The rise of self-learning software

The rise of self-learning software

Imagine it’s five minutes before a meeting. Your smartwatch, without prompting, sends you key points. While in the meeting, you take notes. Those notes are instantaneously absorbed by the system, then collated with relevant prior meetings, files and communications, in order to better prepare you for the next meeting.

Born of the innovations of Big Data and possessed of a new net intelligence layer, self-learning software will have huge impacts on productivity across all departments of an enterprise.

Imagine a set of smart sensors placed throughout a city that feed data to deep-learning systems. The systems then predict where traffic jams might occur and recommend route changes to the trucking fleets that keep inventory moving and businesses running on schedule.

This is the promise of what I’m calling “self-learning software.” We’ve already seen it take root in consumer applications, and in the coming years it will help enterprises work faster and smarter than they ever have before. Its potential to increase productivity is so great, in fact, that it will generate unprecedented growth in enterprise software.

Here are some initial thoughts on what I believe to be the dawn of an exciting and enormous market opportunity.

The promise of self-learning software

The first era of the enterprise software industry was on-premises software, otherwise known as “shrinkwrap” software. The software is installed and runs on dedicated databases and machines on the premises of the person or organization employing the software. This initial period in the industry was dominated by the likes of SAP, Oracle, PeopleSoft and IBM.

With the rise and growth of the web, the need for shared servers and greater connectivity within companies pushed businesses toward software run from remote locations. We’re currently in the midst of this second era of enterprise software, “software as a service,” in which agile cloud computing has replaced locally installed applications. Big SaaS players include Workday, Salesforce and NetSuite.

I think that the next great era in enterprise software will be the era of self-learning software (or SLS). Born of the innovations of Big Data and possessed of a new net intelligence layer, self-learning software will have huge impacts on productivity across all departments of an enterprise. The effect will be so seismic that I predict that SLS will double the size of the enterprise software industry by 2030. But, first …

What exactly is SLS?

I define SLS as enterprise software injected with machine learning — the branch of computer science that explores how to enable computers to learn from and make decisions based on data without explicit programming instructions. The basic building block of self-learning software is the ability for a system to learn based on experience, make inferences from disparate signals, and then take action in response to new or unforeseen events.

With much of today’s enterprise software, a person is required to make inferences repeatedly based on any number of data points — validating positive compliance with security protocols, for example. But the complexities of business environments often cause employees to be cautious, or even feel paralyzed, when action is required.

Software that functions more autonomously liberates companies from having to codify the rules of engagement and escalation — meaning, if an employee can reach a conclusion once and then train an SLS machine how it reached such a conclusion, the machine will learn by itself how to arrive at similar outcomes in differing situations. The human team will, thereby, be empowered to act more quickly and confidently, and freed to focus on higher level problem-solving.

A colleague’s 65-year-old immigrant mother only recently discovered the joys of predictive text. Now, when she sends her children short messages on her iPhone, she loves being liberated from the tedium of having to peck out every single letter, or having to consult her Chinese-English dictionary to spell a word.

I bring up this story because one (admittedly oversimplified) way to think of self-learning software is as predictive tasks. Your SLS-powered enterprise software will anticipate rote or foreseeable workplace tasks that need doing and simply auto-complete them for you, or get you several steps closer to finishing them yourself.

One of the best current examples of a predictive computing platform is Google Now. Based on a mix of location, calendar and both Google and email searches, Google Now anticipates what information a person will need next and presents it to them automatically. This type of frictionless experience will enable people to spend less time looking and more time doing.

Another way that self-learning software will improve productivity is in customer-data collection. The reality is that relying on employees to enter data into a CRM is inefficient at best. The data are often input only when the employee has a moment to spare, which is an increasingly rare occurrence for most of us. Self-learning software will solve this problem by mining data and context from mobile devices and the Internet of Things to automatically compile an accurate, detailed portrait of customers’ habits.

And the more data a system collects, the bigger the back-end brain becomes. The cloud can essentially crowdsource data and extrapolate the insights to every other person in the network. Companies will learn from other companies, thereby driving up the intelligence of their SLS platform.

They might be giants

Sometimes, as an investor, you just have the sense that something big is about to happen.

When enterprise software was a fledgling industry in the mid 1990s, it was clear early on that the market opportunity was huge. The market has nearly tripled to $630 billion since then. There are currently 12 times the number of companies buying software than there were just 10 years ago, and each of those companies is spending four times more on software than their 2005 counterparts. But a new generation of workers will create an opportunity that even the most optimistic investors of the ’90s could not have seen coming.

Founders of the new wave of self-learning software companies are coming from outside the arena of traditional enterprise software — machine learning and end-user experience with these applications are part of their startup DNA.

