The opening of a Singapore office in August this year marked another step in the international expansion of Australian artificial intelligence start-up Hyper Anna. The company is just two years old and already has a sales team based in Hong Kong, which it hired soon after it caught the eye of Sequoia China and raised A$16 million in Series A funds in September last year.
Hyper Anna wants more Asian customers to sign up to its data analytics product that goes by the name Anna – a digital assistant who can answer questions about key performance drivers in real-time. The product operates like Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa and allows users to speak to Anna in plain language on any device. Anna sends back charts, reports and trend analysis that can be used to make marketing, sales and operations decisions.
The clever mix of AI and fintech impressed selectors at Accenture in Hong Kong who recently picked Hyper Anna from 160 applicants to be one of eight start-ups to take part in an innovation lab. Staff members from Hyper Anna’s Hong Kong office are currently participating in a 12-week mentorship programme that runs through to November.
Co-founder Natalie Nguyen isn’t surprised by the attention that Hyper Anna has attracted. “We offer a product that solves a real-life problem for businesses. Customers like Anna because she is fast and accurate,” she told FinanceAsia.
The start-up keeps its client list confidential but the number of companies that use the product is “in the dozens” already, according to Nguyen. “The ones we can talk about are Westpac and IAG who were two of our earliest customers and who have gradually requested more licenses as time has passed,” she said.
Westpac’s VC fund Reinventure was involved in Hyper Anna’s first round of funding in October 2016, which was led by AirTree Ventures and raised A$1.25 million. Both AirTree and Westpac increased their investment in the most recent funding round and were joined by IAG Firemark.
Nguyen said the initial focus on selling to financial institutions is being expanded to include other firms. “We have just signed our first customer in the consumer goods sector and we are looking closely at other sectors like retail and telcos,” Nguyen said.
The idea for the product came from Nguyen’s own frustrations as a data analyst. She and fellow founder Sam Zheng both worked for Quantium, a privately owned data firm in Sydney, while Kent Tian worked for Suncorp. “Data scientists are hard to find and analytics teams often have to cope with a large volume of requests for analysis. Sometimes people in sales and marketing have to wait days, even weeks, for analysis to come back. I witnessed their pain,” she said. The temptation is to give up and that means “many important business decisions are being made on the fly without data”.
The beauty of Anna is she is always ready and "she is intelligent”, Nguyen said, explaining how the technology works. “Anna makes a connection between the human language and the data nomenclature to work out what is being asked. Someone might ask ‘How was my revenue for July?’ while another might ask ‘What were our sales plus goods and services tax for July?’ – These are the same thing but Anna is able to read between the lines. Users can proactively educate her as they go along.”
Better still, Anna doesn’t have off days or struggle with mood swings like human analysts. “She has been created to be very friendly and as helpful as possible.”
Piyush Singh, senior managing director in Accenture’s Financial Services practice in Asia-Pacific and Africa, said that Hyper Anna’s business model hits on a couple of big trends in the fintech world. “The demand for intelligent platforms is growing right across the financial industry. Solutions like Hyper Anna offer simplicity but also the prospect of greater visibility for users,” said Singh.
Hyper Anna is using the funds it raised in its Series A round to expand into new markets and add staff. It is also investing further into Anna’s technology to improve her intuition capabilities and speed.
Nguyen said her venture capital partners, some of whom have seats on the board, have been helpful in other ways. “They are offering advice in areas where I have gaps in my knowledge. Areas such as corporate governance, staff hiring, and how to scale the business effectively,” she said. “One of our biggest challenges is finding good people with the right experience. Senior product managers are particularly scarce in Australia.”
Nguyen said her strategy is to attract talent by making Hyper Anna a desirable place to work. “It’s about creating a democratic culture; my staff know my door is always open for a chat.”
Hyper Anna is one of six Australian startups profiled in the Fall 2018 issue of FinanceAsia's magazine. We selected young companies that already have an established customer base and are generating revenue. Each has raised capital in the past 12 months – ranging between $15 million and $80 million – and they have a number of large-name venture capital firms behind them.