Madrona leads $2.6M round for OthersideAI, a startup using GPT-3 tech to write automated emails – GeekWire
The average U.S. worker spends more than five hours per day checking email. A new startup wants to help people save time with a tool that composes emails automatically using cutting-edge machine learning and artificial intelligence technology.
Founded just months ago by a trio of young entrepreneurs, OthersideAI announced a $2.6 million seed round led by Seattle-based venture capital firm Madrona Venture Group.
The company takes advantage of an API from OpenAI’s GPT-3, touted as the world’s most powerful language model. The technology can quickly create human-like written text with minimal data training.
GPT-3 is one of the hottest new tech trends. Compose.AI and Magic Email are also using GPT-3 to auto-generate emails, and more startups are coming up with various other content creation applications.
Otherside’s tool combines GPT-3 with its own code. It can take a bullet point list of shorthand writing and quickly pump out a polished email message.
“The word we hear all the time is that it’s just magical,” said co-founder Jason Kuperberg. “We want to bring that magic to as many users as possible.”
The backend of Otherside is composed of three layers. The software analyzes a given list of bullet point lines and adds additional relevant content. It puts that through GPT-3, then gets it back once more to smooth out any last-minute fixes. Once a user sees the result, he or she can hit a “Generate” button again to get a revised version, and can repeat that several times with different results.
The company is testing the tool as a Chrome extension for Gmail with about 100 early adopters. A viral tweet in July helped generate organic interest. There are nearly 10,000 people on a waitlist.
Matt Shumer, the company’s CEO, said many past attempts to fix email have focused on improving the email systems themselves, and helping users navigate email programs, rather than the actual composition of messages. Otherside is focused instead on the time spent writing.
“It’s not about speeding up the little micro-interactions,” he said. “It’s about fundamentally changing and improving the way you actually write.”
Shumer, Kuperberg and the company’s third co-founder, Miles Feldstein, met at Syracuse University. Shumer and Feldstein previously launched a medical virtual reality startup, but closed that down to focus on Otherside.
Otherside is among a flock of startups trying to improve email with GPT-3 and other tech. Founded by top researchers and veterans of Israeli Defense Forces, AI21 has come up with its own AI-powered “writing companion.”
Superhuman raised $33 million last year for its popular $30/month email app that aims to change how people read and write emails.
Others such as Seattle-based Textio are developing augmented writing technology for use cases beyond email.
Otherside’s tool could be a time-saving game-changer, but it also poses ethical questions. Writing about GPT-3 this summer, New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo said the software “raises the prospect of frightening misuse,” ranging from misinformation to replicating existing human biases.
Otherside is working closely with OpenAI, which is allowing limited access to GPT-3 and has its own built-in precautions. Otherside’s software also strips out names and identifying traits that might cause bias.
“Safety is obviously our top priority,” Kuperberg said. “We are focused on making sure that the output reflects the input and intent of the user.”
If something like Otherside catches on, what happens to the humans who write for a living — including the journalist who put together this story? Is my job in jeopardy?
Shumer said Otherside wants to replace monotonous prose, and leave the more creative writing to the user — for now, at least.
“Something that has tons of nuance, detail, and thought — we don’t want you writing that with Otherside,” he said. “We think that’s more valuable for you to write on your own. It’s about understanding the line between what should be written automatically and what should be written by hand.”
Otherside doesn’t plan on charging for its tool in the near future but is exploring different pricing plans and monetization options, Shumer said.
The investment in Otherside is unique for Madrona, a 25-year-old firm that mainly focuses on early-stage deals across the Pacific Northwest. Seed investments outside of the region are extremely rare for Madrona. But its investors are excited about the role of GPT-3 and similar tools in creating new companies and applications.
“We strongly believe that AI and Natural Language Processing technologies such as GPT-3 will transform many aspects of our lives — from work to our health to leisure,” Madrona Managing Director Matt McIlwain said in a statement.
Madrona did launch a $100 million “Acceleration Fund” last year to expand the firm’s geographical reach, but the fund is focused on more mature startups. The investment in Otherside did not come from the Acceleration Fund.
Other Seattle investment firms including Pioneer Square Labs, which runs a startup studio and venture fund, are also looking closely at GPT-3. Greg Gottesman, managing director at PSL and a former longtime Madrona leader, said he and his colleagues at PSL are building multiple prototypes using GPT-3.
“The results are more often shockingly good than entertainingly bad,” he said in September.
Microsoft in September gained an exclusive license to GPT-3 following its $1 billion investment last year in San Francisco-based OpenAI, which consists of the OpenAI Inc nonprofit founded four years ago and the for-profit OpenAI LP.
Other companies are still be able to access GPT-3 through an Azure-hosted API, but only Microsoft will have access to GPT-3’s code and underlying advances.
Otherside’s co-founders are working remotely across the state of New York. The small company is among an increasing number of startups launching during the pandemic.
Other backers in the seed round include Active Capital, Hustle Fund, Chapter One, and angel investors. Otherside has four employees and plans to grow headcount to 15 people with the new funding.