Until a couple of years ago, initial coin offering (ICO), an unregulated means of crowdfunding new cryptocurrency ventures, had a surge in popularity as they can be initiated by just about anyone. It required significantly less marketing and transactional costs compared to other fundraising methods, and with the hype around Bitcoin and cryptocurrency, just about everyone was trying an ICO or initial token offering.
But since then the hype around them has considerably died down amidst regulatory scrutiny the latest of which comes from the US Securities and Exchange Commission. India may also ban cryptocurrency if unconfirmed reports about such a proposal being floated at the upcoming Union Budget are true. This would be the final blow for crypto enthusiasts in the country who have been dealing with the government’s complicated relationship with cryptocurrency for the past couple of years.
ICOs were nonetheless quite popular in India even during this time. When Inc42 spoke to Aharsh MS, cofounder of Accubits Technologies, last year, the blockchain and AI solutions provider was looking to de-stigmatise ICOs. It had already completed 15 ICOs and helped clients raise a total of $200 Mn in a short period of time. But a year down the road, Accubits’ identity has changed and where it was once using blockchain for cryptocurrencies and ICOs, it has completely pivoted to automation using AI and self-driving cars.
Speaking to Inc42 recently, Jithin VG, CEO and cofounder of Accubits, revealed more about the company’s artificial intelligence research lab and how it will play a leading role to drive the company’s AI platform.
About 45% of Accubits Technologies’ revenue stream is now coming from AI solutions and Jithin hints that the technology is playing a role of a facilitator rather than a driver. “There was blockchain hype that we rode on but the way in which this technology will add value to Accubits is not from decentralisation point of view but more from a transparency perspective…if you want legit AI, you need trustworthy data and blockchain technology can help with that..the technology is maturing,” he said.
According to Jithin, the company’s Coin Factory ICO offering was not seeing much traction after having a tremendous success last year, when the startup exceeded its revenue target of $2 Mn by doing $4.3 Mn, which was primarily because of Coin Factory but the hype is dying down and Accubits Technologies is looking for a new game. It turned to AI and automation for its next pasture.
With the primary mission of doing away with monotonous jobs, Jithin doubled down on this approach. He believes a startup does not see ROI as the only important criteria but instead considers other aspects which leave behind a social impact, which was a theme often brought up in our conversation.
“We will go ahead even if there is not an immediate monetisation plan if it means meeting our ideological goals,” said Jithin.
IT Garbage Jobs
Jithin expressed his exasperation with what he believes are skilled people doing unproductive IT jobs and points out it is these very roles that he hopes Accubits will automate.
“Most of the people are doing IT garbage, they are just working on normal call centre jobs, monitoring networks, I have a friend who joined us from TCS Chennai and his job was to monitor the network traffic of Bank of America website and just point out if there was an issue…more than 50 people were doing this job and I believe this can be automated,” said Jithin.
Which is exactly what happened as Jithin goes on to narrate that that particular employee created an AI model internally and automated his job. So how does this translate into business for Accubits?
It’s in the form of its product called Emotyx, built for digital security and cloud analytics that uses artificial intelligence for video surveillance and machine vision.
The other big thing that the startup is working and the most ambitious of its projects is self-driving cars. “We are building an autonomous driving car specifically made for Indian conditions. Google, Uber has been building these cars but they are for US and European roads, the same will not work in India,” said Jithin.
The startup has partnered with Intel, Arizona State University, Amaron Technologies and is in early talks with two automobile manufacturers to partner for this project.
“We tried a lot of simulators to try and emulate the Indian conditions but they weren’t any good so we had to build it ourselves and we have been testing it out for eight months now and the next step is to install it on a car,” said Jithin.
The startup is in touch with Kerala Development and Innovation Strategic Council (KDISC) and according to Jithin, the organisation is going to build a road or a section of a road in Thiruvananthapuram to test autonomous vehicles.
Among the other core offerings of the company is an AI conversation tool called ‘Cossist’ which is being used by NASA, the US Postal Service and JP Morgan Chase.
The Business Driving The Philosophy
According to Jithin, Accubits Technologies is expected to earn gross revenue of $15 Mn this year and currently to date has made $8 Mn.
Currently, 55% of the companies revenue is from blockchain and 45% from AI and this is expected to tilt further towards the latter in the future.
The startup hopes its international reach will help drive revenue growth with its presence in countries like the US, Switzerland, Indonesia, Canada, Australia and UAE. The company also has the advantage of being based in Washington D.C., which helps in accessing these markets.
But Accubits Technologies is not just waiting to hit the big time to start giving back to the startup ecosystem and has already invested in eight startups from India and abroad.
Some of the above startups that Jithin disclosed were chatbot provider Botzup, video analytics startup Emotyx, blockchain-based certification platform Accucerts and data centre operator Dataexchange. Besides giving them the funds, Accubits is also working with them to improve their offerings. One of the first steps in this journey is hiring. The company is looking to bring on board 24 AI research scientists this year.
Clearly, Accubits is serious about its research lab and is looking to bring all its innovation under one roof and create value by building IP. For now, it is a small step but shows big intent on the part of the startup in its intent to become a thought leader in AI.