Amazon recruits founders from AI startup Adept

Mon Jul 1, 2024 - 4:05am GMT+0000
Amazon recruits founders from AI startup Adept

Adept, a startup known for developing AI-powered agents designed to perform various software-based tasks, has announced a significant shift in its business strategy. The company has agreed to license its cutting-edge technology to Amazon, and in a noteworthy move, several of Adept’s co-founders and key team members have joined the e-commerce giant.

Details of the Agreement

The news, first reported by Geekwire’s Taylor Soper, revealed that Adept co-founder and CEO David Luan will be joining Amazon. Alongside Luan, Adept co-founders Augustus Odena, Maxwell Nye, Erich Elsen, Kelsey Szot, and other employees are also making the transition.

Despite these significant changes, Adept is not shutting down. Instead, Zach Brock, head of engineering, will take over as CEO, steering the company towards a renewed focus on “solutions that enable agentic AI.”

A New Chapter for Adept

In a blog post on Adept’s official site, the company detailed its plans for the future:

“Our products will continue to be powered by a combination of our existing state-of-the-art in-house AI models, agentic data, web interaction software, and custom infrastructure. Continuing with Adept’s initial plan of building both useful general intelligence and an enterprise agent product would’ve required spending significant attention on fundraising for our foundation models, rather than bringing to life our agent vision.”

This shift in strategy comes after months of reported discussions with major tech players such as Meta and Microsoft regarding potential acquisition opportunities. Microsoft had previously invested in Adept, reflecting the startup’s industry significance.

Amazon’s Gain

For Amazon, this agreement represents an opportunity to enhance its generative AI ambitions significantly. According to Geekwire, David Luan will report to Rohit Prasad, the former head of Alexa who now leads a new AGI team focused on developing large language models.

Prasad expressed enthusiasm about the acquisition in a memo obtained by Geekwire:

“David and his team’s expertise in training state-of-the-art multimodal foundational models and building real-world digital agents aligns with our vision to delight consumer and enterprise customers with practical AI solutions. [The license] will accelerate our roadmap for building digital agents that can automate software workflows.”

Adept’s Journey and Challenges

Founded two years ago, Adept aimed to create an AI model capable of performing tasks across any software tool using natural language. This vision, shared by other AI innovators like OpenAI and Rabbit, sought to establish an “AI teammate” adept in using a variety of software tools and APIs.

Adept attracted significant investment, raising over $415 million from backers including Nvidia, Atlassian, Workday, and Greylock. At its peak, the startup was valued at approximately $1 billion. However, Adept faced internal challenges, including the early departure of two co-founders, Ashish Vaswani and Niki Parmar, and difficulties in bringing a product to market despite extensive testing.

The AI Agents Market Landscape

The market for AI agents has become increasingly competitive since Adept’s inception. Well-funded startups such as Orby and Emergence are also vying for a share of what is expected to be a highly lucrative market. According to market research firm Grand View Research, the AI agents segment was valued at $4.2 billion in 2022 and is poised for significant growth.

Potential Outcomes for Adept

The partnership with Amazon could be the catalyst Adept needs to achieve its goals. However, the departure of much of its executive team poses questions about the company’s future. Adept might follow the path of Inflection, another AI startup that experienced significant talent drain following an acquisition by Microsoft. Furthermore, regulatory scrutiny over AI acquisitions could also impact the outcome of this agreement.

Adept’s journey reflects the dynamic and fast-evolving nature of the AI industry. The licensing agreement with Amazon marks a pivotal moment for the startup, offering both opportunities and challenges. As Adept navigates this new phase under fresh leadership, the tech world will be watching closely to see if it can realize its vision amidst a rapidly growing and competitive market.