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From Academic Research to AI-Powered Marketing: The Inspiring Journey of SoMin.ai's Founder

As we spoke with Professor Aleks Farseev today, we had the honor of learning about his entrepreneurial journey with SoMin.ai. SoMin is a cutting-edge digital advertising platform that employs the latest advancements in AI, particularly GPT-4, to help marketing teams optimize their ads for long-tail audiences, analyze competitors, identify influencers, and generate content. SoMin's groundbreaking approach to AI-powered marketing automation has earned it the trust and partnership of major players in the industry, including McDonald's, Audi, M1, Citibank, and P&G.

During our conversation, Aleks shared how his academic background was instrumental in founding SoMin, as well as the challenges his company faced due to the Ukraine conflict. He also offered valuable advice for other academics looking to start their own ventures. The following is his story.

Revolutionizing Digital Advertising: A Closer Look at SoMin.ai's AI-powered SaaS Solution

SoMin.ai is a digital advertising platform that employs the power of AI to revolutionize and automate marketing campaigns. The platform offers a unique SaaS solution that consists of four distinct modules.

First is SoAds, a flagship module that mines brand and competitor audiences to create thousands of customer psychological portraits, which are then used to execute massive A/B tests. By doing so, SoAds delivers ads to more relevant audiences at a lower cost while avoiding oversaturated Meta and Google Ad auctions.

Second is SoMonitor, an analytical dashboard that provides users with insights into their industry through AI-powered algorithms. These algorithms not only predict which brand and competitor ads work, but also explain why they work.

Third is SoCraft, which predicts which competitor content works and generates visual and text content via ChatGPT within seconds.

Finally, SoInfluence helps users discover social media influencers at scale by matching their audience profile and branded content. This module also tracks influencer performance and generates personalized campaign briefs via the power of GPT-4.

This innovative platform has been proven to increase digital campaign effectiveness by 38% in 40% less time. SoMin.ai is trusted by global industry leaders such as McDonald's, Audi, Puma, Nestle, Citibank, and Papa John's Pizza.

Overall, SoMin.ai is an innovative and reliable platform that has revolutionized the way marketing teams approach digital advertising. Its powerful combination of ads optimization, analytics, content generation, and influencer marketing has led to increased campaign effectiveness and ROI.

Insights from Analytics to Actionable Decisions: The SoMin.ai Story

In 2017, I embarked on a Ph.D. program at the National University of Singapore, where I joined a research group that specialized in social media user profiling. The group was headed by Chua Tat-Seng, an esteemed scientist and entrepreneur who founded two companies: ViSenze and 6Estates, and is the founding dean of NUS's School of Computing.

While working alongside Prof. Chua, I had the opportunity to attend numerous business meetings with potential clients, among them major Telcos and FMCG brands in Singapore. During these meetings, I engaged in meaningful conversations with marketers and gained valuable insights into the challenges they faced.

The Lightbulb Moment: Recognizing a Missing Link in the Marketing Landscape

As a group of researchers and marketing experts, we recognized a significant gap in the industry - companies had access to vast amounts of data but struggled to derive actionable insights from it. Additionally, marketers lacked a deep understanding of their audience, hindering their ability to make informed decisions about content and digital strategy. To bridge this divide, we proposed merging our research lab's analytics with the needs of marketers to gain a better understanding of their audience and make more informed decisions.

Our efforts culminated in the publication of a paper at the AAAI Conference in Silicon Valley, where we presented our findings on predicting personality traits with over 80% accuracy rates. The paper garnered significant attention, with some journalists applying the model we developed to different politicians, including Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump. While accurately predicting the marital status of the former two, the model failed to correctly predict Trump's, leading to explosive consequences and our names being featured in publications like New Your Post, The Independent, and The Daily Mail.

However, this was an "Aha!" moment for us. Rather than being wrong, the model revealed Trump's true personality. This led us to think about predicting psychographics for brand and competitor audiences and using these insights to target ads, diversify content, and build brand strategy, an idea we called the "Data Universe." This aimed to address one of the most significant problems in modern digital marketing - the disconnect between the data we have and the actions we can take based on this data to drive our marketing efforts to a new level of personalization.

This realization inspired us to create a new generation digital marketing platform - SoMin.ai. I invited my good friend and co-founder of my previous start-up, Mr. Kirill Lepikhin, to join SoMin.ai as CTO, and as serial founders, we embarked on this brand-new AI marketing story.

Big Ambitions: Taking Our Model to the Next Level for Enterprise Growth

Upon discovering the high accuracy of our personality prediction model in our research, we recognized its potential to analyze personality traits in larger groups, such as followers of various brands on social media. This presented a significant challenge that we could address, as the insights obtained from our model could be applied by marketing departments to make better decisions and optimize their campaigns.

By using AI and machine learning, we could give marketers a deeper understanding of their target audience's personalities and behaviors, enabling them to tailor their campaigns accordingly. Our work opened up new avenues for marketing research and bridged the gap between marketers and their target audience.

