14 Minutes of SaaS

14 Minutes of SaaS

E30: Mike Reiner, CoFounder City.ai, democratising artificial intelligence – 2 of 2

Mike Reiner at TOA Berlin with Stephen Cummins. Part 1 of a 2 part conversation with Stephen Cummins for 14 Minutes of SaaS. Part 2 of 2

E30: Mike Reiner, CoFounder City.ai, democratising artificial intelligence – 2 of 2

This is the second of two episodes with Mike Reiner, Co-Founder of City.ai and Venture partner in OpenOcean. He talks about democratising AI, how he expanded City.ai from Berlin and Amsterdam into dozens of cities and over 200 ambassadors globally, getting 2,800 attendees to the first WorldSummit.ai, and how he assesses whether he wants to invest in a founding team. “We started with Amsterdam.AI and Berlin.AI. Then we got more city names dot AI. And then we just started City.AI as an umbrella kind of brand. Yeah. Now, we are in like 57 cities.”

Transcript, part 2 of 2
Mike Reiner talking with Stephen Cummins
———

Mike Reiner

Different experiences gives you this gut feeling, right? Because you mentioned like data sounds very concrete, but at the end of the day it becomes something very intuitive. We see a founder, we talk to someone and you very quickly have this feeling ‘Aw this is going to be successful!’. And you can’t really pin it down, it’s not like there’s very concrete data points. So it’s something very tangible.

Stephen Cummins

Welcome to 14 minutes of SaaS, the show where you can listen to the stories and opinions of founders of the world’s most remarkable SaaS ScaleUps.

In this, the second like and concluding episode in the interview with Mike Reiner, he expands on founding City.ai, a non-profit and a global series of events based around democratising the design and development of artificial intelligence. It’s expanded from Berlin and Amsterdam to by now 65 cities. He talks about how educational his life is as a VC. And he really gets into the sorts of things he looks for in a founder when he’s trying to assess whether or not that person to be successful.

So you decided to co-found City.AI and it’s become an incredible distributed global community for people working in AI, and interests in AI. And I believe it’s expanded to 55 cities. How did you get there?

Mike Reiner

Look, I mean it really started just as a passion project. Initially we started just in Berlin and Amsterdam. So we just did an event – we asked people to get together and share the challenges and their lessons learned. What have you done? What has worked? What has not worked? Yeah, people liked it. And we really liked the transparency, because there was a lot of talk – but love to hear the stories behind it. You know, what didn’t work is always a very powerful thing to hear. And a great thing to learn from. And then we did it the more cities. Initially we just reached out to friends of ours and asked ‘Hey do you want to start a chapter in your city?’ So we worked with what we call ambassadors in the respective cities, they started a local chapter. So we have City.AI as the umbrella brand …. with many people confused in the context of smart cities … for obvious reasons.

But it really just started because we started with Amsterdam.AI and Berlin.AI … you know. Then we have more city names dot AI. And then we just started City.AI as an umbrella kind of brand. Yeah. Now, we are in like 57 cities. We’re having quarterly events in each of those cities. We have like a slack group where we are now close to 200 ambassadors who are sharing what’s happening in Singapore versus New York. You know. Also emerging hubs … sharing incredible stories of what’s happening there. There’s less experience there, but there’s a lot of drive and eagerness to learn which I always really love. So it’s been a fantastic experience.

And then on the back of it, we started a conference called WorldSummit.AI. The first event was over 2,800 people … which I thought was very ambitious.

Stephen Cummins

Amazing. You’re a VC as well. You invest in a lot of companies. How much of your time does all about take up … and how’s that going?

Mike Reiner

Yeah. So I would say it’s been roughly two days per week on that. It’s not only deal sourcing. But also now started working on something called data discussion. It ties also into City.ai … where I just invite founders to have a chat around how they use data in their company…  you know, like how does the data actually influenced machine learning. What do you pay attention to? What’s the right kinds of data? And then all the way from data collection and best practices … to data bias and data clean up. That might sound boring, but I think it’s very practical and at the core of what actually fuels and drives machine learning.

So I’m doing this for OpenOcean, it’s a fund from venture partners … and I’m looking for interesting Series A stage B2B companies that are data intensive … it might machine learning, but it’s not restricted to that. So I’m spending roughly two days a week on that.

Stephen Cummins

Was there anyone that was a particularly strong influence on your career you could highlight? Whether someone you knew or someone famous … anyone who really made a difference for you?

Mike Reiner

I don’t think it’s one person in particular. I mean, I think there’s so many role models out there. So many people [are] inspiring. And you’re following. I don’t really have one person in particular. I think I’ve been very lucky to be have been triggered in certain ways, right? I think the key when you’re young is always, in a way, to be lucky enough to meet the right people that trigger you to read about something, that trigger you to try something. And frankly, the way I see it, that is luck to a big extent. Of course, your own drive shapes luck. But many people just don’t get that opportunity – and they never find out, that they might be an incredible founder, or they might be an incredible marketer … simply because they don’t experience it, they don’t try it out.

So I think what I did for the accelerator has been an incredible experience because you’re at the intersection of seeing all those different business models, you’re working with all those talented founders, you’re using all those different business models and constantly learning and understanding what works what doesn’t work. So it gives you a lot of data, right? It gives you a lot of volume of data … of getting a sense of what makes a business successful, and what doesn’t. And what makes a founder tick, and what makes a good founder, or a bad founder. You meet so many mentors, right? You listen into the meetings and advice and you learn a lot about mentoring.

