Most investors won’t even consider a startup pitch unless they know the founders, or have had a “warm intro” to them.
But 25-year-old Dhruv Gulati might be the exception to the rule, after he emailed billionaire investor Mark Cuban without any introduction to pitch his anti-fake news startup Factmata — and persuaded him to invest.
Cuban has just participated in its seed round, along with Zynga founder Mark Pincus, and Brightmail founder Sunil Paul.
“I had a key list of people I wanted to have on board and Mark [Cuban] was one of them,” Ghulati told Business Insider. “Every single investor we have has some element of being extremely strategic and important for the business. It was about making that clear to the investor, as opposed to just: ‘Why am I randomly emailing you?'”
Factmata wants to use artificial intelligence to tackle the proliferation of fake and misleading news. The startup aims to be a cross between Wikipedia and Quora, with a community of users fact-checking or marking news articles for quality with the help of AI. Those users might involve everyday internet users, but also journalists.
The startup is building its first product for launch next year: a news aggregator which will show the quality score, and offer up extra links for context. Eventually, Factmata might offer its underlying technology to PR firms, media outlets, and other organisations for a fee.
Ghulati’s thesis is that journalism’s prevalent ad-funded model has encouraged news outlets to pursue eyeballs through sensationalism and misinformation. The rise of that model online coincides with the decline of the sub-editor in newsrooms, the person who rigorously checks articles before they are published.
All of this, he said, has helped contribute to waning trust in the mainstream media — which in turn may have led to the rise of fake news.
A journalist might be sceptical that any kind of quality-checking on articles can be outsourced to machine learning. But Ghulati said it was about building tools to assist, not replace, the fact-checking process.
He said: “Not all of it can be done with machine learning. Hopefully there’ll also be input gathered from a big community of users, the Wikipedia model. That’s what we’re aiming for, a credibility score on information.”
The team has a strong pedigree. CTO Robert Stojnic was formerly a developer at Wikipedia, building out the platform’s search function. And Dhruv’s cofounders are two machine learning specialists: UCL researcher Sebastian Riedel and UCL research associate Andreas Vlachos.
Cuban said of the team in a statement: “I was impressed by the team’s pedigree, technical talent, and sheer drive to solve this problem.
“If we want to solve fake news, thinking about it at web scale via artificial intelligence and automation is the only way. And being outside the media or fact checking world allows them to see the problem in a different way. Factmata is a group of entrepreneurs trying to solve a challenging problem with an amazing mission.”
Factmata isn’t the only project trying to tackle fake news. Facebook has added new features to alert people to misinformation, while Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales launched community-powered news outlet Wikitribune earlier this year.
Ghulati is sceptical that Facebook can solve the fake news problem by itself.
“We’re a platform fully focus on quality of information,” he said. “With Facebook, it’s not in their model, it’s not what they think about. And they’re ads-incentivised. Clearly there’s a demand from the public to solve these problems, and whether platforms can do that to an adequate level — who knows? But we’re 100% focused on it.”
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