The origin story of Text IQ begins in 19th century Britain. Kind of.
The seed was planted when Apoorv Agarwal, CEO and co-founder, who was working on his Ph.D. in Computer Science at Columbia University, harnessed the power of machine learning to map out and understand the characters and the hierarchy of their relationships in Jane Austen’s Emma (pub. 1815). Apoorv spent a decade developing this new kind of artificial intelligence (AI) that was able to understand the context behind the printed words. He stepped away from his Ph.D. at one point to join the original team developing IBM’s Watson, and in doing so, developed several patents. His research, including his Ph.D. project titled, “Social Network Extraction From Text,” was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).
Around the same time, Omar Haroun, COO and co-founder, already a burgeoning serial-entrepreneur, earned his JD/MBA from Columbia University. He met Apoorv in 2011 thanks to a colleague at his startup, the consumer health app Sportaneous (purchased by Greatist, and then Healthline), and a serendipitous friendship emerged. After Omar’s startup, Sportaneous, was acquired in 2014, he and Apoorv reconnected.
And that’s when the fun started!
Apoorv Agarwal shares 'How it All Started' at the 2020 virtual company retreat
A grant from the NSF’s Innovation Corps, or I-Corps, designed to get groundbreaking research out of the lab and into the hands of those who could benefit from utilizing the technology, prompted Apoorv and Omar to interview hundreds of people dealing (or coping) with unstructured data on a regular basis. To avoid the pitfall that many startups succumb to - interesting ideas with no clear and urgent consumer need - the pair made the conscious decision to not allow their technology to determine the trajectory of their business. So instead of exercising coding skills, they chose to exercise their listening skills.
Over the next few months, Apoorv and Omar interviewed several hundred professionals across many industries and specialties, including executives from Goldman Sachs, Apple, Oracle, Nationwide Insurance, and Boehringer Ingelheim, to hear directly from the people who dealt with unstructured data in order to better understand the burdens associated with it and which problems kept them up at night. What they discovered was a class of problems that they knew their technology could help solve for large enterprises - the proper identification and handling of sensitive data.
"The status quo for finding sensitive information involved search terms and human bodies, which beyond costing billions of dollars, also proved to be a highly risky strategy, which was only getting worse as data volumes continued to grow exponentially."
- Apoorv Agarwal
This type of customer discovery and testing of hypotheses saved Apoorv and Omar from investing lots of resources into non-problems and they were able to quickly move on to more burning issues where their solution could greatly benefit industries.
“Customer discovery is core to our company DNA. For example, we had an early idea to build a compliance dashboard that could solve an issue for large hedge funds. We could have easily made the assumption that this was a major issue and invested a lot of time and money into creating a product. Instead, we decided to test out our hypothesis and ran the idea by several relevant professionals. And, ten conversations later, we learned that even if we spent two years building the perfect solution the market size would be negligible, so we discarded that idea after one week and moved on to the next hypothesis.”
- Omar Haroun
This example reinforced the importance of customer validation. A few meetings and phone calls to better understand the needs and challenges of potential customers are always worth the effort involved and is one reason why today one of Text IQ’s core values is Customer Centricity.
The need for a technology solution that enabled the identification and management of sensitive information such as privileged, confidential, and personally identifiable information in a vast amount of unstructured data was clear and growing for enterprises. The enormity of this yet untapped opportunity soon became so clear to Apoorv and Omar that Omar quit his job and Apoorv left academia to invest all of their time and efforts into creating the category-defining company tackling AI for sensitive, unstructured data.
“Despite numerous opportunities and applications that we saw across all industries for our technology,” Apoorv shared, “I wanted to apply a major learning from my time working on the Watson team: don’t try to be everything to everyone.” So they decided to focus initially on an AI solutions where they could demonstrate a 10x improvement over the status quo.
When Apoorv and Omar revisited some of the executives they had interviewed initially with a minimally viable product to show them, the sale practically made itself. The executives felt like the software was their own creation - and, in part, it was.
Checking off the boxes of the executives’ wish list, the pair was able to prove in real, live scenarios that their technology could indeed transform the status quo. It could even handle identifying extremely nuanced sensitive data. And, it could do it at scale. This meant that manual processes that once took months to complete, could now be completed in a few short weeks with minimal risk and near perfect accuracy.
After gaining trust and confidence from general counsels, it was only a matter of time before Text IQ’s customers wanted to utilize this groundbreaking technology for new use-cases including compliance, privacy, and even HR. Again, the technology was able to dramatically improve on current operations by retrieving sensitive information with unprecedented speed and accuracy. Enterprise subscription customers who used the software across several departments saw additional benefits. “Since the Brain continues to ‘learn’ an organization, our customers see turnaround times decrease and accuracy increase the more it is utilized. So with each additional dataset, the software gets faster and more precise than before,” Omar shared.
Over the next few years, the company experienced a fury of growth, education, and excitement. Here are just a few of the highlights:
- Raised Series A funding from top VC firms (read more here)
- Featured in top publications, such as Forbes and TechCrunch
- Call 50% of top life sciences companies and 40% of top banks customers
- Grew headcount exponentially with the best and brightest
Looking back, they’ve definitely come a long way with no sign of stopping in sight. And, with guidance from advisors, Apoorv and Omar continue to grow Text IQ with an open ear to customers and employees.
To learn more about the Text IQ adventure of continued growth, read the 2020 Year in Review.