From Working at Amazon
To Founding An AI Business
Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi, I’m Ryan Bell and I founded an Artificial Intelligence business called SimpleAi. The ultimate aim of our business is to make Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning easy and accessible to everyone. We have this aim because we want to advance the field of Artificial Intelligence and help others advance AI in a safe but societally useful way.
We do this by offering an online service where people can upload data and with the use of a simple user interface, select what they would like to do with the data. Then the user can train and deploy the Machine Learning program that is built automatically by our software. What this does is remove the need for a computer programmer or the ability to program, as well as making the entire process as quick as clicking a few buttons.
We currently employ two people (soon to be three) and are constantly on the lookout for new employees who can offer something to our company.
What is your personal story and how did you come up with the idea?
I finished university not too long ago, and I worked at Amazon for the first seven months afterwards. I also completed a four month internship at Capital One during one of my summer breaks at university, where I gained lots of experience learning about the impact of artificial intelligence in the financial sector.
Artificial Intelligence is something I am interested in recreationally, but since it forms the major basis of my job, I generally prefer to do other things during my leisure time. I especially enjoy trading stocks and meeting new people.
It became evident that I could start a business in this field when I was undertaking my final year thesis, which involved using Machine Learning to predict fluctuations in house prices. Prior to this, I had not encountered Machine Learning and I quickly realised there was a relatively steep learning curve to get into it! So the idea for this business came about from wanting to remove that barrier for those who don’t have this expertise.
What challenges did you face when creating your product/service?
The first major challenge we faced was competition! Microsoft Azure have a Machine Learning ‘playground’ which is very similar to the first prototype of our product. Because of this, I modified ours to be even more simple, meaning, unlike Microsoft’s version, our end user required no knowledge of Machine Learning at all.
The second challenge I faced was my developing certain technical skills. I had to learn many in the process of building my business. The first one that springs to mind was learning the computer programming language Reactjs. I was forced to learn this to build our website since I had not used this before.
Who is your target market?
Our typical customer is usually a new entrepreneur looking to start their own company. They usually know about Artificial Intelligence on a basic level but have a business idea that uses it. Other customers are already existing businesses who might be looking to incorporate AI into their existing business model.
How do you market your business and which approaches have been the most successful?
We are currently experimenting with a couple of different online methods. Our favourite platform is LinkedIn since that’s what our target audience are using. Our methods there are currently free since it is all content based marketing. We also use Instagram and do a little bit of paid influencer marketing there.
Since you launched, what has worked in not only attracting but retaining customers?
Since we are just starting out, we are yet to have our first customer!
What kind of culture exists in your company, and how did you establish it?
At the moment, since we are only a new and small company we don’t have an embedded culture yet. However, we are all of the mindset that failure is okay so long as you learn from it.
What software, services or tools do you use within your business?
MailChimp is used quite a bit in order to collect users for our email lists and overall for email marketing. Amazon Web Services is a huge part too as we run most of our online services on it. We use project tracking software Jira to track our work, as we can appoint tasks and then calculate how many we have completed each week and aim to better that in the following week.
What are the most important lessons have you learned on your business journey?
If you’re creating a product from scratch, whether software of physical, my usual mantra is ‘Prototype, prototype, prototype’. Build, learn and constantly focus on improving it. We spent too long building our product. It would have been better for us to come up with a minimum viable product quicker and put out a slightly less quality prototype. We could have gained customers earlier and worked with them to develop our product along the way.
Also, I have learned that starting a marketing campaign sooner would have been very beneficial, as we didn’t realise until after releasing our prototype that LinkedIn should have been focused on more than Instagram.
What is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
I love the challenge and the thought that if you keep pushing you can provide value to people and actually help to change their lives.
What is your LEAST favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
The confusion! You constantly feel as though you don’t know what you’re doing, and this appears to be part of the job. Every step of the way you involves learning something new and you need to keep pushing through the unknown. This has proven very difficult and mentally challenging but it has become easier to deal with over time.
What books, podcasts or other resources have inspired and influenced your business journey?
The three main books that have influenced me are The Secret by Rhonda Byrne, Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill and How to Build a Billion Dollar App by George Berkowski. I recommend them to all those who wish to become an entrepreneur and even those who have already started their own business. They all fundamentally promote the ideas that success is a mindset and failure is temporary – unless you give up!
Where do you see your business 2-3 years from now?
In 2-3 years from now, I would like to have over 100 employees, £1billion in revenue and a board of up to 10 members.