Spiketrap raises $3 million for AI-based social media intelligence platform


Spiketrap has raised $3 million for its AI platform that helps brands understand how they are engaging with consumers on social media. The San Francisco-based company processes tons of text-based social data — like Twitter posts — to discern how consumers view a brand or a game in real time. When a big event happens, such as the launch of a new game like Nintendo’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Spiketrap can collect the prevailing sentiment about the game.

“This is really exciting for us to raise money with a fantastic syndicate of people,” said Spiketrap CEO Kieran Fitzpatrick in an interview with GamesBeat. “We continue to grow our core product with a focus on understanding language, specifically the language of the internet.” The company is also expanding from PC and console games to include mobile games.

Spiketrap said that 90% of all data on the internet is unstructured and brands that neglect this data are making major decisions on a fraction of the total information. Spiketrap’s AI-powered platform enables companies and brands to understand what people are saying about them as they’re saying it, reducing the time it takes to get key insights and change messaging as needed.

The company’s initial focus has been on video games and what people are saying about them. The vernacular is challenging, and the sector is a moving target, but Spiketrap says it has been able to make headway.

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“Over time, we’ll round out the customer base and expand into new markets like movies, entertainment, and ancillary entertainment,” Fitzpatrick said. “Gaming was the most difficult market.”

What Spiketrap is learning

Above: Spiketrap can drill down on just about any game to get sentiment.

Image Credit: Spiketrap

Fitzpatrick said the company’s proprietary technology is able to ingest massive amounts of data in real time and contextually understand what is being discussed while eliminating spam and noise. For example, a FIFA soccer scandal was unfolding at the same time as one of the recent video game shows, and a cursory analysis would have concluded that FIFA was winning the video game show. In fact, most of the references were to things other than the video game itself, Fitzpatrick said.

“It was very obvious that [the cursory analysis] was incorrect,” Fitzpatrick said. “We take a multiple vector approach.”

Spiketrap uses natural language processing to understand terms like those used in the game industry and figure out whether the sentiment is positive or negative.

In one case, a game box cover featured two Black women, which upset a tiny group of gamers. But the majority of people on the internet had no issue with the cover, and Spiketrap convinced others not to worry about the comments.

“That helped restore my faith in humanity,” Fitzpatrick said.

The Last of Us Part II generated a strong negative reaction, as some users didn’t like the path of the story or the diverse characters in the cast of the PlayStation 4 game from Naughty Dog and Sony. But Fitzpatrick said he didn’t see much negativity in overall sentiment.

“There is a chunk of conversation that’s negative,” he said. “But then there are other positive conversations happening.”

Spiketrap pumps more than 400 sources of data into its AI engine, which parses the data, said chief business officer Mike Owen, who joined the company last year. That range of input helps it with accuracy, he said.

“We are able to ingest massive amounts of data at scale in real time, strip out the noise, and produce coherent conversations,” Owen said.

Moving forward

Above: Spiketrap can show what’s trending or not.

Image Credit: Spiketrap

The best thing about this platform is that users don’t have to be search geniuses, Fitzpatrick said. You don’t have to formulate complex queries or use boolean algebra to search through the data, as Spiketrap surfaces the insights for you.

Spiketrap’s first customers have been video game publishers, developers, and streaming platforms, including Ubisoft, Bethesda, 2K, and numerous equity research companies focused on the media and entertainment space.

Now Spiketrap is ready to expand to other industries, Fitzpatrick said. The company plans to use the new funds to double down on its mission of helping brands make decisions based on consumer sentiment.

“You need to know if you’re winning the hearts of your audience, and then [understand] how to have a genuine conversation with them based on what folks are saying,” Owen said.

Fitzpatrick and Adam Sessler started the company in 2016, and it currently has 15 employees. Sessler, a well-known video game personality, left the company in March of this year, though Fitzpatrick declined to comment on the reasons for his departure.

