Today is my last day at Strands. I am so grateful to all Stranders for the things we have achieved together!
I personally would have never guessed 14 years ago that we’d have come so far, although we were dreaming really BIG! As we all know, all the good things come to an end, and I have decided to accept a faculty position at ESADE Business School. I am very excited about this new opportunity! But now it is time to take a retrospective look…
I’ve met Cisko!
I’ve met Francisco J. Martin in Rhode Island (US) in 1997. We were attending the National Conference on AI (AAAI), it was our first time in US, and our first time presenting a paper in a conference. In that conference we’ve also met Prof. Juan M. Corchado who is now at the Universidad de Salamanca. At that time, without Twitter, Facebook nor Linkedin (nor mobile phones!) the three of us socialized through an improvised trip to Boston with a rental van. That was a magic road trip that changed our lives and 20 years later we are still talking about that experience. We were PhD students genuinely interested in science and AI and pursuing an academic / research career. It was an important conference for me because I’ve also met Prof. Ramón López de Mántaras who became one of my most relevant professional references. A couple of years after, Francisco founded iSOCO in Barcelona, and I cofounded Iconomic Systems in Switzerland together with Prof. Boi Faltings, Prof. Pearl Pu, and Dr. Christian Frei. Iconomic Systems was successfully sold to i:FAO AG who became Cytric with Amadeus as a major shareholder.
In autumn 2003, I wrote an email to Francisco since I was looking for new opportunities. As always, Francisco very quickly seduced me about a new idea: to build a company with the mission of providing music recommendations in the same way Amazon did with books. For the first time that was possible since Apple just launched the first iPod, so music was being fully digitalized. We had amazing collaborations on the scientific side to build such a recommendation system including Prof. Tom Dietterich, Prof. Enric Plaza, Prof. Ramón López de Mántaras, and Prof. Boi Faltings.
In the first months of the company we launched MusicStrands.com, a service that provided music recommendations based on users collected feedback from music players (an article from New York Times and an article from Science Daily).
We used our own developed algorithms inspired in collaborative filtering techniques. At that time, MusicStrands was pioneering that space and years later Apple, Inc. acquired our portfolio of 30+ patents. However, the business model did not work basically because the music record labels were not ready to start with the music streaming business. I’d like to relate a small anecdote to illustrate the potential of what were doing: in July 2007 I received an email from Andreas Ehn (Spotify first employee and CTO) and Daniel Ek (Spotify founder and CEO) explaining they had a company for a year with few engineers in Stockholm. We met in a small hotel in Barcelona and they told me they were looking for a music recommender… unfortunately, we were not able to see their potential and we declined their offer! Life goes on!
MusicStrands technology was used to create different products around the core music recommender. One of them was called PartyStrands. It was about creating a mobile app allowing users to express their music preferences when going in a pub. In this way, the system created a playlist according to the aggregation of musical profiles of the people in the pub. The overall result is that the pub was playing music according to the profiles of the customers (some pictures here!). Trevor Legwinski, former Director of Product Marketing for partyStrands discusses partyStrands at ABC News. We even teamed-up with MTV to create an interactive Times Square session for New Year’s Eve in 2007.
In 2007 the company changed a lot through two investment rounds from Dalbergia and BBVA resulting in a total investment of $55M. The company changed its name from MusicStrands to MyStrands and enlarged the focus to include recommendation services in different domains such as music, people, news, videos, and so on.
The Academic Side
On the academic side, Strands organized the Recommenders 2006 Summer School in Bilbao, Spain that became later the ACM Conference on Recommender Systems. In 2010, Xavier Amatriain and I co-chaired the 10th ACM Conference on Recommender Systems in Barcelona. Strands also published the paper The Big Promise of Recommender Systems at the AI Magazine (AAAI) in 2011.
In 2007, Strands started a very ambitious project with BBVA in Spain to implement a PFM (Personal Finance Management) application for their online banking channel. It was the first PFM implementation in Europe! After that project, the company productized that implementation and became a Fintech company for banks. Since then, Strands has been working for top banks worldwide including ING (Netherlands), Deutsche Bank (Germany), Postfinance (Switzerland), Bank of Montreal (Canada), Barclays (UK), TSB (UK), Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank (United Arab Emirates), Commercial Bank of Africa (Kenya), BCV (Switzerland), BNP Paribas (France), Israel Discount Bank (Israel), Nordea (Norway), Leumi (Israel), Davivienda (Colombia), Piraeus Bank (Greece), just to mention a few.
Our Best Success: the Strands Ecosystem
One of the things we are more proud of Strands is the ecosystem we have created that led to different startup companies. Creating a technology company makes people work very hard together in passioned environments where everybody gets into the entrepreneurship mindset. That is probably our best success at Strands. These are the startup companies that emerged from people working at Strands:
- In 2011, Francisco J. Martin founded BigML with the mission of making Machine Learning easy and beautiful for everyone. Nowadays, BigML is being used by more than 70,000 companies and universities around the world.
- Two brilliant engineers, Ivan de Prado and Pere Ferrera, from Strands started Datasalt, a company offering assistance in integrating and developing Big Data and Cloud Computing solutions.
- Another group of Strands engineers started Blueknow, a company on recommendation technologies for retailers.
- The former CTO of Strands, Nacho Lafuente, created Datumize focussing on managing dark data for companies.
- Ivan Tarradellas and other engineers from Strands started Appventures Games to develop games around tourism activities.
- In US, Flywire is a company with a huge business potential that was also founded by former Strands employees.
- Former VP of Marketing at Strands, Gabriel Aldamiz-echevarria, founded in 2010 Chicisimo, a company using Machine Learning to automate outfit advise.
- Peyman Faratin Robust Links
It’s all about PEOPLE and much better with a Jim Shur!
There is an amazing team behind Strands that is working very hard every day to help banks with the disruption coming from new entrants in the Fintech ecosystem.