Santa Barbara startup uses AI to unravel customer feedback process
Correction: A former version of this story said Millner graduated from UCSB. He graduated from Duke.
After spending a few years at Amazon, Ryan Millner and Ashwin Singhania missed the startup scene.
Singhania, a graduate from UC Santa Barbara, and Millner, a graduate from Duke University, started their careers at the Santa Barbara-based startup FindTheBest, which later became Graphiq and sold to Amazon for an undisclosed amount to help bolster its Alexa virtual assistant and other services.
Millner and Singhania followed suit, joining the tech giant and eventually becoming product managers.
But, while they were working on Alexa, the two noted a particular — almost daily annoyance — being constantly inundated with customer feedback. And not just from any one source, but from emails to tweets to product reviews, thousands of messages needed to be sifted through.
“We found that we didn’t have a great grasp of what our customers really liked and disliked about the product,” Singhania told the Business Times.
“We were making decisions that were uninformed from user’s actual feedback… the process felt broken to us and, as a product manager, that’s a painful realization.”
So after years of missing the startup grind and realizing an issue, Millner left Amazon to start his own venture with Singhania joining shortly after, and, together, the two founded Santa Barbara-based Unwrap.AI in late 2021.
Unwrap utilizes artificial intelligence to integrate all the sources customer feedback is coming from, understands and extrapolates the key ideas from each piece of feedback and then applies those insights to provide solutions to companies for their product management roadmap.
“Traditionally, you would have to put someone in charge of reading through all that feedback, hand annotating and differentiating every piece of feedback, but with this, we automate that entire process by reading their feedback using AI to automatically tell them everything they need to know in a fraction of the time,” Singhania said.
Though it was founded in late 2021, the work really started in 2022, by which both founders had left their jobs. Though scary, both embraced the process.
“I think our roots are always in startups. After five years of working at a big company, I think you learn a lot on how to run a really well-oiled machine but I think the time felt right to go back to what feels exciting and building something from the ground up,” Singhania said.
So far, so good for Unwrap.AI.
Since starting up the company has raised north of $3 million in pre-seed and seed funding, which includes some venture capital from local firm ScOp Venture Capital in Santa Barbara.
One of the managing partners of ScOp, Kevin O’Connor, was actually the founder of Graphiq.
It’s one of the reasons Singhania and Millner both wanted to start the company in Santa Barbara as opposed to a big tech hub like Silicon Valley — as well as the beauty of a place on the Central Coast.
“It kind of always felt obvious. Both of us had been here for 10 years. We had a large professional network here and when you are starting a company, the first several people you get to join you are usually people from your past and willing to take a bet on you,” Singhania said.
“There’s a lot of obvious reasons to love the city overall but from a recruiting standpoint, we also are not competing with 1,000 other AI startups in the Bay Area.”
He noted that Santa Barbara’s tech scene has grown a lot since joining a tech startup in 2013 as well.
“There’s been a lot of big successes that have come out of here which, I think, has only increased the profile of the area,” Singhania said.
Aside from raising capital, Unwrap is also generating revenue. Though exact numbers were not disclosed, Singhania said the company has seen revenue grow at least 500% each year since 2022.
He added that Unwrap has about 40 to 50 enterprise customers.
The company is also growing its employee base with nine full-time people working out of the Santa Barbara office and hopes to add about six more before the end of the year.
“It feels really great to build a high-performing team and to be able to do that here in Santa Barbara. It’s a place where we can, hopefully, create something really big ]where there are not a million other startups trying to do the exact same thing. I think that makes it even more fun,” Singhania said.