Dec
04
2018
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Forethought scores $9M Series A in wake of Battlefield win

It’s been a whirlwind few months for Forethought, a startup with a new way of looking at enterprise search that relies on artificial intelligence. In September, the company took home the TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield trophy in San Francisco, and today it announced a $9 million Series A investment.

It’s pretty easy to connect the dots between the two events. CEO and co-founder Deon Nicholas said they’ve seen a strong uptick in interest since the win. “Thanks to TechCrunch Disrupt, we have had a lot of things going on including a bunch of new customer interest, but the biggest news is that we’ve raised our $9 million Series A round,” he told TechCrunch.

The investment was led by NEA with K9 Ventures, Village Global and several angel investors also participating. The angel crew includes Front CEO Mathilde Collin, Robinhood CEO Vlad Tenev and Learnvest CEO Alexa von Tobel.

Forethought aims to change conventional enterprise search by shifting from the old keyword kind of approach to using artificial intelligence underpinnings to retrieve the correct information from a corpus of documents.

“We don’t work on keywords. You can ask questions without keywords and using synonyms to help understand what you actually mean, we can actually pull out the correct answer [from the content] and deliver it to you,” Nicholas told TechCrunch in September.

He points out that it’s still early days for the company. It had been in stealth for a year before launching at TechCrunch Disrupt in September. Since the event, the three co-founders have brought on six additional employees and they will be looking to hire more in the next year, especially around machine learning and product and UX design.

At launch, they could be embedded in Salesforce and Zendesk, but are looking to expand beyond that.

The company is concentrating on customer service for starters, but with the new money in hand, it intends to begin looking at other areas in the enterprise that could benefit from a smart information retrieval system. “We believe that this can expand beyond customer support to general information retrieval in the enterprise,” Nicholas said.

Sep
05
2018
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Forethought looks to reshape enterprise search with AI

Forethought, a 2018 TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield participant, has a modern vision for enterprise search that uses AI to surface the content that matters most in the context of work. Its first use case involves customer service, but it has a broader ambition to work across the enterprise.

The startup takes a bit of an unusual approach to search. Instead of a keyword-driven experience we are used to with Google, Forethought uses an information retrieval model driven by artificial intelligence underpinnings that they then embed directly into the workflow, company co-founder and CEO Deon Nicholas told TechCrunch. They have dubbed their answer engine “Agatha.”

Much like any search product, it begins by indexing relevant content. Nicholas says they built the search engine to be able to index millions of documents at scale very quickly. It then uses natural language processing (NLP) and natural language understanding (NLU) to read the documents as a human would.

“We don’t work on keywords. You can ask questions without keywords and using synonyms to help understand what you actually mean, we can actually pull out the correct answer [from the content] and deliver it to you,” he said.

One of first use cases where they are seeing traction in is customer support. “Our AI, Agatha for Support, integrates into a company’s help desk software, either Zendesk, Salesforce Service Cloud, and then we [read] tickets and suggest answers and relevant knowledge base articles to help close tickets more efficiently,” Nicholas explained. He claims their approach has increased agent efficiency by 20-30 percent.

The plan is to eventually expand beyond the initial customer service use case into other areas of the enterprise and follow a similar path of indexing documents and embedding the solution into the tools that people are using to do their jobs.

When they reach beta or general release, they will operate as a cloud service where customers sign up, enter their Zendesk or Salesforce credentials (or whatever other products happen to be supported at that point) and the product begins indexing the content.

The founding team, mostly in their mid-20s, have had a passion for artificial intelligence since high school. In fact, Nicholas built an AI program to read his notes and quiz him on history while still in high school. Later, at the University of Waterloo, he published a paper on machine learning and had internships at Palantir, Facebook and Dropbox. His first job out of school was at Pure Storage. All these positions had a common thread of working with data and AI.

The company launched last year and they debuted Agatha in private beta four months ago. They currently have six companies participating, the first of which has been converted to a paying customer.

They have closed a pre-seed round of funding too, and although they weren’t prepared to share the amount, the investment was led by K9 Ventures. Village Global, Original Capital and other unnamed investors also participated.

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