Thursday, 3 August 2023

5 questions investors should be asking inception-stage generative AI founders

by Rose White

We believe that we are at the dawn of the generative AI era, similar to the prior PC, web, mobile and cloud eras, which represents a sea change in how consumers and businesses will interact with technology. However, building successful companies will require a specialized focus from investors — not just in providing capital but also in operational prowess that’s as unique and forward-thinking as the generative AI industry itself.

Last week, we announced the first dedicated seed vehicle in our history, the $250 million Mayfield AI Start, which will support founders starting at day zero.

As we meet with many AI-native founders, here are the top five pieces of company-building advice we’re sharing with them.

1. How do you plan to dominate this new tech stack layer?

Paradigm shifts propel the rebuilding of the technology stack, creating new enduring companies in every era. For instance, Oracle rose to prominence as the PC era enterprise software provider, but in the cloud era, Salesforce and the SaaS model became a viable alternative. Intel dominated as the chip king in the PC era but mobile customers preferred ARM (Advanced RISC Machine), which is now being displaced by RISC-V today.

As we meet with many AI-native founders, here are the top five pieces of company-building advice we’re sharing with them.

The AI era has already created leaders like Nvidia on the chip front and is giving rise to emerging leaders like open source AI model community Hugging Face (similar to GitHub in the cloud age) and foundational model platform OpenAI, whose ChatGPT is being compared to the Netscape browser moment of the web era.

So we are encouraging AI-first founders to think big about how they will become an independent company that dominates a layer of the new technology stack.

5 questions investors should be asking inception-stage generative AI founders

Image Credits: Mayfield Fund

2. Are you providing a painkiller or a vitamin?

AI-powered innovation, in particular with large language models and generative AI, has the opportunity to create new markets and shift the dynamics in existing markets. But it is important to identify what innovation bet a founder is making and frame it as a painkiller, not a vitamin for the specific persona they are targeting.

Some questions we are encouraging founders to ask include:

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