Three Themes for AI Entrepreneurs Starting an AI company? Three keys to AI entrepreneurship emerged at AI Fund’s annual co-founder and CEO summit.

Reading time
2 min read
Three Themes for AI Entrepreneurs: Starting an AI company? Three keys to AI entrepreneurship emerged at AI Fund’s annual co-founder and CEO summit.

Dear friends,

Earlier this month, my team AI Fund held its annual co-founder and CEO summit, where many of our collaborators gathered in California for two days to discuss how to build AI companies. Three themes emerged from many presentations: persistence, fast iteration and community. 

Persistence. Doing impactful work is hard! Tim Westergren (founder and former CEO of Pandora, Venture Advisor at AI Fund) said it was only on his 348th venture pitch that Pandora raised its Series A round of funding. He also spoke about the tough time when Pandora team members went without salaries for an extended period of time to try to make the company work out. While many people unfortunately are not in a position to make such sacrifices to build a business, sometimes it does take extraordinary effort — and, yes, sacrifices — to do something really meaningful. 

Fast iteration. AI Fund’s process of building startups is focused on a three- month, bi-weekly sprint process, in which we iterate quickly through technical prototypes as well as business ideas. Bill MacCartney (former VP of Cohere, Venture Advisor at AI Fund) said, “The best way to start is just by building on top of . . . whatever the best model is . . .. Don’t worry about [cost or latency] at first. You’re really just trying to validate the idea.” 

One technique that’s now very widespread for prototyping is retrieval augmented generation (RAG). I’ve been surprised at how many nontechnical business leaders seem to know what RAG is. Investors are sometimes leery of people who build a thin layer around LLMs. As Laurence Moroney (lead AI Advocate at Google, AI Fund Fellow) says, “I’m a huge fan of RAG . . .. I think this is one way to go beyond a thin veneer around [commercial] models and build a somewhat thicker veneer.” 

Community. Despite the wide range of startups represented in sectors including deep AI tech, healthcare, finance, edtech, and so on, a recurring theme was that company builders end up stronger when they come together. Emil Stefanutti (co-founder of ContractRoom, Venture Advisor at AI Fund) said he was glad that many of the scars he has acquired by building businesses are turning out to be treasures for others, as he's able to share experiences that other entrepreneurs can benefit from. Tim Westergren said, “You can’t white-knuckle it. You also can’t do it alone.”

The themes of persistence, fast iteration, and community apply whether you work in a large company, startup, research, government, or elsewhere. When I think of innovators in any field, I often think of Teddy Roosevelt’s message:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the [person] who points out how the strong [person] stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the [person] who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, … who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause.”

Keep learning!



Subscribe to The Batch

Stay updated with weekly AI News and Insights delivered to your inbox