Launching any business can be challenging. But launching a revolutionary business in the increasing competitive AI sector comes with additional set of unique problems. Adrien Schmidt understands these problems well and has learned to overcome many of those challenges.
Adrien is the CEO of Bouquet.ai and an internationally recognized entrepreneur, engineer and innovator. In 2004 he co-founded Squid Solutions, a software company based in Paris that provides usage analytics to publishers around the world. He rapidly turned companies into data-driven enterprises and opened offices in Beijing and San Francisco.
On a mission to become a market leader in a new generation of analytics tools, Adrien co-founded Bouquet in 2015, an AI-powered chatbot that turns data analytics into meaningful conversation through natural language, acting as a mobile assistant 24/7. Adrien speaks five languages, is a Huffington Post contributor and most recently a featured speaker at Plotcon, Decentralized AI, IoT World.
In this interview, we asked Adrien a few questions about AI, how it’s revolutionizing small businesses, and overcoming the challenges of running an AI startup.
Q. Welcome to StartUp Mindset, Adrien. For the readers who are not familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself and your entrepreneurship background?
Of course. First and foremost, thank you for having me! My name is Adrien Schmidt and I am an engineer, innovator, international keynote in applications of AI. In 2004 I co-founded Squid Solutions, a big data analytics company based in Paris. We were pioneers in turning companies into data-driven enterprises. My co-founder and I later opened offices in Beijing and San Francisco. In 2015, on a mission to create a new generation of analytics tools, I co-founded Bouquet, an enterprise software company that uses AI, with Marios Anapliotis, who is our COO.
My curiosity with technology stemmed from my days as a student, witnessing the Internet revolution and the influence it had on changing the way humans interacted and performed day-to-day skills. I was amazed by the transformation going on and the start-ups who had really cool names unlike anything I had heard before, like Yahoo, and who were changing the world. That changed my perspective on the capabilities of innovation and influenced me to contribute to society by joining forces with technology to create a product that would increase the effectiveness and efficiency for enterprises.
Q. Tell us a little more about your current company Bouquet and why you decided to start it.
Bouquet.ai powers the world’s first AI-powered chatbot system that turns data analytics into meaningful conversations through natural language, acting as a mobile assistant 24/7. We’re at a perfect moment in information retrieval, where AI (artificial intelligence), BI (business intelligence) and CI (conversational interfaces) are coming together to create new, magical experiences for users. We believe that you should chat with data like you chat with a friend.
Our revolutionary chatbot is named Aristotle and changes how enterprises receive and understand information by increasing efficiency and accessibility for its users. Aristotle is always on, delivering smart and flexible analytics through multiple formats such as data visualization, emails, charts/graphs and voice command. We have caught the attention of many investors and continue to grow because, not only do we create a user base system, but we also offer a priceless commodity: time. We aim to save time for people to better utilize their time instead of exploring dashboards and websites that are bombarded with tabs and information overload. Aristotle streamlines this process, providing the best, most efficient service to enterprises, changing the way they find, receive and understand analytics.
Q. What kind of challenges did you face when you first launched and what current challenges are you facing?
Well, funding is always a factor when starting a company, but I was fortunate to have entered the market at the right time with a great team. However, to this day I think the most important, and can be the most challenging task is building the right team. The first reason relates to the common phrase, “you’re only as strong as your weakest link”. Similar to that concept, a startup’s idea is only as good as the team behind it. There will always be great ideas.
The trick is to have built and maintained a solid and transparent foundation of team members who all strive to achieve the same goal. In simple terms, it’s all about teamwork with great people on board. Secondly, we are moving incredibly fast and each team member plays such a vital role in the company that everyone needs to be able to wear multiple hats and have a malleable work ethic and perspective.
Additionally, at every stage of the company, there’s a new challenge and the people you need aren’t necessarily the same. As CEO, I also have to make difficult decisions when it comes to being realistic about who is on the team and the means of having enough financially to support them in the ways they deserve.
Q. When did you realize that you had a winning idea and how did you validate it?
Marios and I started to realize we really had something special when we started showing our prototype around to friends and in conferences. It really hit us at Dreamforce, the Salesforce conference in San Francisco. We booked a last minute booth and had over 350 companies give us tremendous feedback about what we were doing. We realized that Aristotle could be applicable to numerous enterprises in a variety of industries because every company will have countless data that they need to understand.
