The Future Is Now: Hikari Senju Of Omneky On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The Tech Scene
An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis
Listen to customers. A large amount of time and money is wasted early on building things people don’t want. As much as entrepreneurs need to be stubborn in their vision, it’s also critical to be able to build what your customers actually need.
As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Hikari Senju.
Hikari Senju Founder & CEO of Omneky: Hikari Senju studied Computer Science at Harvard with a focus on AI. While at Harvard, he founded an edtech startup which was later acquired and where he became the acquiring company’s Head of Growth. In that position, he saw how much money was being spent on inefficient content. Utilizing his background in AI, he saw an opportunity to quantify design and to generate creative content to increase Return on Ad Spend. In May 2018 he founded Omneky, an AI platform that generates and optimizes personalized ad creatives at scale. Omneky’s mission is to empower human creativity and democratize growth with AI.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I grew up in Westchester, New York and since I was younger, I’ve always been passionate about technology and design. My dad is an artist so I grew up in an environment that had an obsession with communicating via design. I remember spending time in my dad’s studio and drawing artwork alongside my dad, learning how to choose colors and shapes. Additionally, my grandfather worked at IBM, so I also grew up around technology. I often went along with him to research labs to see the latest product demos, which really embedded a fascination for technology in me. I would deconstruct and reconstruct all the hardware we had at home, and was really into robotics competitions.
As an undergraduate at Harvard, I studied computer science with a focus on AI. While in undergrad I started my first company called Balloon, a friend meetup app that went through DreamIt Ventures. with my college roommate. I then founded an on-demand tutoring app called QuickHelp, which won the Harvard Innovation Challenge and received venture capital financing, which meant I could work on it full time after graduation. I later sold QuickHelp to Yup.com and became the company’s Head of Growth. During my time at Yup.com, I saw how much money was being spent on inefficient content. From here, I was inspired to build Omneky by combining the ability of AI to quantify design and to generate creative content. I started with a pure analytics product to gather data and grew the company into a tool that helps businesses grow by generating and optimizing ads at scale.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
In 2016, while working at my previous edtech company, I was in Beijing for an education conference. While there, I was invited to pitch MorningSide Venture Partners, which led Xiaomi’s Series A. The pitch was actually a lunch in their office with the managing and executive directors. We had oranges, rice, soup and vegetables that were brought in on metal trays and they showed me bobbleheads of themselves that they had on their desks. I’ve been to most of the top venture capital offices and pitched many of the top investors but this was something else. The meeting was entirely focused on who I was as a person and not the business.
Can you tell us about the cutting edge technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?
Omneky uses AI to tap into audience demographics and consumer insights to generate hundreds of thousands of personalized ads that increase Return on Ad Spend. We have an analytics dashboard that aggregates data across all advertising platforms for customers to get up to date creative insights. We use computer vision to break down each ad creative into its set of features (color, phrases, sentiment, etc.) and find predictive correlations between those features and sales for each audience segment. We then use these insights to generate hundreds of thousands of new ad permutations per week to drive sales and get additional insights regarding what drives customer engagement with the brand. These insights can be utilized to create not only better personalized ads, but also landing pages, emails and other marketing material. As a result of this, our average customer sees a 2.7x Return on Ad Spend.
By lowering the cost of advertising effectively online, we are democratizing growth and empowering small businesses to grow. By lowering the barrier to entry for advertising, any compelling business can effectively connect with customers online, even if they don’t have a massive advertising budget. By helping the growth of small businesses, the backbone of the American economy, we will create more jobs in the country.
How do you think this might change the world?
Omneky changes the world by making advertising as easy as clicking “approve.” Customers connect their advertising data, which our platform uses to generate hundreds of thousands of creative iterations per week based on what’s working in real time. All design and marketing teams have to do is click “reject” or “approve” on each base creative component. If they don’t like something about the creative, they utilize our image and video annotation tool to provide specific feedback about changes for each creative or provide general feedback on the batch. This way we can make sure every personalized creative is on brand. Customers also submit their brand guidelines and submit requests for future creatives or submit creative themselves that our AI can iterate against. This way, creative teams can utilize the full power of AI with real-time data while maintaining control of their brands.
What this means for the average consumer is that ads are going to get better. I think one of the reasons why people dislike ads so much is because it’s intrusive and not socially aware. But with smart ads personalized by AI, ads are going to feel less like strangers shouting at you but a close friend recommending you products that they think will help you. And with better ads, we’ll see better distribution and success of new innovative products and better financing of new media experiences.
Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?
