Pencil raises US$1.1m to automate creativity without killing it

  • Seed round was led by Wavemaker Partners with SGInnovate and Entrepreneur First
  • Funding used to grow proprietary datasets and extend patent-pending technology


Pencil’s founders Will Hanschell (left), and Sumukh Avadhani

PENCIL, the creative AI company, has secured US$1.1 million (S$1.5 million) in seed funding and launched its first enterprise product, a generative creative platform for advertisers called Studio.

Pencil’s Seed round was led by Singapore/US-based VC Wavemaker Partners together with SGInnovate and talent investor Entrepreneur First.

Investor-advisors include NUS Associate Professor Min-Yen Kan and members of Xoogler Angels, a leading angel network of Google executives in Southeast Asia.

The funding is being used to expand engineering and customer success teams, grow proprietary datasets and extend patent-pending technology.

Studio takes advantage of recent advancements in AI to enable creative and media teams to generate personalised advertising content, both language and visuals, at unprecedented speed and scale. The technology works by first using computational power to massively experiment, then AI pattern detection to spot the best ideas.

This ensures divergence and surprise in creative outputs, while also applying historical learnings to improve campaign performance. Studio also provides predictive feedback to users, suggesting whether generated content is likely to be effective, differentiated and “on brand”.

Pencil was founded to address the fundamental problem with advertising today. Many creative teams, overwhelmed by the volume of content that modern digital advertising requires, are unable to focus on ideas which reach consumers creatively and meaningfully.

Consumers then experience increasingly targeted advertising which fails to resonate, leading to a vicious cycle of even more invasive targeting. Pencil breaks this cycle by enabling creative teams to deliver quantity without sacrificing quality.

The process for generating AI content using Studio is highly collaborative, with the human user firmly in control. Creatives brief the platform and then review generated content, providing feedback in the form of approvals or edits which in turn train and refine the AI.

Pencil is also pioneering the concept of Sustainable AI. Any creative that uses Pencil’s tools will, in the future, be able to monetise the generative algorithms they have trained with their specific taste and expertise. Sustainable AI enfranchises the people working alongside algorithms, and is a model the company believes should be applied to all automation.

Pencil was founded in March 2018 by Will Hanschell, a former partner and management consultant at creative agency Iris Worldwide, and Sumukh Avadhani, a deep learning and computer vision specialist who was previously a principal at Google.

The company has been working with a number of clients for the last year, including Sephora SEA, POND’S (Unilever) and Mindshare (WPP). Some early results indicate that a 2x improvement in advertising performance and a 10x reduction in time and cost are possible with the technology. Content collaborated on by both humans and AI has been found to outperform the work of either humans or AI alone.

Paul Santos, managing partner of Wavemaker Partners said: “The number one pain point of marketing teams is increasing their ROI. Almost every solution in the market proposes doing so through greater targeting or better customer profiling. But these approaches are fundamentally limited by the amount of content, be it visuals or text, that one can humanly produce.

“Pencil takes a new and complementary approach, allowing teams to generate and distribute personalised content at scale using AI. We are happy to support Will and Sumukh in their vision to put this technology into the hands of the world’s best e-commerce, brand and agency teams by 2020.”

Will Hanschell, co-founder and chief executive officer of Pencil added: “We believe that AI will be as fundamental to creativity in the future as the pencil was in the past. Our goal is to bring the scale and speed of automation to creativity, without killing it. We’re working towards a world where humans and machines collaborate on ideas of all kinds, together pushing the boundaries of what creativity even means.”


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