AiThority Interview with Adam Carte, CEO at Luminoso
Hi Adam. You come from a very interesting background where you have managed vastly different portfolios. Could you tell us about this enriching journey and how you landed at Luminoso?
I think of my career as a sequence of small steps in which I applied what I learned in the past to something new – that, combined with a difficulty saying “no” when asked to do something. When I graduated from college in 1991, we were in a recession; I had a degree in Mathematics, and no particular job prospects. I took a temp job as an assistant to the VP of HR at a then-small company called NRG Energy to make ends meet, using my ability to type 65 words per minute more than my math degree. But within a few weeks, I was using my math and programming skills to write macros for incentive compensation calculations.
A year after that, I was responsible for the financial forecasts that we used to support our credit ratings with S&P and Moody’s, and six years after that, I was standing next to our CEO as we rang the bell on the NYSE. I didn’t plan any of this, but in hindsight, it nonetheless seems logical.
After NRG became insolvent following the bankruptcy of Enron, I ended up as one of the two executives still standing (my business partner at Fairlead, Renee Sass, being the other). At 33 years of age, I found myself as the CFO managing through the restructuring of a company with $10B in debt. This experience, combined with the knowledge I gained during the period of growth leading up to the IPO, gave me the skills and the temperament to help companies going through rapid change. Every organization I’ve worked with since has gone through a similar change: Texas-New Mexico Power, The Trigen Companies, Niotan, Cadre, Nirenberg Neuroscience – and now Luminoso.
At Luminoso, I found a company with disruptive technology – in this case, a fundamentally different way to use AI to automate text analytics. From my prior work, I knew that most of the commercially useful accomplishments of Machine Learning depended on having millions of labeled data points to train on to create valuable algorithms. This process works well with structured data, but it struggles with more complex data like Computer Vision and human conversation.
Robyn Speer and her co-founders from the MIT Media Lab created the only generalized text analytics solution. This means our products ingest unstructured text from any industry or topic and automatically analyze it in the customer’s own domain, including acronyms, misspellings, and localized word-usage. This is all done automatically, using unsupervised AI, without the need for millions of labeled data points.
Some of the world’s most sophisticated Big Tech companies recognized this power and were already customers of Luminoso when I joined, but we had not yet grown enough. Now we’re selling our primary product, Daylight, to business users everywhere. For me, this was an exciting opportunity to use my prior experience to both scales commercially and disrupt the world of text analytics.
You recently celebrated your 10th anniversary. What were the major milestones in these 10 years? How much have the AI, NLP and Text Analytics technologies evolved in the market?
Luminoso has much to celebrate from the last ten years. Here are a few of the company’s many milestones:
First, and perhaps most importantly, Luminoso has introduced a suite of AI-powered text analytics applications that offer organizations a generalized way to make sense of the unstructured text in any domain, natively across 15 languages. Unlike other text analytics solutions, Luminoso applications are automated and don’t require training, coding, libraries, or ontologies to fully analyze text and quantify feedback, allowing users to analyze their data immediately upon entering the product.
We’ve also had a number of customer wins, each of which could be its own milestone. I’m incredibly proud to say that world-leading brands such as Hilton, athenahealth, DENSO, Officeworks, Supercell, and Swiss Post Solutions use Luminoso’s AI-powered text analytics solutions.
A third and recent milestone was expanding our global headquarters here in Boston. In 2019, we opened a 15,000-square-foot headquarters right in the heart of Downtown Boston.
As a CEO of an AI Tech company, what challenges do you face within and outside the organization to sell your product? What message do you have for other CEOs who head AI-driven product companies?
As exciting as it is to sell a brand new technology, this also means that we are solving problems that customers didn’t know could be solved. So selling successfully requires education and demonstration, and sometimes the customer must create a new line item in their budget for us.
Doing this efficiently requires careful preparation and a very disciplined process. This is a whole-company effort and we are constantly learning what works from our customers and prospects.
As a CEO, what does your usual day look like? Could you provide us a quick peek into your calendar/diary?
Because we operate in Japan, Europe, and North America, I manage my day to be as responsive as possible in every time zone. As a startup, we have to move quickly and aggressively, and I don’t want my schedule to slow anyone down. I go through inbound emails and Slack messages when I wake up at 6:00 am, and then try to keep my schedule clear until 9:00 am so that I can prepare for the day.
Meetings and calls generally fill up the rest of the normal working hours in the day. Evenings are set aside for calls with our Japan team and other activities that require uninterrupted thought, like writing or analytical work.
How do you use technology to stay on top of your game? Which Marketing, Sales and Communications tools do you use for these activities?
We rely heavily on Salesforce to manage our pipeline and Sales tasks. Slack keeps the team connected and coordinated. We use Zoom Meetings for customer demos and internal discussions.
While most of the team is based in Boston, when working with remote colleagues using the video functionality of Zoom really helps create the connections needed to work well together.
What is the approach you often take to build a Marketing and Sales calendar for the quarter?
Business leaders hear about new AI and Machine Learning solutions all the time, so elevating our brand above the noise is critical to increasing awareness that drives sales. We’re not just another company trying to hop on the transformational tech train – we truly build AI-powered products that eliminate a ton of manual work and address business-critical needs.
Our Head of Marketing, Angela Limoncelli, has done an incredible job with her team driving home this story. She has developed a Marketing engine that generates a very predictable stream of qualified sales leads.
