A Slice on Ajay Bam, Co-Founder and CEO of Vyrill Inc.
Ajay Bam has been studying shopping behavior for about 15 years. As an avid shopper myself, I have no doubt I have most likely contributed to these studies in some way. Bam is a computer scientist by trade, so you may find yourself wondering why the interest in shopping? Well, when Bam started his career in New York at Lehman Brothers, he knew he wanted a strong understanding of who controls money, and how money moves through a system, so he opted to gain that experience through the lens of investment banking. When his time at Lehman Brothers came to a close, Bam enrolled in the entrepreneurism program at Babson College in Boston. It was here, back in school, that Bam created his first startup, a mobile shopping app called Modiv Media. It was one of the first companies to allow scan and checkout on your phone, it was also one of the first mobile payment pilots in the U.S. Bam would eventually exit that company, when it was acquired by Catalina in 2009.
Taking those “first startup” learnings in stride, he moved onto his next opportunity at Nokia. Here he served as Global Product Management Leader and launched the app store in about 35 countries. “I studied online and offline shopping behaviors. Nokia was an amazing company with amazing culture. Then of course the iPhone happened, so that was a very interesting learning experience, Nokia was at the top of its game in 2009 and 2010. It took just one and a half years for Nokia to break apart.” Prior to the “break apart” and Microsoft’s acquisition of Nokia, Bam left Boston and moved to the Bay Area where he joined UC Berkeley as a lecturer.
Bam, passionate about giving back through mentorship, was teaching at the Haas School of Business undergraduate program at Berkeley. Although he taught for three and half years, he never stopped thinking ahead, about what was next, and what the future held for mobile e-commerce and marketing. Spurred by these thoughts, he decided to interview 100 brands and retailers, asking them only one simple question: “What are your business challenges?” Through this survey, he heard one issue arise over and over again, it was an issue surrounding massive amounts of user-generated video content.
In the COVID-19 era, video consumption and creation has risen 600% both professionally and personally, and more consumers are starting their shopping journeys with video. Armed with this feedback and coupled with this staggering 600% statistic, Bam founded his current venture, Vyrill. With AI-driven, in-video search, Vyrill is a fan video discovery, insights and content marketing platform. It enables brand marketers to utilize, and “supercharge” brand awareness and revenue with fan-led content (i.e unboxings, how-to videos, etc.), basically the Google of fan videos and creators. It captures the who, what, where and when, inside millions of videos.
The key for Bam and Vyrill is the AI technology, as it is not humanly possible to dig through 20 million videos on one platform. Introduced by their first investor, Bam met his co-founder Dr. Barbara while at UC Berkeley. She holds a PhD in machine learning and AI (Bam noted there are likely less than 400 PhDs in the field of AI in the U.S.) and was a past scientist at Intel Research analyzing video and text. Together the duo also founded the Skydeck Incubator program at UC Berkeley four years ago. Bam noted that of all things they work on and provide at Vyrill, they do two things really well. “First, we’re able to match millions of videos on YouTube, to the entire (for example) L’Oreal product catalog, BMW product catalog or CPG product catalog by product, category, brand and competitor. Then we go into the video and analyze the text, audio and images in eight dimensions. We then rate the video on whether it’s good or bad for the brand.” Today they are a team of 12, with some large customers such as Sargento, Revlon and Porsche.
Even as Vyrill continues to gain customers and traction, Bam is still learning as he goes. One large learning in particular for him has been company culture. He used the analogy of a child acting like their parent and compared it to the way in which an employee acts like their boss or CEO.
“It requires a mindset from hiring people, to nurturing and mentoring that diverse group of people, to having a mentor yourself who is diverse as well. You have to put yourself in those shoes in order to bring diversity to the table. We wanted to be a very different Silicon Valley company where everyone is valued whether you’re a woman, LGBT or whoever. At Vyrill, we have gender diversity and equality, half of the team is women. We have seven ethnicities and 25 languages on the team.”
Ajay Bam’s educational background was as a computer scientist prior to his MBA from Babson College. He founded his first company while still in school in Babson, and held positions at Lehman Brothers and Nokia prior to relocating to the Bay Area. Bam served as a lecturer at Berkeley before and co-founding his current venture Vryill. Connect with Bam on LinkedIn.