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December 19, 2023

NextGen Tech Leader: SambaNova CEO Rodrigo Liang

NextGen Tech Leader: SambaNova CEO Rodrigo Liang

Rodrigo Liang is CEO and co-founder of SambaNova Systems. Prior to joining SambaNova, Rodrigo was responsible for SPARC Processor and ASIC Development at Oracle. He led the engineering organization responsible for the design of state-of-the-art processors and ASICs for Oracle’s enterprise servers.

Rodrigo Liang is CEO and co-founder of SambaNova Systems. Prior to joining SambaNova, Rodrigo was responsible for SPARC Processor and ASIC Development at Oracle. He led the engineering organization responsible for the design of state-of-the-art processors and ASICs for Oracle’s enterprise servers.

What is your focus at SambaNova?

SambaNova is a full-stack platform company focused on enterprise-grade AI. What that means is we're building systems that power AI foundation models for large companies where data privacy, data security, and artificial intelligence capabilities are of utmost importance. Like ChatGPT, but we give the company their own private, secure version, powered by their data.

Ultimately, it's about unlocking the value of the data they've already accumulated and being able to leverage that to drive business value.


What sets SambaNova apart from your competitors?

ChatGPT, Bard, and Gemini are all public cloud models and their capabilities are phenomenal. You can chat to them, you can create all sorts of services, you can query them, but they’re all trained on public data. Most businesses want to spotlight their own private data. But to do that with one of those models, you have to disclose your data to them.

If you look at most enterprises, data is their most valuable asset. Most companies sit on decades and decades of data and they want to know what it says. For many companies, either because of data privacy, because of IP concerns, or often for regulatory reasons, they cannot expose that data to third-party vendors. What we do is bring AI to them so they can train AI models on their data while still keeping it private and secure.

SambaNova is also different because we can provide a full stack generative AI platform: hardware, software, and trillion-parameter models all encapsulated in a single appliance. If a company’s data must stay behind their own firewall, we will bring the AI models to them in a fully configured, out of the box AI system.


Are there common use cases you're seeing from customers?

Our clients have many different use cases across various functions, but the core desire is the same: to leverage the power of AI to build competitive advantages for their business.

Companies are experts at understanding their customers, diligently collecting mountains of data under the "Know Your Customer" banner. But in the age of AI, a new imperative emerges: Know Yourself. Decades of data sit untapped across regions, languages, and departments, a treasure trove of hidden knowledge. Imagine unleashing AI on this internal ocean, creating a personal GPT, your own private Shakespeare, fluent in every product, service, customer, and contract. Query it at will and privately access the full knowledge base of your company. Paper documents, contracts, customer insights all transform into a living brain, ready to interact with your employees.


This isn't just about knowledge retrieval. It's about unleashing the power of that knowledge. Customer service becomes proactive, crafting personalized responses informed by your unique data. Contract generation, product specs, and code – all powered by your own AI, trained on your own terms. No more reliance on public models that hallucinate due to ignorance of your specific business, industry, and customers. Your data, your knowledge, your AI – a private fortress of intelligence.

2024 is the year of enterprise-grade AI. We're partnering with forward-thinking companies who understand that competitive edge AI delivers. For them, it's not a question of "if," it's a question of "when." We're ready to help them answer that question with a resounding "now."


How has the recent burst of investments into generative AI impacted SambaNova?

The analogy I like to give is to think back to the email revolution. It transformed communication, even though it was just a tiny part of the internet's potential. Similarly, chatbots, with their limitations and all, offered a taste of AI's transformative power. Suddenly, everyone could see how it could change their lives.

That is what happened this year with AI chatbots. Suddenly everyone understood the power of AI. But the hype around large language models (LLMs) like ChatGPT is just a glimpse into the vast ocean of AI possibilities. While chatbots captivated the public in 2023, the true potential lies in diverse applications like science, medicine, and even time series forecasting.

We recognize this. While we’re building upon the familiar chat interface, more importantly we’re also addressing the critical concerns businesses face: security, privacy, and model ownership. We understand that what worked for consumers won't fly in the enterprise.

That's why 2024 promises to be the year of enterprise-grade AI. Businesses have seen the potential, and now they're ready to put it into action. This means robust security, rigorous testing, and comprehensive monitoring – the things that matter most in the mission critical business world.


What is the long-term vision for SambaNova?

We believe AI is going to become a table stakes competitive differentiator for most businesses, that you must have to compete and create differentiation.

Within that broader context, we're focused on the top Global 2000 enterprises. Our mission is to provide that solution for complex global businesses, as well as government agencies. Every single one of those organizations needs to have their own private GPT with full control of the model, allowing them to create customization, and train it to serve their own specific needs.


What exciting milestones are coming up at SambaNova?

We’re aggressively expanding our go to market activities. We're already deeply embedded in several deployments within the public sector, including the US government, and now we're seeing an exciting surge into the commercial world, working with banks, healthcare giants, and energy leaders.

These are complex businesses with mountains of sensitive data, subject to strict regulations and privacy concerns. That's where we shine. Over the past nine months, we've seen explosive growth in these sectors with scaled production deployments ­– AI working at scale, day in and day out. We built our platform for these demanding environments and it's thrilling to see our customers reaping the benefits, from streamlined operations to groundbreaking insights.


How do you think investors can best support a startup founder?

The entrepreneur-investor relationship is one of the most important ones out there. It’s akin to the relationship amongst co-founders. Finding investors who understand and believe in the journey you're on is crucial.

The construct of a startup is to disrupt. If it's evolutionary and not revolutionary, the bigger companies can already do it. Within that construct, there's always uncertainty as the company grows. Uncertainty of whether your tech will truly disrupt, whether the market is ready for you, whether competitors will answer back. In that uncertainty, this is where venture support can play a key role. Find investors who share the understanding of your thesis and how you believe the market is going to transform.


Is there any advice you have for other founders?

You must have your North Star and be very clear about what your destination is in the company. By definition, as a disrupter you can't always predict the path the journey will take. If there was a highway already laid down, it means somebody's been there before you. You won't be able to predict how quickly revenue comes, how competitors respond, and how technology evolves. There are a lot of variables on the journey and you will have to course correct. How you handle the inevitable changes is incredibly important, because there is no one-size-fits-all. 

Doing that well is about being very empirically driven as the market evolves. It's about balance, being light on your feet, ready to evolve and adapt – but always maintaining that original vision.

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