a quanta-algorithm trader. One of the founders worked in NASA. Two of them were Neuroscience Ph.D.’s. None of us have a marketing background. However, nobody understood how to analyze companies better than us. When it comes to analyzing companies using math models and crawling engines, we are actually very good. Then, we quickly applied our model on to sales and marketing, in particular, for the pilot project with MacAfee. It actually works very well. That became the turning point for us. Now, we are 100% focused on sales and marketing.