LivePerson’s Robert LoCascio is back after 10 years

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It’s been 10 years since I interviewed Robert LoCascio, founder of LivePerson. Last time we talked about therapy and the founder mindset. This time we talk about AI and the public market’s impact on the company.

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Robert LoCascio

Robert LoCascio

LivePerson

Robert LoCascio is the founder of LivePerson, which enables meaningful, personalized connections with your customers while delivering real outcomes for your business.

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Full Interview Transcript

Andrew: Hey, there’re Freedom Fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m super excited about this interview, dude.

I’ve got Rob Ceio back on here, and La Casio. I’ve just mispronounced your name, but I’m gonna rip with it and I’m not gonna edit it out because I feel like you’ve always been super open with me. Here’s a deal with Rob. A decade ago I interviewed you, Rob. We had a live audience at the time of entrepreneurs.

This was when like the startup space had already picked up steam and there was a sense of what was possible and you had done it. You reached out and got Cisco, You created live person, the software that was on tons of different, uh, websites that we all respected, and you had done the dream. And so you were on here and instead of saying, Here’s how I did it, I am.

You talked about Frank. Right. Your therapist and people’s minds were blown that how’s this guy talking about getting his head space on and the issues he had with his therapist? And it was incredibly personal and meaningful in addition to you talking about how you built up live person. And so you’ve always stuck in my head, in my audience’s heads, and I’m glad to have you on here.

You are now running a publicly traded company. Live person does more than those little widgets that come up and enable people to con to talk with the customer service rep. You are now the leading customer engagement platform powered by ai. That’s what you told me. I’m gonna tell you people what I see it as.

I go on a website, there’s a little thing that says I can ask a question. The first thing that I see is an automated agent that I could interact with, and if I need to be passed over to a real person, the automated agent, if it can’t answer my questions, passes me on. That’s what you do, right?

Robert: Yep. Yep. I started that, I invented what they call web chat, uh, 20 in 1997, and then we took the company public in 2000. Then we made a big pivot into, uh, AI and automation about six years ago, and we’re the leader in providing AI based systems for conversational ai. So if you go to like, you know, a T-Mobile or you know, a Home Depot, whatever, and you’re talking to them and messaging.

Uh, that would be our technology behind it.

Andrew: I talk to T-Mobile all the time. They’ve got great

Robert: Yeah. great customer

Andrew: um, don’t they? And. Anyway, I should say this interview is sponsored by two great companies. The first, if you’re hiring developers, go to lemon.io/mixergy, and the second is origami. If you’ve heard about dows decentralized autonomous organizations and you want to find out how to set one up for yourself, go to join origami.com.

I’ll talk about those later. Rob, how do you keep this going? Why are you not retired or, I don’t know, becoming an investor? Do you feel ever like you got burned out and how do you keep.

Robert: No, I mean, I, it’s a vision, you know, you, you have a vision and I’ve always, I mean, I started the company idea that conversations, digital conversations, power commerce, and I was building e-commerce sites before I invented the web chat business. And you know, I see a, there’s a greater play today, which is that.

Conversational ai, you know, ai, um, are gonna live in our life. There’ll be personal assistance and, and they’re gonna be all over the, in our, in our world, in our car. We won’t be pressing buttons. We’ll be talking to devices and I see we have such a great role in that vision. And what we want to get to, empowering that.

And today we work with 11,000 companies, 500 of the largest brands in the world, and we’re powering these, you know, conversational ai, uh, experiences. And so it, it’s bigger now. I have a, a bigger vision about, you know, vision is like, it opens up as you go forward. And I can see, you know, even though there’s an Alexa in our, in the world we live in, I don’t think Alexa is the end game of the type of AI that we can have living in our lives that we trust.

