One of the biggest challenges for organizations in modern times is deciding where, when and how to use the advances of technology, when the organizations are not technology companies themselves. Today, a startup out of Manchester, England, is announcing some funding for a platform that it believes can help.
Peak AI, which has built technology that it says can help enterprises — specifically those that work with physical products such as retailers, consumer goods companies and manufacturing organizations — make better, AI-based evaluations and decisions, has closed a round of $21 million.
The Series B is being led by Oxx, with participation from past investors MMC Ventures and Praetura Ventures, as well as new backer Arete. It has raised $43 million to date and is not disclosing its valuation.
Richard Potter, the CEO who co-founded the company with Atul Sharma and David Leitch, said that the funding will be used to continue expanding the functionality of its platform, adding offices in the U.S. and India, and growing its customer base.
Its list of clients today is an impressive one, including the retailer PrettyLittleThing, KFC, PepsiCo, Marshalls and Speedy Hire.
As Potter describes it, Peak identified its opportunity early on. It was founded in 2014, a time non-tech enterprises were just starting to grasp how the concept of AI could apply to their businesses but felt it was out of their reach.
Indeed, the larger landscape for AI services at that time was primarily one focused on technology companies, specifically companies like Google, Amazon and Apple that were building AI products to power their own services, and often snapping up the most interesting talent in the field as it manifested through smaller startups and universities.
Peak’s basic premise was to build AI not as a business goal for itself but as a business service. Its platform sits within an organization and ingests any data source that a company might wish to feed into it.
While initial integration needs technical know-how — either at the company itself or via a systems integrator — using Peak day-to-day can be done by both technical and non-technical workers.
Peak says it can help answer a variety of questions that those people might have, such as how much of an item to produce, and where to ship it, based on a complex mix of sales data; how to manage stock better; or when to ramp up or ramp down headcount in a warehouse. The platform can also be used to help companies with marketing and advertising, figuring out how to better target campaigns to the right audiences, and so on.
Peak is not the first company that has seized on the concept of using a “general” AI to give non-tech organizations the same kinds of superpowers that the likes of big tech now use in their own businesses everyday.
Sometimes the ambition has outstripped the returns, however.
Witness Element AI, a highly-touted startup backed by a long list of top-shelf strategic and financial investors to build, essentially, an AI services business for non-tech companies to use as they might these days use Accenture. It never quite got there, though, and was acquired by ServiceNow last year at a devalued price of $500 million, the customer deals it had were wound down, and the tech was integrated into the bigger company’s stack.
Other efforts within hugely successful tech companies have not fared that well either.
“Einstein’s features are essentially useless, and you can quote me on that,” said Potter of Salesforce’s in-house CRM AI business. “Because it is too generic, it doesn’t predict anything useful.”
And that is perhaps the crux of why Peak AI is working for now: it has remained focused for now on a limited number of segments of the market, in particular those with physical objects as the end product, giving the AI that it has built a more targeted end point. In other words, it’s “general” but only for specific industries.
And it claims that this is paying off. Peak’s customers have reported a 5% increase in total company revenues, a doubling of return on advertising spend, a 12% reduction in inventory holdings and a 5% reduction in supply chain costs, according to the company (although it doesn’t specify which companies, which products or anything that points to who or what is being described).
“Richard and the excellent Peak team have a compelling vision to optimize entire businesses through Decision Intelligence and they’re delivering real-world benefits to a raft of household name customers already,” said Richard Anton, a general partner at Oxx, in a statement. “The pandemic has meant digitization is no longer a choice; it’s a requirement. Peak has made it easier for businesses to get started and see rapid results from AI-enabled decision making. We are delighted to support Peak on their way to becoming the category-defining global leader in Decision Intelligence.” Anton is joining the board with this round.