Deon Nicholas is a 28-year-old entrepreneur who dominates the technology industry. Deon is the CEO and co-founder of Forethought company. When people talk about black excellence, they cannot fail to mention Deon Nicholas. His idea for the brand involves AI functionality to solve the needs of customers. Deon’s company is AI centred to improve the learning experience of client service. Deon Nicholas is one of the most influential figures to disrupt the business market at a younger age. His core strength in launching Forethought came from working with brilliant minds. Deon co-founded the company with Sam Ghoche who is a computer science guru. After Deo learned about the importance of AI, he created opportunities to share it with the world.
Deon Nicholas was born and grew up in the interior regions of Toronto city. At a young age, Deon was always curious about how computers work and operate. Even though he did not understand at that time, he developed the desire to learn. As he grew older, he began to understand the meaning of life by seeking small jobs. Deon got an opportunity to stock shelves in a pharmacy, which helped him be responsible. Like any other kid, Deon got obsessed with playing video games with his friends and siblings.
He was born into a family of four boys and he is the third born among them. It is through video games that Deon embraced the urge to learn how to code. One of the friends of his older brother was a hacker who understood the computer system. During gaming moments, the hacker friend saw how much Deon was curious about coding. As a result, he decided to download a game maker program on the Windows 95 computer. The friend then taught Deon how to use and this was the beginning of Deon’s AI interest.
Deon learned how to drag-n-drop the computer variables and storytelling using logic. From this experience, Deon started to have ideas for building his own video game. The two favourite games that he was in love with were Digimon and Pokemon. So, Deon made an RPG sample inspired by the two games and he called it ‘Dojimon’. As Deon continued to learn, one idea led to another concept of video game creation. In middle school, Deon came up with a multiplayer video game called ‘Dojiworld’. This new game was much more complex than the first one, which pushed him to explore the coding process.
He began researching and learning about C++ and things never remained the same since then. When Deon was in high school, he developed an AI tool to help him in the learning process. The artificial intelligence tool could read notes and quiz questions. After school, Deon was working at a local pharmacy and he was in charge of the clients’ section. Due to this encounter, Deon saw the gap in using AI to start Forethought to help people.
He graduated from the University of Waterloo in 2015 with a Bachelor of Mathematics. While he was in school, he was learning more about Natural Language Processing (NLP). Also, Deon got interested in knowing the Natural Language Understanding (NLU) concept. As an enthusiastic student, Deon made a step to apply to the Y-Combinator firm but got rejected. This experience motivated Deon to do everything it takes to make his dream in AI come true. Deon succeeded in getting internships in good companies like Facebook, Dropbox, and Palantir. Working with professionals gave him knowledge in building a top-performing brand.
“Two people were pretty influential for me in my young days. My dad is a mechanic, so he’s always tinkering and building things, and I think I get that from him. He ended up putting together — I think it was a Windows 95 PC — thing that we had in our house. There weren’t a lot of people in our neighborhood that were interested in technology. We grew up in probably one of the worst neighborhoods in Toronto and Canada. So, there weren’t a lot of folks to look at who was interested in tech.”
During Deon’s early life, his first job position was working as a customer service provider. It was this job that opened doors for him to enter into the professional journey. When Deon was working in the Shoppers Drug Mart, he discovered that he did not have all the answers needed by the customers. He recognized the idea of developing an AI to analyze facts and correct information. After graduation, Deon worked at Alberta Innovates Centre for Machine Learning. He then joined Reinforcement Learning and Artificial Intelligence as an intern. At this point, Deo had all the knowledge on how he can include the AI concept in his company. After his internships, Deon landed a Software Engineering job at Pure Storage. Working in big companies offered Deon the right skills to start building his brand.
“What if I could have technology that would read my notes and generate cue cards to study? That was when I started learning about natural language processing, AI, and things like that. I did pass that class, so I was super excited. I think that was an interesting thread for me throughout my life — how can technology be used to get people the information they need?”
“I like to say talent is distributed equally, whereas access and opportunity are not. A lot of fundraising, a lot of (the tech world), even though in some ways, it’s a meritocracy, in many ways, it’s insular. You see that in the numbers (and diversity). What that tells you is that the majority of the people getting funded are — call it your cis-gendered white male. That’s the group that is going to get funded. (Without access to investors and funding), it’s going to be very, very hard to get your business off the ground, even if you have the talent.”
Deon Nicholas started Forethought in 2017 after discovering the value of customer experience. As a founder in the technology industry, establishing the brand was not a walk in the pack. Deon observed that the only way to disrupt the market is through diversifying AI use.
As an African American business personnel, Deon wanted to give his community a voice to excel. His burning passion to change the world pushed him to launch the Forethought company. The key purpose of starting Forethought was to unlock a top level of human potential. The company offers different forms of aid in finance, e-commerce/retail, and education. Deon co-founded Forethought to upgrade the traditional chatbots that enterprises use. Chatbots in technology is only compatible with decision trees or keywords. Forethought has the AI Agatha tool which has a unique operating system. Besides, Agatha solves and contextualizes questions to give a long-lasting solution.
Agatha is the AI agent that offers quality customer support to enterprises. This tool handles internal documents and chats to decrease support resolution by 30%. Some of the major clients of Forethought include Masterclass, Instacart, and Gusto & Carta. For any business to excel, customer satisfaction is an important aspect to consider. In most cases, a client can ask a complicated question about a product or a service. Instead of researching the correct answer, AI Agatha has all the right information. A happy client is the proof of a good business; hence, growth is inevitable.
“What has made Forethought resonate with customers is software that plugs into a company’s sales and customer service software to learn how past issues were resolved and better predict what an individual ticket might be about.”
“When a ticket is coming in, it can predict whether it’s a high-priority or low-priority ticket and which agent is best qualified to handle this question. And this all happens before the agent even touches the ticket.”
Philanthrophy and Awards
Deon’s leadership qualities have been the driving force of Forethought company. He supports that a good business should have a team that desires to succeed. The main contributing factor Deon has used in Forethought is planning out the ideas. This means that you need to think about your product and marketing strategies. Forethought brand has worked to stand out from other competitors in the industry. The unique services of the company have attracted different partners and influential people. For instance, the company has investors like NEA and Steadfast Capital. As a result, Deon has raised over $92 million to improve services and help the community. Forethought has been on the frontline to support black entrepreneurs around the world. This step helps in reducing the unemployment rate in the African American group.
Deon achieved a two-time finalist award for the ACM International Collegiate Programming Competition. Also, Deon was in Forbes’ ’30 Under30’ influential entrepreneurs. Deon’s acknowledgment of business is helpful for him to shift his mindset for the better.
Deon Nicholas’s story is inspiring for anyone who has an idea to impact the world. The key takeaway of his story is how he humbled himself to learn at every opportunity. Learning is the building element to grow as a business person. Also, after Deon became successful, he reached back to his community to give back. It is a prime tip to always remember where you have come from to give other people hope. Deon is a true definition of black excellence in the current society. Through Forethought, he has changed the lives of millions of people for the better.
Deon Nicholas is part of our Black Founders50 Series. Download the complete 2023 BBVA Founders50 list here.