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Deal Dive: An AI application that isn’t just marginally better

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Image Credits: D3Damon / Getty Images

Since the AI frenzy started over a year ago, we’ve seen many, um, interesting use cases for the tech that’s been deemed the greatest innovation since the internet. From AI meant to help sales folks be 5% faster, to AI bots that teach you to understand your human relationships, to AI that writes for you — just not 100% accurately.

But, of course, many companies are using AI to build actual solutions to real problems. Pippin Title is one of them.

Pippin Title works to make it easier for companies like banks or mortgage providers to find information on real estate titles and purchases. The company uses AI and machine learning to find documents that are stored in fragmented online databases. For the documents that haven’t been uploaded yet, Pippin has a network of folks on the ground who can retrieve these publicly available docs in person, too.

The company was founded by Bharat Das and Bassel Said when they saw how automation and technology were making many financial transactions move significantly faster while others seemed unchanged. Real estate transactions remained a slow pen-and-paper process — even on the back end of “digital” mortgage companies.

“Part of the reason why real estate is so slow is all this data is in these county courthouses,” Das told TechCrunch+. “The way the system works is, if you have the local folks, they stand in line and leave their cell phone at the door and they scan them and send them back. We can really change them using the tools we have today.”

The New York–based startup just raised an additional $3 million in seed extension funding to bring its total funding to $8 million. The startup has raised from investors such as Deciens Capital, Caruso Ventures and the founder of financial service firm Morningstar, among others.

When Pippin Title launched, the initial focus was residential and commercial real estate transactions. They’ve since expanded as customer demand started coming from the green energy space with users looking for the same documents for wind turbines and cell towers. “Eventually we think that anyone who touches real estate could have use of our system,” Das said.

Pippin Title is interesting because it is targeting something so boring. Making it easier to find title and purchase documents isn’t exactly an AI-enabled pin that is meant to replace our smartphones.

I get why this company is seeing so much use, though: because it’s actually applying AI to something that solves a real problem for folks — while also creating a better solution for the gaps automation can’t yet help. Having a system that allows you to search for something online as opposed to potentially traveling across the country to find it in person is a huge upgrade.

I say this because watching the AI boom over the last year has proven just how much venture money goes into projects that only make things marginally better. We’ve seen sales and marketing software that helps humans move a hair faster, tech that helps people raise funding, and workflows that make Excel better, but like, you are still using Excel!

A recent report from Menlo Ventures found that enterprises aren’t leaning into these slight AI-enabled upgrades at the same rate that VCs are backing them. Those surveyed said that only 17% of their enterprise spending is on AI. This isn’t super surprising considering in a market with tighter budgets, enterprises are still spending on tech but only tech that is mission-critical. And while AI tech will get better, much of it right now remains in that “nice-to-have” category.

But for many in insurance and commercial real estate, what Pippin Title is building feels like it does actually have the potential to be a need-to-have. The way that Pippin Title is building may also prevent it from running into some of the other issues many newer AI startups face. That’s because Pippin Title’s database is built entirely on public information. This type of title documentation and transaction knowledge can in theory be collected or viewed by anyone who seeks it. So while that doesn’t give Pippin the most secure moat, it also means the company won’t have to worry about changing copyright laws down the line in the way many other AI startups will.

It’s also nice to see an AI company that is building its startup rooted in reality. While many valuations and round sizes have come down in venture since mid-2022, there is always the caveat “except for AI companies!” This startup has raised modest rounds through this frenzy, which Das acknowledged definitely led to the latest round being oversubscribed. But Pippin won’t be faced with the glut and overhang that many of today’s AI startups will find when they inevitably face reality: Their businesses aren’t getting the traction to justify their valuations.

While I don’t know how Pippin will actually do or scale from here, this feels way more promising than some of the other AI startups building right now. Especially in a tighter market for enterprise spending, it’s smart to build something companies need to have.

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