Clarifai moves beyond computer vision to manage companies’ unstructured data

Tech

Clarifai wants to bring artificial intelligence into the lives of developers, business operators and data scientists so they can automate and accelerate their model development.

Matt Zeiler founded the New York-based company in 2013 focused on computer vision. Since its $30 million Series B in 2016, Clarifai has been rolling out new capabilities and products targeting a company’s unstructured image, video, text and audio data files.

The new functionalities include natural language processing, audio recognition, scanning and an automated data labeling feature, Scribe, that was launched last year. It is also deploying its Edge AI capability that layers AI on top of data streams using various local hardware, from high-powered servers to cameras and drones. The company plans to unveil even more at its annual deep learning conference, Perceive 2021, on October 20.

Amid all of that activity — and to keep it going — Clarifai on Friday announced a $60 million Series C funding round, led by New Enterprise Associates, with participation from existing investors Menlo Ventures, Union Square Ventures, Lux Capital, LDV Capital, Corazon Capital and NYU Innovation Venture Fund, and new investors CPP Investments, Next Equity Partners, SineWave Ventures and Trousdale Capital. The latest round brings the company’s total funding raised to $100 million.

“We managed to go a long time without raising more funding,” Zeiler told TechCrunch. “We grew our revenue significantly while controlling costs and operating efficiently. We saw an opportunity and raised the round.”

That opportunity included having the right team in place to execute enterprise sales, he added. In the early days of the company, the market was immature, so Clarifai started selling to small businesses and individuals. Now it is closing deals with Fortune 500 companies as the market has matured.

To the company, “unstructured data” is data that the human brain is good at, but computers are not, like images, videos and text. This is something that enterprises have steadily realized has huge value, and in fact up to 95% of a company’s data is unstructured, providing “a huge opportunity” for Clarifai, Zeiler said.

When the company started to see those enterprise signals in the market, it went after the Series C. It also partnered with Snowflake with an integration to link Clarifai with recently released unstructured data support from Snowflake.

“Snowflake has a $100 billion business built on structured data, and now it is doing unstructured data,” Zeiler added. “If customers are storing data with Snowflake, they can get value from it, they need AI from Clarifai to make sense of it.”

Clarifai

Clarifai product pipeline. Image Credits: Clarifai

Meanwhile, the company more than doubled its revenue over the last year and topped 130,000 users. The Series C funding enables Clarifai to scale its global team of 100 employees with plans to double that by next year.

The company will also invest in sales and marketing, as well as an international expansion. It already has an office in Estonia, and Zeiler is looking at Australia, India and Turkey, where it is amassing more customers. It will also continue to work on its Edge AI product, which just attracted its first commercial client.

As part of the investment, Andrew Schoen, partner at NEA, joins Clarifai’s board of directors. The company was on his radar for a number of years, but Schoen felt at the time Clarifai was too early for investment.

“The early winds in AI were all around structured data, which was the low-hanging fruit since 90% of data is unstructured,” he said. “Now that the ecosystem is mature, companies realize the bottleneck of having squeezed everything they can out of the structured data. Now they have all that unstructured data they can’t use and it isn’t neatly organized. Clarifai is aimed at solving that problem.”

He sees Clarifai demystifying and democratizing AI and machine learning. Due to the company’s early focus on unstructured data, it was able to get some early adopters and is now leading in this area.

In addition, he says the team began an inflection point over the past 12 months with revenue projections and has a business “that is growing nicely.”

“The company had to work to land customers and educate the market, but now instead of pushing the market, it is pulling as companies look for solutions and see Clarifai is the right product,” he added.

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