Our specific Marketing focus might shift slightly from quarter to quarter, depending on goals, roadmap, and market needs. This change is reflected in activities such as the content we write and the events at which we’re present. But regardless of what the team is working towards at the moment, its efforts are built on a foundation of thought leadership around AI, Natural Language Understanding (NLU) and Machine Learning research. Because of this credibility, coupled with powerful storytelling, our Marketing team is getting the attention of businesses around the world, many of which turn into customers.
Our messaging gets the word out about our products’ value to both business users and data scientists alike, which in turn has really helped our Sales team increase Sales velocity.
What kind of talent and skill do you usually seek and hire for? What challenges do you meet in building an effective AI Product and Marketing team?
Sitting in the CEO seat, you end up spending the majority of your time on HR-related issues, and it’s critical to find great people to fill the necessary roles. But too often leaders think about hiring as getting “just the right person,” as if there are all sorts of bad people out there. Certainly, there are some people who are more qualified than others, but throughout my career, I’ve found that often it’s just getting the right person at the right time with the right perspective.
I look for people who approach their work with objectivity and intellectual curiosity. It’s very easy to take work personally, and, of course, we should be personally invested in success. But we need to learn from our customers and work collaboratively with one another, which requires us to remove our personal feelings from the equation and clearly see “what is” rather than “what is hoped for.” Everyone thinks they can do this, but during times of stress, this becomes increasingly difficult for most people.
Hiring the best AI Product and Marketing leaders can be a challenge in Boston’s competitive job market, but I’ve found that once people understand the opportunity they have to be a part of a truly cutting-edge Natural Language Understanding business, they’re often excited to join the team.
Insights and Predictions
What are your thoughts on Marketing and Sales alignment? How do you align your Marketing and Sales team at Luminoso?
We made a conscious decision to sit our Marketing team right next to our inside Sales team, and they work collaboratively each and every day to manage the Lead Generation and Sales pipeline together.
In this way, the Marketing team quickly knows what is working best and can adjust quickly when the team needs to pivot or focus.
Could you tell us about your most outstanding customer win? Which new markets and industries are you planning to expand into?
All of our customers are outstanding! I can highlight DENSO, not only because it’s such a respected company that uses all forms of AI to drive improve operations, but also because of the work we’ve done with them that led to the development of our Enhanced Search offering.
Luminoso helps DENSO’s engineers search for the most relevant maintenance notes out of their millions of accumulated notes by enabling their search engine to search conceptually as humans do. We’ve now standardized this approach so that we can enhance anyone’s search engine, regardless of which one they use.
What are your predictions for your industry and technology markets for 2020-2024?
AI is becoming an essential tool in most workflows, so I’m expecting that the development of generalized solutions, like ours, usable by general business users without the need for specialized data scientists, will drive product development and market adoption of AI.
How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a Business Leader?
Business leaders should invest time understanding where AI works and where AI struggles so that it is demystified, and they are not wholly reliant on data scientists to make commercial decisions.
This Is How I Work
How do you inspire your people to work with technology?
Running an AI company means that everyone here already likes working with technology. So my focus is on making sure people leverages the technology in a way that strengthens the team. This is best done by example, so, for instance, I always use the video feature in Zoom to strengthen the in-person feeling this creates, which motivates others to do so as well.
One word that best describes how you work.
One comic book or movie character that you instantly connect with-
Captain Jean-Luc Picard
What startups in the technology industry are you watching keenly right now?
Limiting my focus to tech is not really my style. I keep an eye on every organization that might partner or compete with us in order to do my job.
Something you do better than others – the secret of your success?
I wouldn’t call myself successful. I’ve had successes and failures, but I am neither a success nor a failure. But where I’ve had successes, I believe it’s because I learn things quickly and I don’t let my ego get in the way of making decisions.
Tag the one person in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read.
Larry Elison in an interview in the early 1980s, before Oracle, became what it is today.
Thank you, Adam! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.
Adam Carte is the CEO of Luminoso, where he leads the company’s efforts in building AI text analytics products for analyzing conversational text data like customer support tickets, open-ended survey responses, and reviews. Prior to joining Luminoso, Adam was an Operating Partner to Denham Capital Management and a founding member and Partner of Fairlead Advisors. At Fairlead, Adam has led negotiations for acquisitions, divestitures, equity, and debt financings, strategic partnerships, licensing agreements, and company restructurings for over 20 different companies across a broad range of industries.
Adam previously served in a number of C-level positions. As the CEO of Cadre Proppants, a mining company, revenues doubled during his tenure. He was the COO of Niotan, Inc. a chemical manufacturer that was developed and sold to its largest customer. As the CFO of The Trigen Companies, an energy company, Adam jointly led the turnaround and doubled profits, resulting in the sale of the company that more than doubled its equity value in less than three years.
Luminoso builds text analytics products for analyzing conversational text data like support tickets, open-ended survey responses, and reviews. Using common-sense artificial intelligence to understand language, Luminoso empowers organizations to discover, interpret, and act on what people are telling them. Requiring little setup, maintenance, or training, Luminoso combines world-leading natural language understanding technology with a vast knowledge base to learn words from context – as humans do – and instantly analyze the text without libraries. The company’s products provide native support in 15 languages, so leaders can explore text data, make sense of feedback, and surface business-critical insights. Luminoso is privately held and headquartered in Boston, MA.