Interview | Founder of Whale tent, Mr. Ye Shengxuan: A post-80s "geek" entrepreneur using AI to build the brand of the future

Whale 帷幄 2022-01-24 17:30:00

According to Ye Shengxuan, there are three types of people in this world.

One is the "majority", who pursue a simple and uncomplicated life and can be contented even if they study in ordinary schools or work in small companies; another is the "successful" in the secular sense, who are managers in a certain field and have a deep understanding of that field; and another is the "creators", who have a broad vision and are able to handle whatever environment they are put in. 

If the first two types of people's vision are compared to "points" and "lines", then the third type of people's vision is the "surface". Ye Shengxuan knows very well that he wants to be the third type of people, so he chose to start his own business.


Entrepreneurial Dreamer

Among the new generation of AI entrepreneurs who have emerged in China in recent years, Shengxuan Ye, born in 1988, is not considered a "young guy".

In July 2021, the AI Young Scientists Alliance - Wutong Hui released the third "A Class" list during the World Artificial Intelligence Conference. 17 outstanding young Chinese AI academics and entrepreneurs were selected, and Shengxuan Ye was one of them, and also the oldest one. According to the statistics, these 17 "A-class students" are mostly post-90s, with an average age of 26 years old.

As a "former wave", Mr. Ye talked about the reason he joined the AI Young Scientists Alliance, mainly to communicate with more AI entrepreneurs, to share the sufferings and sins he had suffered in the startup process with the "latter waves", so that they would take less detours and learn from others' successful experiences.

Four years after returning to China, Ye still maintains the style of a technology entrepreneur in Silicon Valley: enthusiastic, cheerful, daring to dream, loves to communicate with people, talks endlessly, and thinks clearly. Even when he talks about how hard it is to start a business, his tone is full of the vigor of "dreams don't always come true, but we are pushing the boundaries of the unknown every day".

At the end of 2017, Mr. Ye founded "Whale Tent" in Hangzhou, China, which means "the one who plans the tent has no boundaries", and later changed its name to "Weiwojiangxin", which is also known as "Whale" to the public. However, in the beginning of the creation of "Weiwo", Ye himself always had a fearless, optimistic and open heart.

There is no doubt that Whale Tent is a startup less than 5 years old, hoping to combine artificial intelligence, IoT and data to provide digital marketing solutions for brands, but under Ye's leadership, Whale Tent does not look like a startup at all: there is no mandatory overtime culture, flexible work hours, and even the name of the meeting room is extremely dreamy - "Sky City". -The city in the sky".

This idealistic spirit of Don Quixote may be related to the unique schooling experience of Mr. Ye in the US.

After graduating from high school in 2007, he studied computer science and economics at the University of Virginia, and then went to Caltech for his master's degree in computing and neural systems, where he studied decision making and behavioral analysis under Christof Koch, a renowned American neuroscientist and current president and chief scientist of the Allen Institute for Brain Science.

At Caltech, in addition to learning cutting-edge AI knowledge, Mr. Ye also had the opportunity to meet many maverick and knowledgeable researchers, including his mentor Christof Koch. On the one hand, Christof Koch is a leading academic figure in neuroscience and artificial intelligence; on the other hand, he is a very "geeky", unconventional personality who likes to dye his hair in bright colors and is very young at heart.

Christof Koch has many disciples, and his students have held important positions around the world, including Fei-Fei Li, a well-known Chinese woman scientist and current professor at Stanford University. Christof Koch is also very close to Francis Crick, the Nobel laureate in medicine who discovered the double helix structure of DNA, and they have been working together for more than a decade as mentors and students, according to Sang-Sun Yeh.

Walking with giants always gives people the desire to explore the unknown, and their maverick and daring style makes Yeh feel that even if the harvest is far away, they are doing the right thing by trying to open up the unknown boundaries of human beings and facing the broad future every day.

However, he soon learned that his interest was not to be "imprisoned" in the laboratory doing research day and night. He found that it was not easy to apply the research results in the lab, and the time spent in the lab was always more than planned, but the progress could be far less than expected.

After receiving his master's degree from Caltech, he went to Harvard Business School as a Research Associate, where he first used MRI experiments on a large scale to obtain the thinking process of business decisions, and the results were published in Nature Scientific Reports and are now widely used in business decision research (e.g. AC Nelson's advertising analysis).

After spending three months at Harvard Business School, Sang-Jin Yeh jumped to Facebook as a software engineer and was one of the first members of Facebook's Marketing Innovation Lab. During that time, he modeled consumer behavior for a Fortune 500 retailer's global messages, helping it improve its brand reach. It was also his experience working at Harvard Business School and Facebook that gave Ye the idea to combine artificial intelligence with brand marketing. But working on technology applications in a big factory did not satisfy his 'ambition'. "I've always found entrepreneurship to be a more interesting thing, and I've been watching for the right opportunity," he says. He said.


Enter the "AI + brand marketing

Every geek has the dream of changing the world with technology, and entrepreneurs are the most fervent part of them.

In 2017, Jack Ma mentioned the concept of "new retail", and the new consumption model represented by Hema and live e-commerce has driven the rise of many emerging brands. For example, in recent years, the development momentum of Yuanqi Forest, Xi tea, perfect diary, etc., which are strongly promoted by young people, is a rapid development momentum. In such a market context, the demand for personalized marketing of brands is gradually increasing, and the role of technology in brand marketing is becoming increasingly prominent.

Seeing the changes in the domestic market, in 2017, Mr. Ye decided to resign from Facebook and return to China to start his own business.

He knows that entrepreneurship itself is a difficult thing to do, so it is especially important to listen to his heart's call to make a decision. If you start from your heart, then the weight of wishful thinking can be much higher than success or failure and income: "Starting a business is really not rich.

