An exclusive Tech Tribune Q&A with Ya Xue (co-founder and VP) of Infinia ML, which was honored in our:
- 2023 Best Tech Startups in Durham
- 2022 Best Tech Startups in Durham
- 2021 Best Tech Startups in Durham
- 2020 Best Tech Startups in Durham
- 2019 Best Tech Startups in Durham
Tell us the origin story of Infinia – what problem were you trying to solve and why?
Infinia ML was founded in September 2017 as a Duke spin-off. We started as a boutique AI/ML consulting firm, tackling challenging business problems companies and government agencies brought to us. Later on, we gradually shifted our focus to Intelligent Document Processing (IDP), helping companies streamline workflows and gain new insights with a machine learning-powered platform for IDP. The Infinia IDP platform can extract key information, categorize content, standardize phrases, and improve internal search. Enterprise leaders, technology innovators, and government partners trust Infinia on critical projects with sensitive data.
What was the biggest hurdle you encountered in your journey?
The biggest challenge Infinia has encountered was the pandemic and all the changes it led to in the workplace. Before the pandemic, we had a flexible work schedule but employees were in the office at core hours. We were used to face-to-face meetings, group discussions, Friday lunches, in-office yoga lessons, etc. The pandemic changed everything. The office was closed all of a sudden and everybody was trying to figure out a new remote working rhythm. Collaboration, recruitment, team building, and everything else became much more difficult. However, it was amazing to see how quickly our employees adapted. At the end of 2020, we found it was actually the most productive year in Infinia’s history. We hired half of the employees during the pandemic. For some of them, we had never met in person until working together for 18 months, but we have still built a strong team and culture.
What does the future hold for Infinia?
I’m very positive about Infinia’s future. IDP is an application domain that is in high demand and an increasing number of companies are investing in it. From a technical standpoint, we may be witnessing a pivotal moment in AI, marked by the introduction of ChatGPT. ChatGPT is an example of large language models (LLMs), which are the most groundbreaking AI technique in the last 10 years or so. At Infinia, we are doing very exciting work to use LLMs for IDP. It’s a game-changer.
What are your thoughts on the local tech startup scene in Durham?
Durham has changed in an amazing way. About 20 years ago, people told me, a newcomer to this area, to avoid Downtown Durham because it was not safe. The city is totally different today, not only because it’s safer, but also because of the innovative vibe and the entrepreneurial community in Durham. Before the pandemic, there were many local meet-ups and conferences for startup people to get together, and our data scientists used to go out and give tech talks every month. I met some of the local entrepreneurs and learned a lot from their journeys. I’m glad to see the pandemic is over and the momentum is picking up again.
What’s your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Work hard, be agile, and get used to frustration. We all know about working hard, so I don’t need to say much about it. Once when I was at a talk given by a business legend, he said: “One lesson I want you to remember is, don’t plan for the long term”. I interpret that as being agile. The world (both business and physical) changes so fast. It’s good to have a vision and stick to it, but entrepreneurs need to be very alert to changes in the business environment and adjust their execution plans quickly. The last thing I want to mention is that doing a startup is like riding a rollercoaster, with ups and downs every day and full of uncertainty and full of frustration. Some people have an innate high tolerance for frustration. If you are not born that way, you’ll need to practice and get used to it.