Dublin Startup Stories: ALYIEN

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Dublin startups tell their stories, powered by DCU Ryan Academy.

Meet Parsa Ghaffari, CEO of AYLIEN…

Tell us about AYLIEN…
AYLIEN is an Artificial Intelligence startup that helps thousands of developers and data scientists extract meaning and insight from unstructured content, such as text and images, at scale. We provide adaptable, intelligent solutions and technology that help businesses transform the way they approach content in their applications and analytics in unlocking its real value. We provide easy to use, easy to access APIs to anyone who deals with large volumes of text and images. Our team consists of top notch engineers, scientists, salesmen and marketers.

What inspired you to start the company?
The main inspiration/frustration for me when starting AYLIEN was the suboptimal state of the Web, and information systems in general. Our web today is a collection of closed-door knowledge silos, without much interaction or understanding about the user. The dream is to build a smarter web, a web that understands you.

How is AYLIEN different?
We have the ability to consistently stay ahead of the game product-wise. We’re still relatively small and agile: we can push product updates and feature updates out a lot faster than our competitors can. If something, be it product updates, hiring, partnerships, etc. makes sense and is in line with the big picture, we’ll do it. In short, we’re fast, flexible and smart.

What market are AYLIEN targeting and how big is it?
We’re in the Content Analysis space which is valued at around $10bn dollars and expected to grow to almost $15bn by 2019, which makes it a really exciting space to be in.

What’s your business model?
Our main offering is a Text Analysis API that developers can use to extract insight from text. Our users are measured on the volume of calls they make to the API on a daily basis. We have a freemium model of sorts, where anyone can make up to 1,000 calls per day to our API, completely free. For users who want to analyse more data than our free plan allows, we have flexible plans that suit both independent developers and enterprise customers.

What was the funding process like?
We went through an accelerator program backed by SOS Ventures which made it easier for us to raise our Seed round. This was due to the program being backed directly by a VC, and the great demo days that they organize for their graduates. The biggest misconception about fundraising is how long it takes – it takes a long, long time, and it’s a full-time job.

Who are your investors, how much did you raise and why does that matter?
Our main investors are SOS Ventures and Enterprise Ireland and we’ve raised around $700K to date, and are in the process of closing another round. Having the backing of a VC is like having fuel for your rocket: it helps you get there faster, and hopefully a little bit safer. It’s obviously a lot more than just cash, it’s truly a partnership, and the network and expertise that a good VC brings to the table can add a tremendous amount of value to a startup.

What are the biggest challenges that AYLIEN faces today?
Text Analysis and Natural Language Processing is still a relatively new concept in the enterprise and business world. One of the biggest challenges we have is educating our users and customers on how much value is actually hidden in unstructured data. While innovators see the true potential in analysing unstructured content and the business insight it can provide, the more pragmatic customer still needs that extra bit of educating in order to get our value proposition across.

What do you think motivated your investors to write that check?
Businesses, large and small, are starting to realize the real value that data and data-driven decisions can provide and in recent years there is a huge opportunity presenting itself in the Content Analysis space. We’re at the intersection of some hot technology areas, Big Data, Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence and Content Analysis and are well positioned in a growing and active market that has also seen a lot of M&A activity in the 12 months. These reasons, combined with a growing market opportunity, mean investors are extremely interested in what we’re building and how we’re growing.

What milestones do AYLIEN plan to achieve in the next six months?
We’re currently in the process of closing another round of funding. We have some exciting product developments on the way, which we’ll launch in the coming months. We’re increasing our staff and we also have some exciting technology partnerships which we’ll be announcing very soon. So yeah, lots happening!

What advice can you offer companies in Dublin who are just starting out?
Regardless of location, the number one priority for a startup is to build something that people want. You can make a lot of mistakes, but you should do okay as long as you get that one right. Conversely, you can do a lot of things right and still not succeed, because ultimately you don’t have something that people want. My Dublin-specific advice would be make yourself aware of all the grants and schemes that exist to help small companies. Also, a bit of healthy networking can go a long way, because of the high signal-to-noise ratio and the small overall network size in Dublin.

Tell us one (or more) things you love about Dublin as a startup community and as a city?
As a startup, being in the same city as so many multinationals and successful companies is a great advantage, because a lot of synergy can happen between the two communities that can benefit both groups. An example of that would be M&A deals, or people leaving multinationals to join/start startups. I personally like Dublin because of its nice friendly people, its size (not too big or too small) and its good coffee!

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