In this episode of Startup Talk, we delve into the world of AI-powered content creation with Max Sinclair, the co-founder and CEO of Ecomtent.ai. Drawing from his extensive background at Amazon, Max shares how he and his co-founder were inspired to revolutionize e-commerce by harnessing the potential of AI-generated content. Max’s journey unfolds as he discusses the inception of Ecomtent in 2022, fueled by a belief that AI could shape the future of online marketplaces. Discover how Max’s experience at Amazon shaped Ecomtent‘s approach to customer obsession and innovation. Max provides insights into the intriguing world of generative AI and how Ecomtent’s self-service tool is empowering businesses to effortlessly create captivating product images. He unveils success stories of customers who have witnessed remarkable transformations in their content strategies. Delve into the challenges Ecomtent faced during development, their approach to pricing, and their mission to democratize quality content creation for e-commerce sellers of all sizes. Max also candidly shares his perspective on the AI debate, highlighting the need for caution while considering regulatory measures. Join us in exploring the evolving e-commerce industry, the power of creativity, and the future of AI in product content with Max Sinclair on this episode of Startup Talk.
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Automated Transcript of Ecomtent on the Startup Talk Podcast
The Startup Coach 00:01
Welcome back to startup talk. I’m your host and startup coach, founder of Toronto Star. It’s one of the largest startup communities in Canada. And with me today is Max and Claire, co-founder and CEO of Ecomtent. Welcome, Max.
Max Sinclair 00:12
Thank you. Nice to be here.
The Startup Coach 00:14
Can you tell us about your background and what inspired you to start ecomtent?
Max Sinclair 00:19
We started Ecomtent in October of 2022. I used to work at Amazon beforehand. So it’s my background, I worked there for six years. And we saw, I think it was a release of stability. Me and my co founder were just like, wow, this is going to completely revolutionize everything. And also ecommerce that kind of was the founding basis that we wanted to help bring this new technology to an industry that I that I knew well, we kind of had the belief back then, which was contrarian, then maybe not contrarian now that like in in a few years, like 95% of the content in online marketplaces will be generated by AI. Happening Now, this is pretty common belief. And it’s only been seven months. But yeah, that’s kind of what we started with.
The Startup Coach 01:05
How did your experience at Amazon influence the development of Ecomtent?
Max Sinclair 01:10
I’d say, Amazon has some leadership principles to the most important ones are like customer obsession, and invented, simplify. And this is drilled into us like an Amazonian and I guess like an hour as a founder, we are laser focused on our on our customers, we start with the customers and we work backwards. And we very much include them in our, in our roadmap on what we build, we don’t build in an ivory tower and hope that when we launch it, it will sell like we we very much are hand in hand customers getting feedback, people who actually paying us, us. So yeah, I think that’s something that I took away from Amazon.
The Startup Coach 01:50
Can you explain in general how generative AI works, and how its utilized in Ecomtent’s self service tool, to give
Max Sinclair 01:57
a brief recording view, generative AI uses generative adversarial networks or GaNS. And this basically has two neural networks that work together to create new content. The first network is called a generator, you train it on on input content, and it learns how to understand the patterns and characteristics of this content and then create new similar content, the second networks called a discriminator. And this is trained on the real and unit the same input data as a generator. And this network is presented with both the real content, the original ones and stuff from the generator, and distinguishes between the two. And this happens at multiple, millions of times a second. And basically, when the generator starts to build a discriminator, you get the output. And that’s, that’s basically what’s going on in the technical view. In terms of our tool itself, it’s very, very simple, much better than that, you just get your product image, you drop it into our tool, it will remove the background for you. And then you will use natural language, like just text or typing where you’d want to see that image, a new lifestyle image that you’d want to create with your product. And then it would create that for you.
The Startup Coach 03:16
So I think he just walked us through the process of crud using the self service tool, you upload the image and tell it where you want. Exactly. What kind of feedback have you received from customers who have used Ecomtent’s tool to create product images,
Max Sinclair 03:31
we have received a lot of great feedback, people find it, find that it really unlocks their creativity, they’re able to put their product in any situation. You know, they no longer have to wait for a freelancer photographer to create like a quality, you know, professional looking content, which is great. We’ve also had a ton of feature requests, as you can imagine. And we are busy kind of working through which ones are the most important ones, making the impact the most customers and getting on with delivering
The Startup Coach 04:08
what sets you apart from other content creation tools on the market.