Millennials, the first generation of digital natives, are now entering the job market, and they’ve started to question the fundamentals of current SaaS solutions. They expect more from their applications. They want their inboxes to sort and label emails, the same way they expect Spotify to predict their favorite songs. They’re accustomed to one-click, same-day-delivery shopping with Amazon Prime, and don’t have the patience for the dozens of steps and several days that it sometimes takes to schedule a meeting and book a conference room.

Only open-source machine learning algorithms with the technology to collect more data and market to individual consumers — a.k.a self-learning software — will be able to satisfy those expectations.

So, who will win the next wave of enterprise software? Goliaths like Facebook and Apple will undoubtedly get into the game either directly or through acquisitions. Amazon’s AWS will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come. And with its purchase of LinkedIn, Microsoft now has the social graph, enterprise software expertise and massive resources necessary to be the once and future king.

I think, however, that this is a rare chance to innovate in a giant market where everything is still up for grabs. And, as usual, I’m putting my money, figuratively and literally, on the innovators and entrepreneurs.

Founders of the new wave of self-learning software companies are coming from outside the arena of traditional enterprise software, including many from the consumer web companies. This gives startups an inherent advantage, because machine learning and end-user experience with these applications are part of their DNA. Moreover, while traditional enterprise software developers have to attempt to awkwardly upgrade machines built for a different era, startups can build anew, with smarter, adaptable systems not weighted down by the old technology.

Looking ahead, self-learning software will be the one thing that distinguishes legacy enterprise applications from modern ones. And I predict that in 10 years, every new enterprise application will be self-learning at its core — leading to productivity levels greater than what we’ve seen from mobile and Big Data combined.

Adit Singh is a partner at Foundation Capital. His areas of interest are in enterprise infrastructure, security and the Internet of Things. Currently, he works closely with the teams at Zerostack, CliQr, ForgeRock and Trufa. Reach him @FoundationCap.

The rise of self-learning software


8 Insurance Tech Startups That Are Planning To Launch in 2016

8 Insurance Tech Startups That Are Planning To Launch in 2016

As excitement – and early-stage venture investments – in the insurance tech space soar, a number of insurance tech startups are planning to launch in 2016. Here are eight insurance tech startups from just-in-time insurance apps to P2P carriers to business insurance software providers planning a full roll-out of their services in 2016 or beyond.

1. Trov

What they do:

Trov is a mobile app and digital insurance platform providing tracking, price information, and on-demand, micro-duration insurance coverage for single items and possessions.
Trov is planning a limited release launch in Australia (in partnership with Suncorp Insurance) and in the UK in the first half of 2016.
Location: Danville, California

Total Funding: $13.50M

Select Investors: Anthemis Group

2. Lemonade

What they do:

Lemonade is an online property and casualty insurance company that claims to be the first peer-to-peer insurance carrier in the world.
Set to launch in the first half of 2016, CEO Daniel Schreiber told Insurance Journal that the team has been working with New York regulators to be a licensed carrier. The full details of Lemonade’s business model and service have not been disclosed yet. Lemonade raised the largest US tech seed round in 2015.
Lemonade recently announced four senior insurance hires including former AIG chief underwriting officer Ty Sigalow as chief insurance officer and former ACE senior vice president Robert Giurlando as chief underwriting officer.
Location: New York, NY

Total Funding: $13.00M

Select Investors: Aleph, Sequoia Capital

3. Embroker

What they do:

Embroker is a free software platform and brokerage that lets small and mid-sized businesses manage and purchase business insurance.
The platform’s software lets businesses track vendor certificates and report and track claims. It also summarizes legal documents and has a peer comparison tool that helps businesses benchmark their policies.
Embroker is currently in a beta trial phase.
Location: San Francisco, CA

Total Funding: $2.10M, Seed VC

Select Investors: 500 Startups, Bee Partners, FinTech Collective, Vertical Venture Partners

4. Ladder Financial

What they do:

Ladder is a stealth life insurance tech startup.
Ladder’s founding team includes Jamie Hale, previously a founding partner at specialized PE firm Aldenwood Capital, former Issuu chief revenue officer Jeff Merkel, and former Dropbox engineer Jack Dubie.
Location: Menlo Park, CA

Total Funding: $2.05M, Seed VC

Select Investors: Lightspeed Venture Partners, 8 Partners, NYCA Partners, Barney Schauble

5. Melody Health Insurance

What they do:

The health insurance company aims to provide individuals larger discounts on procedures by having a smaller pool of in-network providers to choose from, close to where customers live and work.
The team is reportedly planning to complete the required filing and license processes and launch in select states by 2017.
Location: Denver, CO

