AI Fund, the venture studio and investment firm that I lead, recently held a summit where CEOs and founders of portfolio companies shared ideas on topics from fundraising to building team culture. I was struck by how frequently startup leaders have to do things they have no expertise in.
As AI developers, every time we build a machine learning application, we might choose a neural network architecture, tune a dataset, train a model, evaluate its performance, and consider the outcome to decide what to try next. The rapid iteration cycle means we can try many combinations in a given project. Over many projects, we hone our intuitions about what works. The quick feedback and opportunity to improve are among the things that makes machine learning fun!
In contrast, hardly anyone starts 100 companies even in a long career. No one raises seed funding, builds a company culture, hires a vice president of sales, or makes an initial public offering very many times. Thus few people can become experts at performing these tasks through repeated practice.
That’s why I believe that the smartest startup leaders know when they need help and understand that no single person can do it all. A community of peers, each of whom has raised funding once or twice, can pool ideas and achieve better results than the typical individual. Similarly a recruiter who has hired 100 sales executives is likely to have valuable insights that someone who has done it only once or twice won’t.
Although software development allows for repeated practice, we, too, often have to do things we don’t have much experience with, because technology keeps evolving. Someone may find themselves, for the first time, deploying a real-time machine learning system, compressing a neural network to run on a low-power edge device, or calculating the return on investment in an AI project. In situations like this we, too, are stronger as a community. We can benefit from the experience of our peers who have completed the task and know something about how to go about it.
When I was younger I believed that, if only I worked and studied a bit harder, I could figure almost anything out. That attitude worked well enough for a while, but the more experience I gain, the more I realize that I need help from others. I’m grateful to the many people who have given me advice over the years, and I hope that the AI community can be a place where all of us can collaborate and support one another.