There are drawbacks in any new technology and corporations have a profit motive that needs to be kept in check with regulation. We have seatbelt laws and smoking laws to keep consumers safe. There should be laws regulating data, privacy and AI. We must develop our AI according to democratic principles in order to ensure it will have future benefits in society. One such way to achieve this is the creation of an ‘AI Bill of Rights,’ a list of standards that any new or current AI technology must adhere to in order to protect individuals and promote its advancement in an ethical way.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?
At Yup, I wrote a script to automate key-word bidding on Google Search that drove down acquisition costs 90%. I tried setting up a similar automated system on Facebook, but realized that most of the performance gains were based on the creative. Around the same time, I was playing around with GANs to generate images and considered that perhaps there was an automated way of A/B testing creative. Combining GANs with computer vision to quantify design seemed like an opportunity to automate the creative testing process, which got me started on the idea for Omneky.
What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?
Widespread adoption of autonomously GAN generated imagery for advertising is probably a couple years off. All the pieces are already there for widespread adoption of our solution. We’re using GPT-3 for generating text and are utilizing human creators for the final assembly of the ads. The average creator makes less than minimum wage and we make opportunities for them on our platform to have a steady income. Quantum computing may revolutionize AI generated content, and we’re constantly integrating state-of-the-art machine learning into our product. But even still, there may always be an opportunity for human creators in the creative process.
What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?
Our biggest growth channel has been referrals. Separately, we also run our own ads. One of the benefits of building an ad tech product is that we can dog food our own product. We run ads across all digital platforms (Facebook, Google, YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter, TikTok, Snapchat) and newer channels like CTV (programmatic television) to generate leads. Improving our technology results in both better growth for us as well as a better product for our customers.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I met Naguib Sawiris, the founder of Yup.com, in 2016 via an introduction from Desmond Lim (founder of Worksteam). Yup acquired QuickHelp and brought me on board as the Head of Growth. It was at Yup that I learned an incredibly large amount about the marketing industry.
I had met Anne Dwane, a partner at Village Global though the Harvard Innovation Lab. She invited me to attend Erik Torenberg’s On-Deck events, where I got to know Erik, another Village Global partner. I was incredibly lucky to receive my first investment days after leaving Yup from Village Global. They incubated my company for the first six months, and if it wasn’t for them, it would have been a lot harder for me to get Omneky off the ground.
Richard Socher has been an amazing angel investor. He is a legend in the AI community (for co-authoring the ImageNet and GloVe papers) whose advice on AI has been incredible regarding Omneky’s core ML product.
My Co-Founder, Aaron Surloff, who joined last year to help scale the business at a very critical time. His passion for advertising has been critical for our growth.
And so many other angels, advisors and investors, many of whom participated in our most recent fundraising round. It really does take a village.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
We’ve signed the 1% pledge to donate 1% of our time, profits and product back to the community. We’ve done pro-bono work for a non-profit, Nomi Network, which combats human trafficking by creating pathways to safe employment, empowering women and girls to break cycles of slavery in their families and communities.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- You’ve got to care about the problem and your customer. Startups are really hard and you’re going to give up unless you genuinely care about solving the problems of your customers.
- Listen to customers. A large amount of time and money is wasted early on building things people don’t want. As much as entrepreneurs need to be stubborn in their vision, it’s also critical to be able to build what your customers actually need.
- Companies die when they run out of money. The first priority of a founder is to keep your company alive. This means fundraising and sales but also managing spend effectively. Only by staying alive can you take advantage of opportunities as they arise.
- (Free) Cash (flow) is king. Get cash flow as soon as possible. As soon as you can get cash flow, then free cash flow (unit profits) you can use to grow your business, is when you have your destiny in your hands.
- A large part of success is going to depend on hiring the right people and getting them in the right roles.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’m a big fan of effective altruism. Effective altruism is a data driven approach in giving back to maximize positive outcomes. I am singularly focused on creating the largest, most positively impactful technology company I can during my lifetime. And giving as much back to the community as possible along the way. I agree when Andrew Carnegie said “a person who dies rich dies disgraced.”
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite quote is by Abraham Lincoln, “Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.” An entrepreneur has to create something from nothing based on a vision. As a serial entrepreneur, I’ve had to hustle my entire life. Always be hustling.
Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Omneky is an AI platform that generates, analyzes and optimizes personalized ad creatives at scale. Omneky is utilizing data and AI-driven ad generation. With 47% of sales attributed to ad creative, our software has the power to propel a business’ growth. Omneky aims to democratize the advertising industry by allowing customers to optimize their content generation and distribution in less time and for lower cost. With the help of Omneky’s software and ad optimization system, any business can grow effectively by generating personalized ads at scale.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.
The Future Is Now: Hikari Senju Of Omneky On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.