When your small startup gets acquired by a megacorporation like Amazon the impact is life-changing.
That’s exactly what happened to Cambridge entrepreneur William Tunsall-Pedoe back in 2012.
The artificial intelligence (AI) guru sold his voice recognition app Evi to Amazon for a reported $26 million (£21 million), becoming an Amazon employee in the process.
Now, in an interview with Business Insider, Tunstall-Pedoe explains what it was like to go from working for yourself to being part of a much larger beast.
“I went from running a 30 person startup to having a role in an organisation that’s over 150,000 people, which is obviously a big change,” said Tunstall-Pedoe.
“As a startup you’re constantly stressed about funding. Particularly if you’re running it. We weren’t profitable so we were always burning cash. You’ve got this constant stress of a business that’s essentially always dying.
“You raise a funding round, you have ‘x’ months of cash and before that money runs out you’ve got to raise more money or become profitable.”
Evi was essentially an AI-powered app that allowed people to search for things and find answers either by typing a question into a search box or asking a question out loud. The app also supported a number of actions, including calling people and other phone functions.
Tunstall-Pedoe is one of several British entrepreneurs to sell their artificial intelligence business to a large Silicon Valley firm. VocalIQ founders Blaise Thomson, Martin Szummer and Vishal Chatrath sold their Cambridge voice recognition startup VocalIQ to Apple for up to $100 million (£80 million), while the founders of DeepMind (Demis Hassabis, Mustafa Suleyman, and Shane Legg) sold their company to Google for up to $650 million (£522 million). London-based Magic Pony Technology also sold its machine learning technology to Twitter this year for $150 million (£120 million).
“Once you’re in a megacorporation, the business is financially secure. So you can focus entirely on all of the engineering and the product,” explains Tunstall-Pedoe, who worked at Amazon for three and a half years before leaving in February.
While at Amazon, Tunstall-Pedoe held a senior product role in the team that designed, built, and launched Alexa and the Amazon Echo product.
On leaving the company, Tunstall-Pedoe said: “That was really difficult. I really love Amazon. It’s a very good business. It’s obviously very successful. A few milestones happened at the same time: 10th anniversary of the business [Evi] was quite a big psychological one. September last year I realised I’d been doing this 120% for 10 years.”
Tunstall-Pedoe is now investing in other startups in the UK and overseas, particularly those that are focusing on AI and machine learning.
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