My big idea: Neurons Inc

Thomas Zoëga Ramsøy, Founder & CEO of Neurons Inc, explains his concept
BizAge Interview Team
Neurons Inc

Hi! What's your elevator pitch?

We’re an online platform that predicts consumers’ conscious and unconscious responses toward marketing and creative assets like advertisements, images, videos, and more, in seconds.

What does the market need it?

Marketing is far from being solved, and John Wanamaker’s dictum still holds, in which half of his marketing budget was wasted, but he didn’t know which half it was. Brands keep pushing out campaigns that fail in the market, products that are not aligned with consumer needs or understanding, and touchpoints that fail on engaging users. The overall sum is that as consumers we are seeing an increasing barrage of commercial noise.

For more than two decades, the emergence of neuromarketing and behavioral design has shown that we need to understand and target unconscious consumer responses to make any progress. But neuromarketing has traditionally been slow, expensive, and complex to use, only reserved to the upper part of the Fortune list. However, with the explosive use of AI tools and online platforms, it is now becoming possible to make the same neuroscience-based tools available at a fraction of the cost and time. For example, making a neuromarketing study to test the effect of an ad would usually cost around 25,000 USD and take a couple of weeks for a report. Today, the same results can be delivered in seconds to minutes!

Thus, Neurons’ added value lies in the combination of neuroscience, AI models, and platform access to improve the accuracy of brands in ensuring that consumers are enabled, engaged, and empowered.

Where is the business today? 

The company was formed in 2013, and until 2020 we have been bootstrapping our journey by establishing a global neuroscience team that worked with Fortune 500 companies and building an industry-leading database on consumer responses. In 2020, we closed a successful pre-seed round, which led to the explosive growth of our SaaS journey. In 2022, we then closed a successful seed round to push this growth even further and doubled our team to over 80 employees.

Today, we are going beyond predicting attention, also to predict how consumers respond emotionally and cognitively. We are also working hard on building predictive solutions that are integrated with the rapid rise of generative models. We are planning a series A funding round around the end of this year.

What made you think there was money in this?

We have dabbled in this space since we started the company, and we have made platform solutions since the beginning. This includes hand-programmed computational neuroscience models of visual attention, and neuroscience-based panel testing, while we were still talking about “big data” and not “AI or machine learning”. We also worked very closely with others in the industry to make sure that the complexity of neuroscience and deep tech could be made into understandable and actionable metrics. We were fortunate to work closely with leading companies in tech, FMCG, media, and other industries in the US and Europe, and thus became industry-vetted early on. We also focused on publishing our methods and metrics in scientific journals, and thereby relied on a full transparency model, instead of IP protection and black boxes. This was in contrast to competitors, who did not publish their methods or metrics, and typically either fell into one of two categories: either they were very good scientists that had a hard time translating their methods to make themselves understood by clients; or they were very good businesspeople that were understood by clients but failed in building proper scientifically valid methods and metrics.

In the first many years, the market was not ready for a broader adoption of AI tools or platform tools. However, we have seen this shift dramatically over the past 4-5 years, especially as the pandemic hit. Because of the years put in early in this Venn diagram of neuroscience, AI, and platform development, we were very well suited to take on the demand as it grew in 2020 and until today.

Today, we are in a leading position, as we have established the industry-leading consumer neuroscience database and keep adding billions of data points to this database each year. In addition, we have been successful in establishing a strong thought leadership, in that we basically wrote the book in this area, we are constantly pushing the science forward through publications and editorial roles, and we are working closely with commercial clients to demonstrate the added value of our tools for commercial use and adoption.

What's your biggest strength?

Many unique characteristics contribute to Neurons’ leading position. First, we have built the most accurate AI model to predict consumer attention, and we are moving way beyond attention to also predict emotional and cognitive responses. Compared to other vendors, we are building and updating our AI products on a continuously updating and growing neuroscience database. Second, we have a very strong client portfolio that shows exactly how useful they are finding our products to be, and we are constantly adding new use cases and brands who are speaking up about this. Third, and as noted, we have a high level of trust in the market, as everything we build is based on a full transparency model. Finally, we are the de facto thought leaders in the industry – we have made a Coursera course that has seen more than 250,000 students at this point; we wrote the widely- adopted textbook on the subject, and we keep adding new insights and views that drive this industry forward.

What is the secret to making the business work?

In short, our success is a combination of a Scandinavian organization structure based on transparency and trust, bringing in the right mix of leaders, and completely geeking out about the crazy stuff we’re building!

