By Krishna Visvanathan, Co-founder & Partner, Crane Venture Partners
In the career of any venture capitalist, one dreads the “oh shit moment”. For those unfamiliar with this most technical of terms – it is that moment of clarity when a VC, in the immediate aftermath of closing one’s latest investment (often at the first post investment Board meeting), is brought back down to earth with the realisation that the shiny new investment wasn’t quite so shiny after all.
Whilst it’s not the case for every investment of course (exceptions proving the rule and all that), it was still with slight trepidation that I set off for Mountain View, CA on Dec 4th, to attend H2O World and to connect with the Board – to see what customers, ecosystems partners and Board members really thought of the company – just weeks after the completion of H2O.ai’s $40m Series C, in which Crane participated as the sole European investor.
I suspect SriSatish Ambati, Co-Founder & CEO, would probably have not asked me to pen my reflections of my first H2O World, had he known this – but you can relax Sri, I can genuinely say that H2O is one of those exceptions. What I experienced at H2O World surpassed my expectations.
Impressive attendance levels – I was staggered to see over 500 people attending when NIPS was taking place in LA at the very same time. Also pleasing was the number of attendees representing enterprise users already deploying AI (& H2O) for practical use cases to great impact (more on this later).
Open source is not a marketing strategy, it’s a way of life – and when coupled with great product is when users, partners and customers become the best evangelisers and the ecosystem takes on a life of its own. This was perhaps the enduring memory of the conference for me – the vibrancy, zeal, depth and richness of the H2O community. This is the first enterprise startup I’ve been involved in with such a highly developed community – vital to succeeding in open source (alongside a sizeable TAM). Seeing and speaking with H2O’s users on stage, in the coffee areas, at the demo tables eulogising about their uses of H2O’s products filled me with a truly warm glow.
The Data and AI revolution will not be televised – to paraphrase Gil Scott Heron. It’s here, it’s now but it’s only just beginning and it will truly transform every facet of human and corporate existence – from predicting blood usage and thus saving $m’s of dollars but more importantly saving precious blood bags by dramatically reducing wastage (shout out to Prof. Rob Tibshirani from Stanford), to predicting, detecting and combating fraudsters at PayPal to predicting Sepsis to save lives at a healthcare provider or credit scoring/lending, AML, KYC and much more at one of the largest credit card companies, these are just the tip of the use case iceberg of H2O and AI. We learn every day of new users and new use cases from the growing community of over 12,600 enterprises (across many verticals – Finance & Insurance, Healthcare, Automotive, TMT, Retail to name a few) and 130,000 users – whether you are a startup or a Fortune 1000 enterprise, if AI is not already a part of your corporate vernacular then good luck!
Software is eating the world, AI is eating Software but Data is feeding both. When Jeff Herbst of Nvidia said on stage at H2O World – “The next phase of the AI revolution is all about Data”, it was music to our ears at Crane as we’ve been investing in Data & AI companies for a couple of years now. Data is the true value and helping enterprises unlock the gold in their data is what Driverless AI (DAI) is all about. Whilst I was fully aware of the potential of DAI, hearing PayPal describe how DAI produced an optimised feature rich model/recipe an order of magnitude quicker than traditional modelling practices without DAI was simultaneously mind blowing and illustrative of the untapped potential. The floodgates will truly open when DAI enables any user to BYOR – bring your own recipe and to share these recipes with the community.
Interpretability and Visualisation of Data in AI is the another key plank and yet again, H2O is taking the lead. Even for a non-techie, Professor Leland Wilkinson’s illustration of the visualisation capabilities he and H2O have built made me sit up and take notice.
“Democratising AI is not a mission, it’s a duty” – SriSatish Ambati. We are only at the start of the AI revolution but battle lines are already being drawn between the giants, deploying huge resources, stockpiling talent, building proprietary hardware/infrastructure/platforms, all in the name of harnessing AI and data for their own benefits. AI will transform human existence in profound ways that we are yet to imagine and making it accessible and executable by the many must therefore be our duty. Whilst we make no apology for our investment in H2O being about generating a financial return for our investors, we are also firmly and proudly committed to H2O’s doctrine of democratising AI.
Unlike Kevin Costner’s, this Waterworld was truly epic. Plaudits go to the entire H2O team for putting on a great event but more so for creating and nurturing such a superb community and for building world class product wrapped in unparalleled customer-centricity. We at Crane are clearly biased but I think you can tell that we are super excited to be part of the H2O team and hope to contribute in some small way to their continued success.
For other blog posts from Crane, please check out Crane-Taking Flight.