Why I’m Excited About Machine Learning and Joining LiftIgniter

by Jason -- February 23, 2017

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The End of Bento

After struggling all of last year to get Bento to profitability, we were finally able to hit breakeven in October and November. Despite being “profitable”, funds were extremely tight. I wasn’t able to pay myself a sustainable salary, and growing further was not going to be easy. In December, I decided it was time to close it down. You can read more about the closing on the Bento blog.

A New Beginning

This past week I was excited to have accepted a sales position with LiftIgniter, a personalization service powered by machine learning. We power the “Recommended For You” sections on media sites and “You Might Also Like” sections on eCommerce sites. I’ll be doing sales, and I am their first hire on the business side.

I had explored a few options to stay in food, but ultimately decided to take a break from that industry for a few years. For now, I am excited to jump into something totally different.

What was I looking for?

After taking a few weeks to shut down Bento and sell our assets, the next question was, “what do I want to do next?”. There were two primary parameters: The team, & the learning potential.

Team is important to me. I wanted to find a team whom I could respect, and be eager to work with every day. I also knew that I wanted to continue to grow as a leader.

After shutting down Bento, I took time to reflect on what I could have changed. The biggest area for improvement was hiring and retaining world-class talent. I was extremely fortunate to have worked with many amazing people at Bento, but it felt like it was due to chance, not a repeatable process.

Given all of that, joining a team who considered hiring to be a skill, where we could learn together how to hire and subsequently bring out the best in people, was a major factor.

The Job Hunt & Finding LiftIgniter

The job search process was a rollercoaster. I was able to meet and/or speak with ~35 companies in January and February–primarily finding people hiring through my personal network, VCs, and AngelList.

The biggest challenge was finding a company that was de-risked enough to make me feel comfortable, and also didn’t require numerous years of direct experience in the type of job I was applying for. My last three job titles have all been CEO or Founder, so I lost a number of opportunities due to not having “enough experience”.

The best source of job leads was being posted to YC’s private job board (thanks, Jordan!). Indraneel Mukherjee, the CEO of LiftIgniter, reached out to me about their sales opening. We met a few days later and it was immediately obvious that they were building something special.

What does LiftIgniter do?

LiftIgniter makes the web more personal through machine learning. In a world where we’re all fighting for attention, creating a product that specifically caters down to the individual — specifically, You — is no longer optional. We’ve all seen Google, Facebook, and to a lesser extent, Amazon, become masters at this. LiftIgniter levels the playing field for everyone else, by making this easy for any company to do.

youtube-recommendations
The easiest example is YouTube. All of the recommended videos shown around the video you’re watching are personalized by machine learning. A human couldn’t do that. And by the way, the founder of LiftIgniter was part of the team that built that–more below.

Selling soap? Plug in LiftIgniter, and get machine learning that suggests, with a high probability of success, additional soaps for your customers to buy, based on their actions, the actions of all other customers, prior purchases and other heuristics. Suddenly, you too can have a brilliant “recommended” section on your website. Just as addictive (and profitable) as YouTube’s.

Forget Segments, Cohorts, Tagging, and all of that BS

The biggest secret about LiftIgniter is that it frees up your marketing and dev teams to focus on the things that people do best, and allows computers to focus on what they do best.

There’s no tagging of articles, creating cohorts of customers, or segmenting users. Doing that work is a waste of time. It creates an “average” customer, which truly doesn’t exist. By utilizing machine learning and LiftIgniter, we create a cohort of 1 and then create an experience unique to that individual at that point in time. This is something only a machine could do.

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A quick break to say: If you know of an e-commerce, media or B2B company that would be interested in talking with us about taking their customer experience to the next level, please email me! jason@liftigniter.com. Thank you :)
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The Team

The biggest factor in choosing to join LiftIgniter, was the team. Indraneel, the CEO, has a PhD in Theoretical Machine Learning from Princeton. He joined Google’s top machine learning research group where he was part of Sibyl, one of the most successful machine learning teams within the company. He’s one of the reasons why we’re all so addicted to YouTube. Their team of just six engineers & researchers built a product that made YouTube double digit percentage more sticky — and this was already a site that was highly optimized.

Adam, the head of business and the cofounder, is one of the most impressive sales and business people I’ve ever come across. Single-handedly, in the last 18 months, he has brought the company from ~$0 to $1.5M in ARR, and they’re quickly approaching $2M.

What this means is that they’re at a magical point. They’re profitable, and ARR is greater than the amount of capital they’ve raised! A very good point to join.

Will you start something again?

This question came up in 100% of my interviews. And the honest answer is: I have no idea. Finding product/market fit is really f***in hard. Joining a company that has just found it and is hitting the gas is an exciting point to join.

What about food?

During my time interviewing, there were a couple of opportunities in food, but ultimately, none worked out. Continuing to work to bring healthy and sustainable meals to the world still feels like unfinished business. I will certainly continue to think about the problem and look for solutions.

For now, though, I’m excited to hang up my founder hat, and am looking forward to enjoying a new fast-paced ride for the next few years.

Two Final Thoughts

  1. Who is a fantastic book on hiring and I highly recommend it. I plan to put it to the test here at LiftIgniter.
  2. We’re hiring! If joining a rocketship machine-learning-personalization-company sounds exciting, get in touch! We’re hiring engineers, sales, customer success, and marketing.

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Thanks to Vincent Cardillo, Sharon, Adam Spector and Indraneel Mukherjee for offering feedback.


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