India’s Mad Street Den Raises $1.5M To Bring The Benefits Of AI To Apps And Services

Mad Street Den, a one-year-old artificial intelligence startup based in Chennai, India, has closed a $1.5 million seed round to bring technology developed in the labs to consumers in a useful way.

Reservoir Investments’ Exfinity Fund and GrowX Ventures provided the capital, which Mad Street Den will use for making new hires and working with partners to license and use its AI tech in apps and services.

The startup was founded by husband and wife duo Anand Chandrasekaran, a neuroscientist who graduated from Stanford, and Ashwani Asokan, who was previously with Intel Labs. The couple spent a cumulative 25 years working in the U.S., but returned to their country of birth last year to start the company.

“Relocating was a very deliberate decision,” Mad Street Den CEO Asokan told TechCrunch in an interview. “People in India and Asia are leaping frogging generations of technology, and we thought ‘where better to experiment with this stuff?'”

Location aside, Mad Street Den is different to other AI companies because it is focused on a platform of vertical services that partners can license to use in their products. It offers five different applications of AI, but Asokan explained e-commerce and analytics are proving to be the most popular with its handpicked list of partners.

E-Commerce And Analytics

The e-commerce product is centered around fashion, and offers a range of advanced services such as visual search. That could allow a shopper to take a photo of a bag or top, for example, then select their favorite color and find the nearest match on an e-commerce site.

Mad Street Den timed its arrival perfectly, since India’s e-commerce segment took off last year. Flipkart raised close to $2 billion in funding from VCs in 2014, Jeff Bezos cut Amazon India a $2 billion check for growth, and SoftBank backed Snapdeal with hundreds of millions of dollars too.

Asokan said Mad Street Den is in talks with “several” undisclosed e-commerce companies with a view to introducing its technology in their services in India before the summer. After that, she added, it will look to the wider Asia region.

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Beyond e-commerce, Mad Street Den’s potential for analytics is particularly interesting.

Asokan said that its facial recognition technology could, for example, be used to detect a person’s general happiness for a week, their favorite colors, and more just from their Instagram photos. (Sidenote: be careful what you share on social media, kids.)

Right now, Mad Street Den is making money via API calls but in the future it will model its pricing based on the specifics of each vertical. For example, e-commerce partners could pay via affiliate commission or revenue-sharing, while other industries could be billed via licensing fees.

Offering Its Own Services Too

Beyond the platform play, the startup is also looking to release its own services and applications based on its technology. Asokan said that a range of ‘proofs of concept’ have been created — including a “short of staring competition game,” which I think sounds fascinating — but Mad Street Den is waiting until the right time before it launches them.

The startup has six full-time staff at this point and has bootstrapped itself so far. Asohan revealed that the company wasn’t looking for money but it sees this as an opportunity to accelerate its development.

“We weren’t planning to raise but word spread like crazy… and the VCs descended. People are already knocking on the door about our Series A… by the summer, when we should start seeing our services in the market, then we’ll be ready,” she said.

Until then, Mad Street Den plans to use most of the capital to hire “very senior people in the Valley” who its founders are connected with. Asohan expects the startup to at least double its headcount this year, but there are no plans for a U.S. office yet.