We were fortunate to receive pre-seed funding from Kenny Powar, the General Partner of a small venture fund, who had successfully exited his agency BLUE. As a marketer, Kenny provided invaluable mentorship and guidance as we launched our platform.

Initially, we began with a simple dashboard providing analytics to our clients. However, we soon recognized the potential to create a more comprehensive platform that could analyze audience psychographics and integrate with Google and Facebook ad managers. This groundbreaking platform has transformed the way marketing campaigns are developed and targeted.

Forging a Strong Foundation: Finding a Dynamic and Innovative Team

As a company, SoMin values attitude and dedication to work over existing skills when building our team. We welcome people from various backgrounds and skill levels, including top experts, master's and Ph.D. students, and interns of all caliber. For example, we have hired a former CEO of Erco, the world's biggest lighting brand, as our Head of Sales, while also welcoming many of my master's and Ph.D. students who bring valuable passion and energy to the team.

Thanks to this approach, our team is made up of individuals with diverse experiences and perspectives, hailing from China, Taiwan, Eastern Europe, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, France, England, and Ukraine. We've also been fortunate to have top talents from client companies join us, such as Vadim Kukharskiy, the former Chief Digital Officer of MediaCom, Alex Fomin, the former Business Director at MindShare, and Marlo Ongpin, the former Director of BBDO and IPG Ensemble, Malaysia.

These leaders had firsthand experience with our tools and were impressed with the innovative solutions we provided. Despite previously holding high positions and earning large salaries managing big teams, they recognized the value and potential of our technology and were willing to join a startup.

In total, our team consists of highly qualified individuals, including two professors, four Ph.Ds, and four former senior directors with over 15 years of experience managing hundreds of people. We also have an advisor who previously served as the CEO of Hewlett-Packard and managed over 30,000 employees. With this wealth of expertise, we are confident in our ability to succeed.

From Devastating Losses to Impressive Growth: Our Journey Through Adversity

During my tenure at 500 Startups, I came to understand that founders must brace themselves for daily disappointments, and anything less is considered a good day. Unfortunately, the military crisis in Ukraine presented us with more significant challenges than we had anticipated. As a significant portion of our business was tied to the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), our growth expectations for 2022 were profoundly impacted.

Before the conflict, we had built a robust client base, with many clients in Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia, and secured a significant partnership with WPP Group. We were the only MetaAds optimization partner whose solution worked, which led to us gaining trust among clients of WPP Group, and we grew from zero to thirteen clients within the WPP GroupM agency group in just six months.

However, just after the New Year's Eve corporate party, we began preparing to raise Series-A funding, only for everything to take a turn for the worse. In a single day, Meta was banned in Russia, and our clients had to leave the CIS. This sudden change had a massive impact on our business, leaving us with frustrated employees, operational issues, and the need to support our Ukrainian colleagues in moving to Canada and Barcelona for safety reasons.

As a result, our revenue dropped by over 50%, which was worse than even our worst-case nightmare projections. Despite the challenges, we were able to attract highly skilled individuals from agencies that were forced to dissolve, giving us access to their extensive experience and knowledge.

To overcome the crisis, we realized that we needed to create products that could provide substantial value to customers worldwide, not just those in specific regions. As a result, we expanded into diverse international markets, which led to a remarkable threefold increase in revenue. Nevertheless, we remain mindful of the challenges that persist in the aftermath of the conflict.

From PhD to CEO: A Bit of Advice for My Fellow Academics

As someone who has been through the startup journey myself, my advice to fellow Ph.Ds looking to start their own venture is to avoid overestimating their technical skills and expertise. While having a Ph.D or prior experience at a tech giant may seem like it automatically makes one an expert in all aspects of business, building a successful startup requires much more than technical proficiency alone.

Instead, founders should focus on building a sustainable business model and generating sales, while also prioritizing the value their product brings to customers. It's important to remain humble and educate yourself on the basics of business, even if it means studying what is typically learned by first-year business students. Additionally, be prepared to make tough decisions as a CEO, as your choices will impact the lives of your employees and their families.

Recently, I sat across from Uri Levine, the founder of Waze and Moovit, we engaged in a fascinating conversation about entrepreneurship and problem-solving. He spoke with passion about his experiences building successful companies and imparted valuable insights that left me feeling inspired. Just before we parted ways, he handed me a copy of his book, Fall in Love with the Problem, Not the Solution, and asked if I wanted him to write anything in it. I jokingly replied, "Wish for us to become a unicorn!" and he scribbled a quick note that read, "Aleks, focus on the value, the rest will come."

The message stuck with me long after our conversation ended. It reminded me that creating a successful product means providing value to customers, even if it's free. Uri's approach to entrepreneurship is grounded in the belief that by focusing on the problem, and not just the solution, you can create something truly meaningful. As I reflected on our conversation, I realized how crucial it is to keep the basics in mind and prioritize the value you offer to your customers. By doing so, you can increase your chances of achieving success.