This Stanford physicist quit academia to help companies like Pepsi sell more soda

Ari tuchman quantifindQuantifindQuantifind founder and president Ari Tuchman

Quantifind president Ari Tuchman doesn’t have the background you might expect from a startup founder.

Rather than a computer science degree from Princeton or MIT, or an MBA from Harvard, Tuchman holds a PhD in atomic physics from Yale — specifically with a focus on Bose Einstein condensation. His cofounder, John Stockton, is a quantum particle physicist.

Before Quantifind, he was a research scientist with Stanford University.

“That’s kind of what I thought I’d be doing,” Tuchman says.

As you might expect, its been a long, weird trip for Quantifind’s founders from academia into the heart of the Silicon Valley tech startup scene. But it’s paid off.

Today, Quantifind announces a new $30 million investment from Redpoint Ventures as it continues its mission of helping big corporations — like Pepsi and Heineken — understand what their customers want, sell more product, and generally make better decisions.

So far, so good. Tuchman says that Quantifind is serving Fortune 1000 customers in all industries.

It’s not as big a shift as you’d think. Tuchman recalls his Yale PhD thesis advisor telling him “Half of physics is marketing.”

A new grant

The Quantifind founders didn’t really intend to end up in the data processing business.

But in 2007, the two scientists decided to team up and explore how their research could best be applied to the real world. That process involved a lot of sketching ideas and throwing them away when they realised they had been beaten to the punch, Tuchman says.

In 2009, Tuchman and Stockton had their first really solid, marketable idea: Applying their quantum particle research towards making portable MRI kits for United States Army medics to use on the battlefield. The two spent months working from a Silicon Valley doughnut shop, filing the paperwork to patent the battlefield MRI technology.

Mri brain scanVimeo/JonOA surprising amount of quantum physics goes into a high-accuracy MRI reading.

The good news for Tuchman and Stockton was that the patent got them noticed by the National Science Foundation, the US government’s research investment agency.

The weird part was that the NSF wasn’t interested in the MRI aspect — they were interested in the intensely complicated maths their scanner used under the hood to filter out quantum signal from microscopic noise.

“Just a bit of the signal you’re interpreting is actually meaningful,” Tuchman explains.

At the teeny-tiny particle physics level, you need to know how to separate out, say, dust particles from the atom-size bits of tissue you’re trying to analyse. Those same equations can be fine-tuned to sift through Excel spreadsheets and other troves of data to sift the answers you need from the proverbial haystack.

With NSF grant money in hand, Quantifind was officially incorporated in 2009.

The Disney challenge

Quantifind’s earliest customers included the CIA, which used Quantifind’s technology to trace counterfeit money and suss out fake identities of known criminals, Tuchman says. It also got used by medical researchers to pull out answers from genetic data.

All of these “fun, fairly random” customer deals were fine, Tuchman says. But a lack of a real direction for the company slowed things down when it came time to go out and seek investor cash.

“Hey, great job catching terrorists and curing cancer, but can you help me sell more movie tickets?” a Disney exec told him after a pitch, as Tuchman recalls.

Those kinds of comments snapped Quantifind’s model into focus: Rather than just do a few isolated data analysis deals here and there, it would reposition itself as a way for big companies to look at Facebook, Twitter, and the like, and use it to figure out the future of the business.

Quantifind signumQuantifindQuantifind’s flagship Signum engine.

In other words, Quantifind helps its customers — mostly Fortune 1000-level companies in Hollywood, restaurants, retail, and other industries — use social media to figure out which way customers are going to jump when it comes to any given product or service, and adjust their business accordingly.

It comes back to that quantum imaging thing. People watching about a movie trailer aren’t necessarily going to go see the movie. But if they post a link to the trailer on their Facebook, alongside a comment about how they can’t wait for date night (or whatever), it probably means they will shell out for a ticket.

Quantifind cuts through that noise and goes beyond what Tuchman describes as “buzz and sentiment” to give you a better guess of where customers will spend their money. If you detect that they like (or don’t like) a product or video, you can tailor your business accordingly.

“We kind of tackled the Disney challenge head on,” Tuchman says.

(Tuchman says Quantifind can’t comment on whether Disney, or any other big company, is a current customer.)

Against the grain

Since 2009, Quantifind has raised $42 million in investment cash, including the funding round today. In the middle of 2015, Quantifind hired Adobe veteran David Karnstedt as CEO, freeing the founders up to focus on the product.

The new round will go towards the overall growth of Quantifind, from hiring to product R&D. Tuchman says that there’s a certain point at which you just need a cash infusion in order to grow.

While rivals including startup Mixpanel and IBM Watson also have similar prediction-based businesses, Tuchman says that they measure completely different things than Qunatifind.

Tuchman says that the market for startup funding may be slow today, as investors reconsider their positions amid a larger market slowdown, sure. But it’s about the same level as 2009, when Quantifind was first going after funding in the wake of the massive funding bubble, Tuchman says.

And in both cases, the company was able to find some cash, after all. That’s because in 2009, as now, it’s just important to make sure that the core of the business is strong and that you’re actually making money, not just hype.

“The similarity between ’09 and now is a real focus on making sure what’s under the hood is real,” Tuchman says.

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