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From pub napkin to $119m funding: How AI company Peak is thinking globally as it moves to new Manchester HQ

Peak AI Manchester office

With views overlooking Manchester’s city skyline from the top floor of Bruntwood’s 52,000 sq ft Neo building you’ll find Peak, a pioneering AI company with some big plans for the future.

Launched in 2015 by Richard Potter, David Leitch and Atul Sharma, Manchester’s Peak has since grown rapidly through its work with companies to embed AI into decision-making.

Stepping into the office, I’m instantly greeted by what appears to be a botanical haven entwined with walkthrough trellis and a real buzz in the air, with staff chattering away. 

It has been home to Peak’s Manchester team since 2018 to support the company in its scale-up plans, but not for much longer.

“We’ve increased our headcount by 70% in the last 12 months, so we’ve run out of space!” David Leitch, co-founder and Chief Information Officer at Peak, told Prolific North.

As we chatted in a meeting room, with an artificial grass floor beneath our feet, he explained the company is preparing to move into Manchester Goods Yard at Enterprise City by January 2023.

With more than 200 staff based just in Manchester, a slice of more than 400 staff spread across various offices including New York, London, Australia as well as Jaipur, Mumbai and Pune in India, Enterprise City seemed like the next perfect fit.

“We are still on a growth trajectory and hiring people into roles that are going to enable that growth,” he said. 

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David Leitch
David Leitch

Peak’s new neighbours will be two global names you might be familiar with, and Cloud Imperium Games, who announced moves to Manchester Goods Yard earlier this year.

“We were scouring the market for amazing places to locate. I think what Enterprise City is trying to do with creating a tech media hub for creative industries will be great for Manchester.

“Co-locating with some of the tech companies that we admire, we work closely with and wanting to be part of a community with, are all converging in that part of town. I don’t think there is a hub at the moment that reflects it.

“There are a lot of benefits to starting a business in Manchester,” he said.

How Peak started on a bar napkin and key to success

Initially meeting Peak’s CEO Richard Potter back in his school days, the duo ended up working in various roles involving data but always kept in touch.

“We spoke a lot about why things weren’t always delivering the value that they set out to. You build the dashboard but by the time you come to use it, it is irrelevant. Then we used to speak a lot about emerging technologies – how do people use AI in business? And we didn’t have any idea at the time.”

Over a drink in a pub, alongside fellow co-founder Atul Sharma, the trio sat down and began debating the power of business intelligence and how all businesses should have access to it.

David Leitch, Richard Potter and Atul Sharma

On a bar napkin, which they still have to this day, they sketched out the basic idea for Peak with a vision to “democratise the power of AI and put it in the hands of everyone”.

“We thought ‘we’re going to need to build an AI platform. What is an AI platform?’ while having a chat and a drink in a pub. It’s almost exactly what we’ve ended up building. So I guess, all the best ideas happen in a pub.”

Prior to Peak becoming a platform, the trio noticed global businesses such as Amazon or Netflix had “armies of developers and armies of data scientists to leverage the power of data”, which the average business didn’t have access to. So they set out to change things.

“We wanted to do great things with data and build an amazing company, but also find things that really added value to a business. That’s where the AI part came in.”

With Atul Sharma hailing from Jaipur in India, Peak was co-launched across both Manchester and India with offices set up in both locations.

“I think this is something that’s really helped us along the way,” he explained. “We built an office out there almost straight away, we could find some of the best talent that was available to us.

“We have a team out in India of around 150 people and it’s a core part of what we do. A lot of businesses, and this isn’t necessarily wrong, offshore certain parts of the things that they do. Whereas we have integrated teams with staff that work in ‘squads’ across offices.” 

“It’s just been great from a talent acquisition point of view.”

How Peak works with companies and the power of AI 

“I see our job as no matter what problem you’re trying to solve, from an AI point of view Peak should be able to assist,” he explained.

To date, Peak has raised $119 million in investment following a $75 million Series C funding round in 2021, led by the Softbank Vision Fund II alongside existing investors Praetura Ventures, MMC Ventures, Oxx, Arete and Octopus Ventures. 

