DefinedCrowd, an Amazon.com-backed startup that provides data sets to train artificially intelligent speech programs, is setting its sights on a public listing in the next five years as voice interactions between humans and machines become more common.
The Seattle-based company raised $50.5 million in a recent funding round led by existing investors, paving the way for an initial public offering within the next five years, Chief Executive Officer Daniela Braga said in an interview. The company declined to comment on its valuation.
“It’s the road to an IPO,” Braga said, adding her company’s ambition is to support the development of AI so that people eventually will “communicate with machines the same way we do with humans.”
Founded by Braga in 2015, DefinedCrowd curates voice and text data for clients including BMW and Mastercard to train virtual assistants and customer-service chatbots. The company designs the sets to be diverse and balanced, representing certain dialects or age ranges for audiences most likely to use the systems. Revenue grew 656% last year and is expected to triple this year, Braga said.
Once the pandemic subsides, Braga said she expects businesses from a range of industries — including telehealth and education — to build AI personal assistants to better serve customers, something that might require more specific data that incorporates an industry’s vocabulary.
Amazon, Apple and Alphabet’s Google have come under fire over revelations they used recordings of customers’ interactions with virtual assistants to train their AI systems. A former contractor working on Apple’s Siri transcription project in Ireland recently complained to European privacy authorities over the “massive violation of the privacy of millions of citizens.” The companies said they’ve made changes to provide users with more control over their data.
By contrast, DefinedCrowd uses a crowdsourcing platform, Neevo, to generate data from a paid community of more than 290,000 members in 70 countries. Crowd members are asked to complete tasks like recording their voices or transcribing and annotating recordings rather than pulling data from customers who are using voice AI products.
Braga said the newly raised funds will help the company expand its products and nearly double the number of employees in 2020. The company currently employs around 268 people. Existing investors that participated in the funding round include Evolution Equity Partners, Kibo Ventures, Portugal Ventures, Bynd Venture Capital, EDP Ventures and Ironfire Ventures, as well as new investors Semapa Next and Hermes GPE.
Amazon and Sony, which is also an existing investor, didn’t increase their stakes in the latest round, Braga said, adding it was a strategic move not to increase the involvement of other companies as DefinedCrowd moves toward an IPO.