Deon Nicholas is the company’s founder and CEO Advance. Previously, Deon built products and infrastructure for Facebook, Palantir, Dropbox and Pure Storage. He holds ML publications and infrastructure patents, was a world finalist in the ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest and was nominated for Forbes 30 under 30. Originally from Canada, Deon enjoys spending time with his wife and son, playing basketball and reading as many books as he gets his hands on.
Advance, artificial intelligence and Machine learning the business platform started with a focus on customer support. The company’s artificial intelligence can learn from internal documents, emails, chat, and even old support tickets to automatically resolve automated route tickets correctly and quickly gather key institutional information. In 2018, Forethought introduced artificial intelligence Agathan, which has shortened support settlement time by up to 30 percent and increased the company’s revenue 46 times. The company announced a list of astronomical investors for its current Series B financing round, including Ashton Kutcher and Guy Oseary’s Sound Ventures, Sean “Diddy” Combs, LL COOL J and Qualtrics CEO Ryan Smith.
You first learn to code at a very young age and then challenge yourself to code video games. Could you share this trip?
I am the third of four sons. When I was little, my brother and I were really interested in video games; it was kind of a thing we all did together.
My older brother’s friend was a “hacker,” literally a “get on your computer” hacker. He was really good with computers in general. One day he saw that I was really interested in video games, so he downloaded a “game controller” for our Windows 95 machine and showed me how to use it. It wasn’t “coding” per se, but a lot of dragging and dropping and logic and storytelling. So I started thinking about video game ideas. Being a fan of Pokemon and Digimon, I made a little RPG called “Dojimon”. It was really a start for me.
Over the years, I came up with more ambitious stories and video game ideas. In high school, I had this idea for a massive multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) called Dojiworld (I kept the word “doji” in my entire video game videos). It was a lot more complicated than the “drag-n-drop” game selection tools were able to handle, so I learned to really “code” and taught myself to build C ++ from scratch. From then on, coding became a “superpower.” I’ve never stopped Dojiworld … but I may finish it one day 🙂
When did you next realize that you wanted to participate in artificial intelligence and machine learning?
In high school, I built an artificial intelligence-based learning tool that read and understood history notes and asked me before the tests. Then after school, at the local pharmacy, I was constantly put on the spot to answer customer questions. I wanted to code myself for the problem. I had previously programmed an artificial intelligence study guide for my history tests … so why couldn’t I code myself for this?
Could you tell the genetic story behind the establishment of Foresight, including the original rejection of Y Combinator?
As I studied, I came back again and again to the idea that if I could help myself explore with artificial intelligence, I could use similar technology to help others in all aspects of their lives. After reading more Natural language processing (NLP) and Natural Language Comprehension (NLU) were interested in how this could be used together to facilitate information management. When I applied to YCombinator, I was rejected. I didn’t land on it. I sent my tweet rejection letter. It was a catalyst for me. It triggered me and I focused on the product behind Forethought. In Forethought, our job is to make every genius of their work, and we use artificial intelligence for just that.
Could you tell us about anticipation, and how, unlike most chat robots, it uses real machine learning compared to automatic setup trees?
Foresight has a unique separator by which Agatha is able to learn, understand, and contextualize what is fed and what is asked. Companies that use chatbots claim that they are based on artificial intelligence, but if you look under the hood, you will find that they are all based solely on keywords or decision trees. Companies advertise artificial intelligence as a shiny brand, but don’t use it to their capacity, especially in customer service. Instead of “if this” rules that refer to “respond with this response,” Agatha knows “this” and confidently resolves this, it, and these options that elevate CSAT, NPS, and the overall growth and ability of the agent.
What are the business solutions offered by Forethought?
Prejudice develops artificial intelligence agents that address the more expensive and inefficient parts of a business. Our first artificial intelligence, Agatha, charges customer support for Solve, Triage and Assist. Agatha can learn from internal documents, emails, chat and even old support tickets to reduce support resolution times by 30%. All of our solutions are based on understanding natural language and are self-adapting, learning and understanding systems over time.
You have a growing mindset and you will always learn new challenging skills such as math, computers and physics. How much of your success do you like this?
I have definitely always been a curious person and a “lifelong learner”. It has helped me be internally motivated in several areas. However, part of the growth mindset is learning to be self-conscious enough to “know when you don’t know” something and ask for help. So I would also say that the generosity and mentoring of others has also played a huge role. And lastly, one can never underestimate how often happiness or serendipity comes up.
You are known for diligently reading as many books as possible, what types of books do you usually read, and do you have any favorite books or authors that you would recommend?
When I was younger, I read a lot of fiction. Definitely baited the Harry Potter series, the Unhappy event series and the Ender game.
Nowadays, I read quite exclusively non-fiction books on leadership, product development, or building a sales team or solving algorithmic problems. To me, I read “standing on the shoulders of giants.”
Do you have any advice for minorities who are interested in STEM or machine learning but are reluctant to get in because the field is dominated by white men?
First, demystify the idea that you need to be none other than yourself in order to succeed. In addition, we really need to think back to the first principles. You start by designing how you think about the product, marketing, etc. Think things through the principles first and then build the product and sell it. Concentration matters … 90% of businesses fail because people focus on the wrong things. And always, get help from people who have done it before.
Thanks for a great interview, I can also assure you that Ender’s Game is worth reading. For readers who want to learn more, they should visit Advance.