Vista Acquires Automated Insights, The Startup Behind The AP’s “Robot” News
Automated Insights — the Durham, North Carolina-based startup backed by the Associated Press, Samsung and Steve Case that has built technology to automatically take raw data and translate it into narratives that look like they’ve been written by a human — has been acquired by the $14 billion private equity firm Vista Equity Partners and portfolio company STATS, which focuses on sports data analysis.
Ai, as it calls itself, is probably most well known for powering content creation at investor AP, which in January said it’s producing 3,000 articles each quarter based on earnings reports and is going to ramp up its work with the company. When Anthony wrote about Ai, the company claimed it was producing hundreds millions of pieces of content for customers that also included Yahoo and Microsoft.
Terms of the deal are not being disclosed. “We aren’t disclosing the amount, but I will say two things about the financials,” Robbie Allen, CEO and founder of Automated Insights, tells me in an email. “Our shareholders are very happy with their return, and we were already in a strong financial position.” The company raised $5.5 million in a Series B round last summer with investors including the AP, Samsung, and Steve Case.
He tells me that as a result of the STATS acquisition — which itself was acquired by Vista in June of last year — Ai will “deepen our work in sports.” But it also plans to keep doing what it has been in the wider world of translating data into humanlike narratives.
There will be new investment made into Wordsmith, Ai’s natural language generation platform, for it to translate data related to business intelligence, media, finance and marketing — as well as personal fitness and sports.
One of the opportunities will be in working with other companies held by Vista. There are currently 26 of these, “and Wordsmith can help all of them make their data more actionable,” Allen says. “That offers us an opportunity to dramatically expand our reach. In addition, we will continue serving our existing clients and pursuing new clients more aggressively than ever.” He adds that “We will absolutely continue working with companies like AP on non-sports content,” which implies that STATS will now retain an exclusivity on using Ai for that specific vertical.
The decision to sell to Vista came instead of looking for a new round of financing, he says. “Vista’s resources allow us to go faster than ever before, advancing our technology and bringing it to more companies and industries. Our name, our team, our office, and our management will all stay the same. It’s a dream acquisition instead of being swallowed up by a big company.” In his blog post announcing the sale, Allen notes that Ai wasn’t looking to be acquired.
Ai says that this is the first big exit for a company specifically working in the translation of raw data into natural language but there have been a number of other companies that are investing in AI and natural language processing coming from other angles, from Apple acquiring Siri to power the voice assistant on iOS through to Google acquiring a number of AI companies and investing in deep learning research. Facebook also recently acquired Wit.ai, to beef up in speech recognition, and Yahoo has acquired a couple of natural language startups itself, in the form of Summly and SkyPhrase. Intel has also been diving into the space.