Salesforce Ventures

Latest on Salesforce Investments in AI Startups

Latest on Salesforce Investments in AI Startups
Max Maeder
Salesforce continues to form strategic partnerships by investing in leading Artificial Intelligence startups, building relationships across all parts of the AI landscape, including work with Together AI (March 2024), Anthropic (May 2023), and Cohere (May 2023).
Latest on Salesforce Investments in AI Startups

Salesforce Continues to Build a Portfolio of Partnerships with AI Startups

Salesforce Ventures has made a series of investments and partnerships in artificial intelligence startups over the last ~15 months, steadily building relationships with leading companies across different parts of the AI landscape. Though not as highly publicized as activities that happen at the mothership, this strategy aims to ensure Salesforce has access to cutting-edge AI capabilities as the technology matures.

Investment in Together AI

On March 13, 2024, Salesforce Ventures, the company's venture capital arm, announced they led a $106m round of funding in Together AI. This startup focuses on open-source AI infrastructure, providing GPU clusters, inference APIs, and custom model building to help companies deploy large language models like LLaMA and Falcon. With renowned AI researchers and infrastructure experts on its team, Together AI can rapidly incorporate innovations into its platform. It offers a hybrid approach that combines the hardware control lacking in serverless AI platforms with the software optimizations missing in pure GPU cloud.

Quick Insights on Salesforce investing in Together AI:

  • Together AI provides GPU clusters and software optimized for AI workloads without customers needing AI/systems expertise. It supports popular open-source models and proprietary techniques to optimize performance. Customers can also fine-tune models and deploy in their cloud environments.
  • Together AI's founders have AI research and systems engineering expertise. They rapidly bring innovations like FlashAttention to production. The research and new models drive demand to Together AI's platform.
  • Salesforce Ventures believes Together AI's full-stack product approach captures all training, fine-tuning and inference workloads. Its software abstraction over hardware and model offerings differentiate it from pure cloud or endpoint providers.
  • Salesforce Ventures sees immense market opportunity and Together AI's bold vision. It provides technical moat and supports bringing fast, performant generative AI to more users.

Investment in Anthropic

In another move back in May of 2023, Salesforce put money into Anthropic's $450m Series C, joining a laundry list of other strategic investors that now includes Google, SAP, Amazon, and Zoom Ventures among others.

Anthropic is a startup dedicated to developing safe and reliable AI assistants. Anthropic's flagship product is Claude, a general purpose conversational AI assistant designed for speed, conversational ability, and AI safety. The company takes an interdisciplinary approach to friendly AI research and development, exploring topics like interpretability and harmless AI. This research could provide Salesforce with valuable perspectives as it explores enterprise applications for large language models.

Quick Insights on Salesforce investing in Anthropic:

  • Anthropic is developing AI conversational models focused on safety.
  • Anthropic's latest model, Claude 3, is a friendly, fast, capable conversational assistant with an aim to be truly natural.
  • Claude API allows using Claude capabilities to unlock business value, while still being grounded by enterprise data for accuracy, an area that Salesforce emphasizes in order to provide truly unique value to customers when compared to other generative applications in the space with a tendency to 'hallucinate'.
  • Anthropic focuses on AI safety, reliability and interpretability. Its research identifies techniques like Constitutional AI to make models harmless.
  • The interdisciplinary team has ML, physics, policy and product experience to generate research and create beneficial AI.
  • Anthropic's approach to put safety at the forefront provides differentiation and builds trust, which will lead to more practical application within business applications environments.

Investment in Cohere

Another notable investment from Salesforce Ventures includes their participation in Cohere's $270m Series C in May, 2023, an AI startup also backed by NVIDIA. Cohere offers an enterprise-ready platform for building conversational AI apps using their customized large language models (LLMs) optimized for use cases like search, chatbots, and content generation.

By grounding conversational apps in real enterprise data, Cohere's technology can enable significant productivity gains through intelligent assistants. With its focus on enterprise, Cohere is a natural partner for Salesforce as it looks to deliver robust enterprise-grade AI capabilities.

Quick Insights on Salesforce investing in Cohere:

  • Cohere provides customizable, enterprise language models
  • Cohere's RAG toolkit allows models to accurately answer questions using enterprise data, further enabling conversational apps.
  • LLMs help build applications that search, understand meaning and converse in text, delivering an obvious advantage to Salesforce Customers sitting on a treasury trove of untapped, internal data.
  • Command uses RAG for accurate chatbots using enterprise data, while Embed enables powerful semantic search in 100+ languages, and Rerank improves search relevance.
  • Customization gives superior model performance. Packaging with inference engines improves runtime and reduces costs.
  • Cohere's focus on enterprise needs provides advantages like data privacy and industry-specific performance within a platform that accelerates productivity via intelligent assistants.

Takeaways on Salesforce Investments in AI

While Salesforce has its robust Einstein AI capabilities, the rapid pace of innovation in AI means relying solely on in-house R&D is insufficient. Strategic investments and partnerships allow Salesforce to stay competitive across research, infrastructure, and applications of artificial intelligence with a fairly efficient capital deployment strategy.

This enables Salesforce to quickly integrate state-of-the-art AI innovations into its stack instead of reinventing the wheel. Access to premium talent and IP also accelerates its own R&D. Furthermore, the ability to customize models trained on enterprise data gives Salesforce an edge.

As AI becomes increasingly commoditized, combining internal R&D with an external ecosystem of partnerships is a smart strategy by Salesforce to get the best of both worlds. This approach hedges its bets to ensure it can continue delivering maximum value via AI as the landscape evolves.

Salesforce believes the future of AI will be a hybrid of closed-source and open-source technologies. As open-source AI grows, there is a need for infrastructure to train and run models in production efficiently and backing companies focused on these areas gives Salesforce unique visibility into the products, a first mover advantage in integrating these offerings to their core Products, and the opportunity for soft influence in how these AI startups continue to develop their own roadmaps with Salesforce as a marquee customer and investor.

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