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Exclusive: Soot raises $7.2 million in seed round led by Upfront Ventures

SOOT

It all started when Jake Harper was studying rainforest sounds.

"In a rainforest, everyone lives in their own privileged acoustic niche," he said. "As a result, it allows the soundscape of the rainforest to be an organized orchestra of information. So, in a single frame, standing in a single spot, you can literally hear tens of thousands of pieces of information, and it’s all hyper-accessible, where you can peel out so much from your environment."

At the time, Harper was senior sound director at autonomous driving startup Zoox (acquired by Amazon in 2020). And though he was thinking about sound, he found himself thinking about what that idea could mean visually.

Unlike the thousands of pieces of audio information ears can detect, when it comes to screens—“the most advanced interfaces in the world”—Harper was struck by the idea of how limited they can be, how little we can see at once. (After all, how many tabs can you successfully see at once? For me, it’s maybe two.)

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"We can do better than that," Harper said.

Harper went on to found spatial filing system startup Soot (stylized as SOOT). The company has recently raised a $7.2 million seed round led by Upfront Ventures, and including Michael Mente, Revolve cofounder and co-CEO, and former Beats executive Omar Johnson. Village Global and Compound provided pre-seed funding.

It’s not exactly easy to describe what Soot does unless you see it. Harper describes it as "allowing you to visualize huge datasets, import and organize different file types, collaborate with AI, and layer on creative AI tools to generate new content." Both Harper and Upfront Ventures general partner Kobie Fuller use the phrase "vector database," which Fuller explains to me as "a super organized filing system for information."

"Instead of just storing data as text or numbers, [a vector database] stores data as points in a big multidimensional space," said Fuller. "Each piece of information is on a giant map."

In the end, you gotta see it (and you can here). But seeing it facilitates another question: What actually is the use case for this? Mente, a Soot investor, says he sees use cases for both consumers and enterprises. The technology could be used to create a browser interface for customers who, like me, are constantly searching for a specific kind of clothing (say, in my case, a blazer dress). Or, Mente says, Soot’s tech could be used as an internal organizing tool, for a company with fundamentally visual products.

"Seeing the value from both sides is exciting," says Mente, who cofounded online fashion juggernaut Revolve in 2003. "Companies usually focus on one side or the other."

Among Soot’s early customers is Jefferson Hack, cofounder of Dazed Media. Hack is using Soot to build an AI-powered search for the digital version of the company’s magazine, and anticipates rolling out “first explorations” in autumn, he told Fortune via email.

"I'm personally excited for what it can do for creatives with large archives and how it can help engage their fans with a deeper and more enhanced discovery," Hack said, noting that he believes Soot’s tech can be applied to many different aspects of digital media and content distribution, from online shopping to museums and cultural institutions.

I’ve now messed around on various Soot interfaces, from ones with Pokémon (I was immediately drawn to the water Pokémon) to photography (I dig negative space) to clothes. And even though I found the interface intuitive, I felt like it was all for fun—until I found a dress I was point-blank ready to buy.

"Having assets in this format actually makes logical sense," Fuller said. "To me, instantly in my mind, I was like ‘this is the future.’"

And that's the bull case for Soot. No more endless page-scrolling, just a visual interface that lets you follow your instincts as you gravitate towards what you find most interesting. As it turns out, it's kind of like those rainforest sounds after all: Like ears in a rainforest, your eyes, in a sea of images, can find what you want.

In case you missed it...Ilya Sutskever, who cofounded OpenAI but left the company in May, has started a new company with Daniel Levy and Daniel Gross called Safe Superintelligence, or SSI for short.

See you tomorrow,

Allie Garfinkle
Twitter:
@agarfinks
Email: alexandra.garfinkle@fortune.com
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Joe Abrams curated the deals section of today's newsletter.

This story was originally featured on Fortune.com

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