When it comes to a company’s customers, what does success look like? That is the question that has driven Cerebri AI to become one of the machine learning field’s most striking – and useful – startups to date. The firm, driven out of a University of Texas – Austin program called Longhorn Startup, took flight when Jean Belanger, a tech industry veteran, joined in 2016. Belanger, who had previously steered success at Motorola, Reddwerks and B/H Strategy, among others, immediately pinpointed Cerebri’s gap in the market. It has been a heady ride since.
Large enterprises can seem a daunting prospect for young startups. Sales cycles are longer, red tape is thicker and strategies demand a more consultative approach than when working with SMEs. Belanger decided immediately that Cerebri AI, a machine learning model that tracks Big Data to map customer commitment to brands, would aim for Fortune 500 companies.
The product was undoubtedly there: Cerebri measures billions of data points and drives KPIs. But as Steve Jobs said, key was to continue asking about customers: “Why should they care?” “One of the early challenges was determining the right product to take to the F500,” Cerebri AI CFO Arun Prakash tells Red Herring. “They all have in-house data scientists so the approach of we are smart, hire us doesn’t work.”
Cerebri created its Values solution, which boils data down to points that will actually add value for prospective clients. It was a hit. A leading auto company was the first to put pen to paper on a sizable contract, soon after Cerebri’s launch.
Cerebri’s USP is essentially that it allows marketing teams to create cohorts of customers based on their behavior, rather than demographics, which it says leads to a far more successful idea of which offers, events and other actions will help drive business in the future. Its own success has not gone unnoticed.
Late this June M12, Microsoft’s venture fund, backed Cerebri with $5 million it will use to build out its product. The 45-employee company already has offices in Austin, Toronto and Washington DC, all of which have steady supplies of great talent – essential for startups engaged in high-end technology like AI.
“The key lesson, especially from our seed round days, is to manage cash wisely, and do so even after you raise more capital as every dollar counts and may add up to having room for one more key hire or even a nice company dinner to celebrate a win,” says Prakash.
That does not mean Cerebri’s team is resting on its laurels – far from it, argues Prakash. AI is chugging along at a frightening speed, and keeping ahead of the curve is a near-unending task, even if a team is as experienced and dedicated as Cerebri’s. “The AI industry is very crowded and hyped right now, and has been for over a year, and probably will be for another year or so,” he says. “In addition it is full of very smart people, but the vast majority of companies have a pitch which is basically boils down to “I am smart, give me your data and I will figure something out to help you”.
“These approaches are now seen as commodity, so getting the right product offering to the market is really tough, but we think we have something with our approach of building customer journeys, measuring customer experience, and lifting customer success,” he adds. With funding in the bank, expect to read a lot more about Cerebri in the near future.