John is an AI industry veteran, and has both exciting new trends to share, as well as cautionary guidance to offer.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start by introducing our audience to Vast and yourself.
John Price: I’m the CEO of Vast. We’re headquartered in Austin, Texas. We’ve been around for over 10 years. The company was founded in San Francisco by Naval Ravikant and Kevin Laws with first round funding from Clearstone and Leapfrog Ventures. I joined the company in 2007 and moved the company to Austin around 2010. We’ve been building out Big Data applications for automotive and real estate ever since.
Sramana Mitra: Talk a little bit about what Big Data applications are we talking about. Do you operate at a platform level with different kinds of applications or do you operate at a specific application level?
John Price: Let me back up one second and tell you my point of view about what’s missing in the industry and why we targeted Vast at this opportunity, particularly in automotive and real estate. You draw a 2 by 2 matrix and on the y-axis, have small and Big Data and on the x-axis, have small and big purchases. You let the lower left-hand quadrant be your classic e-commerce sites and low-value arbitrage type of sites and tools.
If you go to the upper quadrant, you just put Amazon. They just continue to dominate. If you jump over to the bottom-right quadrant where you’re now still at small data and big purchases, you’re now looking at the walled gardens out there. They do a tremendous job of aggregating a lot of content for us, but they do very little with that data. But they certainly give us a lot of data to search through.
If you go up to the upper-right hand quadrant, that’s where you’ll find Vast. I saw an opportunity to bring the capabilities of AI and machine learning to the big purchase category. It’s characteristically very different from the Amazon category. With that said, the thing that makes it different are the things that make it challenging and fun. The biggest and most obvious part of the problem is the data. If you look at the data in these vertical industries where you’re making big purchase decisions, there’re a couple of things.
One is ,it’s a considered purchase. It’s nothing you make in 15 minutes or less. You are trying to extract information and knowledge, and get guidance from experts. You don’t have that problem in Amazon. On the large transactions, I saw the opportunity for using Big Data and machine learning to create enough analytics and insights to help us with these considered purchase decisions. That’s where we focus all of our technology and our platform.