Meet the 22-year old founder who wants to build the Amazon Web Services of machine learning technology

Alexandr Wang

Instead of walking across the stage at his graduation ceremony
this summer, Alexandr Wang celebrated a bigger milestone: His
3-year-company, Scale AI, had successfully raised $100 million in
funding and was officially worth $1 billion.

Wang’s startup, which focuses on the seemingly-mundane business
of
data
labeling,
has caught the attention of some of Silicon Valley’s
biggest names, including early-stage firm Accel and Twitch
cofounder Justin Kan. On August 7, Wang deepened his investor bench
with the $100 million Series C, which was led by Peter Thiel’s
venture firm Founders Fund and included industry heavyweights Spark
Capital, Thrive Capital, and Instagram cofounder Kevin Systrom.

The flood of investor interest is because Wang’s data labeling
service is effectively a bridge into the realm of artificial
intelligence; without it, many businesses will be stuck on the
wrong side of a major technological shift.  

For Wang, getting crowned with a $1 billion “unicorn” valuation
is an important symbolic moment.

“While funding rounds valuations are not the goal, they are true
milestones that sort of demonstrate, ‘Hey, all the great work that
everyone’s been doing has been paying off,'” Wang told Business
Insider.

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Scale AI is the result of Wang’s side projects during his
one-year stint at MIT. The New Mexico-native realized that many
data-rich companies weren’t able to properly use the data at their
disposable because it hadn’t been accurately curated for machine
learning applications. Three years later, Scale AI provides

data labeling services
for clients in a range of industries
that includes everything from
autonomous vehicles
to
medical imaging
.

“We really, really look up to [Amazon Web Services] because I
think they did exactly what we aspire to do,” Wang said. They
started with a few problems that were really painful. But the thing
that’s crazy is that basically AI and machine learning are moving
so quickly as technologies.”

In it for the long haul

As machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies
gain steam across industries, the race is on among startups hoping
to become the “AWS of machine learning,” as Wang described
it. 

“It’s really critical that we’re able to power these industries
really safely in a non-biased way,” Wang said. “I think it’s kind
of a forever challenge in the sense that we’ll always be pushing
ourselves to get better. I don’t think anybody could ever have
expected this sort of like level of investment and adoption of
machine learning that we’re seeing right now.”

To keep up with the growth throughout the industry, not to
mention investor expectations, Wang has had to rapidly hire
specialized machine learning engineers, a task that has proven
difficult for even the largest technology companies in Silicon
Valley.

“The big companies aren’t helping, but machine learning is a
skill that’s in such high demand right now. It makes hiring very
difficult,” Wang said.

Wang said his 100-person team operates “close to break even or
even profitable” across three offices in Germany and San Francisco.
He told Business Insider that he is planning on moving the team to
a new office in San Francisco, where the team is currently split
across two offices because of the rapid growth it has experienced.
As the startup grew,
investors started courting Wang to hopefully back his
business
.

“I got to meet Katy Perry. I was like, yes, yeah, definitely
Instagram that,” Wang said, recalling an introduction to the pop
star arranged by a VC seeking to curry favor. 

But now that the dust has settled and the funds are in the bank,
Wang is excited to get back to work building the next major
infrastructure tool for machine learning technology and leading his
growing team.

“I’m in it for the long haul. I certainly think that the best
companies in the world are led by their founders,” Wang said. “I
mean, the people in Silicon Valley are so adaptable. That’s part of
what makes Silicon Valley great, right?”

SEE ALSO: Stanford
researchers found evidence that racial bias against venture-capital
funds led by people of color increases the better the funds
perform


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Meet the 22-year old founder who wants to build the Amazon Web Services of machine learning technology