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Interview with Vincent Castro, Attently co-founder

4 days ago - Laura Lundell

Vincent is a co-founder and CEO of Attently, Inc.

What is Attently in 10 words or less?

A company that analyzes crowds for signal analytics.

Why is now the time for Attently to exist?

Machine learning has become more accessible to the common programmer you don't need to have like a huge supercomputer to do it, so, technology is more accessible, easier to use now.

Had you had experience with this before?

Yes, I had some experience with facial detection and I knew OpenCL.

So why? What was it about Attently, beginning with startup weekend, that you knew this was something you wanted to pursue?

Well at first we didn't know what we wanted to work on. I joined up with Eric because his idea seemed fun, the sign thing in the back of the car. And nobody wanted to do mine, which was using image recognition for land surveying using drones. I also thought of doing a security thing, but once we came up with the idea to analyze crowds, I liked the idea and already knew how to use the OpenCL library.

How would you like to see the company grow in the future?

Naturally, I guess, not exponentially because it would be too much for a smaller company to handle.

What makes you most hopeful about the company’s future?

Just being in the forefront of machine learning and sentiment analysis. There aren't a lot of companies doing it and it's a bigger thing nowadays.

What do you see as the biggest threat to growth?

Probably the bigger companies starting to do it, like Google or Amazon.

Describe a pivot you made early on that steered the company in a different direction. What prompted the change?

We basically stuck with the same idea, now we're just using the data in different ways. Initially, it was just emotion and now we're doing transcription and and using the data in different ways to appeal to a larger audience—more than just recognizing faces, we also can do more in-depth analysis of the data.

Did the company go through any perceived failures that actually resulted in something positive?

Our first event, One Million Cups, iddn't go so well, but we learned from that to optimize the code so that we could do this analysis better and actually show the audiences instead of taking an hour or so to do it.

Describe the company culture you helped create. What role do you see it playing in Attently’s success both now and down the road?

It's developer friendly, engineer friendly, I guess, where we can try out new technologies to see which problem will be easy to implement without too much backlash.

So an environment where people are comfortable experimenting?

Yes, exactly.

We talked a bit about advantages and disadvantages of being in Fairbanks versus Silicon Valley, for instance. Is there any advice you'd give to other people wanting to start a tech company in a rural place?

It's going to be hard, but you'll get more exposure. More business moguls want to promote you as a success story in a smaller town that if in a bigger city or town, you're just one in a million success stories, so exposure really helps.

Are there any misconceptions you've come across about what Attently does?

Some people were freaking out when we first showed the concept because we're recording faces and getting emotions from them, so privacy is a huge concern and a misconception that we're going to be selling the data. We are not selling it and we care about people's privacy.

Another is that we're not using Artificial Intelligence (AI). Machine learning is a better term to describe what we do, but I think it's easier for people to understand AI than machine learning. We are just using facial detection not facial recognition.

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