One question I often got from our customers and investors is
“How does your technology compare to Google’s or Microsoft’s?”
I’m sure what they REALLY wanted to ask is…
“Is your technology better than Google’s or Microsoft’s?”
It’s a difficult question to answer. Even more difficult for a deep tech AI startup, especially if the founders do not have a strong track record of publications or come from academia. The answer usually ends up in one of two routes,
We always went with #2 despite having had a better benchmark performance than other companies. It gave a natural segue for us to talk more about our customers, and more importantly, we definitely did not want to argue with the folks we were trying to turn into believers in our product and vision!
As a technical founder who’s leading the AI research and product development, I was often discouraged. Each time I heard the same question repeated, again and again, I felt powerless to the point of having nervous breakdowns. I constantly repeated the word “sorry” to my team who worked day and night to build the incredible technology I knew we had.
That’s when I knew we had to participate in the ICCV VALUE(Video-And-Language-Understanding-Evaluation) Challenge hosted by Microsoft. The challenge had already started two weeks earlier, but who cares? This was the perfect opportunity to prove ourselves.
If we could win the competition, there would be much to gain: credibility, branding, PR, hiring, confidence, …and most importantly, we would have a powerful, bulldozer answer to give to our customers and investors when asked something along the lines of, “Are you better than Google?”
Despite the shiny opportunities that we imagined if we could win the competition, the odds were so obviously against us.
And so, I believed that we had less than a 10% chance of winning, but still decided to participate. Just like any startup at some point, we needed to take a leap of faith and arm ourselves with a winning mentality. As the startup saying goes, the odds will always be 0% if we don’t do anything.