Black Swan is a data-mining startup which uses artificial intelligence to predict when Brits are planning to have a BBQ (regardless of weather), or when the next big winter cold will hit.
“We live our lives on the internet, fortunately or unfortunately,” said King. “What’s interesting is we can use network theory to understand the trends and flows of the internet.”
One of Black Swan’s first clients was Disney. King described the popularity of the 2013 film Frozen as a ‘Black Swan moment’: “It broke all kinds of supply chains – people got angry because they couldn’t buy the products.”
Black Swan’s analysts looked at film sites such as Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB, data about different films released before Frozen, and what people were watching on YouTube at the time, to help predict this new cartoon would be popular. “The algorithm can predict DVD sales, which goes down to the supply chain and marketing. We can predict this before the film comes out,” said King. Disney uses this kind of data to inform what goes in its stores and what features at Disneyland theme parks.
The London-based business now has a presence on four continents, with offices in Hungary, Canada, South Africa and Hong Kong. It recently worked with 7/11 in Japan to help “shift the needle of the supply chain”, so it could make savings and reduce waste.
“We looked at Japanese opinions: how peoples’ feelings have changed over seasons and holidays,” explained King. The work of King’s team helped 7/11 boost its profits by 12 per cent. “We had access to information important to run a business,” he said.