December 9, 2020

C3.ai’s Stock Soared 120% in the AI Company’s Successful IPO, but CEO Tom Siebel Says That Was Never the Goal

  • C3.ai, an artificial intelligence company founded by prominent tech exec Tom Siebel, debuted on the NYSE on Wednesday and skyrocketed up 120% by the closing bell.
  • The 11-year-old firm has evolved, and AI is an evolving industry – so some had doubts about the company’s IPO.
  • Siebel proclaimed indifference saying the stock market “is not my area,” but he conceded his phone was ringing off the hook with congratulations.
  • Siebel said he’ll next take on customer-relationship management, noting Salesforce has “grown by acquiring things. This is R&D, so not really their area.”

“Holy moley!” Tom Siebel said Wednesday morning when asked his response to the explosive initial public offering of his 500-employee artificial intelligence company, C3.ai.

The company’s stock, which debuted on the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday, spiked as much as 174% higher in its first day of public trading. Priced Tuesday at $42 a share — above its expected range — C3 stock opened at $100. It was halted briefly due to volatility, reached a high for the day of $115, and closed up 120% at $95.39.

C3 has taken a circuitous path to its IPO, first focusing on clean tech, then the Internet of Things, before landing on AI. Some had their doubts about the company’s stock market debut, in part because the company has racked up around $300 million in total losses.

Siebel claimed indifference to the results, but a broad smile in a video conference call with Business Insider betrayed his enjoyment of the moment.

“This is not my field. I like to grow software companies,” claimed Siebel, clad in a dark suit coat and impeccable white shirt in his firm’s sleek Redwood City offices south of San Francisco. “You could close the stock market for five years and I really wouldn’t care.”

Still, he said, “the phone’s been ringing off the hook with congratulations.” He wouldn’t divulge any famous names that might have been on the other end of those phone calls, but said some were “famous names from around the valley and the world.”

In previous years, an IPO might’ve led a hot company to ring the bell to close a New York market or take over a San Francisco Bay Area restaurant, but Siebel said his COVID-19 celebration would be a steak dinner with his family at home.

About 40 people were in the C3 offices that overlook the marshy San Francisco baylands in Redwood City, but he said it was still a day of celebration for the C3 staff. “I’m very happy for the 500 employees of this company and the hard work they’ve put in for the past 11 years. It’s a great day for them.”

The company makes a suite of AI tools for companies that don’t want to build their own from scratch, but do want to invest in an evolving platform that grows with their needs. Its biggest customers include oil companies and the US military.

Siebel also said his company will be focusing on a new customer relationship management product that combines software from Microsoft, Adobe, and his company. “I know a little about CRM,” said Siebel, who sold his CRM company Siebel Systems to Oracle for nearly $6 billion in 2005. “You know, I kind of invented it.”

Siebel hasn’t minced words about taking on CRM powerhouse Salesforce for big enterprise clients. Salesforce has promoted its Einstein platform as a way to help customers use AI to make sense of the data stored in the software. On Wednesday, however, Siebel said that he sees Salesforce as weak in the AI space. (Disclosure: the author of this story previously worked at Salesforce between 2018 and 2019.)

“Salesforce is a fine company,” he said. “But they’ve sort of grown by acquiring things. This is R&D, so not really their area.”

Siebel said other big projects ahead will include helping Shell and other oil companies transition into renewable energies, even as they navigate the coronavirus crisis. “They’re not doing it because they’re supporters of the Sierra Club,” Siebel said Wednesday. He said sustainable, more environmentally friendly projects were just good business for oil companies. “Shell and Exxon are full of pretty smart people. They’re not asleep at the switch.”

Siebel said medical research is the other big sector of AI ahead for C3 after Wednesday’s IPO. “Healthcare will be the largest application of AI in 2021,” he said. C3 recently sponsored a COVID-19 Grand Challenge research event that awarded $200,000 to seven projects aimed at using AI to fight the pandemic.

“This project has huge potential to make an immediate impact on the pandemic with its approach to generating meaningful results from COVID testing,” Siebel said. The contest’s top prize, $100,000, went to researchers from Carnegie Mellon, the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the University of Chicago for their AI program that predicts an individual’s infectious and susceptibility status and probability of having COVID.

Read the full article here.