Founded in 2022, Kombai is an AI-based platform that enables developers to convert UI design into usable code
The Pune-based startup has announced the launch of its public research preview, along with its $4.5 Mn funding round
Kombai plans to continue working on its development efforts by gathering feedback from its research preview and improving the underlying models
The user interface (UI) is the first point of contact between a product or service and its users. As such, it dictates the entire user experience for any app or website. Indeed, one of the ways that startups and small enterprises one-up competition is through innovative and delightful UI.
At the same time, broken or clunky UI can create a damaging user experience. However, getting the right talent for frontend development (which is the technical term for UI development) is not exactly inexpensive. Startups, especially at the early stage, are limited by cash and talent resources, which results in UI/UX gaps.
While some have tried to leverage artificial intelligence (AI) tools such as image processing models (Midjourney, DALL-E, et al) to solve the UI problem, the results have been far from perfect. Most image-processing AI models are not as proficient as large language models such as ChatGPT or Bard in generating code, which is the foundation of great UI and therefore UX.
But former Mindtickle executives Dipanjan Dey and Abhijit Bhole want to change this with Kombai. Generative AI has opened up a whole range of new models, and the duo wanted to create a product that designs like humans and has the ability to write code accurately for frontend development.
Dey and Bhole set up Kombai in 2022 and since then it has been a 16-month journey to develop the right frameworks for the product’s generative AI model, from scratch. As the founders claimed, they wanted to ‘bring fun back to frontend development’.
Essentially, Kombai is a dev tool to automate mechanical frontend development tasks, which accounts for a lot of man-hours and cost. This allows dev teams to focus on writing the best code possible and making meaningful improvements to the product.
Developers give Kombai visual input and prompts, which are converted into usable code for frontend and UI development. “We are building a generative AI model that understands design as humans do,” Dey told Inc42.
Today, the Pune-based startup has announced the launch of its public research preview, along with its $4.5 Mn seed funding round led by Stellaris Venture Partners and Foundation Capital, with angel participation from CTOs and SaaS executives.
Coding With AI: The New Norm?
Kombai’s primary aim is to eliminate mundane, repetitive work that frontend and full-stack developers have to put themselves through to create UI.
According to Dey, there are 5 Mn frontend developers and 15 Mn full-stack developers in the world. “Most of them are spending a disproportionate amount of their time, anything between 25% to 75%, on doing a bunch of really mundane mechanical stuff that they hate doing,” he claimed.
But Kombai employs the term “generative AI” with some creative freedom. While it does respond to prompts similar to ChatGPT and Midjourney, the startup asserts that it excels in generating frontend code that surpasses the accuracy and usability of larger language models (LLMs).
According to Dey, tackling UI design complexity is challenging for vision and language models. This prompted the startup to develop its own AI model, tailor-made for UI development.
UI design and development involves taking inspiration from existing work and frameworks. But developers cannot just translate visuals into code — they have to make hundreds of micro-decisions, which poses problems for existing generative AI models.
“That’s the technology that we have built. We have those fundamental models that can hopefully interpret design files as a human being does. We are not doing this mechanically just based on the visual prompts, but adding that human intuition on top of this,” Dey claimed.
Kombai is an ‘ensemble’ of deep learning and heuristic AI models, which enables it to understand various parts of the UI and generate code as a developer does. The deep learning component gives the system a wealth of data to build new code, while the heuristic rules are intended to increase Kombai’s probability of responding in the right manner. Plus, this helps the startup prioritise speed over accuracy to give several results.
Dey said before starting up, the startup did not expect to build the entire algorithm from scratch. During the ideation stage, the founders were able to talk to large companies working in LLMs, including OpenAI and others, about addressing UI development with existing AI models.
However, their general-purpose solutions did not address niche problems very easily.
“So I think it has been challenging, but it has also been a very interesting exercise for us, to solve something that has not been done anywhere in the world. I don’t think anybody in the world has still sort of come up with a new model that can understand design,” CEO Dey claimed.
While there are tools such as Adobe XD and Figma that allow developers to translate design and visuals to code, Kombai is able to bring better accuracy and context in terms of different coding requirements and languages. However, developers need to have Figma accounts to import designs from the design software.
Kombai competes with Locofy.ai, another Indian startup allowing customers to turn design to code. Other startups such as Sydney-based Relume are looking to take a similar approach to web design.
The Next Leap
Having secured its seed funding, Kombai will look to improve the underlying models and focus on product development. The startup also plans to expand its team of 12 in the coming months.
According to the cofounder and CEO, most of the funding will be utilised for product development. “There are some specific areas of focus in terms of product development. The first would be developing, and improving the underlying models further,” Dey added.
The startup expects to learn a lot from its research review phase and implement the feedback in the foundational mode, more frugally than large model players such as OpenAI.
Kombai also plans to invest more in the product workflows around its fundamental model.
Trailblazed by OpenAI and ChatGPT, generative AI has taken the world by storm since last year. India has also seen startups either launch generative AI products or make the tech their front and centre.
The likes of SocialBoat, ZuAI and many others have placed their bets on generative AI, with major names such as Zomato, Swiggy, BYJU’S and Freshworks also experimenting with generative AI-based products.
While there are no immediate plans for monetising the platform, Dey said the plan was to first accumulate feedback from the public research preview. “For individual developers, I think the research preview phase at least is not going to be monetised at least for the next six months,” said Dey, adding that Kombai will be enterprise-focused for the time being.