Generative AI Black tech founder wins investment by traveling home to St. Louis

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  • Published on March 23, 2023
  • Last Updated May 15, 2023
  • In People

You might call it traveler’s luck. Or it might be the kind of “growth mindset” that makes good business sense.

From St. Louis (Missouri) to London (UK), Sydney (Australia) and Hyderabad (India), Samuel J. Cummings III, has traveled the world sharing real world case studies of how data science can be applied to help companies retain customers.

Now living in Santa Barbara, after cutting his teeth in the digital Customer Success industry in St. Louis at TopOpps and then Gainsight in San Francisco (one of the 2020 batch of startup unicorns), Sam’s recent award-winning work at LinkedIn during the pandemic has since propelled significant investment into a startup he has co-founded. His team is building a “Generative AI” platform for after-sales customer service teams called Dataplant.

In 2022, his company won the Arch Grants startup competition and was awarded $100,000 in an equity-free grant to relocate his startup to St. Louis (the 2023 competition is open now and taking applications until the end of March, so there’s still time to apply). Once in St. Louis, he picked up another $250,000 in funding from a local venture capital firm. You might call it traveler’s luck. Or it might all be the positive consequences of an emerging business buzzword: growth mindset.

“I do believe in the value of travel,” he says. “I spent most of my childhood in Saint Louis not going past [highway] 170. People in Saint Louis today still have that experience; Right? So imagine being able to travel the world. Come on, I haven’t been past 170! So that’s impacted my world lens.”

Humbled by a career that has taken him traveling all over the world, Sam’s on a mission to extend the same opportunities to folks coming up through his hometown.

“Travel is essential. Experiencing different parts of the world and meeting people from diverse backgrounds has definitely expanded my perspectives and brought new ideas and practices back into my business,” he says. “From practitioner conferences to live customer on-site visits, travel has always been a huge contributor to my success. It can provide opportunities to meet with potential clients, establish new partnerships, and gain valuable insights into different markets and cultures.”

Due to the success of digital technologies enabling remote work during the pandemic, many might think the importance of physical location may be less relevant for building a startup these days. Sam begs to differ.

“We found the opposite. ‘Place’ is still an essential factor in growing a business,” he says. “Being in the right location can mean access to the right customer base, suppliers and workforce. Your location can affect the cost of operations, such as rent, taxes, and labor costs, which can impact the bottom line.”

However, Sam’s advice to other founders who may be considering relocating their startup to another city to attract funding is, “Don’t discount the intangibles. Not everything comes down to $$$$.”

“One question I always ask is: does the city I am relocating to have any direct connections or history with my industry? For Dataplant we found this in Saint Louis because it has historical ties to the early call center industry, which later became the customer success industry in the digital age. This gives us a talent advantage because we can find tons of other practitioners and experts in the local community.”

Combining Data Science, Predictive Analytics and Generative AI software, Dataplant wants to democratize access to the core skills in the Customer Success industry such that anyone in any organization or department will be able to perform advanced decision analytics. He’d love to inspire future analysts and his hope is to make a positive economic impact by lowering the barrier to entry to careers in a growing tech sector.

“We’re especially passionate about building pipelines from high school and college to industries like analytics and customer success. That’s why we’re leading the charge in providing training courses and internships over the summer, enabling students to gain the skills they need to be hired at companies using Customer Success platforms. With the right programs in place, Saint Louis has the potential to become a powerhouse for talent.”


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