Total Funding: $2.00M

Select Investors: Eduardo Cruz

6. Sure

What they do:

Sure is a mobile on-demand insurance app providing micro-duration life insurance coverage during airplane travel.
CEO Wayne Slavin was previously VP of Product at Tapingo.
Sure is planning to launch a worldwide rollout in 2016.
Location: California, United States

Total Funding: $1.62M

Select Investors: OVP Venture Partners, ff Venture Capital

7. Brolly

What they do:

Brolly is a UK-based personal insurance management app and broker, allowing users to manage their policies in one place and understand where they have duplicate or missing coverage.
The app is currently in the testing phase with early customers and will be publicly available on iOS and Android early this year.
Country: United Kingdom

Total Funding: N/A

Select Investors: Entrepreneur First Incubator

8. Simple Disability Insurance

What they do:

Simple Disability Insurance is developing a plug-and-play tech platform in the disability insurance space.
CEO Ted Stearns was previously CEO of disability insurance comparison site InsureWell.
Simple Disability is planning a Q2’16 launch.
Location: United States

Total Funding: NA

Select Investors: Plug and Play Insurance Accelerator

8 Insurance Tech Startups That Are Planning To Launch in 2016

Thinking ahead: 5 ways to future-proof your company

Thinking ahead: 5 ways to future-proof your company

This article is part of DBA, a series on Mashable about running a business that features insights from leaders in entrepreneurship, venture capital and management.

When innovating for the future, many people find inspiration in a famous quote attributed to Henry Ford: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

Whether or not Ford actually said these words, the premise is wrong. Ford’s customer base might not have invented automobiles on their own, but they did know they wanted a faster, reliable and more comfortable way to get from point A to point B. They needed Ford to come up with the right solution.

We often talk about innovation solely in the context of bleeding-edge technology, but technology is simply a tool to help you solve your customers’ problems. Future-proofing your company requires putting yourself in the customers’ shoes and building your business around their needs. Here are five tips to prepare your company for the future.

1. Fixate on the problem

Fixate on the problem

Innovation grows from understanding what your customers want to achieve and why. Watch how your customers use your product to determine how you can best solve their problem. If you try to achieve this outcome, you’ll move away from developing features for the sake of adding bells and whistles.

For example, Apple’s click-wheel interface on the first iPod solved a problem for its users by giving them a way to quickly and easily navigate hundreds of files on a small screen. Apply this outcome orientation to your strategy by observing, listening and soliciting customer feedback.

2. Think beyond your core product

We live in a service economy in which companies have transcended selling products; they’re now selling experiences.

Think about how you can add value to your customers and help them achieve their desired outcome through the holistic experience you provide.

For example, Hilton Hotels recently revamped its HHonors app, so customers can choose a hotel, preview their room and book a stay via the mobile app. When they arrive at the hotel, they bypass the check-in counter and seamlessly enter their hotel room using near-field communication (NFC) on their smartphones. Hilton Hotels is differentiating its brand in a crowded industry and giving its customers more control to personalize their hotel stay

3. Build in an open way

Build in an open way

New products or features don’t always work the way customers want them to. Even if it meets your customers’ needs today, those needs and pain-points will likely change over time.

When it comes to software companies in particular, it’s important to build technology that’s flexible and doesn’t paint your customers into a corner. Make sure your product can integrate with other existing solutions as well as those that might emerge in the future. Your technology should always be able to evolve along with your customers and their needs.

4. Stay plugged into the market

Whether you’re just getting started in your industry or you’ve been involved in it for decades, it’s important to stay immersed in your market. Stay in touch with other entrepreneurs, follow your competitors and use social media to follow influencers in your space.

Beware of the “Founder’s Dilemma”– don’t get caught up in wealth or control. Stay connected to what’s happening in your industry and commit to delighting your customers.

Engage with partners to learn more about your customers and how they’re using technology. Ask questions and crowdsource ideas. There’s still no substitute for in-person interactions, so attend events and meet with your customers face-to-face. They’ll appreciate the face time and you’ll gain further insights into how best to serve them.

5. Inspire employees to innovate

Everyone has good ideas about how to expand a product and innovate. The leaders at future-proof companies understand that a strong company culture helps surface these ideas and spur innovation. Build a culture that aligns employees around a strong mission, values clear communication and encourages people to pursue their creative ideas. Set aside time for experimentation and empower employees to get involved in projects and jobs outside of their typical role.

