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The founder of an AI startup that just raised $30M explains why starting a company is like playing 'Super Mario'


super mario

  • People.ai raised $30 million in funding from Andreessen Horowitz and other VC firms.
  • It's the second startup that CEO Oleg Rogynskyy has founded.
  • The process of building a succesfull startup gets more familiar the more you do it, just like a video game, Rogynskyy reckons.

Starting a company is like playing a Super Mario game.

At least that’s what Oleg Rogynskyy, founder and CEO of artificial intelligence startup People.ai, believes.

“The more times you go through the initial levels, the more comfortable you get,” he tells Business Insider. 

Rogynskyy is progressing through an exciting level with People.ai, which he started in February 2016. Before that, he founded Semantria, a startup that analyzes the emotions behind social media posts and which was acquired by Lexalytics. 

In the last two years, People.ai has grown to just over 100 employees and acquired over 50 large enterprise customers. And on Tuesday, the artificial intelligence software startup announced a $30 million series B funding led by Andreessen Horowitz. Rogynskyy said fundraising only took four days, but also “a couple months of homework.”

headshot oleg rogynskyy 300x300

Peter Levine, a general partner at Andreessen Horowitz and one of the first investors in software development platform GitHub, also joined the People.ai board.

“He’s intimately familiar with the problem we’re solving,” Rogynskyy said of Levine. “He was probably the ultimate guy to have this conversation with. We went to the same college together, we had a lot in common.”

The inspiration behind People.ai came from Rogynskyy’s experience as a salesperson when he started his career. Much of his time involved the tedious work of maintaining and updating the Salesforce customer relationship management platform.

“Our COO literally grounded me for a week and had me update Salesforce and spend the week cleaning Salesforce,” Rogynskyy said.

Taking AI to the next level

That needed to change, Rogynskyy thought. People.ai uses machine learning software to gain insights from the behavioral data of employees, improve sales and marketing, and automate time-intensive tasks, like how Rogynskyy had to update Salesforce. Rogynskyy predicts that data entry alone can take up to one day a week.

From previous experience, Rogynskyy says the most valuable lesson he learned was focus — focusing on just one type of customer. So People.ai narrowed its focus on enterprise customers.

He's also getting the knack for other challenges and potential pitfalls in founding a company, like creating an efficient hiring process and building an executive team. 

“You need to start directing and aligning your team to execute the work,” Rogynskyy said. “The challenge with having the time is correlated with how mature your team is to execute the work under your guidance.”

Going forward, People.ai hopes to go public three years from now. Like a Super Mario Game, Rogynskyy is focused on jumping into the next level of artificial intelligence. Within five to 10 years, Rogynskyy believes, artificial intelligence will allow people to free up two days out of their week to focus on creative projects and spend more time with their families.

“Machine learning AI is the software of the future,” Rogynskyy said.  “I don’t think we’ll be writing code for the next few years afterwards … We believe there’s a lot of automation that can improve the quality of life.”

SEE ALSO: Oracle's Larry Ellison says Amazon’s database is like a semi-autonomous car: ‘You get in, you start driving, you die’

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