The story of an artificial intelligence (AI) startup from Silicon Valley.
In early 2014, my cofounder Travis Dirks and I started Seldn — an artificial intelligence (AI) startup based in Palo Alto, Ca. Back then, there were no big waves in AI. Only whispers. My 6 months of globe trotting had just exposed me to some of the most violent cities, drastic social changes and anachronistic realities. Socio-economic realities that my honed modelling skills refused to believe couldn’t be predicted — I had after all successfully modelled hypothesized particles of the early universe, entangled photons for a futuristic computer and made a pretty penny by foretelling the stock market. So my goal to understand massive social changes slowly led to the genesis of Seldn’s incredible mission: to build a computational framework to understand the rise and fall of societies. It was a challenge that would really use the sheer computing powers we have at our disposal to push humanity forward. Technologically, it would force us to find novel approaches in AI and required a blend of skills: math physics and computing.
Specifically, over the next three years, we’d build an impressive AI platform that agnostically ingested global data and could automatically predict several socio-economic disruptions. Black swans. Events traditionally considered unpredictable. We saw the coming rise of ISIS, predicted crashes in oil prices and foretold 62 labor strikes in 12 different countries. More importantly, we started to understand the world -and why predicting these black swans is an impossible task for humans. Seldn’s product — an AI powered supply chain software — was not only incredibly clever but also embodied user-centric design thinking.
But in 2016, despite having breakthrough technology, the eyes and ears of several Fortune 50 executives, capital raised, and product ready, we discovered the world was not ready for Seldn. And while Seldn has folded, this series of posts is just the beginning of the telling of its saga; one packed with learnings that I neither had the permission nor luxury to share while we were in stealth mode. Now I do!
With this newfound perspective of having actually built an ambitious AI startup, I soon began to see the patterns we observed in our own venture across the whole AI landscape. The rise, the hidden true potential, the sheer number of pivots, and the odd successes of AI startups. These patterns are the same because the underlying system dynamics are same! Part of my goal here is to share key lessons to save more founder resources and investor capital. Whether you are a founder heading your next Artificial Intelligence (AI) startup or an investor thinking about investing in an Artificial Intelligence offering, these are things you should absolutely be aware of. The other part of my goal in this blog series is to showcase the power of AI.
So here’s to our upcoming series: Seldn! First up, here are 5 key lessons applicable to any AI software startup. A few are indeed applicable to all startups.
Seldn is dead. Long live Seldn!