Aussie AI-powered startup secures $16m to take its virtual data scientist global

Expansion is already under way for Hyper Anna, which has created a virtual data scientist offering customers intelligence and insights based on natural language requests

Hyper Anna's co-founder and CEO Natalie Nguyen with fellow co-founders s Sam Zheng and Kent Tian
Hyper Anna's co-founder and CEO Natalie Nguyen with fellow co-founders s Sam Zheng and Kent Tian

Sydney-based startup, Hyper Anna, has secured $16 million in funding to fuel a global rollout of 'Anna', a virtual data scientist that taps into business intelligence and delivers real-time insights based on natural language requests.

The Series A round of funding was led by Sequoia China, with significant investments from Airtree Ventures, Westpac Reinventure and IAG Firemark Ventures. Both Westpac and general insurer, IAG, are early adopters of Hyper Anna and use the platform internally to answer questions about business performance.

Hyper Anna co-founder and CEO, Natalie Nguyen, told CMO customers have largely been SSI and in the financial and insurance sectors, but said the product could easily apply to other sectors such as media and technology.

"The fact that some of our investors are also our customers gives us great confidence in the company, in ourselves, and the product," she said. "We didn’t focus on ‘fundraising’ as such: If you have a great product and customers are loving it, then you shouldn’t have a lot of difficulties securing funding."

The startup plans to use the capital to expand operations into international markets including Hong Kong, Singapore, China and US. As part of its move into offshore markets, Hyper Anna exposes its AI software to new languages and cultures and will also begin learning about the financial sector at a global scale.

“In each of these markets, many organisations are struggling to find data scientists to do the analytics and get the insights they need,” Nguyen said. “We fix that problem with Anna.

“And we’ve had such good traction in the SSI market in Australia working with some top enterprises that we feel like our product is adding a lot of value to our clients’ organisations and we’re passionate about what we do. So we want to take our solution to other markets to get Anna in the hands of many more organisations.”

Founded in February 2016, the vendor's AI agent, Anna, is a powerful virtual data scientist that interacts through natural language. Users simply download the tool onto a company database, and allow employees to start asking questions about business performance.

“If you have used Siri before on your phone, the interaction is very similar," Nguyen explained. "You can interact with Anna just as you would interact with another colleague by typing her a question or speaking with her, or emailing her – and you can get a response immediately.”

According to Nguyen, the differentiation point is in the way Hyper Anna democratises data science by putting the power of data in the hands of anyone with a command of language. 

“The question for us is how do we democratise data and insights for the end users, which we find is lacking at the moment,” she said. 

Hyper Anna's co-founder and CEO Natalie Nguyen with fellow co-founders s Sam Zheng and Kent Tian
Hyper Anna's co-founder and CEO Natalie Nguyen with fellow co-founders s Sam Zheng and Kent Tian

While some organisations might use Tableau or ClickView to create dashboards to service the end users, Nguyen didn't see these vendors as direct competitors, adding the experience Hyper Anna offers is so different.

“If you ask ‘how are sales going?’ and I told you that you had sold 100 units, on its own, that information does not provide much insight into the performance of the business. But the intention is to track sales against time, and just like a human, Anna picks up on those nuances," she continued. "Intent is something humans have a knack for intrinsically understanding, but something that machines have traditionally struggled with.”

Taking the hype out of data-driven marketing

According to Nguyen, Hyper Anna’s early success rested on the fact that all three of the founders were data scientists as well as sales people and marketers. They built the company knowing how to speak the complex language of data and understand the value in having this translated into real world speak.

“There is a lot of hype around data-driven marketing, but not many organsiation have actually been able to successfully build that capability in their team in a fast and scalable way, and that’s how we feel we add value – to put these organisations on an accelerated path,” she said.

Marketers need quick, seamless and real-time access to insights into customer segments and campaign effectiveness, but the traditional model is far too time intensive, Nguyen said.

“Traditionally, if you want to gain those insights as a marketer, you run a campaign or work with a team of analysts – and it could take a couple of weeks or even a couple of months to get reports back,” she said. “The organisations which we are working today can have their marketers ask Anna a question and receive insights within 20 seconds. This is a massive change in how you can monitor campaign effectiveness, design campaigns or roll out marketing strategies.

“Ultimately, the idea behind Anna is that all businesses, regardless of scope or size, deserve to have access to data scientists to drive value from the data they create and own. With a shortage of talent in the market, Hyper Anna allows customers to scale their data analysis requirements in a very efficient manner.”

Hyper Anna's global expansion is already underway, with an office in Hong Kong scheduled to open in September this year. 

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia, or check us out on Google+:google.com/+CmoAu

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