China gets AI : My experience pitching an AI startup idea to investors


I always had the itch to convert an idea into a tangible product but then I am someone who likes the safety and comfort of full time job as well.

In Feb 2017, my nephew who was pursuing his MBA in India was in US for an exchange program and used to visit me every weekend. India is in a startup frenzy these days and he was looking for a startup idea.  I very casually gave him one – A solution that monitors the inventory in real time in a warehouse, analyzes historical data and forecasts external warehousing needs,proposes the most cost effective option etc.

I almost forgot about it when more than a year later, he called me to say he has decided to go for it. The idea was simple- but there is no solution currently in the market that is focused on On demand warehousing analytics (A prime example that we are not creating products to fulfill needs but churning out products in areas where we feel our expertise lies).

Fast forward a year more and I decided to take up an offer to advise his company, Jagah.Shop, to design and primarily to pitch their product to investors who like to see experts and experienced folks on teams. This gave me the opportunity to get that “startup experience” without taking the risk of having my own stakes in a startup. Win-win 😁

This article is a result of the experience gained from pitching the solution to investors.

Pitching experience

Indian Investors: Apologies for being a bit straightforward here but majority of Indian investors don’t get what AI entails. Their vision of automation, visibility and cognitive AI is all mixed up, which makes it extremely difficult to make them understand what a true Smart algorithm can do for business processes like warehousing. They either overestimate or underestimate the capabilities. Was a painful experience pitching to most of them.

European Investors: A tad better than Indian investors but their propensity is high skepticism. They tend to underplay the capabilities, even those capabilities that are actually very much feasible. They come in with a thought process that there are here to witness a scam and look for it during the entire pitch. So eventually when they can’t find the scam, they are not happy (fulfilled). That takes away the charm of the fact from them that the solution is actually genuine . That approach also left a bad taste in our mouth so when we had the option to choose between investors, we decided to choose those who came to evaluate us with a fair and unbiased mind. My experience recently has taught me…once biased, always biased.

And finally…..

Chinese Investors: To start with, obviously not every one of them was objective. Those who were not, I would put them in the bracket of the European investors mentioned above in terms of behavior.

But majority of Chinese Investors had a very clear understanding of what Artificial Intelligence entails. Some of them even had very very good grounding in Machine Learning, Neural Network and Cognitive Intelligence. They understood what type of ecosystem is needed to support a truly Smart algorithm, from a Supply Chain and operations perspective.

This explains that fact that China currently is leading the AI race. To win the AI race, you need to create awareness and education about AI,  across all levels of your population- not just the ones who will develop the solutions or collaborate with these solutions. Looks like China has and is doing a good job there.

The Outcome

The fact that Chinese Investors were so cognizant of AI nuances allowed us to engage them very effectively. Eventually,at this point, all the Angel investment that we have is from Chinese investors. We ended up getting 3X more than what we were looking for and we decided to put it to use- by expanding the scope of the product, from just an On-demand planning module to an end to end Smart WMS (which means we will have to chase more investors later).

To add to this, they are very flexible with us and always accommodate any new ideas or suggestions. When we proposed the “Women in Data Science” scholarship driver, they  not only agreed but asked if we needed additional funds for that. All in all, both of them are an absolute pleasure to work with.





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