Don’t focus all of your time, energy or resources on a single strategy for future-proofing. Instead, divide your energy between these three activities:

  • Listening: Fulfilling customers’ requests for certain features and improving your product
  • Connecting: Understand the market and your competitors
  • Experimenting: Looking ahead at opportunities for the products and services your customers don’t yet know they need

Balancing these three things (paying attention to your customers, keeping your pulse on the market and innovating ahead of the market) will prepare your company for tomorrow and the years ahead. As you work to do so, however, don’t lose sight of your mission to create better outcomes for your customers.

Your customers are both the problem and solution when it comes to future-proofing your company. Technology is the screwdriver that will help you get there.



Thinking ahead: 5 ways to future-proof your company

The 10 Most Valuable Private Tech Companies In The World

The 10 Most Valuable Private Tech Companies In The World

This list contains the ten most valuable tech companies and startups that aren’t public companies (i.e. listed on any stock market). But what got me thinking is how these valuations just turn up, many of them surpassing companies that have been around for much longer and are making far more in revenue. This also highlights how close we may be to another tech bubble burst. But then again, the show must go on.

1. Uber: $51 billion

Uber raised an additional $1 billion earlier this year to bring their total funding to more than $5 billion. This places the company at an over $50 billion valuation. A company that was founded in 2009 is now almost worth as much as the companies that make the cars its drivers ride, Ford ($60 billion) and GM ($55 billion).

2. Xiaomi: $46 billion

The Chinese smartphone manufacturer was the most valuable private tech company until Uber came along and stole its thunder.

3. Airbnb: $25 billion

Airbnb is one of the highest valued hospitality companies, without actually owning a single hotel. A new funding round of $1.5 billion places the company at this valuation.

4. Dell: $24.9 billion

Since Dell went private in 2013, they are no longer bound to the ‘valuation’ tag. But before it went private again, this was the value at which the owner, Michael Dell and his group, purchased it off the stock market. That was the last we heard of Dell’s valuation.

5. Palantir: $20 billion

Palantir is a secretive data analysis company. Probably because of the kind of clients they have: CIA, US military and maybe aliens from Mars.

6. Didi Kuaidi: $16 billion

This company offers what Uber offers, but in China. It also offers private car services. It has received funding from Uber’s main rivals, Lyft. It has also received funding from Alibaba and Tencent Holdings.

7. Snapchat: 16 billion

Snapchat’s main strength is the demographics of its main users – millennials. They are a much-sought after group for advertisers. It’s worth noting that Alibaba has also invested in Snapchat.

8. Flipkart: 15 billion

Flipkart, the Indian ecommerce company, has grown mostly because the size of the middle-class in India has also grown as well as the number of internet users in the country. One of Flipkart’s investors include the New York-based investment manager Tiger Global Management.

9. SpaceX: $12 billion

Google’s reported $900 million investment in SpaceX for 7.5 percent is one of the reasons the rocket and spacecraft manufacturing company’s valuation has skyrocketed.

10. Pinterest: $11 billion

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the images on Pinterest are worth billions.The image-bookmarking website is backed by venture capital firms like Andreessen Horowitz and Bessemer Venture Partners.


The 10 Most Valuable Private Tech Companies In The World

Electronic skin may transform the way we interact with tech

Your skin is an interface between your brain and the world. Okay, so that sort of sounds like a pickup line a materials scientist would use. But human skin is amazing: It’s exquisitely sensitive, quick on the uptake, and constantly giving you useful information about your surroundings. In a deep way, the ability to physically feel something helps people understand reality.

But electronic gadgets don’t feel any of this. At least, not yet. Scientists have spent the past decade trying to get tech to feel the same way humans do. Their first attempts could really only sense one thing at a time—temperature, say, or pressure. Researchers have tried to jerry-rig these systems together, but the results have been clunky. Now, researchers in Korea have developed their own compact electronic skin that multitasks like a person’s, sensing pressure, temperature, and sound (which is just air pressure, really) simultaneously.

Electronic skin may transform the way we interact with tech

The Top 6 Tech Skills You Need in 2015

To stay relevant, you must master the skills behind this year’s hottest technology trends.

  1. Coding
  2. Big Data
  3. Cloud Computing
  4. Mobile
  5. Data Visualization
  6. UX Design Skills

These six tech trends are reshaping the way businesses in every industry function internally and connect with their customers. Get smart in these areas, and you won’t have to worry about being left behind–at least not this year.

The Top 6 Tech Skills You Need in 2015

How Smart, Connected Products Are Transforming Competition

Information technology is revolutionizing products.

Once composed solely of mechanical and electrical parts, products have become complex systems that combine hardware, sensors, data storage, microprocessors, software, and connectivity in myriad ways.

These “smart, connected products”—made possible by vast improvements in processing power and device miniaturization and by the network benefits of ubiquitous wireless connectivity—have unleashed a new era of competition.

How Smart, Connected Products Are Transforming Competition.