8 min read
Kindly supported by Jason Feifer
- The years of commitment and dedication are now paying off for these two young people.
- Staying ahead of trends is a great way to be successful.
- Firelies.ai it works like an online secretary.
After working 20 hours a day for years and living on little money when I started a company in San Francisco, Sam Udotong discovered something about her body. “I had trained myself not to really enjoy the food anymore,” he says. That meant he could feed himself fully on Domino’s pizza and Soylent meal replacement drink and still stay focused. “It allowed me to work longer every day.”
That was in 2016. At that point, years later, I was hoping that life would be different, or at least that it would come with better food. He and his co-founder, Krish Ramineni, raised nearly $ 5 million in venture funds for this once-established company, Fireflies.aithat is expanding rapidly around the world. But Udotong continues to drink Soylent on a regular basis because Covid-19 puts the founders back into crisis mode 20 hours a day. Fireflies.ai takes and organizes notes for people during meetings, which is very attractive for remote workers. “When the closings began, I remember our market was a few years ahead,” says Udotong.
It turned out that he and Ramineni had the right anticipation. But that’s how they have always worked: bet on the future and do things a little differently.
The story of how Udotong and Ramineni came about begins in an unusual way. The two met in college … but Udotong was at MIT (Study of aerospace engineering and computer science), Ramineni was at the University of Pennsylvania (Study of technical systems) and were introduced virtually by a mutual friend. The two clicked, started video chatting every day, and worked extensively on projects, a cryptocurrency, and a drone delivery system for 11 months before meeting. Ramineni graduated early, took a position at Microsoft and later planned a Masters degree at Cambridge University in the UK. The summer before school started, Ramineni went to Boston to hang out with her co-worker, and then the fireflies were conceived. ai. They felt ready for something big, so Ramineni dropped out of his Masters program and moved to San Francisco with Udotong to focus on the startup. (Ramineni’s parents had a question: “Are you obliged to?”)
Photo credit: Cody Pickens
Your vision of Fireflies.ai it was big. They wanted to build an artificial intelligence assistant for this job. Many startups offer a version of this, with systems scheduling calls or bots to install in Slack. Ramineni and Udotong wanted to find an untapped market and realized that the meetings had great opportunities. When people talk all day – for example, a manager overseeing multiple projects or someone in HR interviewing applicants – it is difficult to take notes and organize. What if AI could do it instead?
This required a look into the future, as speech recognition technology wasn’t very good in 2016 when it launched. This was beneficial in a way. “If everyone believed in it, you’d see hundreds of companies,” says Ramineni. The question was: How far was the technology from maturing? They delved into research, studied the market, and felt “maybe 70 percent confident” that it was worth the gamble. “If you want to build for a whole new market, you have to make bets like this,” says Ramineni.
In her view, her bot acted as a secretary, attending meetings, understanding conversations, and making and organizing useful notes that could be searched at any time. This would require significant improvements in speech recognition technology, as well as infrastructure to handle hundreds or thousands of meetings simultaneously. To achieve this, they stayed in beta for roughly the whole of 2018.
As progressive as they were, they overlooked one thing: “To be honest,” says Ramineni, “in the first two years of our existence we never used the words remote work.” It’s almost hard to remember now, but remote work was still considered experimental back then. Instead, the founders envisioned users sitting in rooms and accessing Fireflies.ai through a loudspeaker. Ramineni and Udotong didn’t even work remotely; You occupied a coworking space.
But they wouldn’t be left behind by changing trends. They found they were more efficient at home and formed a completely distant team spread across five countries. And when they presented their product to the public in 2019They decided to refine it from the bottom up, initially working with small startups, obsessively serving their needs, and hoping the word would come out. “It has to be taken over by the people on the ground,” says Ramineni. “It has to be something that people can learn, recognize and use without an enormously expensive sales force.”. No salespeople are busy now either.
By pure coincidence They released their first major update last Februaryjust before COVID-19 hit. As the world got remote, user growth skyrocketed Zoom, Google Meet, and Microsoft teams, all with which it integrates Fireflies.aiwhich led to a large increase in users. Ramineni and Udotong were preparing for an operational challenge. Before that, their users were mostly in the US, which means there was natural downtime overnight when they could push updates. Now people all over the world are using it and there is no downtime, which is why the co-founders often work with their engineers to fix bugs at 3 a.m. on the fly. “It’s definitely an interesting transition phase,” says Ramineni, “in which we not only lead a team, but also have to be operationally good at what we do as a startup.”
A few years ago, Ramineni and Udotong were betting on the future, and now it seems the world has caught up with them. Language technology has improved dramatically, and teams increasingly need a product like yours. Investors have taken note of it and are calling with interest. Ramineni envisions a time when the team is big enough that the founders take a step back from day-to-day coding and maybe even hire a sales team.
But some things won’t change, say the founders. It’s what was built at the beginning of their relationship when they were two college students who didn’t know each other in real life. “We build trust over time through frequent communication and constant productivity,” says Udotong. “We always challenge each other to offer a better job. Our strategy now shows how we build trust in our fully dispersed team. These pillars are important to any business, remote or not. “