Alex Honchar is a Ukrainian AI expert and entrepreneur who enjoys a sunny life in Italy, Verona for the last 5 years (last months only through the facial mask though). He got BSc from Kyiv Polytechnic University and an MSc from the University of Verona in Mathematics. Apart from business activities, Alex writes a blog https://medium.com/@alexrachnog, gives lectures on conferences and at universities, posts fun stuff in his Instagram stories http://instagram.com/rachnogstyle, and even finds some time for sports, guitar and card tricks.
How much demanding are AI companies in the selection process of the Trusted Vendor? What should we know 100% about AI and be able to do in the internal company process?
It's clear that AI is in high demand because of two reasons. It's a very hyped area and sometimes even just a mention of AI makes the valuation of the company jump in 10 times. On the other hand, this hype is backed up by solid business results: boosted productivities, reduced costs, increased safety, and covered risks. While choosing the vendor, companies are looking not only for the technical expertise but also for the understanding of their particular business processes and strategies. If you see that there is some routine process that doesn't allow you to scale (you need to assume 100 more people to grow) - it is a good sign that it can be automated with the help of AI. Another direction to look is expensive decision making - if you need 10 very well paid analysts to make decisions from data, probably you need just one with the AI toolbox. I really recommend reading Google's AI Playbook to learn how to identify such valuable projects: https://design.google/library/ai/.
How does your calendar work right now with the current situation? Do you work exclusively for yourself (like advisor) or do you utilize any supporting time for Dream projects?
The COVID situation didn't affected my calendar and work in a bad way. Actually, there are even more interesting requests and ideas coming from clients and partners, so, there is a lot of interesting projects going on. I mostly work with my partners in Neurons Lab today, but I also have some spare time for personal research in financial AI and "deep fakes" technologies and advising good old friends in their projects.
Is marketing established in the company to promote your brand name? How does word of mouth work for Neurons Lab?
As a team of experts, founders and partners of Neurons Lab know very well about importance of "word of mouth". We used to promote ourselves for a long time and show to our previous clients and partners our values and competence. How we do the same, but together as a team. I think that the most important part is to share what value we can deliver. Not general words about "technical excellence" or "best data scientists", but concrete numerical results and company mission presented via examples. We promote them on the conferences, blogs, workshops, our website and other media and people see it and respect it.
Does an Italian trust a UK company better than from Ukraine? Are there specific criteria that your client immediately pays attention to?
Ukraine is known for accessible technical experts, so there is no bad reputation about it, but since Neurons Lab is a consulting, not outsourcing company, a British name looks better in terms of delivering business value. I think that if we were purely Ukraine-based company, we could be seen as another outsourcing or out-stuff firm to give some programming tasks to. Having British affiliation helps a bit to gain more business trust, but this is not the core differentiation.
How quickly could you sell to an American the AI-development of a Face recognition project for $100K?
"Show me the numbers". The face recognition technology itself is a buzzword unless it is applied in a particular business. If I talk to a medium-sized American retailer or to a mall chain and the facial recognition-based solution can save them over $1M in stoled products not being stolen due to the identification of a thief before he or she enters that store, the $100K investment is a signed deal.
How does your working day look like and how much do you work to fulfill your plan? And yes, what kind of best practise do you have to manage AI-projects?
I usually start my morning with sports routines and educational projects, then I work on the client's projects: communication with the teams, supervision of the results, fixing urgent issues and needed and then strategical work starts: thinking new ideas, creating content, talking to strategical partners. The normal working day lasts 10-12 hours. In the evening it's nice to go for the aperitivo on Piazza Erbe or to read a book next to Adige :) To manage AI projects, I and my team follows improved by us TDSP process by Microsoft http://www.datascience-pm.com/tdsp/ but last months more and more we look onto Agile Data Science paradigm which helps to deliver results much faster: https://www.oreilly.com/library/view/agile-data-science/9781491960103/. We found this methodology the most adequate, but however, it should be improved with respect to the research activities.
Any plans for the new project or ideas that you would like to start so far?
There are always a lot of great ideas around :) Healthcare applications are blooming and there is a lot of ways where doctors could benefit from AI assistance in decision making and diagnosing complex diseases. In the finance world, there is a huge trend called "goal-based investing" - in a nutshell, it's an approach where you invest not just to "make your money grow", but to achieve some specific personal goal: earning for a house or education. Last but not least, I follow emerging technologies as CRISPR, quantum computing, and blockchain and explore opportunities there.
What are the best markets to sell AI? Is it easier to sell to big companies in New York for example?
The companies that gather data are the ones who are ready to enable AI in their business. Traditionally, they are big companies around the world, but in the online business there are lot of data-extensive startups, that might look small, but they can benefit a lot from AI-based decisions.
What advice from you will help me become a better seller from Ukraine? What do we need to know about AI today?
Suggest for the young startuper from Silicon Valley - what he/she should know about to start an AI project right?
If you are young entrepreneur in Silicon Valley - you already know, that you talk to business first, and technology later. I really recommend this Coursera course to study AI applications: it can be a great start to identify scenarios where AI should and could be applied for benefits https://www.coursera.org/learn/ai-for-everyone.