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Thought Leaders in Artificial Intelligence: Oleg Rogynskyy, Founder CEO of People.ai (Part 1)

Posted on Monday, Jun 14th 2021

If you haven’t already, please study our free Bootstrapping course and the Investor Introductions page.

This is a fantastic discussion on how to cold start an AI company, build it to scale, etc. Also, excellent guidance on white spaces around which to build new AI companies.

Sramana Mitra: Let’s start by introducing our audience to yourself. Tell us a bit about your background and all also introduce us to People.ai.

Oleg Rogynskyy: I am the CEO and Founder of People.ai. I have been doing startups all my life. My previous company Semantria was also an AI company. I started it in 2011 and then sold it in 2014. People.ai was started in 2016 when I moved out here to Silicon Valley. I have been working on it ever since. 

Sramana Mitra: Where did you move from?

Oleg Rogynskyy: Montreal. I am originally from Slovenia. I worked for one of the first AI companies called Nstein Technologies from 2006 to 2010. We sold it to Open Text. Our technology now is the Open Text AI. I left that to start Semantria in 2011 and the rest is history.

Sramana Mitra: What was the premise of Semantria?

Oleg Rogynskyy: Semantria was the world’s first sentiment analysis cloud API. You could send any piece of text, a tweet, survey, or document, and within a second, it would come back to you to show the sentiment in this text as well as the people, places, companies, and categories of all the metadata you would need to build a product on top of that tweet.

Sramana Mitra: Who did you sell it to?

Oleg Rogynskyy: We sold it to a company called Lexalytics.

Sramana Mitra: We’ve covered Lexalytics. I am familiar with them.

Oleg Rogynskyy: They were the big players in the space, and they wanted to get into the cloud game because they were on-premise at that time. We were the cloud solution on which they are still doing a significant portion of their business.

Sramana Mitra: Let’s come to People.ai. When did you start People.ai and what was your observation at the beginning?

Oleg Rogynskyy: People.ai was started in February of 2016. We just turned five years old. It felt like one day. The initial vision of why I wanted to start this company came through my employment history. I will never forget this day. Back in Montreal, in 2007, I was in Nstein and our Chief Operating Officer grounded me and the whole sales team for a week to clean Salesforce. We literally spent a week in a conference without windows, googling companies and people to update them on our Salesforce.

Cleaning Salesforce lasted for about three weeks and then after that, it was back to being a mess. That was the first learning of saying, “Hey, there is a problem here.” During Semantria days, one of the business lines that we were doing was e-discovery. We were using our AI and draft engine to understand massive amounts of email at scale to help find the bad guys.

That was when I learned the power of natural language processing as it applied to email and calendar data at a large scale. When I sold Semantria, I worked for a company that you might be familiar with. It’s called H20.ai.

Sramana Mitra: Yes.

Oleg Rogynskyy: I was running sales and marketing for H20 for a bit. H20 products are spectacular from the designer’s perspective. That is where I learned all the modern techniques of doing machine learning at a significant scale. Combine that with the understanding that there is a big problem with Salesforce data and how companies are flying blind as well as the understanding that there are a lot of interesting nuggets and insights hidden in every company’s email, calendar, Zoom activity data. With modern technology from H20, I knew that if I put it all together, there would be a big business here.

This segment is part 1 in the series : Thought Leaders in Artificial Intelligence: Oleg Rogynskyy, Founder CEO of People.ai
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