While the Ontario startup, Rubikloud continues to expand across the globe – it's R&D will always be Canadian

Co-Founder & CEO at Rubikloud

"Our goal is to be the company that changes retail," says Kerry Liu, Founder and CEO of Rubikloud. While this is an ambitious goal, Rubikloud seems to be well on their way, charging ahead of a growing list of tech start-ups focused on integrating deep learning and AI into the world of retail.

Rubikloud brings retailers into the cloud era, migrating data from legacy systems so artificial intelligence and machine learning can access data ubiquitously over the internet to help make automated, intelligent decisions. Currently, decisions about inventory, pricing, loyalty programs and marketing are all done manually, but artificial intelligence can offer a more efficient solution. Liu claims their platform is 35 to 50% more accurate than manually managing inventory.

"This is a big impact from a financial perspective," Liu says. "It's also about less waste – food waste, plastic waste, clothing waste," he explains. "Eliminating waste has a positive effect on the environment as well as our clients' bottom line." Most importantly, it's good for the customer, "We're making sure shoppers can get what they want, when they want it."

Founded in Toronto, the company now has offices in London, Texas, and Hong Kong. It has attracted $45 million in venture funding from international investors, growing rapidly since graduating from the MaRS accelerator fund program. Liu expects Rubikloud to have 150 employees by the end of the year. While the company continues to put down stakes in global markets, the critical components will remain at home, "All our research and development and machine learning is done in Toronto. We have about 70 engineers and data scientists working here."

Separating AI fact from science fiction

The company's rise to success has come amid an artificial intelligence boom that has many retailers and manufactures alike looking to the adoption of AI as a necessity to staying competitive. "Some retailers are investing in AI because they see it as a path to growth, others because they're terrified that they'll fall behind in technology." He laughs, "Whether out of fear or excitement, everyone is investing in AI."

Inevitably, working in artificial intelligence means having to frequently correct misconceptions people have about the technology. "People think we're trying to recreate the human brain and that it will be smarter than everyone, but you have to point it at a problem. AI does what we tell it to do."

Liu also addresses the growing concern about how artificial intelligence may affect the role of human workers, reassuring us that his platform is intended to augment rather than replace workers. "The platform does parts of the job that we find very frustrating. A majority of a buyer's job is supposed to be negotiating with companies rather than performing financial analysis," he explains. "We're not replacing them, we're freeing them."

A place to grow: home vs. Silicon Valley

Rubikloud has taken off since its formative days at MaRS. "We leveraged a lot of MaRS support services," says Liu. "They had stuff we didn't have internally yet, like PR, and they introduced us to potential customers." Rubikloud benefitted from the MaRS Venture Fund and its Investment Accelerator Fund.

MaRS and Toronto have emerged as hotbeds of AI talent, and Liu says this recognition has been a long time coming, "In the last two or three years, Toronto has been getting a lot of attention for AI, but the reality is the academic talent has been here for the past 20 years." He singled out a few select programs as being particularly influential, "The computational math program at Waterloo and the machine learning program at the University of Toronto have been around for decades." That's why despite its international success, Rubikloud will remain where the talent is. "We've always been global with our investors and customers, but our core research and development will always be in Canada," he says.

Related: Ontario's AI ecosystem powering the global shift toward digital economy

"There's a competitive advantage to being in Ontario. From here, you can raise money from anywhere in the world and the talent is phenomenal and more loyal. It's a different culture than you see in Silicon Valley." While entrepreneurs used to feel pressure to relocate to the Valley, Liu makes it clear Toronto is home, "There's a human side too. I'm not going to uproot my life to move to the Valley. I may have had to do that ten years ago, but I don't have to anymore."

Liu sees an ambitious future for Rubikloud right here at home, "We can be a homegrown billion dollar AI company," he says. "I've always wanted this to be a Canadian company."

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January 28, 2019

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