Ex-Google, Coursera employees start Lutra AI to make AI workflows easier to build

While working at Coursera and later Google over the past decade, there were many times when Jiquan Ngiam would see an engineering function that could be automated to support non-developers. However, there were never enough resources to do that.

Ngiam got together with five friends earlier this year, including Vijay Vasudevan, who had worked with him at Google, to look at the models artificial intelligence came up with for the cloud, for example, to do reasoning, planning and coding.

“It made me think about the ability of these models to generate code and reasoning, then figure out the environment about making it more useful for non-engineers,” Ngiam told TechCrunch. “There was this question about can these models now code in a way that interconnects all the software we use to then do very useful things for us reliably and securely.”

They set out to build specialized assistants that help you with all kinds of tasks. Some examples they thought they could apply AI workflows were to tame a busy inbox or manage Slack connections with customers.

What resulted was Lutra AI. The young startup, started in April, creates AI workflows from natural language so no technical experience is needed. It integrates with existing apps, like Google Workspaces and Slack, and enables automation for tasks like email management and internet research.

Lutra is the latest company to tackle AI workflow, joining companies like Respell, Unity, Parabola and even a big tech company like Nvidia. However, Ngiam sees Lutra breaking away from the pack in a few ways: One, Lutra takes a code-first approach to this problem. This way there is more security and reliability during the execution of these AI workflows so data is protected. Two, while other companies use large language models for everything, Lutra is concentrating the LLMs on certain tasks that will yield better results.

Lutra recently came out of stealth after closing on $3.8 million in seed funding in a round that included Coatue Ventures, Hustle Fund, Maven Ventures, WVV Capital and a group of angel investors, including Andrej Karpathy, Jeff Dean and Scott Belsky.

The company is in private beta with a small number of customers, and Ngiam says the company is too early to share traction at this time. With the new funding, he plans to open up Lutra to more customers and focus on product development and product market fit.

“We all have this digital presence and use a lot more software today than we did 10 years ago,” Ngiam said. “When I think long-term, all of these technologies are well embedded into companies today, so this is the moment to provide tools that integrate across all the software uses, thereby empowering your business to operate even more effectively.”