Max Sinclair 04:19
So there’s a lot of there’s a lot of competition, I guess what sets us apart is we’re very focused on our niche, which is we’re focused on E commerce sellers, creating content specifically for listing pages or social media. And there’s kind of a lot in that that that customers want to create that we are we’re focusing on delivering for them. So I think we also were looking like on a technical perspective, we are training our own model. We have like our own data, which is like highly performing Amazon listings, which have been kind of cultivated Which retrain the model onto like, there’s we’ve got a bunch of stuff not only on like the UX, which is kind of purpose driven for customers, but also, technically which we’re doing to ensure that, like, our quality is the best in the market for that use case, and yeah, that’s, that’s how we differ.
The Startup Coach 05:21
What challenges have you faced while developing Ecomtent? And how have you overcome?
Max Sinclair 05:28
I think, and maybe you’ve had this before and stuck up, talk, like, one of the biggest challenges you get as a founder is just like the endless pits of advice that come at you from all angles from everyone. And I think like my advice, thought, it’s worth saying, you get advice from everywhere. My advice on that would be like, there’s really two sources of advice that you should take seriously. And this is, firstly, obviously from the customer, the paying customers and potential customers. If a customer is a paying customer, they’re using your tool, and they’re, and they’re requesting X Y, Zed. You know, that’s gold dust. And like, Should we take a vote seriously. And the second piece, like, second advice, I’d say would actually be from from the the seats, or like the new investors. And the reason that this is a good source of advice is that they have a real a bird’s eye view of the whole landscape. And especially if you’ve kind of presented your deck, had a few conversations with them, and then they decided not to invest, which happened, you know, you know, that their team has kind of gone through that they’ve sat there for an hour or half an hour or so discussing the the opportunity in depth, and therefore, like, it’s valuable, it’s valuable advice on like, why they didn’t want to proceed. So I think those two key like, I would really block out everything else. And and, you know, unless you have like an advisory board or whatever, which, you know, also very useful, which we have as well, but like, I block out all the external things, apart from these two would be would be my advice.
Can you share any success stories of customers that have used Ecomtent to great product images?
Max Sinclair 07:17
Yeah, I mean, we’ve got, we’ve got tons of success stories, I guess, like, for example, we’ve seen our content generates four and a half title, profile visits, and then non AI generated content from one customer, which is a significant jump. And actually, if you look at their Instagram profile, you it’s quite obvious why this is happening is because like our content that you will create, you can put stuff in extreme scenarios you can put it with, with humans demonstrating the product, and therefore, like comparing this to like, static photos is obviously more engaging. So that’s one we’ve also had some great success with other customers like refreshing their listings, based on key events, like Christmas Valentine today, creating content that is, like specific for like what people were searching for at those times. And again, like the increased conversion has been impressive, but it’s, you know, like, as you can, as logical as why that’s happened.
The Startup Coach 08:21
In what ways do you see Ecomtent evolving and expanding in the future?
Max Sinclair 08:27
It’s a great question. And like I, one of the things I love doing is talking to my co founder, and just just like debating kind of maybe at the end of the day, like some crazy ideas of where we how we can go forward, kind of like, after having a day of, you know, working in the weeds of the particular things that we’re doing, and then kind of taking step back and looking at big like trends and tech and stuff that we can do. So to answer your question like, we definitely see this as a first step on a much bigger journey, we’re definitely going to right now you can kind of use our screens and it was downloaded. We see a full service end to end version of our tool in the near future RAM talking by the end of the year. And we’re also very aware of the trends that are happening in E commerce. And my my personal view is that the way people shop is going to change. And the way people shop is going to change from like search and scrolling to chat based. So I might like we’re betting the company on basically, Amazon, and everywhere else in the future, having conversational AI in which you interact and the AI knows you and your past behavior and your habits and everything else and we’ll kind of recommend products specific based on that. And it won’t be scrolling through listing pages, but rather choosing between a handful of products My view is that like, our, our, the norms, like our norms are going to change, just trust these AI bots increasingly so that, you know, that sounds kind of crazy in some ways, but I think like people will just say, if if the AI bots on Amazon is recommending these five products, that’s better than like, the 100, that the kind of non generative AI that deterministic AI is throwing up based on like, search engine results. Like this one’s better entertainment to me. And we’re very focused on like, how do we operate in that world and like, create content for that world? And that’s something we’re looking at.
The Startup Coach 10:41
What is your approach to pricing? And how do you ensure that Ecomtent remains affordable to businesses of all sizes,
Max Sinclair 10:48
so we, we haven’t done what many people have done, which is kind of like, keep sticking it up until someone says too expensive, which is quite common in the startup world. My view is, we were aware that this space is moving very fast. And I don’t like I’m well aware that we’re going to offer a lot more services than we do right now to customers. And we don’t want any customers to ever feel that we have been ripping them off and charging them extortionate pricing at any point. So our pricing is very, very, very affordable. So it’s $5 on our pay as you go to generate, like unlimited number of lifestyle images, in any scenario for one product, so you know, comparable, photoshoot would be about $500 minimum. And then we also have a subscription base, which is $95 per brand, for up to 100 SKU which would basically be less than $1 per image. And less than $1 per SKU, unlimited images generated. So like, We’re extremely reasonable in our pricing. And my focus on that has been like, I’d rather keep it low now grow. And then like as we add features, which we never get to do add in like, more premium, more premium services at that point. And yeah, I never want to, I never want people to feel that. We took advantages of being of early movers in the space and kind of like, try to just like extract money from other entrepreneurs, that’s not what we want to do.
