Our last company AdMarvel was purchased by Opera Software in 2010, we stayed on after the acquisition and built that business into a $500M/year global powerhouse, which in turn helped Opera get purchased by a group led by Qihoo 360 in China. While in China, helping get that deal done -- we were blown away by WeChat, and how it touches almost every online and retail commerce transaction, from booking a ride-share, to checking into a restaurant reservation, accessing their menu and even paying for a meal, splitting the tab with your friends, to paying for your groceries. This messaging-centric transaction model was in stark contrast to the app-centric mobile commerce revolution we were seeing in the US.
Given the popularity of Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger and even platforms like Viber, around the globe, we could see how this could be reproduced outside of China. Additionally our business at the time was very reliant on app downloads and we were starting to see app “fatigue.” The lightbulb moment was combining the power of AI, natural language processing and machine learning with this new form of ubiquitous social messaging to transform the way that businesses converse with consumers.
We validated the idea by focusing on companies that had a large customer base or data set, we were willing to do a free trial, this allowed us to bootstrap our ML dataset and adjust our algorithms to deliver on our promise to rev-up their economic engine. A few large D2C customers in SE Asia fit this bill very nicely
How did you get your first three customers?
They all came from our own rolodex of people we’ve done business with or introductions from close friends or investors. When you are the first company of your kind, and talking about AI and machine learning, it really helps to start that conversation from an already trusted relationship. These first few customers became the references and case studies that made the next fifty possible.
Did you have any experience/expertise in the area?
Tangentially Yes. We were experts in messaging, having previously built the largest SMS business in the world at VeriSign, enabling American Idol votes via SMS, helping Google do password resets and powering the ringtone revolution in the early 2000s. We had a lot of experience at the intersection of mobile messaging and mobile commerce. At AdMarvel/Opera, we helped thousands of companies harness mobile advertising, including mobile video to better engage their target audiences and drive customer acquisition, so that was relevant. We had also dabbled in AI/ML technology at AdMarvel/Opera using machine learning to improve targeting of mobile ads.
But this new journey of re-shaping the customer journey with messaging services instead of a web-centric or app-centric journey was uncharted territory.
We’ve raised about $5m so far, from VCs, the founding team and friends and family.
Who is your target demographic?
Ours is a B2B value proposition. We sell to the CMO organization, the head of growth marketing. We’ve had a lot of success in e-commerce, media & entertainment and political verticals - around the world.
It seemed funny at the time, but very popular social media “stars” use our platform to reach their followers in a much more targeted and personalized - and automated way.
Where did you meet your cofounder/founding team?
We’ve worked together for 17 years across four companies. We’ve bootstrapped the company with $200K.
For startups tackling a brand new idea/market. It really helps to have a history with your co-workers because you know where your relative strengths and weaknesses are and can build a team to fill those holes.
Did you run any companies prior?
Yes, CEO of Frengo, AdMarvel/Opera Mediaworks, Chairman of the Board of Noventis Payments. Being part of the startup management team at VeriSign - was also a great learning experience on how to raise money, scale operations, build a sales team etc.
Being your own boss, knowing that you and your team control your destiny - and of course being able to reap the rewards from all the hard work you put into building a successful company. Those factors motivated me to start my own business.
We have had overwhelming support from family and friends - encouragement that AI + Marketing is a natural combination with universal appeal.
What motivates you when things go wrong? What is the end goal?
In a new market, we expect things to be “topsy turvy.” We embrace iteration and recognize that failure as a critical element of learning. The end goal is to be part of every single enterprise around the world, in helping them optimize the customer journey. If we achieve that, we’ve built tremendous value for our employees and shareholders.
For someone just starting out, pour yourself into work that you are passionate about and surround yourself with people who share that passion. “Good enough just isn’t good enough.” I’ve had the personal experience of building a company, taking it public, and resting on our laurels because we achieved everything we set out to achieve. If you feel like you’ve done just that, then you should celebrate and move on. Do something else, but don’t just kick back and rest, because your success will be brief and the downfall will be painful. Either continue to set new goals and strive to innovate and expand, or call it a day and move on to something else you can be passionate about.
What has driven the most sales?
Since we are B2B focused, over website is our #1 lead source, we also spend small amounts of money on Search(Google), Facebook and LinkedIn. Amplify.ai has proven to be a leader in Conversational AI, with over 100 brands that have leveraged the platform to interact with more than 300 million customers with a total number of engagements that recently surpassed the 4 billion mark.
Our ability to hire and train sales people is stopping us from being 3x of what we are right now.
How do you protect yourself from competition?
Innovation, Execution, Scalability and Reliability. In our business we serve clients that have tens of millions of customers. We have peak traffic of 20,000 conversations per second. These capabilities separate the wheat from the chaff.
We have filed several patents and have been awarded two of them to-date. We aggressively pursue trademarks for our brands and slogans.
What are the top 3-5 apps your business could not run without?
Slack, Hubspot, Jira, Google Suite.These tools help us manage our external relationships (customers, partners etc) and stay connected as a team and manage our workflow.
What are your favourite books?
An oldie but a goodie “Good to Great” by Jim Collins and “Built to Last” by Jim Collins.
What are the next products you’re working on?
We are constantly integrating with new messaging platforms (Apple Business Chat, Google Messages, LinkedIn etc.) and expanding our Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning capabilities.
In 5 years, we will have 50,000 customers with revenues in the $200M range.
Would you ever sell?
Having built and sold several companies; we’ve never started those companies with a goal of selling them. But we’ve been pleasantly surprised at the opportunity to combine forces or leverage the resources/footprint of a larger organization to build something much bigger and more impactful. With the right economics, a transaction can be life-changing for our employees and that’s a great thing.
|Mahi de Silva