Cohere CEO Aidan Gomez has always been fascinated by computers. He followed his dreams all the way to Google Brain, the company’s research division that works on artificial intelligence. In 2019, he founded Cohere with his colleague, Nick Frosst, and Ivan Zhang, another AI expert. Their goal: Make natural language processing — the complex tech which makes chatbots run — more accessible to developers.
The company emerged from stealth mode a year ago and quickly secured $170 million (U.S.) through two funding rounds. Among their investors is Geoff Hinton, a well-respected expert in artificial intelligence and former mentor to Gomez and Frosst at Google Brain. Now, Cohere is expanding into the U.S. with an office in California headed up by a former Apple executive.
Here’s how Gomez and his team achieved all of this in less than three years.
The pitch: Cohere is aiming to become the default platform developers use to create NLP systems. Today, to build a chatbot or search application, you need to be a machine learning engineer with a PhD. But we need to lower the bar for developers to be able to build these systems. And in order to do that, Cohere is building a toolkit for developers that's accessible and focused on the use cases that they want to build NLP systems for. It's about getting more people building and experimenting with this technology.
The “aha” moment: I was working at Google Brain for about three years as part of the team that created a new network architecture for the NLP space. I noticed that most people couldn’t apply NLP technology due to the lack of access to resources and the very scarce talent needed to leverage it. Cohere was founded to increase accessibility to this kind of technology for developers — not just specialized NLP experts. So, whether you're a developer on the front end or the back end, whether you're doing web, or mobile, anyone can build NLP into an application.
On landing two rounds of funding in less than a year: NLP is blowing up. There’s such a high demand for better NLP and more of it. I think it’s just really captured the imagination of developers and that's what spurred the interest and our growth rate.
How it feels to receive $170 million in investment: The thing I'm really excited about is the validation and the opportunity to actually sit down, build an amazing team, grow this company and put the tech into more developers’ hands. These investments enable that. The money itself is just a necessary component in order to get access to resources, hire great people, expand our presence and grow.
On Cohere’s growth and expansion into the U.S.: We started off the year with around 20 team members and we currently have about 75, so we’ve had pretty dramatic growth. We’re also developing our office in Palo Alto, California. It’s been exciting to see the team grow. The former director of proactive intelligence at Apple, Bill MacCartney, joined us as our vice president of engineering and machine learning. I'm also focused on product development —making sure that we're building the right product for users, that it’s usable by anyone and that it's expressive enough.
What was the first computer program you ever wrote? I created an online forum for a gaming community when I was around 14. I wrote the code for some open-source forum platform and then customized it with the kind of visuals that I wanted. I've always been enthralled by computers.
What was the first video game you played? There was a Nancy Drew mystery game that I played on my PC and was obsessed with. It was a series of CD-ROMs and I bought all of them. I found them so scary! Right now, I'm playing Horizon Forbidden West. My co-founder bought me a PS5 for my birthday last summer — I hadn't played video games for about five years before then, but I'm fully back in now, head over heels.
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