Four Areas of AI Opportunity, From Zefa Hakim of Yelp

Zefa Hakim and Faraz Fatemi

Lightspeed recently hosted the latest in its Generative AI series in Los Angeles, a fireside chat with Zefa Hakim, Head of Products, AI, ML, and Data Monetization at Yelp. Lightspeed has been investing in AI for over a decade, and launched the meetups to bring together founders, builders, and investors working in the generative AI space to trade ideas and learn from each other. The panel was organized and moderated by the Lightspeed partners Faraz Fatemi, who focuses on investments in consumer platforms, and Moritz Baier-Lentz, who heads the firm’s gaming initiatives.

During the discussion, Zefa highlighted four areas of AI where he sees opportunities for entrepreneurs:

Companies with large or unique datasets can use AI to convert that data into entirely new revenue streams

Using Yelp as an example, Zefa highlighted the company’s vast datasets, including hundreds of millions of business reviews, user-generated photos and videos, and billions of consumer searches. Using AI, this data can be analyzed to identify new opportunities or risks, including changing consumer trends, a business, or location’s changing popularity, or identifying vulnerabilities to uncover insurance risks, or uncovering popular food or beverages for food and alcohol distributors. These insights are valuable to other businesses wanting to streamline their operations or pursue new opportunities. As a result, companies should always ask themselves how their data is reusable and how AI can help unlock its additional potential.

An area of AI innovation that’s still largely untapped is analytical capability

So far—and it’s still very early days—AI’s most visible impact has come in the form of summarizing or generating content, including images and video. However, as AI advances and becomes cheaper and more democratized, we’ll likely witness it becoming more analytically capable. Ripe for growth are AI-powered applications that help people make decisions, including shopping choices, social interactions, and other scenarios that involve context-specific coordination between multiple people and places (e.g. choosing what restaurant to visit for a particular type of experience). Other similar potential opportunities include the development of AI-powered tutors, coaches, mentor, and possibly therapists—among other services.

Established companies and startups can collaborate around AI

When asked how an established company like Yelp determines whether to build a new capability in-house or partner with a startup that’s developing that capability, Zefa highlighted the benefits of partnership—especially when the startup displays a novel approach. “More often than not,” Zefa said about past conversations with possible collaborators, “new AI companies are coming up with ideas that we haven’t even thought about. But, using our data and insights, they can build different kinds of solutions that can power bigger insurance companies, bigger banking companies, and things like that. So, we keep an open mind. If you have an idea, and you can use our insights and use our data to go build something new, we’ll listen and we’ll partner.”

Trust and Safety is one of the most important factors AI companies must consider

According to Zefa, it’s imperative that AI companies convince their customers that AI-related information isn’t being used inappropriately. This means having robust Trust and Safety programs, which he divided into multiple areas. First, companies must prevent fraud and abuse such as hackers stealing valuable data. Second, they should consider how to prevent misuse such as jailbreaking, in which users bypass restrictions or ethical safeguards placed around large language models, thus using them for purposes the owners of those models might wish to prevent. The third consideration is legal, ensuring that AI applications aren’t violating copyright laws and are sufficiently informing users that they are, in fact, using AI. Finally, companies must protect their brands. If companies create comprehensive safeguards and mechanisms addressing all four of these factors, their chances at success will increase exponentially.

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