Bootstrapping an AI Startup with Services
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Co-founder Nitesh Chawla bootstrapped Aunalytics while keeping his academic job at Notre Dame.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your story. Where are you from? Where you born, raised, and in what kind of background?
Nitesh Chawla: I’m from New Delhi although I was born in Calcutta. I did my schooling from Delhi Public School. Then I did my engineering from Pune. Then I came to the United States in 1993 right after finishing my undergrad. I went to grad school in South Florida. I got my PhD in Computer Science with a focus on Machine Learning and Data Science.
Sramana Mitra: I was also born in Calcutta. Let’s talk about what happens when you finished your PhD.
Nitesh Chawla: I had never worked in the industry before. I came only for my Master’s. I was going to graduate in 1999. All my friends decided to leave because it was the dot com boom. All my friends were going for startups and were lured by these amazing sign on bonuses. I’d already published a couple of papers. I was enjoying it, so I changed my track and went for a PhD. Most of the decisions in my life, I usually go by intuition.
I took my qualifier in that same semester. I passed. I finished my PhD in 2002. Because I had not been in the industry before, I had a fellowship from the National Academy of Sciences for a postdoc fellowship. I had an offer from CABC in Toronto. They were following some of my work that had come out from my PhD. I spent two years in banking. I remember a presentation I had where I was enamored by the beauty of the maths and algorithms that we were doing. Half the executives left the room. I was like, “Why?” They said it was a waste of their time because I didn’t get to the business.
Then I spent my time understanding how banking works. With machine learning and data science, we are not creating a new industry. What we are trying to demonstrate is that are we solving a pain point in an existing industry. I understood all those pain points. I went in with another presentation. That went really well. I started talking about the business problem. They didn’t know that the results were based on the models I talked about before. The point is he didn’t care. And he shouldn’t.
Sramana Mitra: Does it solve the problem or not?
Nitesh Chawla: Yes. That was a game-changing moment. It triggered something.
Our conversation continues here.
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