South Korean startup 42Maru Inc.’s Founder and CEO, D.K. Donghwan KIM, wanted to find ‘Answers’ to all the questions in the world. So, he took inspiration from his favorite science fiction book ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Galaxy’ and in 2015 founded the deep-semantic QA (Question-Answering) platform, which understands a user’s real intention in a question and derives a single answer from an extensive unstructured data.
Kim wants 42Maru to become a leading solution provider for cognitive searches to help businesses. 42Maru provides technological solutions for smart devices and businesses using Artificial Intelligence Search, deep learning, and machine reading comprehension. The company has won many global accolades, including the prestigious Techstars, London. Kim believes 42Maru can become a global unicorn from South Korea. In an interview with AsiaTechDaily, D.K. Donghwan KIM shares insights about the company, the market, challenges and future plans.
Could you please tell us about how you started your company
I am the founder and CEO of 42Maru. We are looking for ‘the answer’ to all the questions in the world. 42Maru is an AI deep-tech startup that develops a Deep Semantic QA (Question Answering) Platform that understands the true intention of a user’s question to provide ‘Single Specific Answer’ from an extensive unstructured data set.
I worked as the head of the search division in a major portal company in Korea, and during that, the company’s share was higher than Google’s. After 20 years of working in the tech giant, I took a short career break. That time I got to know about Deep Learning.
During my time with the previous company, I knew about the several difficulties we faced in the search and NLP field. With Deep Learning, I was confident that we could overcome these issues using an AI algorithm. That’s why I started 42Maru in the AI field with deep learning.
Please tell us more about the products/services your company offers.
We provide three types of solutions by field and technologies under a SaaS-based AI Platform called ANSWERING AI.
The first one is the QA42, and it means Question Answering. It semantically understands the user’s true intention and finds the ‘Single Specific Answer’ from vast amounts of unstructured data, helping companies improve business processes and work efficiency. With this solution, one of our clients made work innovation that reduced the working time from 2 days to 10 mins.
The second is the TA 42, a business analytics solution that provides NLP-based data analytics and optimization solutions for detecting potential risk. In the finance, insurance and legal industry, our AI can check and analyze contracts and terms to detect poisonous clauses. In the trade industry, AI can monitor in real-time to find anti-money laundering issues to predict compliance risks. In addition, we build up AI-based maintenance solutions in engineering and heavy industry field which can manage business issues and enhance working performance.
The third one is CHAT42, Integrated Language Intelligence and QA technology. Our conversational chatbot works like a natural conversation with humans, enhances CS works, and reduces working time. CS, sales support, office help desk, and AI contact center, CHAT42 provides diverse features as a total solution. And we are also expanding coverage such as smart devices and AI assistants in connected cars.
Could you tell us a bit more about the QA (Question Answering) solution and its platform?
Most current enterprise search is based on keyword matching that only shows the simple list of the candidate answer group of queries. In order to see if it’s the answer, the user has to click one by one and find out which is 2nd re-search process. According to IDC and McKinsey research, office workers spend more than 2~30% of their daily working time on this 2nd re-search process. Each person incurs more than $20,000 in social cost every year, and one of the main reasons that hinder work innovation.
42Maru’s QA solution provides ‘Single Specific Answer’ by semantically understanding the user’s true intention from vast amounts of structured and unstructured data through NLP-based Deep Learning AI technologies. Not only for the case I have mentioned earlier about reducing the time from 2 days to 10min, but many customers are also experiencing business innovation on their side.
Could you tell us about your target users?
Our ANSWERING AI platform is not limited to specific industries but has the advantage that it can be easily applied to most industries and business fields. Currently, the company’s QA (Question Answering) and TA (Text Analytics) solutions are helping to monitor and manage risks in advance in finance, legal, and heavy industry field. In the telecom, retail, and healthcare fields, we provide a single specific answer to respond effectively.
Recently, many requests have been for AML(Anti Money Laundering) and KYC(Know your Customer) areas in the finance field. Based on these successful references, we will expand our clients in various fields such as e-commerce in the near future. We will focus on the B2B enterprise and SaaS market, which is growing rapidly, and expand our 3rd party partners pool to vitalize the ANSWERING AI platform.
Can you talk more about 42Maru’s technological prowess?
Our various technologies are a combination of Machine Reading Comprehension (MRC), Paraphrasing (Context Management and Understanding), and Deep Learning-based Natural Language Understanding (NLU). They are the main pillars, providing a “Single Specific Answer” from vast amounts of data.
Our Deep learning-based NLU enables extensive contextual information processing, minimizes manual tasks such as pre-building and rule creation, and enables natural conversation with users. Our Paraphrasing technology distinguishes words, sentences, phrases, and documents with the same meaning and provides an answer to understand similar question intentions. And the Machine Reading Comprehension finds and provides “Single Specific Answer” to users’ questions from vast amounts of data.
