Jeremy Achin and Tom de Godoy are both data scientists turned entrepreneurs.
The two had first met in college when they attended the University of Massachusetts together about 20 years ago.
Since both of them were well-versed in data science and machine learning models, starting up DataRobot was a natural progression for them.
The duo co-founded the company back in 2012, with Jeremy assuming the role of a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Tom as the Chief Technology Officer (CTO).
Today, DataRobot has been recognised as CB-insights’ top 100 AI companies; and out of its over 400-strong employees worldwide, half of them are established data scientists.
Data Science Competition Led To Birth Of AI Company
In a Skype interview with Tom, who is based in the United States, he shared that the real impetus for them to start up DataRobot was because of a Kaggle data science competition.
The duo only had two weeks to come up with a solution, but they still managed to emerge sixth place.
This spurred them to join more competitions in various verticals, which led them to clinch a streak of top three wins.
“Jeremy and I were competing together as a team around 2011. It was during the competition that we had the idea for DataRobot because it was clear to us then that every business was generating a lot of data,” said Tom.
“But very few [companies] were taking advantage of the data with predictive analytics because it requires very highly trained data scientists to do it.”
“Since the demand was not being met by the supply of data scientists, we saw an opportunity to create a platform to leverage AI (artificial intelligence) to automate this type of analysis.”
AI Once Seen As “Science Fiction”
But six years ago, the idea of AI was still very new so they found it hard to pitch their solution to potential investors.
“AI was considered as a science fiction and the idea of automating machine learning was very hard to believe in for many people.”
So the main challenge [starting up for us] was the skepticism in this field, simply because our vision was so far ahead of the curve.
Although the situation now is completely different and people are finally buying into the AI vision, attracting investors was initially a very tough process for them.
“It’s really about finding the right match. The key investors in DataRobot today are all people who bought our vision, and they know enough about machine learning and data to understand that what we were proposing was really revolutionary,” said Tom.
In April 2013, DataRobot raised US$3.3 million in a seed round with Atlas Venture led by Christopher Lynch, who is now the board chairman of the company.
That marked their first time raising money and since then, DataRobot has raised capital totalling US$124 million today.
Data Crunching Within Hours
With the global shortage of data scientists, DataRobot offers an enterprise-focused automated machine learning platform that empowers users of varying skill levels to quickly build and deploy predictive models.
Even those without any deep domain knowledge can still take advantage of the platform, emphasised Tom.
We are reaching out to people of every background, from business executives to data analysts. Our users don’t necessarily need to know algorithms or machine learning, neither do they need to know how to write code to create solutions from scratch.
Using drag-and-drop, point-click guided menu options, users with all degrees of data science experience can easily build predictive models in a short span of time.
“Our automated machine learning platform allows enterprises to use open source algorithms, but it also automates a lot of the tasks involved in building the models, evaluating them, and then implementing it in their corporations.”
“Basically, it turns what used to be a project that would take months and reduce it to only two days, or sometimes even down to hours thanks to the amount of automation in the platform.”
Tom further assures that with just a few days of training, anyone can perform data analysis on their own using DataRobot.
To date, its DataRobot University in Boston and Singapore have trained over 6,000 people in practical data science education using the automated machine learning platform.
This “Horizontal” Platform Is Applicable In Various Industries
DataRobot’s solution essentially empowers companies to rapidly find key insights, hidden data patterns, and make predictions faster.
So far, its technology has been used globally to help companies in various verticals like insurance companies to detect fraudulent claims, businesses to set competitive pricing, financial institutions to predict loan defaults, and many more.
“When it comes down to it, many problems can be framed in a consistent way for machine learning.”
For instance, in sales and marketing, businesses can use our platform to decide what product to offer to who. Other applications include inventory management, marketing optimisation, churn prevention and customer understanding.
“You need to know what upsets your customers so you can take necessary action to not lose them. Things like that are applicable in every company, so we actually have customers in many verticals.”
He added that DataRobot has a lot of financial use cases from underwriting, to credit risk, to insurance pricing.
The company recently worked with NTUC Income — one of Singapore’s largest insurance providers — to help them with pricing analysis and improve their business performance.
