CloudFactory is an Artificial Intelligence (AI) based startup aimed at helping Machine Learning startups get high quality input data. With the tremendous growth in the AI market in recent years, we wanted to know more about Cloud Factory’s story. We interviewed Mr Mark Sears, founder and CEO of CloudFactory, to know more about his startup, the AI industry and his expansion plans.
Interviewed by Shehnaz Ghadiali and Sarah Wig
INVC: What do you think about the AI Industry and its future?
Mark: The AI industry involves a lot of work that goes in the background. In the next 10 to 20 years, we envision different innovations in the field of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. Nobody knows how big AI is going to be, but I think that is the fun. In our lifetime this is definitely going to be one of the biggest innovations of our generation. Over the next 10-20 years, there are so many problems to solve. Deep learning provides a breakthrough to be able to solve them. However, it is very hard to bring something to the market. It is easy to get started, but to build a model and solve a problem in a market is hard to do. Probably the biggest problem is getting high quality data. That is what we love, we get to help all the different companies working in the space of data science around the world.
INVC: Is AI going to take-up jobs or create jobs?
Mark: The work automated is what you do not want to do anyway. I think that most people do believe it will allow us to bring in innovation in higher order of things that actually better use us as humans. Technology is helping us to do our jobs better. The biggest challenge though is, the ability for this generation to quickly learn and adapt to this change. How will we adjust to the new technological advancements? Whether AI will take up jobs or not is something we still have to wait and see in the future.
INVC: What kind of competition do you face? How do you keep up with it?
Mark: Competition is a good and bad thing. I believe if there is no competition in the long term, it is not a good sign. There are different tiers. Over the last few years, we have seen many competitors getting consolidated in our industry. Either they have gone out of business, merged or acquired. The competition is getting smaller. I don’t know if it’s common, but it is happening. At the same time, new players are trying to get in at a smaller level, bringing newer innovations in the industry. While it looks like everyone is doing the same thing, it takes a lot of investment, in terms of time, effort and capital.. Investment with respect to time, maturity and experience to establish our place in the market clearly. If people are really looking to invest into developing a mature AI programme, then I would actually say there is less competition.
INVC: Why Nepal?
Mark: Unlike Kenya, Nepal wasn’t a choice. I visited Nepal in 2008 for a vacation with my wife. I had no business plans at that time. We loved the country and its people. We realized there are less opportunities there and the people were disconnected from the global economy. The people in Nepal are hardworking, talented and would prove to be an asset. We wanted to create more opportunities for them.
INVC: Can you tell us details about the core team?
Mark: My wife, Laurel is a chartered accountant. When we first started with CloudFactory, it really was both of us starting out in this business. She handled the finance and administration and I did the rest for a while. One thing which I am really proud of is many of our early hires are still with us.
INVC: How did you decide to raise more capital?
Mark: Someone once said, “We should never celebrate raising capital” and it has stuck with me. It marks a sense of failure as it implies that you will have to sell a part of your company to help it grow further. You are selling ownership, influence and direction which increases the risk of mission drift.
By design, every round that we have raised, we have always made sure that we managed the company financially so that we always come back up to the point of breakeven and do not have to raise capital to survive.
Therefore, you need to be sure if you really want to and need to raise capital. For us, we looked at where we are in the entire AI, ML and technology adoption curve. We want to connect a million people to meaningful work. We are excited about every opportunity that we get to create for someone to use CloudFactory as an environment to grow personally and professionally. Therefore, in order to make that happen, we had to decide to raise capital so that we can get into more conversations.
INVC: How important was it to raise capital from the right investors?
Mark: Finding alignment was the number one challenge. Getting alignment around appetite for growth, with both your co-founder and investors, is very important. As a founder, I passed up many “good” opportunities because I believe tha if investors do not understand our definition of success and what we are pursuing and why we are pursuing it, then it is never going to work. We took into account a lot of considerations. I personally flew internationally twice just for a meal only to understand if the investors and I were fully aligned.
It is important to believe in what you’re doing. The hard-work is setting the company up well. You can’t just make a really nice deck, or use data to show the right things. You have to make sure that you are building something that is investable and really worthy of people putting their hard earned money into.
INVC: What technological advancements is the recent investment being utilised for?
Mark: We are also continuing to get more expertise and going deeper into edtech, medical imaging, and other digital applications.
In addition, we are investing in platform development through increasing R&D, expanding teams, and improving the technology. We are also focussing on quality control though performance management.
INVC: What are CloudFactory’s future geographic expansion plans?
Mark: From the capital raised in our recent Series C funding round, we set up our sales office in eastern US. Our geographic expansion to Boston and New York will help us grow our professional network. We have one dimensionally focused on sales as the challenge for us was that previously we were not even in the conversations we needed to be in. Therefore, a lot of our go-to market expansion is focused on getting into those different segments of the market with a good percentage conversion.
Furthermore, our UK Team is continuing to grow. We are continuing to look into further markets to expand into, however, we have not made a decision yet. APAC is certainly next on our list. However, we are still considering a lot of factors including investors and clients that will help us finalise our decision.
INVC: What has been your best takeaway from this journey?
Mark: Every company has its struggles in the beginning when no one believes in what you’re trying to do. My wife and I still can not believe the amazing people coming to work and all that they’re doing every day.
I think the best part about the journey, which is also unique to us, is getting to experience this cross-culturally. We have lived in Nepal for 6 years and had our kids there. We frequently go to Kenya for summers. Getting to know people from such different perspectives and backgrounds has created such a rich culture. This journey has led to deep friendships and relationships with people who we would have never even met. Overcoming socioeconomic, cultural, physical barriers has led to a richness of relationships which has been the biggest blessing throughout the journey.
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