We are here today with Rob McInerney, the founder of IntelligentX. It’s really great to be in this AI beer
brewery and we’re going to talk about how to start your own business, how to get ideas, how to grow a start-up, and how to use AI to create something innovative. So, first question to you Rob How did it all start? Where did the idea come from? So, I did a PhD in machine learning I spent a long time
looking at how we should create machines that can learn from experience, go out
and make decisions in the world. I originally started my company
pretty naively, not really knowing much about business or the kind of problems
that I could solve. But having this kind of belief that the stuff
I’ve worked on during my PhD was valuable and could be applied to certain problems. After fishing around a bunch of different avenues a friend of mine and I was
sitting down drinking beers in a WeWork, a co-working space in London. And had this idea that we could apply algorithms
to product innovation and actually specifically within beer. We played around these ideas for a little
bit and then ultimately came to what we now have which is what IntelligentX is. Which is a product that continually changes based on customer feedback Then the decisions derive from that customer feedback
are all organised through A.I. Going back to the first day when
you came up with the idea and decided to start this fantastic project. What happened next? Where did you find money to
brew your first batch? How did you assemble the team? So, we literally came down here. Out of our own pockets paid to make,
I think, we made 57 bottles. And it cost us £7.50 per
bottle to produce. It was ridiculous. We went to an event and gave them all away for free …which hurt a little bit. But it was, you know, a great opportunity
just to kind of see the response. I mean, it was a minimal
investment, but gained us a lot. As we went on, we started running some small-scale events, producing really small batches. But really at that point it was just
about further validating the idea. Were lucky enough to get accepted onto
an accelerator programme Techstars in New York and so that gave us a certain
amount of funding. How much funding did they give you? The standard Techstars grant is you do
a three or four month programme they offer you a combined total of $120,000 and that’s split between a convertible note
and some cash equity. Outside Silicon Valley we have more of a tendency towards growing businesses that
are generating revenue upfront. And I tend to favour that at the moment,
at least as an approach. Where as you go into the Valley,
you look at these kind of miniature businesses that really sacrifice revenue for growth.
But there’s different arguments for saying one is better than the other. But, you know, I like the attitude that we’ve taken which is – prove the business and
trying to make make some money off it as well. What was the biggest disaster that
happened to you throughout the years? We got we got four strands of beer. We have American pale ale, we have a golden ale,
amber ale and an English Porter. And the first iteration of the English Porter was incredibly smokey. It tasted like a Laphroaig whiskey to me anyway. I sort of drank it, opened the bottle… …and there was about two hundred people
coming to this event.. and I was like –
oh god, I don’t like this at all! So I gave it to the guy I started the company with and he was like – love it! I was like, okay, fine, we’ll put it out.
And it was amazing. Whilst I thought it was gonna be a
nightmare it was a real Marmite beer – some people absolutely
loved and some people didn’t like it. What if they think wrong?
What if the product becomes worse? Steve Jobs was always at the opinion that people don’t know what they want
until you show it to them. Having said that, I think that once you put stuff in front of people,
you get a much better idea about what they really want.
The true thing is you can have a good idea, but until you put it in front of people
you don’t really know whether it’s gonna work or not. After one of our early iterations
the algorithms asked would people like a stronger
beer. Almost everyone said they’d like more alcohol in the recipe.
So we went out and made a stronger beer. But what happened was that when we made that
and gathered feedback, people liked it less. So we learnt by going out, making mistake
and then gathering feedback, we learnt not to make that same mistake again.
So now the algorithms may ask the same question,
but they’ll learn how to differentiate. Knowing everything you’ve been through what advice
would you give yourself? The one thing I’ve always done in
this business is, kind of, kept at it. And, you know, that’s not always easy. You know, when you’re starting a company and you’re truly trying to do something new, there’s frequent setbacks. I think most weeks there’ll
be something where I’ll sit there and go ‘this has not gone at all to plan’.
And you really have to sit there and regroup, and make new decisions. As long as you go into it with an attitude
that that’s completely fine, then there aren’t any problems. You know, rather than viewing these
things as setbacks, you just view them as the next step in your journey and
another thing just to be resolved. And, I think, that being comfortable with the idea
that you have a finite pool of resources at your disposal.
And they may be some combination of money, team, your own mental faculties and abilities to stomach the emotion of it all.
And it’s okay to understand that some of those run out. And you just have to make
decisions based on that. And not blame the world and worry too much
that that’s the case. And just keep going, basically.