Many global influential competitions have recognized our core AI technologies, which are applied in ANSWERING AI. Our Natural Language Processing technologies have achieved the No. 1 position in MS GLGE, one of the most influential natural language generation competitions hosted by Microsoft. We have proven to have the world’s best tech prowess through our 1st place with the Google AI team at SQuAD 2.0, a global leading MRC competition hosted by Stanford University.
What is your company’s business/sales strategy?
We are pushing ahead to spread our ‘ANSWERING AI’ platform with a vertical business strategy. As a first step, we are securing diverse customer and business references through on-premises solutions to provide and build solutions optimized for our customers. At the same time, we are expanding our solutions through 3rd party platform partnerships with various IT and legacy companies, and we will expand 3rd Party partners by entering the global market.
Finally, we will expand the QA ecosystem by providing our technologies and solutions as SaaS-type services, custom-fit engines and services in each field, and technology/solution components to each customer’s needs as unit APIs.
We aim to become a top global enterprise QA company with this vertical business strategy.
Tell us about your company’s overseas expansion plans.
In 2018, we had already been selected and invested from the Techstars London program, the largest startup accelerator program in Europe, and based on this, we set up a branch in the UK in 2019.
We have participated in various global IT events such as CES, MWC and IFA and AI events like CogX, Slush, etc. Due to the pandemic, there were difficulties in the last two years, but we restarted targeting global markets with participation in the MWC LA exhibition last October.
European markets’ demand for AI and related markets is growing fast. Still, the level of AI development is slower than in the US and East Asia, so there are more opportunities there than in other markets. We want to become a global Top-tier Enterprise QA company, and for that, we plan to enter the US market based on the European market success. We will launch our ANSWERING AI platform in the European market as the primary target, pre-occupy the initial market, and then expand our business to the US and global markets based on these references.
Congratulations on the recent Series A Investment. Could you tell us how 42Maru is planning to use the funds?
Series A investment is the result and proof of investors’ high evaluation of the company’s excellent technology, business, and potential. To create a better tomorrow and move on to the next level, we will focus on ‘ANSWERING AI’ advancement and develop a user-friendly SaaS platform to enter the global market. We are also putting much effort into recruiting new members who can grow together.
Could you tell us more about your team
We have made the team with members from diverse backgrounds.
We have Tech seniors, including myself, who have worked in the search industry for more than 20 years. We are working as the core of the company. We have members who have excellent capabilities and have worked in companies like Samsung Electronics, LG, SK, and EA. Our team members belong to different nationalities and ages from the 20s to 50s.
42Maru has received a lot of awards and recognition since it was founded. Amongst all, which award is most meaningful to you and the company?
First, we are grateful to those who gave us awards. Really appreciate. We received many awards for our tech excellence, business, and potential. Every award is precious and meaningful to us, but I would like to pick Techstars London as the top award for us.
Techstars London is the biggest startup accelerator event and has a strict selection standard. Moreover, many Techstars selected startups have grown up into unicorn / decacorn. Techstars London Alumni is Uber, Twillo and Sendbird, all unicorns now. Techstars London’s selection recognized our high potential for success and technological prowess, which shall be the starting point of our global business; that’s why this is special to us.
How did 42Maru spend 2021?
We had a hard time expanding the business because of the global pandemic. But all our members understood the company’s vision and worked hard to move forward towards our goals, which came up with a successful result last year. We have expanded our business field from electronics, telecom, marine, shipbuilding and automotive to finance, retail, commerce, media, legal and healthcare.
Internally, we launched the ANSWERING AI platform. Externally several marketing activities like participating in international events. We did our best, what we could.
What is the company’s main goal in 2022? And how do you see your company in 10 years? Any long-term goals?
In 2022, 42Maru plans to expand its business area with innovative technology development and marketing. We want to spread our solutions to various areas by expanding 3rd Party partners, which started in 2021 and continue the global business that has restarted since the second half of last year. We will accelerate business and make BD leads in the EU and US regions.
Furthermore, we will prepare to diversify SaaS-based customized solutions and plan to expand the application field.
Any special meanings behind your company name ‘42Maru’?
The 42 is a symbolic number in a novel called ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ by Douglas Adams, a kind of bible in Science Fiction. In an episode, they ask questions about ‘what is the Answer to the Ultimate Questions of Life, the Universe and Everything’ and when calculated by a supercomputer named Deep Thought over 7.5 million years, the answer is 42. This is a homage, and also this is what we do, looking for the ‘Answer’ to all the Questions. And Maru is a Korean word meaning top, like the top of the mountain, top of the wave.