The Startup Coach 12:28
How do you handle customization requests from customers who have specific needs or preferences for their product images.
Max Sinclair 12:36
So we get a lot of this, we get a lot of different feature requests, like the coolest just on board, this was a specific request I’ve never heard before. Bear in mind that I’ve worked in Amazon for six years. In also like, they will be called IQ, select Browse quality teams. I’ve never heard these requests before, but like coming from a big company, they know what they’re doing. They’ve seen the results, they want to do some more of this stuff. And they’re wondering if he’s not all for it. And I think like, honestly, the way that I do it is I go to see more my co founder and I say how long would it take to do this? And then we basically like if it’s if it’s something we can assess quickly, we’ll do it. And if it’s something that is like a major Pivot will kind of assess like a if that meets our long term vision or not, and like the size of the opportunity, blah, blah, blah. But yeah, so it really depends.
The Startup Coach 13:32
Do you integrate with other platforms or software that businesses may be using further ecommerce operations?
Max Sinclair 13:38
Yes, we are building an API and we plan to sell will enable other service providers to use our API like we know what we’re good at which is like generating product images at the moment and other stuff which we notify in the near term and we want to enable other service providers to offer this to their customers as well. So yes, we will we do
The Startup Coach 14:02
Can you share any insights or trends that you’ve noticed in the e Commerce Industry particularly regards to product images and content creation?
Max Sinclair 14:15
I think the thing historically that like the quality of products have been very poor on Amazon I can say this like just my experience, I think like you it’d be very often the case you get very badly Photoshopped images. So I think the quality is is largely improving I think sellers or sellers are realizing that like you know, in order to stand out you need to have a have a strong listing page and like it needs to feel premium and like high quality and if you’re not like physically touching or feeling a product that you need to get the sense from the images and and to a lesser extent the the text on the screen that it’s it’s a good quality product. I’m sorry, thing that kind of like over like, six years that I’ve been involved in this space, I’ve seen that kind of shift, I think work is in a better situation now than we definitely weren’t like, like even looking at the core metrics, we used to track on this internally, like, it’s been a huge improvement, you know, many common tricks. And we’re focused on that as well. And we want to help people to keep the listing going in high quality will also refresh it like, you know, for all the different seasons and events and everything else. So like, you don’t just have to have this really high quality premium listing. But once you can have it built 1000 times generative AI, and I think that’s where we’ll move to in the future.
The Startup Coach 15:44
There’s a lot of fear around a irate now with a lot of big names causing calling for general six month pause. In your opinion, what is the issue? Is AI going to kill us all?
Max Sinclair 15:56
So, is AI going to cancel on my hope? My hope is no. So I think, like, there’s certain things I’m worried about, and which which are explained, I think that there’s a, there’s a danger of over concentration and power of AI models in the hands of very small and large companies, Microsoft, Amazon, Google. Yeah, I mean, there’s basically the video. I think that, you know, some of you were already in a world where like, a handful of companies have like, huge resources and influence over culture and our way of lives, like imagine boycotting Apple or like Amazon, like is is next to impossible. And I think to give these companies extremely power as well, not just you know, with like artificial intelligence so that they are 1000 million x times more capable than than any competitor. Cleaning like any government regulator, anyone that’s very, very scary, very scary place. But I think that the to say like, oh, we need to start to regulate as the wrong answer. Because what happens when you regulate an interstate, you know, the incumbent profits right there up and close with the regulator’s they can put in their specific concerns. The consumers are people who really lose out and I’m talking about things like health care and other heavily regulated industries, you’ll see a very clear pattern, which is like a handful of incumbents will require everyone else and they’ll put up prices, consumers will suffer, innovation slows right right down to a halt. And only by like deregulating like we have with with with COVID vaccines like then suddenly innovation can happen again, you can get new companies like the donor coming in and like doing crazy stuff, because suddenly like you’ve taken the regulations off, so I I am worried about the the I am slightly worried about what can happen in the future. I think regulat like I completely can understand why people like Sam Altman and Microsoft are calling for regulation, because of course, it’s going to solidify their place to you know, basically block out any competition at all. And really keep them at the top of their game, like indefinitely. So I would be very cautious against any regulation. On that side. I also my final thought on this is like, it’s all very well like having regulation in the West. But like, if you have them in the non non democratic countries who are not regulating and moving and fast beat then we even need more danger, right? Like autocratic governments having this technology can do like unimaginable damage. I mean, fundamentally, corporations are motivated by profit and making more sales, which, you know, isn’t perfect, but at least they’re not trying to, you know, stop democratic organization or anything like this. Right, which, which other countries would be? So, I mean, that’s another thing we have to factor in as well. So, yeah, that answers your question, but that’s my, my thoughts on the on the on the subject.
