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Building Europe's most exciting AI company with Raza Habib, CEO Humanloop

with Raza Habi, CEO Humanloop

Deeptech UCL Tech Fund


Founder Stories University Edition is a collection of fireside chats with the leading academic founders backed by the AlbionVC team. Having invested in over 30 university spinouts from the leading UK universities including UCL, Imperial College London, University of Oxford and University of Cambridge, the series highlights personal stories of those who made the leap from academia to entrepreneurship.  

In this episode David Grimm, Partner AlbionVC chats with Raza Habib, co-founder and CEO Humanloop, one of Europe’s most exciting AI companies.

Following his Ph.D at UCL, Raza co-founded Humanloop in 2020 together with Jordan Burgess, Peter Hayes, Professor David Barber and Dr Amina Yilmaz. 

The team raised initial proof of concept funding from us via the UCL Technology Fund and went on to join YC which led to further funding from Index Ventures, Local Globe and others. 

“I remember coming to speak to you for a cup of coffee at Albion’s office. I still had a million and one different ideas, and I wasn’t sure exactly what direction I was going in. You knew what it was like to be an early-stage company and that really helped and then the depth of expertise that you clearly showed, as well as getting initial capital in early to get off the ground, was absolutely essential.” Raza Habib, CEO, Humanloop

More about Humanloop

Humanloop helps companies who are building applications with large language models like GPT-4 or similar models to build those applications and make them reliable, and empowering teams to drive AI improvement.

They provide companies with a set of tools for both measuring how well these applications are actually working in an objective way, and then using that to drive performance improvements, a whole product team to collaborate on building those models.

Right now in large language models in particular, It is one of the most exciting tech transitions I think that’s ever been and it feels like we’re at the beginning of an extraordinarily new wave of AI starting to work and really accelerate. Said Raza.

How Raza went from being a Ph.D student to becoming a founder

After doing a master and a Ph. D at UCL in probabilistic deep learning, and an internship at Google, from readings on Information Theory, Inference and Learning Algorithms he understood the practical implications of physics so he got a master in machine learning to then start his own company in that space. 

He met Jordan Burgess (Previously at Amazon Alexa Research, ML MPhil at Cambridge and CS at MIT) and Peter Hayes (Previously cofounder at Certua. ML PhD UCL). Having all worked in business development for venture-backed B2C startups influenced their desire to start something of their own. 

They saw that there has been a very clear step change in computers’ ability to understand language, and realised that this was absolutely going to change how companies could operate, although there was not quite yet the right tooling to do it, they wanted to go build that infrastructure, so they started trying to build prototypes and speak to prospective customers and trying to scope out the purpose of their product.

The way they launch the company was fairly organic: “It was more, you know, your you’re trying with an initial hypothesis and you’ve got this forking trio of possibilities and different parts that you might take and then you are testing them against, simplifying the goal of what you’re trying to do early stage, which makes something people want. It’s an iterative process from an initial idea to the details rather than a particular moment.”  Continued Raza. 

Raza continued, building a spinout company out of a university and its environment might be extremely beneficial for knowing the boundary of technology, being on the cutting edge, being surrounded by brilliant people, having people, you could start a team with the space and freedom to do that exploration.

Raza explains how universities like UCL can help academics become founders of brilliant spinouts suggesting that the best thing for universities is to recognize where their strengths are and use them to nurture emerging talents coming out of it. Like UCL, universities should normalize the idea that entrepreneurship is something people can consider

 “I think what UCL does quite well is that they’re not punitive in the way they take equity stakes in companies. So actually if you’re a student rather than academic, I think they actually don’t take any stake. They don’t make a claim to your IP. And if you’re an academic, even then, you know, especially for computer science type parts, the equity stakes are very reasonable”

Raza discusses the importance of maintaining a strong relationship with colleagues, highlighting the trust and complementary skills between him and their partners, Jordan and Peter, and emphasizes the value of consistent communication, both on business matters and emotional topics, to foster a healthy work environment. 

Reflecting on their entrepreneurial journey with Human Loop, the need for persistence and adaptability, expecting challenges and setbacks along the way is not to be excluded. They value the insights gained from experienced founders and recommend focusing on addressing real customer needs rather than staying in the ideation phase for too long. Regarding venture capital interactions, founders should understand investor motivations, selecting the right partners, and ensuring leverage in fundraising by building a successful business rather than merely focusing on storytelling.

What’s next?

Raza discusses the growth and evolution of Humanloop, emphasizing the shift towards serving larger enterprises rather than SMEs and startups. They highlight their product’s capability to evaluate AI systems and facilitate prompt engineering. 

The company plans to make its system more proactive, providing suggestions for product improvement based on data analytics. Additionally, Raza shares advice on fostering entrepreneurial ecosystems, drawing parallels between experiences in London and San Francisco, stressing the importance of community, mentorship, and networking in entrepreneurial success. 

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