You learn a lot about how people reason from their own background. And then you learn a lot of like very specific skillsets … listening and learning from them, not to mention about building a company, right – an accelerator, and all the difficulties doing that … it’s yeah, it’s been an extremely rewarding experience.

Stephen Cummins

So it’s not so it’s not just data. It sounds like it’s an instinctual thing. It’s data that maybe you can’t really articulate from meeting so many people as well. It’s the combination of the two for, huh?

Mike Reiner

Yeah, absolutely. I think knowledge is something that is very implicit. Like we could both have the same data and information and our knowledge would be completely different due to our backgrounds – the way we process information and store this as knowledge is very different for you and for me. And yeah, and I think just getting in touch with a lot of different experiences gives you this gut instinct right? Because you mentioned like data sounds very concrete. But at the end of the day, it’ll become something very intuitive. And also the largest part of our brain actually is unconscious, you know. We don’t really know what’s happening … we just have a gut feeling and instinct that we feel ‘this is the right thing to do’ or we see a founder, we talk to someone and you very quickly have this feeling ‘Aw this is going to be successful!’ And you can’t really pin it down, it’s not like there’s very concrete data points. So it’s something very tangible.

Stephen Cummins

Did you know that we actually have about 100 million neurons in our gut as well.

Mike Reiner

Oh in our gut as well.

Stephen Cummins

Yeah. So serotonin and many other chemicals that we associate with being produced by the brain – some of that production is by the stomach. So gut feel … it’s amazing a lot of English actually reflects that – even though we had no way of knowing it.

Mike Reiner

Oh fantastic.

Stephen Cummins

Maybe we had a gut feel. Who knows?

Mike Reiner

I learned something. That’s great. I read an article the other day about how important food is actually for your happiness. Like having a diverse set of bacteria in your gut is so important for your mental state. I mean it’s something that I never really thought about, but it really makes you think.

Stephen Cummins

9:10 There’s a fantastic talk. I can’t remember the chap … I met him, it’s an Irish guy actually – he’s over on a Fulbright scholarship. It’s got over a million views on Ted. I don’t know whether it’s a Ted or a Tedx one, but it’s all about the biota and the influence of the biota out on long longevity as well as on your mental state – and it makes us think maybe about how many antibiotics we take, and all those things that we automatically take to get better. Anyway I’m now starting to talk – I need to be listening to you.
Is there any advice you give an entrepreneur that would want to be funded by yourselves …  apart from the normal things you might advise, maybe there’s a couple of things …. Are there any values you like to see them bring to the table? What sort of an entrepreneur do you favour?

Mike Reiner

For like investments you mean?

Stephen Cummins

For investment, yeah.

Mike Reiner

You know, when you say it, it sounds very obvious. But I think it’s harder to spot, right? So I think one one key thing is drive and passion. I mean it says a lot about the energy person has and motivation to really see this through. Also how people treat others. Pay attention to how to people treat others … how the co-founders worked together, how do they treat each other, how do they treat employees.  How does the founder treat the cleaner? I think these small things to pay attention to tell you a lot about a person. In general the founders I’m looking for are founders that have a hustling mentality – because at the end of the day, it’s all about getting deals, right? It’s all about getting customers in and we need to, especially at the beginning, we need to hustle – to talk to a lot of customers. Customer validation – especially early stage – I mean with OpenOcean we invest later – Series A stage plus. When I was with an accelerator looking at companies, customer validation was the one thing that I paid attention to. How do you validate? How many customers have you spoken to the last week?

11:20 What did you ask them? Walk me through this? To just understand what questions they ask? How did they validate? How do they then use that data to make decisions? Do they have a system for this in place? That is all very insightful. I think it tells you a lot about how person things that works. And obviously for the rest of it’s like the product doesn’t make sense to me like it’s a reporting question because might be something that I don’t know stand at all. And then it might be phenomenal company. But for me, I’m not the right person to… to assess it.
So, the whole crypto space for instance, I love to read about it, but I know so little about the space, about crypto companies. I’m not the right person to assess whether this might be successful or not. But yeah, I would say the top thing would be the hustling mentality, how good he gets along with his co-founders is also good indication of whether it’s gonna break up. The main reasons for companies not to work out is founder trouble, team trouble. These are very important things.

Stephen Cummins

 

Mike Reiner. That’s great advice. And it’s been a pleasure talking with you yesterday, today, and now interviewing you. Thank you very much for giving me your time on 14 Minutes of SaaS.

12:38 I’m very excited about the next episode. It’s part 1 of an 8-part series with whurley, otherwise known as Will Hurley, CEO & Founder of Strangeworks, a company accelerating the evolution of quantum computing by democratising access to it. Whurley is a genuine serial entrepreneur, having sold Honest Dollar to Goldman Sachs, and Chaotic Moon to Accenture. Next episode is called ‘Whurley crashes into his future self’.

Stephen Cummins

You’ve been listening to 14 minutes of SaaS. Thank you to Ketsu for music provided under a creative commons license. This episode was brought to you by me, Stephen Cummins. If you enjoy the podcast, please don’t forget to share it with your network, subscribe to the series and give the show a rating.

 

 

14 Minutes of SaaS