CEO INTERVIEW EVIE.ai
New Success Stories - Asia
CEO Interviews - exclusive for HR Digital Today
with market leading HR Tech pioneers.
Praveen Velu, Co-Founder – evie.ai
Not for the first time in our series of CEO Interviews, we learn of an experienced and very talented team of entrepreneurs and industry leaders coming up against a problem. This triggers a wave of innovative actions leading to a product that is revolutionary - and is now being used in three continents!
We contacted the co-founder of mimetic.ai to request an interview. The interview was scheduled by the Scheduling Assistant of mimetic.ai, Evie. So even before we spoke with Praveen, we experienced the product’s benefits that were clearly evident with the efficient and rapid organisation of our call scheduling.
The meeting was scheduled by the Assistant Evie, who is powered by AI. So let us introduce you to Evie, the A.I. scheduling assistant, who can schedule meetings with a single email and also to a Co-Founder of mimetic.ai, Praveen Velu.
How did Evie start?
My co-founder is a Stanford-trained engineer and also the CTO. We met while we were executives at Yahoo. He founded the company in the summer of 2014 and I came onboard in the Autumn of 2015 when we had an MVP and were ready to start fundraising and building a company. Currently, I run the business and operations side, he runs technology and we have a chief of product who we have also known since Stanford, and again at Yahoo. In the past she has been in charge of product for Microsoft, EBAY, PAYPAL. This is the leadership team.
The idea of Evie came about when, at Yahoo, we were working on building the company’s next generation video platform. Project teams were spread across five regions, California, New York, Bangalore, Taiwan and Singapore. The task of arranging schedules with everyone for calls at a sensible hour was a Herculean, some might say a Sisyphean task! And we asked ourselves, wouldn’t it be grand if we could all delegate low value administrative tasks to assistants of our own. It was obvious that in order for the solution to be scalable, it would have to be software based. We were, at that time, also allergic to a lot of Enterprise SaaS products that had been designed with the organization its problems in mind, so much so that the result was clunky, with non-user friendly interfaces that actually ended up wasting even more of your time in trying to operate them.
I should add that my co-founder and I are both great fans of science fiction. We were quite enamoured of fictional assistants like Jane from the Ender series, and Jarvis from the Iron Man series. And so this is how the idea of Evie, an AI assistant that you could interact with in the same way you would with a human, was formed.
Tell us about the technical challenge of building Evie.
What we are trying to achieve is a machine, which although having no conception of the world we inhabit, is nevertheless able to take input via natural language (the way we speak to each other) and take actions based on the intent expressed by the user.
This is extremely complicated because human language is very rich in nuance and its ability to conduct meaning. When people speak to each other, their brains actually do a lot of work in the background to unpack meaning within a realm of shared conventions, and also map context to previous conversations. For example, if I said to you let's meet next Monday, you would know I meant at a sensible hour, because that is the convention of humans. But to a machine it literally means 12.01 am Sunday night/Monday morning.
Going further, there may be moments when it can be unclear even to humans what is meant. For example, If I was up late responding to an email at 01:00 am and I said OK let's catch up tomorrow, did I mean tomorrow the next morning? Or the next day the next 24 HR cycle?
So there is a lot of background work going on. There is unpacking and reassembling information within the context of shared meaning.
How do you teach a machine of bits and bytes to understand and act in the “meat space”? That’s the magnitude of the challenge.
Tell us how a user works with Evie.
There is no installation involved. Evie is a cloud based service. You simply sign up and allow Evie access to your calendar. Every time you want to schedule a meeting with someone, you copy Evie into the email with the other people - much as you would a human secretary – and tell her to help find a mutually suitable time. From that point on, Evie takes over. She offers up date and time options, negotiates with the other party, follows up if they don’t respond, sends out the invites when a time is confirmed and helpfully sends a reminder on the day of the meeting. With Evie, you’ll also never have to do time zone maths again – ever!
It is now almost two years since I manually opened my calendar and created a calendar entry.
These days, if I have an incoming email asking for a meeting at a certain time, I simply forward it to Evie and ask her to place it in my calendar.
Just as I can with a human assistant, I can let Evie know my scheduling preferences which she take into account when trying to organize meetings or calls on my behalf. I can also pre-define things like contact information (phone number, Skype ID, conference bridge numbers) and preferred meeting locations like my office address or coffee shops. Evie will populate the calendar invite with the proper location and contact information.
Are you noticing patterns on types of users?
Patterns are starting to emerge. The early adopters were in the technology sector, with start-ups and venture capitalists. I’m afraid we’re starting to spill over into the mainstream now and we’re being adopted by larger organizations. Our users are typically outbound professionals in fields like sales and business development and also, interestingly enough, in recruitment where the job entails scheduling a high volume of candidate interviews.
Where are your users?
Our biggest markets are the U.S., Australia, Singapore and Hong Kong. Latterly we’ve also begun to see some traction in Europe, especially Scandinavia, which makes sense as these countries tend to be very concerned with productivity and its implications for work/life balance.
What can you say about your Marketing?
The thing about a product like Evie is that she’s an incredibly viral product. Every time she sends out an email, just like Hotmail did and MailChimp does, she has a footer calling out to the recipient that Evie is not a human but actually "An AI Scheduling Assistant powered by imetic.ai”. This virility, as we term it, has been a very effective customer acquisition avenue for us.
Other than that a lot of our marketing efforts have been focused on introducing the notion of an AI Assistant. It is by no means yet a commonplace idea. I liken it to walking up to someone in 1979 and placing a huge and clunky device (as they were in those days) called a mobile phone in front of them and proceeding to extol its virtues. You’ll likely be met with incredulity as they’d wonder why they might need to carry that around since they already get on fine without it. In the same way, the modern professional has internalized the norm of dealing with their own administrative work and will wonder why they’d need an assistant for something like scheduling meetings.
What do you look for in your people?
First, and this goes without saying, we look for role-related technical expertise. We are working on a novel product and we need the best minds in, not just in engineering, but also sales and marketing.
No less important, we also look for people who are intellectually curious, endlessly resourceful and quite comfortable with the uncertainties of startup work.
Give us a vision of your end goal?
We want to free the modern knowledge worker from low value and administrative tasks so that they can focus on the things that actually matter and do their best work. This obviously goes beyond scheduling.
We are trying to build a future where everyone is able to parallel process their work with an intelligent and autonomous machine. The machine completes for me all the mundane work that I am expected to do.
What feedback are you receiving?
Our active users tell us Evie saves them anywhere between 2hrs and 4hrs a week. But the real gift is never having to deal with scheduling and everything that this entails. This allows one to really get into a state of focusing on the really important tasks.
Where do people start?
Editor's note: Even a brief glance at their Facebook page quickly shows evidence of the positive feedback that Evie is generating worldwide...... Here is one example:-
"Evie is awesome! It allows me to schedule with absolute ease".
Introducing Evie, an A.I. scheduling assistant. Schedule meetings with a single email.
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