Big Ideas: “An AI assistant that sits in meetings and takes notes automatically on your behalf”…

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

While working at Microsoft, I had a chance to interact with many NLP and Data Science teams. One of the projects I was fortunate enough to work on was around how to quantify customer feedback that was coming from hundreds of different channels for our products. When I left Microsoft, I was actually on my way to grad school at Cambridge in the UK, but this idea of unlocking the gold buried inside conversations kept coming back to me. I met with my friend Sam Udotong who was finishing up at MIT, and we started hashing out what would be the framework for what Fireflies is today. We moved our base to San Francisco and had never looked back since.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

When I was 15 years old, I wrote in an inventor notebook some of the things I wanted to work on. A lot of the inspirations came from movies like Iron Man. This smart computer assistant called Jarvis helps Iron Man throughout the movie. I came across this notebook a few months ago and was very amused to realize that our AI assistant Fred is basically Jarvis.

Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?

Imagine having an AI assistant that sits in meetings and takes notes automatically on your behalf. It gives your sales reps suggestions while they have calls and helps pull up relevant information and reports in the meeting room while your team is having a discussion. Voice intelligent systems like SIRI and Cortana have proved some of this in our homes. This technology is going to dramatically augment the workplace, and we are excited to be working on it.

How do you think this will change the world?

A third of our time is spent constantly doing administrative work and data entry. A voice assistant like Fireflies will significantly free us up to do more meaningful work. When everything is captured, we will also have perfect memory. I am now able to recall specific things I said in a meeting one year ago down to the exact line thanks to Fireflies. Fireflies will be everyone’s secondary brain to remember and recall their conversations.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this idea that people should think more deeply about?

There will be many data that is going to be captured from conversations that will help us do our jobs better. We need to make sure it is a tool to help assist us at work. We don’t want it to turn into big brother or something that invades on privacy. Transparency is important, but with this new visibility into your organization comes greater responsibility to ensure privacy.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?

Voice technology and machine learning have made leaps and bounds in the last five years. This would not be possible a decade ago or even 1–2 years back. We’ve been training our system on millions of conversational data points teaching Fireflies to identify important pieces of information from calls.

What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?

Fireflies is naturally viral. Once you bring this AI assistant into the meeting room, others on your team will be curious and then start inviting Fred to their meetings. Fred, our AI, can be in a million different meetings at once. If we reach a critical mass of users within organizations, you start seeing the viral effect.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. The skills to be a good manager are different from what it takes to be an amazing engineer- As I started managing I realized everyone learned differently.
  2. You will be so busy seeing the flaws that you forget to look at how far your technology has come- As a product leader your job is to push for constant improvement, so you look for bugs and issues all the time, but eventually you will solve, and you have to keep the bigger picture in mind of how the platform has transformed over time.
  3. It’s ok to let a few fires burn- First instinct is to fix everything that is going wrong, but you can only be in so many places at once.
  4. You have to let each person on the team own the vision- A good team scales a lot better when they know the principles they are working towards. If you are too busy handholding them through each and every task, it will be hard to get things done.
  5. For startups, parallel processing is key- Cross-functional groups like engineering, marketing and sales need to do things simultaneously without waiting on others

The future of work is a common theme. What can one do to “future proof” their career?

We need to learn to leverage AI and tech to constantly update our skill sets in the workplace. While automation completes mundane and repetitive tasks, we humans have learned to make important decisions, use data, and be creative. Those skills will always be valued in the workplace.

Based on the future trends in your industry, if you had a million dollars, what would you invest in?

I would invest in different forms of robotic process automation. Voice AI is one form of RPA, but there are more like computer vision that can help complete repetitive tasks and save countless hours for the workforce.

Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?

From everything from design to engineering, I’ve been driven by the philosophy that less is more. You don’t want to complicate the user experience for customers. Take a look at the minimalistic approach that Apple takes to its products. Our job is not to build 100’s of features and only have customers use 10% of that. It’s more important to pick the few that will count and build a rich experience around them.

I’ve also been driven by the philosophy that intuition for building products is only a proxy. Product development needs to be more scientific, and data should be used to make decisions instead of just gut feelings.

Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?

  • Being busy is not the same as being productive. The most successful people leave 30% to 40% of their day empty to think, read, and learn. If you’re always busy, you won’t be able to solve the hard problems.
  • When building products, fall in love with the problem, not the solution because the solution you come up with may not always be right.

Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say?

Enterprises are sitting on a gold mine of conversational data. Fireflies shine a light on that data to help your company build better products, close more sales, and bring your entire org around the voice of the customer.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

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Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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