Portfolio Stories: Skymind

In this Q/A session with Chris Nicholson, co-founder and CEO of portfolio company Skymind, Chris shares his experiences as a tech rebel in the field of artificial intelligence. By treating the big data ecosystem as a first-class citizen, Skymind bridges the gap between data science and IT.

Chris Nicholson, co-founder and CEO of Skymind, at Hemi Venture’s close-door event Fleetonomy: Building a Fleet of Autonomous Vehicles in September, 2018.

What is your personal mission that led you to found Skymind?

AI is capable of helping humans make better decisions because it makes accurate predictions about data. I think helping humans make better decisions, whether its individuals, organizations, or entire countries, is crucial in almost every respect for our shared future together. To me, AI is a technology that can really help humanity move through a very uncertain future to make better decisions based on what we know.

Our company, Skymind, makes AI software. AI is a technology with tremendous capability, and it was a technology that I was very interested in. My co-founder and I saw an opportunity to build some powerful software, and four years ago we jumped on it.

How do you see the industry as being ripe for disruption today?

The AI industry is brand new, so there is nothing to disrupt yet. AI is going to disrupt other industries by processing data more intelligently. It will allow humans to build new kinds of products. For example, self-driving cars that are based on AI are disrupting the automotive industry. Some of the AI-based voice interactions with Alexa and Google technology is disrupting how people relate to and move through the world.

The Skymind Intelligence Layer (SKIL) is designed to be embeddable within on-prem, cloud, or hybrid infrastructures.

What has been your biggest success and your greatest learning as an entrepreneur?

We have a team of 30 people, and we’ve built some powerful technology. We’ve enabled a lot of companies to use AI. It makes us feel great to see that we’ve built something that helps large organizations use AI to make better decisions. Our success is really our customers’ success.

My biggest learning has been a combination of things. Technology takes a long time to build. Software is much more complex than anyone can imagine. Managing people together on a team has been a learning experience that takes some hard work and some knowledge of human beings.

I would suggest that if someone was going down the entrepreneur path, they should start out with a problem they want to solve. Don’t go into it thinking that the goal is to become an entrepreneur. Find a problem in your life that current technology can’t solve. Maybe it’s a problem in society or in the workplace. Then start thinking about how technology might provide a solution.

Chris Nicholson, co-founder and CEO of Skymind, speaking at Hemi Venture’s Data in Bio event in March, 2018.

Why did you choose to partner with Hemi?

We chose to work with Hemi because Amy Gu came highly recommended to us by a founder we trust. Skymind was Hemi’s first investment. We’ve benefited from the numerous introductions that Hemi has made for us, and the events they’ve held. That’s helped us raise our visibility and start conversations with other companies involved in AI.

What would people be surprised to learn about you?

I used to be a reporter. I was a correspondent for The New York Times and an editor for Bloomberg News for many years. About five years ago, I moved to Silicon Valley because I decided I wanted to work in tech. I moved into a hacker house, which is like a hostel for entrepreneurs, and that’s where I met my co-founder. He was working on AI, and I had reported on AI. I got excited about what he was working on, and things took off from there

The Skymind team consists of data scientists, data engineers, and architects distributed across the globe.

Looking forward, what upcoming products, plans or geographic expansions are in the pipeline?

We’re integrating AI with another technology called RPA, Robotic Process Automation. This allows us to plug AI into workflows to help automate repetitive clerical tasks. So many companies are inundated with paperwork that they can’t manage, and this can affect their ability to be legally compliant. What we’ve done is integrated AI with RPA to help them automate the processing of forms and other paperwork.