Companies that survived the dot-com crash are rare. Scarcer are pre-2000 dot-com companies that are still thriving today. So it’s surprising when a company not only survived the dot-com crash to thrive today, but did so while adhering a principle of creating a greater good beyond profit.
UncommonGoods is that company. Founded in 1999 to create a marketplace for artisans and craftspeople to sell their unique wares, UncommonGoods reduced staff from 35 to 5 to survive the crash of the year 2000. The company achieved profitability in 2004, and now employs over 200 people full time. Uncommon Goods is also a trend setter: they certified as B Corporation in 2007, which means they undergo outside audits to ensure they are abiding by values beyond the profit motive, such as employee welfare and green business practices. Prominent startups like Kickstarter followed UncommonGood’s lead to B-Corp status.
Artificial Intelligence at UncommonGoods
So a company can thrive while doing good. But can they build hardcore technology?
The answer in this case is: yes. In October, UncommonGoods released Sunny, an AI technology personified as a friendly elephant. Sunny’s job is to help shoppers find things to buy better and faster. Particularly, Sunny helps with multi-interest searches. For example, if a shopper is looking for unique gift ideas for someone who likes both baseball and sailing, Sunny will canvas the interest graph between those two hobbies and suggest perfect gifts the shopper may not have considered.
Technical Specs of Sunny
Technically, Sunny contains an unsupervised collaborative filtering algorithm. It comes to understandings of preferences and tastes and the relations between them, and uses that data to offer better and better recommendations to shoppers. The AI is built on the AWS Cloud, and is working to incorporate TensorFlow, which provides the machine learning infrastructure that ensures Sunny keeps getting smarter.
In the future, Sunny may be enabled for voice feedback using the Google Cloud Speech API.
We spoke with UncommonGoods Senior Product Manager, Zack Notes, who highlighted how Sunny his helping their customers:
“The engagement metrics so far are very encouraging- we’re seeing a 92% increase in the time that buyers spend on our site. We’re also seeing average order value jump by over 20%. Our users are telling us that Sunny is fun and engaging. It allows them to go deeper into product assortments, editing a continuous stream of gift suggestions, as opposed to jumping between multiple category pages.”
Why AI Matters To Purpose-Driven Companies
While Sunny will surely make many consumers’ shopping experiences a bit easier this holiday season, more importantly, the metaphorical proboscidean is a hopeful harbinger of what’s to come in the field of AI, where the current environment favors tech giants, who have been hit-or-miss about democratizing their tools. The fact that UncommonGoods, a truly uncommon company, can harness the power of AI for a competitive edge suggests a thriving future is possible for companies of all sizes.