Radical Reads: For founders, by founders

Sanjana Basu, Investor


Photo credit: Radical Ventures & FLIK 

Editor’s noteThe pandemic altered the way founders raised money and investors closed deals. What didn’t change was the inherent nature of those relationships. This week, Sanjana Basu, Investor at Radical Ventures, participated in a fireside chat with Co-founder and CEO Michelle Kwok of FLIK, an organization dedicated to supporting female founders. In the conversation, Sanjana outlines the key characteristics tech entrepreneurs need to build a successful business and to land venture investment. We are sharing her advice below. The following excerpt has been edited for length and clarity.

First and most importantly, entrepreneurs need grit, determination and a burning desire for achievement. This can take many forms. It can be a driven founder who failed the first time, or a multi-time successful founder who learned some hard lessons along the way. Grit can also be reflected in an ability to execute. Building a robust MVP with early customer adoption, driving rapid revenue growth or attracting the best talent — these are not easy accomplishments, and are almost impossible to achieve without determination.

Another attribute we look for is founder-market fit. An example from our portfolio is Dawnlight, where the team is leveraging advanced sensing and AI to monitor patients non-invasively, enhancing the role of the caregiver. Fei-Fei Li, Co-founder, CEO, and computer vision pioneer, has been a lifelong caregiver for her mother, pushing Li to seek out collaborators like Dr. Arnie Milstein to find solutions for caregivers and deliver breakthrough healthcare technology to the world. 

Third, successful entrepreneurs need adaptability and the mental elasticity to pivot, experiment and make changes when market realities change. I would suggest checking out Hussein Fazal’s account of how Snap Travel went from burning millions to profitability and back to growth in 60 days when the pandemic hit the travel industry hard.

Finally, entrepreneurs need to think about the defensibility of their product. Moats differ based on industry and business model. Some examples include a technical or IP moat, land-grab or early mover advantage, or even a talent moat. Covariant, is a Radical Ventures portfolio company exemplifying both a technical and talent moat. Highly-skilled global ML talent choosing to work at Covariant became part of a high-calibre team, led by Peter Chen and Pieter Abbeel, world leading researchers in Robotics and reinforcement learning.

In terms of fundraising, there is no formula or recipe that guarantees success. What entrepreneurs should be looking for is a relationship with a funding partner who can support them in building a massive business. It is important to begin conversations with investors early on. Investors want to get to know founders and to see how their business grows. More importantly, founders need to decide who they want to partner with in the  long – sometimes tumultuous, but always exciting – journey of building a business.

5 Noteworthy AI and Deep Tech Articles: week of June 7, 2021

1) What Artificial Intelligence Still Can’t Do (Forbes)
Our friend Rob Toews explains that AI can outperform humans across a wide variety of tasks, but can struggle with ‘common sense’ reasoning. This challenge forces humans to get creative around AI system logic. Aidan Gomez, Co-Founder and CEO of Cohere, a Radical Ventures portfolio company that provides businesses with advanced natural language processing via a simple API, notes in this article that “large language models have proven themselves to have incredible capabilities across a wide range of tasks in natural language processing, but common sense reasoning is a domain in which these models continue to underperform compared to humans.” When it comes to solving problems that require broad generalizing, Gomez suggests near term solutions will likely require human input.

2) AI prompts a scramble for healthcare data (The Financial Times)
“Data saves lives.” With longstanding institutional barriers evaporating, we anticipate the adoption of digital technology to accelerate across all touch points within the healthcare sector. From hospitals, doctors, researchers and patients, we expect to see digital technology integration expand until it nears equilibrium with adoption rates in the consumer sector. PocketHealth, a Radical Ventures portfolio, is ensuring health systems and patients have digital access to medical images. 

3) A simple model of the brain provides new directions for AI research (VentureBeat)
Language and communication are one of humanity’s greatest inventions. In this article, Christos Papadimitriou, professor of computer science at Columbia University, explains the potential innovations for AI from the cognitive and neuroscience communities. 

4) McDonald’s wants to ‘democratise’ machine learning for all users across its operations (ZDNet)
The ‘golden arches’ first started piloting AI technology in 2019. Most recently, the company has operationalized some end-to-end automation. The fast-food behemoth is using off-the-shelf capabilities allowing for rapid scaling, but is still looking to provide learning opportunities to its teams, market, and stakeholders. McDonald’s is one of many fast-food chains that started prioritizing ML adoption during global shutdowns. 

5) Turns out robots can learn soccer from a blank(ish) slate (arXiv)
Watch simulated robots learn to play a simplified 2v2 game of soccer. The impressive, and at times humorous, process conducted by DeepMind researchers shows the potential for combining separate lines of research such as imitation learning, population-based training, and self-play. Although this project is a simulation, it serves as a convincing example of how simple ML approaches can, given sufficient data and compute, yield surprisingly rich and complex behaviours. 


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