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This startup says it can save time and scale business by automating retail operations
As artificial intelligence has become the go-to innovation across industries, retail kept in stride. Automating retail processes and personalizing consumer experience, one fast-growing startup, headed by neuroscientists, AI experts, and retail specialists, has created a platform to help brands improve their operations.
Today, Vue.ai announced its Series B funding of $17 million. The round was led by a New York investor, Falcon Edge Capital, with participation from Sequoia Capital and Japan’s Global Brains, a general partner of the KDDI Innovation Fund.
Headquartered in Redwood City, California, and Chennai, India, Vue.ai uses image recognition and data science to process retail catalog data, analyze user behavior, and help retailers make better and faster decisions.
With the new money, Vue.ai said it will increase its team, improve its product, and scale its customer base, which already spans across 180 countries and includes brands like Macy’s, MercadoLibre, Tata, and Diesel.
“Vue.ai changes the way retail teams improve decision-making by using our neural network-driven platform,” the startup’s co-founder and Chief Executive Officer, Ashwini Asokan, told VatorNews.
“We, essentially, connect every step of the customer journey so that brands can deliver meaningful consumer experiences, and improve operational performance for their product, merchandising, buying, and operations teams, resulting in clear ROI [return for investment] for teams across the entire organization.”
Asokan launched the company six years ago with her husband, Anand Chandrasekaran, as a spin-off of Mad Street Den, which builds AI technology. Its team includes specialists from IBM, Intel, and DARPA.
In the past year, Vue.ai’s revenue quadrupled, Asokan said. Some of its clients see per consumer revenue increase as high as 65 percent, driven by the personalization and styling solutions Vue.ai provides. Moreover, she added, brands using Vue.ai enjoy a 300-percent end-user engagement.
Anandamoy Roychowdhary, the Chief Technology Officer of Sequoia Capital India, said in a statement today, “The Vue.ai team is on a mission to put AI and intelligent automation in the hands of teams across the globe in ways that improve productivity and growth multi-fold. And we've seen incredible growth in how they've brought this value across multiple functions in the Retail industry in just two years since we started this journey with them.”
In an interview with VatorNews, Asokan shared the story of how Vue.ai started and talked about the challenge and excitement of building an entirely new solution to the retail world.
VatorNews: How is Vue.ai different from other AI technology platforms in retail?
Ashwini Asokan: There are many companies that claim to be AI-driven, but what customers are actually getting is a single AI feature, not the capabilities of a fully developed AI platform.
Most retailers don’t have a unified view of their customer data or their inventory data that can be a very steep cost to a retailer’s business – especially in terms of product discovery, customer loyalty, customer experience, and retention.
We offer a series of AI tools that take care of all the tasks retail employees shouldn't be spending their time on. By automating these tasks, we’re actually making the jobs of product managers, merchandisers and stylists easier, so they can make more informed decisions.
We have tagged 8 billion products, generated 2.5 billion styling recommendations, and delivered 10x time savings.
We're settling down after the AI boom of 2018 when all everyone was talking about was AI startups. This year, we're starting to see the market emerge with real solutions that offer real results.
Vue.ai was built with AI at its core, rather than stacking it onto the product offering. Our AI was built to be scaled and implemented quickly to save retailers time and money and that’s what makes us different from other AI tech platforms in retail.
We’re lucky to count everything from large marketplaces to big box retailers and D2C, DNVB brands as part of our customer base.
VN: What was the biggest challenge the company had to overcome to get to where you are today?
AA: We’re just getting started as an industry thinking about how AI can be applied meaningfully in contexts where it actually adds value. From Day One, we’ve been focused on building scalable, easily integrated, clearly 10x value creating use cases. And that’s not easy, given there isn’t a lot of prior art. There are no shortcuts, no playbooks.
As an analogy, AI is like the Internet - it’s not going to be a use case, it’s like electricity - it changes the fundamental assumptions about how something is done, it changes the plumbing of every industry.
That’s what we’re doing, we’re helping retailers across the globe reimagine their workflows, the way their teams function, the tools they use, and the experiences they create for their customers.
VN: What’s your business model? What’s the pricing like?
AA: The size of the catalog, the traffic on a given site, the nature of metadata being created are all aspects that determine how we work with retailers and how we price our solutions.
We’re an enterprise SaaS startup. We take the time to understand each retailer’s business model and our solutions are fitted to give each one maximum value.
VN: What are some cultural or technological tailwinds that propelled the startup’s progress?
AA: Vue.ai has broken the mould from simply putting out a piece of technology like its peers in the new field to establishing a new category called Intelligent Retail Automation.
The field of AI is starved for actionable solutions that impact industries, given most AI startups focus on pure technical experiments that don’t scale beyond the lab.
By building cutting edge AI through the market, Vue.ai has become a startup disrupting old, inefficient ways in which legacy industries like retail work, on scale, across the globe.
VN: Please share the founding story behind Vue.ai.
AA: During my time at Intel, I was working with a large inter-disciplinary organization consisting of ML/AI, hardware, engineering, HCI, design folk helping new platform businesses envision Intel’s play in the post-smartphone world. The team was led by an anthropologist and I’d argue much of how Vue.ai is modeled today is based on some key values and principles I learned there.
My co-founder Anand (also my husband) is a neuroscientist, who was also a Postdoc at Neuromorphic engineering lab at Stanford. We’ve been invested in each other’s careers for the entire 19 years we’ve been together. We always knew we were going to do something together, it was just a question of when.
We saw an opportunity to take AI out of the science labs and scale it to help industries streamline their work, solve real problems and redo their foundations, their plumbing. That’s how Vue.ai was born.
Retail was one of the few industries that was evolving, changing at an exponential pace. While many think it’s a scary phase for retail, we think the post-apocalyptic, post-Amazon world is an exciting one, where the industry gets to reimagine itself and we believe AI has a front and center role to play.
VN: What excites you the most about your role at Vue.ai? What’s your team like?
AA: My team and our collective vision for where we’re headed is definitely the reason I jump out of bed every day, irrespective of how hard the journey is or how sleepless I am.
We have a highly diverse, multi-geo, multi-disciplinary team and approach to the way we work. We’re not big on hierarchy, are 50-percent women, working across multiple time zones and cultural constructs. And it’s been nothing short of exhilarating.
We hire self-driven, highly motivated, problem-solving, diverse talent. The work and creative problem solving that it takes to build a category as new as ours requires working at the intersection of disciplines.
You can’t just sit in your corner and code all week, all year. Every team works with retailers, stylists, product people, retail merchandisers, and so many stakeholders.
And there’s a strong focus on hiring T-shaped talent at this stage of the company.
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Vue.ai is a computer vision and artificial intelligence platform that promises intelligent retail automation, keeping the human experience front and center. Vue.ai’s ‘neural network for retail’ leverages image recognition and data science to extract retail catalog data, analyze it with user behavior and help retailers make better, faster decisions.
The platform, which includes seven different products, delivers on two primary value propositions: automating retail processes across catalog management and merchandising and personalizing the customer experience across channels for global brands like Macy’s and Diesel. Vue.ai is backed by leading venture capitalists such as Falcon Edge Capital, Sequoia Capital India, Global Brains, a GP of KDDI Innovation Fund and Exfinity Venture Partners. The company is headquartered in Redwood City, CA, with offices in Chennai, India.