At a time when more companies are building machine learning models, Arthur.ai wants to help by ensuring the model accuracy doesn’t begin slipping over time, thereby losing its ability to precisely measure what it was supposed to. As demand for this type of tool has increased this year, in spite of the pandemic, the startup announced a $15 million Series A today.
The investment was led by Index Ventures with help from newcomers Acrew and Plexo Capital, along with previous investors Homebrew, AME Ventures and Work-Bench. The round comes almost exactly a year after its $3.3 million seed round.
As CEO and co-founder Adam Wenchel explains, data scientists build and test machine learning models in the lab under ideal conditions, but as these models are put into production, the performance can begin to deteriorate under real-world scrutiny. Arthur.ai is designed to root out when that happens.
Even as COVID has wreaked havoc throughout much of this year, the company has grown revenue 300% in the last six months smack dab in the middle of all that. “Over the course of 2020, we have begun to open up more and talk to [more] customers. And so we are starting to get some really nice initial customer traction, both in traditional enterprises as well as digital tech companies,” Wenchel told me. With 15 customers, the company is finding that the solution is resonating with companies.
It’s interesting to note that AWS announced a similar tool yesterday at re:Invent called SageMaker Clarify, but Wenchel sees this as more of a validation of what his startup has been trying to do, rather than an existential threat. “I think it helps create awareness, and because this is our 100% focus, our tools go well beyond what the major cloud providers provide,” he said.
Investor Mike Volpi from Index certainly sees the value proposition of this company. “One of the most critical aspects of the AI stack is in the area of performance monitoring and risk mitigation. Simply put, is the AI system behaving like it’s supposed to?” he wrote in a blog post announcing the funding.
When we spoke a year ago, the company had eight employees. Today it has 17 and it expects to double again by the end of next year. Wenchel says that as a company whose product looks for different types of bias, it’s especially important to have a diverse workforce. He says that starts with having a diverse investment team and board makeup, which he has been able to achieve, and goes from there.
“We’ve sponsored and work with groups that focus on both general sort of coding for different underrepresented groups as well as specifically AI, and that’s something that we’ll continue to do. And actually I think when we can get together for in-person events again, we will really go out there and support great organizations like AI for All and Black Girls Code,” he said. He believes that by working with these groups, it will give the startup a pipeline to underrepresented groups, which they can draw upon for hiring as the needs arise.
Wenchel says that when he can go back to the office, he wants to bring employees back, at least for part of the week for certain kinds of work that will benefit from being in the same space.