The Peak team
The Peak team

Peak has previously worked with the likes of fashion brand PrettyLittleThing, with the platform supporting the retailer to make data-led decisions on where marketing spend would be most effective, and partnered with AO to leverage customer data to improve the customer experience.

Despite working with other global players, the company is unable to reveal who they work with most of the time because “what we do is quite sensitive as we’re helping them with something they need help with”. The AI firm is also unable to disclose its revenue figures or current valuation but said the company’s business model is “profitable”.

But how does it all work? Divided into ‘squads’, each team specialises in a particular sector such as retail or manufacturing. As part of the onboarding process, there is an AI consultant team that works with the customer to figure out what business insights and outcomes they are looking for.

“You need to really understand what it means for that particular business and what drives them, then working with them to show them what it [the Peak platform] can do. You might have to change the way something works in a business to get the most value from it and we’re here to help. It’s a holistic approach to solving business problems using AI.”

There isn’t a “one size fits all” approach as each business is different and may want to use data insights in different ways, whether it’s a marketing focus or customer focus.

“The first part of Peak’s platform is to dock your data, so you have an AI-ready data-set. Then there would be a bit of data discovery that would happen to understand what it is that you wanted to do.

“Our data scientists would work with that data and work with the business stakeholders to understand and build and tailor models to solve the particular problem that that business is having.”

But to be able to work on projects like this, the company needs talented people too.

Talent and tech scene in Manchester

“We’ve built up some great relationships with some of the Manchester or local universities,” he explained.

All of Peak's teams meeting up on a trip to Switzerland.
All of Peak’s teams meeting up on a trip to Switzerland

From “knowledge transfer partnerships” with the University of Manchester, sponsored PHD degrees, as well as opening up graduate schemes and student placements, the company is tapping into local talent. 

“We have a data science graduate scheme, an engineering graduate scheme, and now, which I think is amazing, a commercial graduate scheme, focusing on all the more commercial aspects as well,” he said.

“Giving people opportunities to learn and develop with us as well has been part of our journey from day one.”

Working with Northcoders, and other tech-led schemes in the region, has helped Peak to harness early engineering talent.

“A lot of those people are still with us today. So five years later, we have our senior engineers who were brought in from Northcoders. I just think that’s an incredible thing to do.”

Being rooted in Manchester, he believes, has paved the way for a lot of the company’s successes. 

Peak's existing Manchester office
Peak’s existing Manchester office

“We were co-located in the same building as Tech Nation in the very early days, so that meant that our ears were to the ground, we knew what was happening and we entered the rising stars competition. We feel really invested in the scene.”

The future doesn’t look bleak for Peak

It isn’t just Manchester that’s a key focus – Peak has its eyes on global expansion and to continue building its growth.

“One of our focuses for this year, and on-going, is to develop our presence in the US,” he explained. He opened Peak’s office in New York in January earlier this year, which he said is “thriving”, and the company has been steadily building out the team and US customer base there.

“We’ll continue to do that, we hope. We’ve hired some great VPs that are based in the US so we have some great experience on the ground there from a sales and operations perspective.”

Robert Bainbridge, Peak’s chief people officer, was one of the first people to join Peak and offered to relocate his family to New York to kick-start building the team there.

Despite the time zone differences, no matter where a Peak team is based the company strives to make sure the culture stays the same and staff, depending on their roles, have opportunities to move to different offices if they wish.

New ‘clubhouse’ concept for Peak’s new office

“Some great people have decided they want to move over and start a new life in America, which is mega, mega exciting for lots of people but it also happens with India too. Some of our data science team have decided they want to move to India as well which is equally exciting!”

As well as the move to the new headquarters in Manchester early next year to look forward to, Peak is building out a new headquarters building in Jaipur too.

“India, historically, has been a bit underserved from an AI point of view. We’ve seen an opportunity to help lots of businesses out there that might not have had the same opportunity. Again, leveraging that power of AI in their businesses.”

It appears the future seems anything but bleak for Peak. 

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