Uh, that, uh, cares for us. It’s, I just don’t see Alexa as our end goal is something better than that

Andrew: So what you’re saying is you envision a world where we all have more artificial intelligence agents that we can talk to or type to, and I guess maybe you’re thinking more talk to and get a response the way we might with human beings, and that’s what’s keeping you going, bringing that, that

Robert: Yeah. And we call it curiously human. How do you create these? Experiences that are curiously human. They’re not human. They’re close to being human. And a lot of it has to do with trust and, uh, and personalization. Uh, and the sense that this AI belongs to me. I own it. It’s mine. It knows me. It’s like my little hunting dog because we still want, we waste so much time.

We waste so much time on customer support. We’re basically on hold still, or we waste a lot of time in searching for things. I wanna take a vacation. It’s still a hassle. And I, and then I gotta call someone or this, and I look online and some of it, right. It’s just hard. Um, our health, health is a very difficult thing to navigate most of the time.

We just kind of basically just give over our whole health

to an individual and to call the doctor and

Andrew: you’re envisioning a world where today I can talk to a doctor who helps me in the world that you envision. I would talk to an artificial intelligence agent first who can help me, and then maybe a nurse practitioner, which is the next level of for us today. And then maybe I go and talk to the doctor.

And that’s the world that you envision. That’s what’s keeping you

Robert: Yeah, I mean the, the, uh, it’s a data problem. Health, Health, like customer support is a data problem. It’s, there’s, uh, we can get a lot of data off our body through testing, genomics, all the way to our blood. And we can use machine learning and AI to correlate that data. And then we can give how health outcomes based on my body.

So you and I, we have a different body. We have a d although we read things like, uh, keto diet or whatever, that may be good for you. It may be bad for me, but there’s, we can really, personally, because we’re trying to solve data, big data problems, and then scale that using conversations where you, where you’re would normally talk to a doctor or a customer support rep, you’re talking to a customer care rep and, and to.

These customer care, healthcare have that same sort of dynamic. A lot of people and a lot of data, and a lot of wasted time.

Andrew: Where’s your annual revenue right now?

Robert: Uh, we’re over 500 million right now,

Andrew: Okay.

Robert: yeah.

Andrew: Um, let’s talk about how you got here from where you were, say 10 years ago, where we picked up the, the interview. What changes now? Now, as the company is older, as there’s clearly a bigger team, What’s the sales process like?

Robert: I mean, um, you know, we mostly deal with the enterprise. And so the enterprise, first of all, we’re like, we’re a tier one service. Uh, they want that, We’re critical to their business processes, and so they want the service on that level. And we just have a motion to sell the enterprise that we developed over, you know, 20.

And it’s, it’s hard to do, even as a startup to get involved with these very big companies, service them, uh, meet their security and scalability requirements. This is really a focus of ours.

So,

Andrew: I passed around, I said, Why aren’t enterprise using the software that the people that I interview use Intercom? And you see you’re smiling because it’s a different set of, of software. The user experience might start off with a chat bubble on both, but. Live person is more of an automated entry point and a scalability that doesn’t come from an intercom or some of these other tools,

Robert: That’s correct. I mean, I, the, I the live, even though the name of the company’s live person, the, the live agent chat business is over the past. And, um, although we have live agents on our platform, most um, questions could be answered through automation. If we have access to backend systems. It’s just really important that we have the backend systems to do.

And, and that’s really where we, we, we do very well. Once again, it’s how do you get the enterprise to do, We do over a billion conversations now a month. We’re the most scaled, you know, conversational AI platform in the world. It’s just, um, you know, we, we won’t get the 2 billion and 10 billion and a hundred billion conversations.

Andrew: And the only way to do that is through more automation, more clients, and more information that allows you to feed all

Robert: Exactly. Exactly. And the data’s really the, the key. We have this very unique data set that allows us to power those automations at scale, build the right tool set to turn those transcripts, those conversations to automations. That’s the stuff that we really, uh, work

on.