Whether it is retail, tech, business, finance, healthcare etc, there is a mountain of data that analysts need to sift through to understand. Aristotle streamlines this process, creating answers in the simplest forms and through the most convenient and enjoyable ways. The expression alone on peoples faces when we demonstrated Aristotle was validation enough of the time and energy we could save them. We learned what the “wow” effect actually meant. We are offering enterprises something invaluable: time.
Q. AI is a hot topic and it looks like it will be for quite some time. How do you think AI is going to impact business in the near and distant future?
It most certainly is! Everywhere you turn there are companies releasing new AI products and countries trying to contribute in the AI-race. In terms of Aristotle, it’s AI is specifically programmed to change how enterprises receive and understand information by providing new interfaces powered by conversations. This is the first major change in interfaces for analytics since the 1990s!
Compare complex dashboards and programmable spreadsheets with delivering analytics instantly through conversations on mobile devices using standard messaging tools and voice-activated interfaces. The time taken to search and analyze data is also dramatically reduced; therefore accelerating the pace of business and streamlining the way analysts use their time, preparing companies for the growing data needs of the near future.
There’s a lot of talk about jobs being lost and though it technically is true, we just take that thought one step further and note the opportunities AI actually create. However, it is important for me to also say that I don’t think we should rely on AI to do all our jobs either. Instead, we must learn how to work along with AI to increase and better the work we are already doing. I recently attended the invite-only, “World Government Summit” in Dubai. That 3-day event was a playground of AI innovation where world-class business and tech leaders discussed the future of AI. A speaker from MIT acknowledged the cancer diagnosis rate between AI’s and humans. The human error rate is 3.5% and an AI’s error rate is 7.5%, but AI + Human error rate is 0.5%.
Similarly, Aristotle is not replacing an analyst, it is simply working in conjunction with analysts, helping them do what they do faster and better.
Q. The fear of a Terminator type future where machines take over the world seems to be a part of the conversations people are having. Is that a legitimate fear?
Haha – I think it’s easy to get caught up in sci-fi and the film industry definitely does a great job heightening these concepts. I don’t want to give a definite yes or no because, hey, no one ever really knows exactly what’s going to happen, but I would lean more towards a more sophisticated technological integration and less of the Terminator. Will our machines be as capable? I hope so. But as extreme and malicious? I hope not. Some great labs like INRIA in France are working on ways to build algorithms that are transparent and accountable by design. I think those barriers are necessary.
Q. You have definitely voyaged into uncharted territory when it comes to Al chatbot analytics. What was your strategy when it was time to engage in early-stage sales?
At first, we relied on our demo. People were wowed! and they came up with their own use cases: “I can use this for HR to pull up information about an employee I’m about to meet, my sellers could connect through voice while driving or in line to board a plane, my CEO needs data but is not intrigued enough to learn a sophisticated tool”. All we had to do was write down what they said and repeat it to someone else! Eventually, of course, you have to understand the economics of it and build the business case that will be the grounds for an actual purchase.
Q. What would you say was the biggest mistake you made while building (Squidsolutions/Bouquet)?
My biggest mistake was when I tried to build a great product with the wrong team. Everyone’s expectations were high but the group didn’t deliver. It took me too long to make the appropriate changes and we failed to deliver an important release. Fortunately, with my co-founder we were able to adapt and make things right but it could have killed our company!
Q. What would you tell small business owners and entrepreneurs who are thinking about using AI in their businesses?
Use it! AI can be difficult to understand but there are simple products out there to get started. So don’t be afraid to start with a hands on approach. Don’t overthink it because you might not be sure what you’ll get out of it. It is so transformational that you’re in for some surprises! Ask yourself this: “do I want to be the last in my category to use AI?”
Q. What advice would you give an entrepreneur that is pursuing a big idea but may be having trouble making that idea work?
·Be resilient. There will be times when others do not believe in you or your idea but if you wholeheartedly see the completion of your vision, then that it is all the motivation you need to persevere.
·Never accept being mediocre. There’s tough competition out there so make sure that you always iterate and strive to improve.
·Be honest. With yourself and with others. It’s a must-have requirement to learn and make progress.