Get access to Protocol
Tom Siebel strikes again.
Shares of C3.ai, the company he founded in 2009, just went gangbusters on the company's first day of trading on the New York Stock Exchange. Living up to its ticker "AI," the firm offers catered solutions that help clients like Shell and the U.S. Air Force, among others, predict when their machines may need maintenance.
It's part of a booming industry to arm enterprises with the latest and greatest AI technology. Alongside startups that offer industry-specific applications, AWS, Google and the other tech giants of the world also stack AI-based products on top of their bread-and-butter cloud computing software.
But to Siebel, there are no competitors. In fact, he thinks no one is remotely close to offering what C3.ai can. SAP and Oracle? Siebel says they have "nothing but white papers" when it comes to enterprise AI. Salesforce? A laggard when it comes to innovation that only offers AI to suggest the next step in the sales process. AWS and Microsoft? Go-to-market partners that can't match the sophistication of C3.ai's offerings, but still play a critical foundational role. (Microsoft is a key ally and now shareholder of C3.ai.)
"Every company in the world would like to be in the enterprise AI business," Siebel told Protocol. "Right now, I think we have a free run at it. I don't know where the competition is going to come from."
The secret weapon, according to Siebel, is what he calls "model-driven architecture," a form of software development that Siebel claims he's protected with a patent.
"If you want to use a model-driven architecture, which is our secret sauce, you get to call 1-800-C3 and you license it from us," Siebel said. "If Microsoft thinks they can deliver it tomorrow, why would they be partnering with me? And if they want to build it, I can assure you we own the intellectual property rights to the idea."
Some criticism has been levied at C3.ai and its products, but Siebel brushes it aside, instead touting that companies are paying upwards of "$80 million and euros over time to license this technology from us."
"Every company is using me with one of Azure, AWS or Google," he added. "If they already have this stuff, why would they be paying me scores of millions of dollars?"
It's tough to bet against Siebel, a legend in the enterprise software world who was also infamously attacked by an elephant in 2009 (he's since recovered). It could get even harder following such an impressive public debut.
Back in 1995, Siebel created the customer relationship management industry with t before selling the company to Oracle for roughly $6 billion. Now, the company most identified with the software is Salesforce. But Siebel is charging hard at Marc Benioff's brainchild, launching a new partnership with Microsoft and Adobe to sell AI-backed CRM software.
While Siebel will quickly attack any attempt to compare C3.ai to Salesforce, the company does offer AI capabilities in the form of Einstein — which Salesforce says churns out over 80 billion predictions each day. The key difference, according to Siebel, is that while Salesforce's Einstein only analyzes information included in a company's CRM system, C3.ai, Microsoft and Adobe's products will also include valuable information from external sources, like analyst reports and social media feeds.
"I've interviewed everybody who is a senior manager in Einstein, and I have a pretty good idea what they are doing," said Siebel. "I don't think there's anybody there who knows what AI is."
Now, armed with $651 million in new capital, Siebel is looking to capitalize on what he labels as demand that, until now, was outpacing C3.ai's ability to deliver. And 2021 is going to be all about "sales capacity, service capacity, and more people working with our market partners."
Joe Williams is a senior reporter at Protocol covering enterprise software, including industry giants like Salesforce, Microsoft, IBM and Oracle. He previously covered emerging technology for Business Insider. Joe can be reached at JWilliams@Protocol.com. To share information confidentially, he can also be contacted on a non-work device via Signal (+1-309-265-6120) or JPW53189@protonmail.com.