We have recently completed a value system that has formalized the thinking that has been the foundation for Neurons’ success. First, we have been completely honest that we are here to earn money and to grow, succeed, and take commercial risks. But we have also a strong belief that this growth should be calibrated by two other values. The second value is therefore what we call ethics and responsible business. We want to strive to build products that contribute positively to the world around us – we are not here to make consumers be or feel tricked, overloaded, or confused. Instead, we try to build products that make the end recipient better off, by building products that enable, engage, and empower consumers. Finally, we are building products based on honesty, transparency, and scientific validity.

What we have found is that this combination of values both works very well externally with our clients, as well as with our investors, but not the least also for our employees.

Leadership-wise, there’s no hiding that we’re a Scandinavian company, which brings a strong focus on openness, a flat organizational structure, and a focus on radical candor and honesty. And we’re here to also have fun, be amazed, try things out, and learn from failure. We have focused a lot on bringing in the right leadership team and allowing leaders to take charge with support from us. And finally, we’ve also focused on building a company that is more than a job, but also a culture to feel a part of.

How do you market the company?

We have a few ways we approach marketing our product. Beyond the obvious identification of our ICPs, and the industries and markets to attack in which order, we also take our own medicine! This means that we’re using behavioral design and neuromarketing as part of our communication and positioning. For example, our product combination endeavors to target different types of buyer mindstates. Some people are early adopters and are triggered by the innovative combination of neuroscience, AI, and platform-leverage. Others are more driven by conformity, and like to see that we are working with brands ranging from Google and Coca-Cola to Tesco and IKEA. Yet other people are very functional, in that they focus on the ROI that using our products gives them (here, client use cases are very helpful). Some are also triggered by a fear of missing out if they realize that their competitive landscape is using us.

We also have a strong focus on thought leadership, since we already have established this over the past 10 years. This is a very good position to be in, as we know that merely bringing people’s awareness to neuro + AI solutions is very likely to lead to us in the end. This means that I spend a lot of time giving talks and workshops, as well as writing blog posts, scientific articles, and books. The attention this brings automatically halos over to Neurons. Our marketing team also produces use cases, industry reports, and more to bring awareness and learning to the industry. This also helps dramatically to our winning positioning and to bring prospects further down our sales funnel.

What funding do you have? Is it enough?

We completed our seed round in 2022, and are currently planning for a series A round at the turn of the year. We are following our budgets and expectations, which we’re extremely happy with, taking the current market conditions into account. This means that we expect to successfully land an A series that will boost commercial scaling and product development even more than presently.

Tell us about the business model

Neurons started as a project by project consultancy business from 2013-2020. In 2020, Neurons moved into the SaaS world after creating the Predict AI solution. This solution was originally brought to market as a single license solution starting at 2,000 EUR/year for a seat but has grown into a much more expanded and effective tool now running at 15,000 EUR/year for 5 seats. The solution offering is unlimited, meaning you can analyze as many images and videos as you want to during the license period.

A large part of Neurons business is also driven by the concept of “land and expand”, as many customers join the solution at 5 seats, but then expand into significantly higher seat amounts to spread the solution and impact across the business.

Neurons has been able to grow its revenue from €0/ARR in February 2021 to €2.6M/ARR in March 2023. We are on an aggressive growth trajectory, expecting to reach €5.5M/ARR by the end of 2023, leading into Q1 2024 with more than €6M/ARR during the A-series funding.

Are there any technologies you've found useful?

My own background is in clinical neuropsychology, and I have spent many years working with patients. After I completed my Ph.D. in neuroimaging and neurobiology, I worked a lot on studying the brain bases of our decisions. I’m a scientist at heart, but I have always focused on the broader implications and applications of neuroscience. Making science useful and even wowing people is part of my gig. I’m also a sci-fi and tech geek, and an avid Linux user, which has also inspired my take on transparency and collaboration in tech.

What is the future vision?

As a teenager, I read Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” books. I was very inspired by what he labeled “psychohistory” – this was a fictitious branch of psychology and mathematics that could predict the broad strokes of changes in human society. A few years ago, I realized that what I was building with Neurons was in a sense comparable to this view. But instead of predicting “everything” in a society, we are identifying what types of human behaviors are highly coherent and thereby predictable, and then gathering data to create predictive AI models.

The future vision for Neurons follows this path: we are creating products that will predict human behavior in an instant. But it’s important to stress that we are not focusing on individual behavior. Instead, we predict market responses. Also, based on our values, we are building ethics and responsibility into our products: our prediction AI products should lead the end consumer to make better, more engaged decisions that align with their values. That’s no small order, but we believe that the way we organize our growth will force us to have our eyes open and build products that make us all better off.

Written by
BizAge Interview Team
April 25, 2023
Written by
April 25, 2023