Alex Poon: Founder & COO of x.ai
How do you pronounce the name of your company?
x dot A I (AI stands for artificial intelligence)
What is x.ai?
Your AI powered personal assistant for scheduling meetings. You interact with Amy as you would with any other person – and she'll do all the tedious email ping pong that comes along with scheduling a meeting.
No sign-in, no password, no download, all you do is:
What's your story?
I grew up in Hong Kong. I went to Boston to study Electrical Engineering. I worked with drone technology. I then went to Columbia for my MBA to round out some of my softer skills. After I graduated from Columbia, I was a management consultant. I met my business partner Dennis Mortensen (CEO of x.ai), who is a serial entrepreneur, while I was consulting. We ended up founding another company together, Visual Revenue, that we sold. We then we came up with idea for x.ai and launched in 2014. Read the rest of the interesting backstory on x.ai here.
Why did you create x.ai?
Living in New York we noticed that people had difficulty coordinating meetings. Since people had that pain [of coordinating meetings] we figured let's alleviate that pain by building x.ai to schedule meetings.
Did you have experience with artificial intelligence prior to founding x.ai?
In our last venture, Visual Revenue, we applied a set of machine learning techniques to solve the media prediction problem. Solving which piece of media content will perform well in real time. We were familiar with AI and the techniques that are there. But we focused more on natural language processing with x.ai.
When did you and Dennis know that you wanted to work together again after Visual Revenue was acquired?
There’s a lot to be said about working on a venture together. On the day to day basis, people talk a lot about the rollercoaster ride including the great times but also the down times when you found a company. Having someone with you through those times and knowing that you can truly trust the other person to ride that rollercoaster with you makes the new venture a lot less risky. You can read a lot of blog post out there about how a startup fails because the founders can’t get along together or complement each other. Time has proven that we (Dennis & I) can work well together.
How have you used your Ivy network?
It’s certainly helpful to talk to other excited, smart people like everyone that I met in business school. Because x.ai is for professionals to help them schedule meetings, our networks have allowed us to get early feedback from friends and colleagues. Our user base is growing through word of mouth.
What did you learn at Columbia Business School that informed your knowledge as an entrepreneur?
Columbia Business School provided more of the softer skills to round out my technical background as an engineer. Nothing can prepare you for starting a company other than actually doing it. Learning on the job. At the same time, you do learn more about leadership, managing a team, in communication, or going through the various test cases that still resonate with me today. We also got exposure to various founders & CEOs who were lecturers, visitors, and classmates.
Where do you see x.ai in the next ten years?
There's a huge market when you think about personal assistants. A large role personal assistants fill today is arranging meetings. A significant amount of our professional life involves coordinating coffee chats, business chats, or recruiting chats over email. It would take a long time to get the many millions of people into the network, using our service. Our interface is invisible and we need to drive this paradigm shift forward. It’s a long journey and we want to focus on that.
What's the company dynamic?
We are relatively large company for a young company. We started back in 2014. We now have thirty-five employees. Two-thirds of the company is on the technology side. Because we are an AI company, on the technology side: half are engineers and half are data scientists, which is somewhat unusual. While most technology companies focus on design, we focus on AI. For example, design at other companies focuses on the app, user interface, or the website. For us, because Amy is a conversation system, we don’t have an app. We don’t have an interface for you to look at. There’s a whole different idea we have to consider: how do we think about the product, how do we design the product, and then we focus on that.
How do you go about your creative process?
A big part of going about the creative process is listening to our users. It’s exciting that someone would spend the time submitting feedback telling us what they like and don’t like about the product. We take the results from the feedback or user surveys into our design process. We also observe our users and to see how they’re using x.ai. When you schedule a meeting a while back, people sometimes forget. It’s not uncommon for people the day of the meeting for them to send a message “Hey, are we still on?” We added a new feature that if you reschedule a meeting some time back, we will remind you that you are having the meeting. The machine addresses what people typically worry about.
What does your schedule look like and how do you use x.ai in your every day life?
My life is different every day. I split my time between team development, recruiting, and product design as the COO. I am always keeping an eye on our overall vision to make sure it is being carried out. I use Amy all the time to schedule meetings and it has saved me a lot of time.
How are people finding out about x.ai?
The exciting part of x.ai is that it is inherently through word of mouth. We hear it all the time that people like you [Annis] who say that this is the fourth time someone used Amy with me so I wanted to try it out. Because we own the x.ai domain, curiosity often draws people to the site.
Are there any interviews from other publications about x.ai that you would like us to link to in your Ivy Startup Mag interview profile?
Thanks Alex for the interview! We can't wait to start using Amy or Andrew to coordinate our next batch of interviews!
.::Ivy Startup Mag::.