Susa Ventures led the recent funding round, with participation from 645 Ventures, Pathbreaker Ventures, Oceans Ventures, WndrCo, SV Angel, Anorak Ventures, Harry Stebbings of 20VC, and some strategic angels.

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Elementary Robotics raises $12.7 million to automate industrial inspections

Elementary Robotics, a robotics company developing tools to automate industrial tasks, today announced it has raised a $12.7 million round. The fresh capital will be used to deploy the Los Angeles-based startup’s automation products at scale, a spokesperson told VentureBeat.

McKinsey pegs the automation potential for production occupations at 79%, and the pandemic is likely to accelerate this shift. A report by the Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte found that 4.6 million manufacturing jobs will need to be filled over the next decade, and challenges brought on by physical distancing measures and a sustained uptick in ecommerce activity have stretched some logistics operations to the limit. The National Association of Manufacturers says 53.1% of manufacturers anticipate a change in operations due to the health crisis, with 35.5% saying they’re already facing supply chain disruptions.

Elementary asserts it’s prepared to address the industry’s challenges. The company, which has kept a low profile since its founding in 2017, offers products that automate industrial inspections using a combination of hardware, software, machine learning, and computer vision to identify defects — including those manufacturers might not be aware of. It enables manufacturers to set up inspections in the cloud so human inspectors can be kept in the loop and trace and train the systems over time.

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Elementary offers a “full stack” robotic solution, with everything from motor controls to an API that “enables machine learning from the ground up.” The company’s robots can learn to perform monotonous tasks and leverage RGB cameras, depth sensors, and AI to “perceive the world,” allowing them to learn from processes they observe.

CEO Arye Barnehama, who previously founded and sold wearable technology company Melon to Daqri, an industrial augmented reality startup that went on to raise $275 million, wasn’t willing to reveal much beyond the basics about Elementary’s solutions. But he believes the company is poised to become a “world leader” in assistive robotics, in part because of a proprietary vision stack with a lower bill of materials than many competing systems.

Elementary Robotics certainly has the talent to deliver on that vision. It counts graduates and employees from Qualcomm, Caltech, NASA JPL, SpaceX, and Art Center College of Design among its workforce, all of whom are working on “cutting-edge” robotic systems that will one day augment human workers by performing a range of complex tasks.

In a testament to its competitiveness, Elementary says it has inked deals with a number of manufacturing and logistics suppliers, including Toyota. Its customers have transitioned from sample-based inspection to 100% inspection and seen reduced scrap rates as workflows have become easier to standardize across factories and production lines.

Threshold Ventures led this week’s series A, with participation from existing backers Fika Ventures, Fathom Capital, and Toyota AI Ventures. The round brings Elementary’s total raised to over $15 million.

With the warehouse robotics market alone anticipated to be worth $4.44 billion by 2022, according to Markets and Markets, there’s no shortage of competition. Amazon acquired robotics company Kiva Systems for $775 million in March 2012, and last November DHL announced it would invest $300 million to modernize its warehouses in North America with internet of things sensors and robots. Elsewhere, Startups like Attabotics and CommonSense Robotics have raised tens of millions of dollars for compact automated fulfillment centers that can slot into tight spaces, like underground garages.

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CIO Interview: Amex Global Business Travel CTO on incident response


Like many global firms, American Express Global Business Travel (Amex GBT) needed to adapt its IT department overnight after the industry was brought to a rapid standstill by the coronavirus outbreak.

David Thompson, chief technology officer (CTO) for products and technology at Amex GBT, says the company began seeing lockdowns appear in late January, and the company kicked emergency response measures into gear to support clients and protect its staff.

As Computer Weekly has previously reported, Amex GBT’s corporate customers are placing increasing importance on duty of care in the light of terrorist incidents and other misfortunes. For instance, when Brussels Airport was bombed in March 2016, Amex GBT could tell where travellers were because it had their Amex card data.