"Entrepreneurship is really not rich. If you go to a big company and become a professional manager, some of them can make two or three million a year and achieve wealth freedom. I think they live a very nourishing life, and it's a way of life." Ye Shengxuan analyzed, but this is not the most important thing for an 'idealist' like him.

He wants to be the "third type of people" in his eyes, that is, people who open up new frontiers, and the fun of entrepreneurship for him is that he can form a new line of knowledge points accumulated every day, and then constantly expand his cognitive side, enriching his knowledge of life and understanding of the world. From this level, "entrepreneurship" is extremely compatible with his outlook on life.

The track of marketing is very sensitive to the development of computers and modern communication technology, which will constantly raise new questions and generate new hot spots with the update of technology. The earliest marketing system consisted of offline advertising, TV, radio and paper media, etc. Nowadays, marketing is showing digital characteristics, and numerous direct-to-consumer marketing methods have emerged, such as WeChat Public, Jitterbug Live and other various mediums, and even the meta-universe, which is currently bursting at the seams.

"Many brands like P&G and Yuanqi Forest will spend 40% to 80% of their money on marketing, while beauty and color cosmetics brands account for even as much as 80% to 90%," Ye Shengliang introduced.

And in the brand marketing and selling scene, also divided into online and offline. The current digital degree of online marketing sales only accounts for about 30%, while the remaining 70% of the offline scene is still in the digital primary stage. After targeting this market, Ye Shengliang decided to develop technical solutions for brand marketing services from his knowledge of artificial intelligence.

In terms of technology, artificial intelligence is a very important component. Ye explains: "AI can make the placement more accurate. When we buy something on the applet or APP, words like 'add to buy' or 'you might also like' may appear under the shopping cart to recommend products for consumers, and these measures are inseparable from AI technology".

In addition to the primary data collection and behavioral analysis, Whale's team also incorporates hardware facilities for IoT, a combination of hard and soft. For offline store sales analysis, devices such as sensors and cameras in IoT are missing, for example, they need to collect data on offline consumers' purchase behavior and item delivery process through cameras.

They say, "Data is resource and resource is opportunity." In brand marketing, this saying is fulfilled. From the very beginning of the business, Ye Shengxuan was hoping to effectively tap into the value of data, and through accurate data acquisition and analysis, form a data network to help brands increase sales conversion.

He compares technology and problems to "hammers" and "nails". To solve different "nail" problems, different "hammers" are used, and even different tools such as "drills" and "pliers" may be used. And Whale

Unlike many emerging AI startups in China, they combine data analytics and IoT technology to a large extent in addition to AI as a hammer, with data analytics accounting for about 40% of the total.

Once the track was determined, Ye Shengxuan led Whale's team to set out, starting with offline stores, to study how to combine AI (artificial intelligence), IoT (Internet of Things) and Data (data) to help brands improve their sales conversion rates.


Building hammers and hammering nails

The online model of digital brand marketing is very common, i.e. to deliver products that users may be interested in to the pages that they often open, and to strengthen their understanding and awareness of the brand. So, what is Whale's "offline digitalization" all about?

In essence, the innovation of offline marketing model cannot be separated from the two main subjects of transaction: sellers and buyers. Among them, the sellers are the major store brands, such as Zhouhei Duck, Xibei Nooldes Xi Cha, Liangpin Puzi, etc., which is the "B" party in Whale's "To B" strategy, commonly known as the "A" party. The buyers are ordinary workers, families of five who like to shop at the box, and so on, which are also the target groups of Whale's tent and the brands.

Whether online or offline, capturing consumers' behaviors and preferences is always the core, and so is Whale's digital marketing program, except that online is to analyze consumers' browsing preferences and clicking behaviors, while offline is to collect consumers' behavioral data such as walking, staying, and asking questions in stores, and then analyze these data to reason out an appealing placement program for consumers. Just like the behavioral trace analysis expert played by Chen in the 2018 Chinese spy drama "Peace Hotel", the truth can be restored from the characters' behavior alone: the

Inside the stores, Whale will deploy passenger flow systems that aggregate AI algorithms, security systems, sensors, interactive screens, and inventory counting systems to help improve brands' sales efficiency.

In the brand marketing scenario, 'vision' truly breaks the boundaries of perception and embodies the role of decision making. For example, in the analysis of offline consumption behavior, they found that most Chinese people enter the supermarkets are used to go to the right side first, and then stroll from the right to the left. At this time, brands can develop their own placement plan based on this feature of user walking to increase sales.

"Consumer neuroscience focuses on how consumers' brains calculate when making decisions. For example, which would you choose: buy one get one free or get 50% off. It looks like the result of these two promotions is the same, but the process of calculation in the brain is different. Another example is that when many people walk into a supermarket, they habitually look to the right, or walk to the right. This is actually because Chinese people are more familiar with the right side. If it is in the UK, many people will habitually go to the left," Ye Shengxuan introduced.

Based on offline experience and online volume data, Whale has developed its own technology solution that can help brands accurately draw user and product portraits, achieve personalized consumer recommendations, and showcase thousands of stores of a brand based on user movement and display planning.

In the management of massive data and decision analysis, the efficiency of artificial intelligence algorithms is naturally much higher than manual analysis. Ye Shengxuan takes the example of the Northwest cuisine brand Xibei Noodles: "Xibei has nearly 400 stores nationwide, each with 7-20 digital screens, which means that Xibei has more than 4,000 screens to manage. In the past, the content of these screens had to be manually uploaded by employees carrying USB flash drives from store to store. Now, all content adjustments can be done remotely through Whale's digital asset management system, allowing one person to control all screens, control content, and set rules for playing content on the screens, which is far more than 10 times more efficient.

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