Tech start-up of the week: AYLIEN

12 Apr 2014

Parsa Ghaffari, CEO, AYLIEN

AYLIEN is a software start-up based in Dublin focused on applying artificial intelligence (AI) solutions to problems in the news and media space.

There is a sentiment doing the rounds in the technology world that AYLIEN CEO Parsa Ghaffari sums up neatly: “If software is eating the world, then APIs are eating software.”

Ghaffari, a native of Iran who selected Dublin as the location for his start-up, has been working on his software technology for a few years now, initially as a consumer play before pivoting in the more viable direction of business-to-business technology.

“Last month, we launched our Text Analysis API, which is a package of eight different natural language processing, machine learning and information retrieval tools for extracting insights and meaning from documents with ease.

“The company was officially founded in 2011 and has received a total venture funding of US$500,000 from SOSventures and myself. We moved to Ireland in October 2012.”

A hint of what’s to come

According to Ghaffari, in recent years there have been significant improvements in the AI space, particularly in machine learning and natural language processing.

“And although we’ve seen a lot of interesting AI-powered applications coming out, such as Google Translate, Siri, and Google Now, we believe that these apps are only a hint of what’s to come.

“The challenge is, AI has traditionally been known to be difficult. Most SMEs and individual developers don’t have the resources to build a successful AI solution in-house. We hope to solve this issue by identifying common use cases and providing an easy-to-use solution for them. With our Text API we plan to make natural language processing and text analysis mainstream and easily applicable.

“We provide the service as an API and generally speaking we put our APIs at the core of our business as we think that the API marketplace is now bigger than ever and if software is actually eating the world, as (investor) Mark Andreessen famously said, then APIs are certainly eating software!”

The founder

“I grew up in Iran and have been coding since I was a kid, although I studied process engineering in university. I am a huge fan of artificial intelligence as a means of augmenting human intelligence, and although I lack formal academic education in AI, my passion and enthusiasm for the problems I’ve been tackling have helped me develop necessary skills for dealing with AI,” Ghaffari said.

“I have a rather abstract mind and I’m obsessed with automation, efficiency and intelligent systems.”

The technology


The AYLIEN team (left to right), Tomasz Jama (engineer, no longer with the company); Parsa Ghaffari, CEO and founder; Shawn Broderick, director and mentor; Hamed Ramezanian, engineer; and Amir Mohammad Saeid, VP, engineering

Ghaffari said his APIs utilise a variety of machine learning algorithms and techniques, supervised and unsupervised learning, to find patterns in data.

“And then we ‘learn’ from those patterns to build and train models that are able to make predictions on new data.”

The Text API provides eight functions:

•               Extraction: Extracts the main piece of text from a webpage, plus embedded medi,a such as images and videos.

•               Summarisation: Summarises an article into a few key sentences.

•               Classification: Classifies a piece of text according to IPTC NewsCode standard into more than 500 categories, for example, is it about sports or tech?

•               Entity Extraction: Extracts named entities (people, organisations, products and locations) and values (URLs, emails, telephone numbers, currency amounts and percentages) mentioned in a text.

•               Concept Extraction: Extracts named entities mentioned in a text, disambiguates and cross-links them to DBPedia and linked data entities, along with their semantic types (including DBPedia and types).

•               Language Detection: Detects the main language a document is written in and returns it in ISO 639-1 format, from among 76 different languages.

•               Sentiment Analysis: Detects sentiment of a document in terms of polarity (positive or negative) and subjectivity (subjective or objective).

•               Hashtag Suggestion: Automatically suggests hashtags for better discoverability of content on social media.

The web as we know it is broken

Ghaffari believes that the web in its current shape is broken in the sense it’s far from efficient as a knowledge-sharing network.

“Our vision is to utilise AI to make the web more efficient and intelligent. Text is the most accessible type of content on the internet, and that’s why we’ve started with text.”

In terms of a successful pivot, AYLIEN has signed up more than 100 business customers since it launched its Text API in February.

“We are working with customers from around the globe to deliver end-to-end solutions based on our APIs – so it’s safe to say that we’ve found our product-market fit with the APIs.”

The next stage for the company, he added, is to raise its Series A round of financing by the end of the third quarter of this year.

Focus and relationships are key to enduring the start-up journey

“Start-ups are a bumpy road and there are many challenges associated with running a start-up, especially as a first-time founder, that take time to master as they come at you at many different levels and in different areas of your life – from having a healthy lifestyle and keeping good relationships with your friends in your personal life to maintaining focus and remaining creative in your business and in your professional life.

“To most people, the entrepreneurship looks like a short-term, unstable sprint towards getting rich but as you step into it you realise it’s more of a lifestyle that you have to learn, adopt and master – and it takes time to do so.

“For us, another class of challenges were related to me being an Iranian national, which caused various unfair problems with visas and such. Thankfully, the Entrepreneur Visa programme introduced by the Irish Government resolved a lot of these issues for us,” Ghaffari said.

He sees a lot of momentum building up in the tech start-up scene here in Ireland, equally from investors and entrepreneurs.

“We’re also seeing astonishing variety and well-roundedness in the start-up ecosystem. The Irish Government and Enterprise Ireland are helping and facilitating formation and growth of tech start-ups at different levels through different programmes, which make Ireland a great place for starting a new tech company.”

Starting great tech companies

As Ghaffari sees it, all the necessary components for starting and building a great tech company are in Ireland.

“If you have an idea for building something that you or your friends/family really want, then you can probably find other people who need the same thing and if you do manage to find enough of those people, you’re very close to succeeding as a start-up.

“So make some free time – a summer if you’re a student or weekends/after hours if you’re employed – and hack together a prototype and start getting feedback as early as possible.

“Finally, remember that start-ups are about growth potential and not absolute numbers, at least not initially so don’t give up, even if you only have five users!”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years