Amex GBT runs a large virtual response team which operates on a regional basis, and the company realised that the incident response services it offers clients could be adapted to the global pandemic.

Thompson says the incident response strategy aims to respond to client needs and keep American Express GBT’s own employees safe. “We have a pretty mature incident response and made an early decision to close offices,” he says. “If our people were travelling, we made provisions to get them back home. We leverage our data to determine where our people are located, their access online and whether they are working remotely or at an office.”

Because the response to the pandemic varied by country and region, Thompson says the company modified one of its products, Duty of Care, to provide the latest travel advice around the coronavirus. Duty of Care provides Amex GBT clients with the latest travel advice and tracks incidents that they should be cautious of, such as the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud  that caused huge disruption across Western Europe in April 2010.

“We have a pretty mature incident response and made an early decision to close offices”

David Thompson, Amex GBT

Thompson says: “We built a database rapidly, taking content from the World Health Organization and data from governments around the globe. For instance, if a client was travelling to Chile, we could find all current restrictions, which we could then communicate back to them.”

Using agile methodologies, it took seven engineers just four days to add in the new data sets to the existing Duty of Care product, says Thompson. Amex GBT’s bigger customers connect Duty of Care directly into their HR systems to link into the pre-trip approval process. Here, it offers risk assessment and regional information that business travellers need to be aware of when visiting a country.

With lockdown measures being eased, Thompson says the coronavirus advice has been made available to Amex GBT clients via a portal, which they can access as they begin to return to booking business travel.

He says the Amex GBT online booking tool is being adjusted to provide more information relevant to Covid-19, such as the sanitation policy at the hotel and the aircraft’s cleaning policy. “We are trying to add value to the process,” he adds.

Remotely agile

IT departments have never been seen as more valuable and crucial to an organisation in coping with the lockdown as they are today. 

In 2014, when it separated from American Express, GBT built IT infrastructure to support a virtual workforce. Thompson says computer assets across the business were configured to enable staff to communicate with peers and work at home.

According to Thompson, this investment in state-of-the-art laptops paid off during the coronavirus lockdown, as employees have been able to stay productive. “It has allowed us to be laser focused on our customers and help them get their own employees home,” he says.

Virtualising agile scrum

With everyone at Amex GBT working remotely, the IT team has been energised, says Thompson. Virtual team working has enabled follow-the-sun, 24/7 remote software development.

However, in Thompson’s experience, among the challenges of running agile scrum projects is that there is generally an in-person meeting with someone from the business. “We have had to move to virtual workrooms,” he says.

Here, developers can screen-share new user interface functionality with the business user.

While software engineering teams are used to this way of working, Thompson says there is now a need to educate business users in this virtual approach to agile scrum. The benefit, he says, is that now more experts from the business can get involved in the virtual project meeting.

This should lead to applications that have a better user experience. “It is more efficient and the developers can see the keystrokes that users type,” he says.

Prepare for the unexpected

Thompson has been at Amex GBT since 2017 and was previously CTO at Western Union, where he oversaw the company’s IT strategy, operations, information security and product development. One of the key lessons he has taken away from the pandemic is the need for CTOs and CIOs to adjust to the new norm. “We respond rapidly to new needs and we will see a new norm,” he says.

Thompson says CEOs expect that more of the workforce will be virtual, which will have a big impact on IT, not only to support remote working by enabling face-to-face meetings. “We will see more meetings conducted in hotels rather than offices,”  he adds.

What has been most apparent for Thompson during the pandemic is the need to be prepared for anything. “Do you have the right tools for the next big surprise?” he says.

Thompson says the coronavirus has given him an opportunity to look at end-to-end processes. “We are looking at what we can automate, leveraging our applications to their full extent,” he says.

This, he hopes, will reduce the volume of manual processes that may require people to be physically present in an office. “Can we automate to avoid manual work when we are in lockdown?” he asks.