Yuanqing Lin’s AI startup Aibee.ai — or AI2B, AI to business — has landed US $25 million in angel round funding. The company was founded by the former Director of Baidu’s Institute of Deep Learning (IDL), and provides general AI solutions such as computer vision and image and speech recognition for companies in education, finance, retail, real estate and other sectors.
It was also announced that Dr. Silvio Savarese, assistant professor of computer science at Stanford University, will join Aibee.ai to lead research and product development.
When Lin established Aibee’s new office on the same street as Baidu’s headquarters last November, VCs swarmed to his door, filling the company coffers with US$25 million within a month and quickly solving the money issues that plague most startup CEOs. Junzhang Liang from Kinzon Capital tells Synced that investors feel “obliged” to meet with entrepreneurs who split from BAT (Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent) companies. “A lot of investors tried to reach Yuanqing on the first day, bombarding him with meeting requests. In his case, investing is a very selective process for both sides.”
Over the last three months Lin has consulted with some 40 companies in traditional industries, in order to “land” his technology. He says the main feedback he got was that management feels “pained” when tech contractors disrupt business operations with frequent technical upgrades and patches fixing irrelevant problems.
Lin arrived at three conclusions: 1. Know AI has limits. 2. Customers couldn’t care less about what technologies you use, they want to see cost-reduction or measurably improved performance. 3. AI solutions are delivered in iterations and upgrades, there are no instant results.
The Aibee team of 20 in Beijing and Silicon Valley works with very short iterations, starting each case by first doing a client consultation, and following up with a specialist review by a team of AI engineers before proposing a well-rounded solution. They then collaborate with client-side engineers to deliver the final product or service.
Lin knows that multi-billion-dollar companies are reluctant to hand over their system revamp to startups, let alone share their precious data. In other words, Aibee has to work fast and establish feasible industry benchmarks, otherwise, face a survival challenge.
“We have a portal of opportunity for three years,” says Lin. “The AI hype will settle by then, and so 2018 is an important watershed. There’s a sense of urgency, we have to move fast but in a down-to-earth manner. You will see our first solution proposal in two months.”
Journalist: Meghan Han | Editor: Michael Sarazen