The Startup Coach 19:24
When it comes to product images, there’s so many variations and understanding what could sell. You’re talking about what angle from top to bottom, what colors in the background? What do you want to see on the label? All the different things who do you want to see using it? Can you speak to the role of creativity and innovation in the development of the Ecomtents technology and business model? And do you plan on integrating any statistics from what types of photos are actually converting and suggesting those?
Max Sinclair 19:58
We have that on your second part? Yes. We have done already, like we already have like high like we enable people to create high converting product images and professors. On the first point like, I really believe that what we’re doing any content is like unlocking creativity and imagination of the customers. No longer are these people dealing with logistics of like organizing photo shoots, organizing models, organizing, freelancers, and, and then like basically outsourcing the creativity to these people and like having to do like the logistical nightmare of setting it all up. And the expense, we’re putting their creativity right back into the hands of either the solo entrepreneurs or the like, content teams of in these, you know, in the Senate companies. So we’re definitely unlocking creativity and imagination. And that’s something that we like we’re focused on doing.
The Startup Coach 20:54
Looking back on your entrepreneurial journey, so far, what have been, what’s been the most valuable lesson or lessons you’ve learned?
Max Sinclair 21:08
So we talked about the quite where, where it’s, like, get advice from. And I think this is really important. I think another one I’ll add is like, you need to, if you’re trying to build a adventure back, and we’ll company which is what we’re doing, you need to have a mission behind the company that then excite venture capitalists fundamentally, and they like, from my experience doing this now, they want to see a crazy vision, but not just a crazy vision, but also like, what’s the mission? What’s driving the team? What’s going to make them carry on going when, when things get tough, and competition has blah, blah, blah. So I think you need to like, you need to have that. And it needs to be in like an honest mission and not a manufactured one. So you need to have that mission behind the company as well. And that’s, that’s really important for raising money and also like, talking to customers.
The Startup Coach 22:15
You’re currently in the next AI program? Yeah, can you? Can you tell us a little bit about your experience?
Max Sinclair 22:21
Oh, next AI. So what we I personally, like most of annexed AI is the kind of technical aspect. So they’re associated with Mila, I’m currently completing a, like, a course on the deep learning Essentials is cool. We have like a weekly sync with one of the leading like experts in the world, on machine learning. So it kind of taught me the content of the course and like discussing the questions. So like, for me, it’s it’s been really, really helpful from that, like specific perspective, I think that AI now, hopefully, as you’ve heard, and one of my first answer is like understand machine learning more than I did before I joined next AI. And that’s because like, I think the academic piece of it next say I wish you’d like a couple of hours a week. But it’s like, fundamentally very helpful. You know, given the space that we’re in
The Startup Coach 23:28
Yeah, fertile. Also a lot about, on top of that, a lot of the value is just working with the other AI founders, because you know, they’ve solved problems that you’re facing now and vice versa. And just being in that environment. Yes. What is next for you and Ecomtent?
Max Sinclair 23:49
What’s next meaning content. So we have this very exciting roadmap. So we’re constantly building we recently launched like a self service tool. So like anyone can go onto our website now and check out and generate images, which have quite a wide liking a feat to be honest technically like going on behind the scenes setting that up to just crippled demand. And we are looking to basically migrate all of these cool features that we had on our previous versions, where we were kind of dealing with one customer at a time to this like open source and everyone can use it at once. And then once you’ve done that building, building even more so I think it’s yeah, it’s very exciting space and I’m looking forward to it.
The Startup Coach 24:45
Where can people go and find out more about you any content
Max Sinclair 24:50
so I’m I probably most active on LinkedIn as a social media is printers that may sound so they can go to me on LinkedIn, and E content. Is WW dot e c o. E can spell it wrong is E commerce content ecomtentai Apologies because I’m dyslexic, so I can’t even spell the name of my own company. But yeah, they can just go and check that stuff out on on the web.
The Startup Coach 25:21
All those links will be in the show notes or on podcasting 2.0 chapters, you can just click in there and you’ll see those links. So if you have any issues with the spelling, just click this check there. I really appreciate you taking the time today, Max to be part of startup talk podcast.
Max Sinclair 25:39
Thank you. It’s good talking to you.