As customers tend to choose their insurer based purely on the price points, it is imperative for them to set accurate technical and commercial prices.
By automating the process of building and comparing models that explore cost versus risk, NTUC Income can easily determine whether the risk they are going to undertake is priced appropriately.
This competitive advantage pushes adverse selection on to competitors, which over time helps the company to increase their growth and profitability.
“Ultimately, we believe that AI and machine learning is greatly changing how companies use their data to improve their decision-making process.”
We strongly advise businesses to think about how to identify opportunities in the entire company. To do so, they need to know every aspect of the business and collect data on everything that they do.
S$15 Million To Boost AI In Singapore
DataRobot’s chief data scientist Xavier Conort — who is based here in Singapore — has been ranked first in the world for two consecutive years.
“We started our Singapore office in 2013 because of Xavier actually. We made it a point to make him the first hire in the company, which turned out to be a huge manpower boost for the company. From there, we slowly worked on growing the Singapore team,” said Tom.
In November 2017, DataRobot made a move to invest US$11.1 million (S$15 million) to set up its regional headquarters and research and development (R&D) centre in Singapore.
Its expansion here comes after the Government announced its infocomm media Industry Transformation Map, which outlined AI as a growth area.
“We believe that Singapore is a key growth market for AI and there has been a lot of interest and investment [in this field] here.”
DataRobot On Getting Accredited
DataRobot is one of the first few foreign companies with a regional HQ in Singapore that has been accredited under the Accreditation@SG Digital programme.
This programme accredits innovative tech companies to establish credentials and position them as qualified contenders to government and large enterprise buyers.
As a result, potential end users are assured that these accredited companies have the product core functionalities and the ability to deliver.
“This is a massive endorsement coming from the government, and it highlights us as a very good and trusted company,” said Brendan Lim, Managing Director, Sales of DataRobot Singapore.
This collaboration with IMDA has helped to increase the company’s profile in Singapore and Asia Pacific.
“As a growing company, it’s crucial to be guided and to be able to participate in key events in the region was invaluable to us. We’re also thankful that IMDA has helped us to establish corporate connections and we’ve had some very promising engagements from those introductions.”
DataRobot also trusts that being accredited will vastly improve the company’s ability to work with the Singapore government without having to spend a lot of time cutting through the red tape jungle.
Getting government projects will be faster and easier, while the distinction will help validate the company to prospective clients in the region.
“Ultimately, we are very happy to be associated with IMDA’s accreditation programme. We get to collaborate with IMDA themselves, who create, support and promote digital culture within Singapore. So to be a part of that and to be able to help fellow organisations become AI-driven is the biggest perk to us,” said Brendan.
“I highly recommend other organisations to be a part of this accreditation programme, especially if you are new to the region and you don’t know how to navigate yourself within this space.”
It helps you gain exposure through events, projects, collaborative initiatives and corporate connections — which are all very key things to an organisation that is looking to grow in this region. It’s a good validation platform, and to have a solid backing and sponsorship of such a structured programme is very helpful.
Conquering The World, One Country At A Time
Post-accreditation, Brendan proudly claims that DataRobot has been growing significantly, as it sees increased sales and profits in Singapore and in the region.
Following this success, DataRobot has notably expanded in terms of office space and manpower headcount in Singapore.
They have since moved in to a 4,000 square-foot office in the Central Business District, and their number of client-facing executives has quadrupled to a total of 30 staff in Singapore alone.
When asked to comment further on the company’s expansion plans, Tom said that DataRobot already has a global presence, but it is still looking at growing their footprint.
“We’re already in North America, Europe, Singapore, Ukraine and Tokyo, which are all well-developed markets. Now, we are entering some new markets such as Australia and South America.”
He added that there has been a lot of buzz around AI now, as organisations today are embracing and developing the technology.
“Everyone’s talking about how AI is the future, which is completely different [from when we first started out]. To date, we have had so many clients and have successfully delivered our vision to many users.”
At the end of the day, it’s really important for entrepreneurs to trust in their business idea. Disregard those who don’t believe in you and your vision, and just follow your dreams.
Featured Image Credit: DataRobot
This article was written in collaboration with Accreditation@SG Digital.