Mr Redgrave was head of strategy and operations at Palantir, and it was a link from the company that sparked the investment discussions. Chris Barter, a former Goldman Sachs partner who moved to Sydney 18 months ago and co-founded King River, was an investor in the company.
“Sentropy was hot, it was working with Reddit to categorise toxic content on their platform … not even our limited partner [on the Palantir investment] could get in on the deal,” Mr Barter said.
However, King River’s Australian location dealt them a trump card in April 2019, when the federal government passed the world’s toughest social media regulations in the wake of the Christchurch massacre, threatening jail for publishers or internet service providers who failed to remove “abhorrent violent material” in an expeditious manner.
King River’s other Sydney-based partner, Zebediah Rice, a Silicon Valley veteran who moved across the Pacific with his Australian wife in the early 2010s, happens to be a friend of Mr Turnbull.
The pair enjoyed a big windfall on OzEmail in the 1990s and have looked at deals together since. The political connection suddenly came in handy.
“We knew the Attorney-General’s office had drafted this legislation, so I rang Malcolm and asked if he could help make a connection,” Mr Rice said.
“Within 24 hours I had the chief executive of Sentropy on the phone with the chief-of-staff in the A-G’s office, who had written this world-leading legislation … we set up four or five meetings like that for them, so come their Series A nine months later we were in a good place with them.”
Identifying and eliminating hate speech is a familiar problem for the largest of Sentropy’s US investors, Serena Williams’ husband and co-founder of Reddit, Alexis Ohanian.
“I’ve seen first-hand the difficulty of manually moderating online communities,” said Mr Ohanian.
“The breadth and depth of this issue require serious resources and machine learning chops. Sentropy has built the tech that is much needed across social media communities. User safety has become a competitive differentiator for those willing to take a stand against abuse.”
An ‘ad blocker for abuse’
Sentropy has not revealed any of its clients but Reddit is rumoured to be one of them. Its flagship product, Detect, provides application programming interface access to its content classification technologies, so that developers can adapt them to their own user-generated content sites – online dating and gaming sites, and the email systems of large corporates.
An out-of-the-box product, Defend, is also available to managers of online communities and may eventually be offered as a sort of “ad blocker for abuse” to individual internet users, Mr Rice said.
The challenge of detecting and reporting hate speech and bullying online was endless, according to Mr Barter.
“The [online] Urban Dictionary gets 10,000 new words a week going into it, and we have to keep on top of that,” said Mr Barter, noting that California-based King River partner Megan Guy had joined Sentropy’s board. “We see some pretty crazy and confronting stuff.”
A recent example has been posts about the Black Lives Matter protests with the phrase “honk honk” attached.
“Turns out that means ‘Heil Hitler’ when a white supremacist is trying to cloak their messaging,” Mr Barter said.
“Sentropy can track the use of that phrase in proximity to other words associated with white supremacy, and find a positive correlation for hate speech that a human moderator might miss.”
King River raised a $60 million fund last year, including a $21 million sub-fund dedicated to Series A raised and beyond in Australia, with the balance earmarked for US investments.
Its two Australian investments to date are fintechs Finclear and Cover Genius. About 40 per cent of the Australian sub-fund will have been drawn down after a third investment is announced shortly, Mr Rice said.