Andrew: All right, so I asked people who kind of know you, um, or who, who know you, but I, I don’t know that they know you intimately well. I said, What do you think about the way that he’s working? What do you think about what’s going on at live person? And one of the things that has come up is he’s got a lot of interesting side projects.

That’s how he gets, that’s how he stays involved, but also maybe how he gets distracted, like consumer healthcare, blockchain. Is there any truth to that? Are you about taking, Are you taking medicine or something? Now I hear something going off in the

Robert: No, I was taking my watch off. Sorry.

Andrew: Oh,

Robert: Where I watch, no, I, um, no, we, we basically, we go into markets where we see a dynamic. So we have, uh, you know, we have a really good partnership, uh, with some blockchain companies like Meta Mask, uh, Consensus, uh, we went, we are powering the customer care. Uh, Coinbase, we power their customer care.

So there’s a lot of other companies that were signing up. So it’s just a good segment from us on a customer side. And then, We, you know, these are, markets are very dynamic. So we tend to look at our customers as partners. It’s a different thing we see, how can we build things with them. So I think that’s, in that case, we did buy a genomics company that uses big data to do health outcomes, and then they’re gonna power that with, uh, conversational ai.

So, you know, when you think about our strategy or our company, we have our AI platform, uh, we have, uh, the customer engagement, customer care business, and then we have the healthcare business. These are the two big I call marketplace. That we’re going after. And like in on the healthcare side, we have many healthcare companies as customers.

The part we were missing is health outcomes. We do customer support with it, but we didn’t have a platform to have health outcomes delivered. So that’s a big market space. Uh, it’s a huge tam and so it made sense for us to go after

that.

Andrew: Meaning you’re saying if we are going to help get people the results they need, the answers that they need, we can’t just depend on our clients having all the data the way that we could at say T-Mobile, we have to go and get

Robert: That’s great. And in the customer care space, once again, we have a lot of the big customer. The insurance companies, all that, healthcare companies, they want, uh, a data set. They want a way to save that data set. They want to way to use machine learning and AI with that dataset to deliver a health outcome.

So every big tech company is involved with healthcare from Googled Amazon to Apple, all of us. And although we’re not classified as big tech, we, we work, we compete up in this level. Like we’re competing with a, an ai and. The world of ai. There’s startups and there’s a bunch of stuff and they’re not super relevant right now.

There’s like the big tech and then we’re the next level down. There isn’t a next level down except us if you think about a half a billion in revenue. So this is why we’ve gotta basically, um, we have to look at the strategy of the market and say, this is something interesting. And then how do we get there?

And then how do we do that? So, uh, that’s, I don’t have a, outside of those two things, and, and crypto’s just a, uh, market space within, it’s a vertical within our customer

engagement business, but the healthcare and the

Andrew: And you’re engaged in it to understand how to work with clients like

Robert: Yeah. Yeah. I’m engaged in insurance, I’m engaged in telco, I’m engaged in banking. I mean, I engage deeply in verticals and with leaders in that like medi work, working with Meta Mask and like Joe Lu. Uh, who, you know, was over in consensus. Like I’ve spent a lot of time with Joe just to understand the market space.

And it’s interesting, like we’re we’re developing with them a decentralized customer care offering, uh, called Village Down. It’s a partnership with us because they said, Well, why can’t we? As we started to meet with a lot of these companies on in web three, why do, why don’t we decentralize this? Why do we have to have customer care agents?

Why don’t we create a marketplace? Where AI can be put in, and you can be, people can come in and do customer care, but it’s decentralized. And so, so that’s an idea that we developed with them. They’re taking the lead on it, we’re providing the technology stack. But that’s the kind of stuff we do, uh, with our, with our clients, especially in that, that, that

specific vertical

Andrew: What is it? How does it work? This Dow, it’s a partnership between you and

Robert: called village Now.

Andrew: to do Village Dow. Can you tell me

Robert: So the, the, the, what we’re looking at is instead of every one of the web three companies having their own customer support agents and, and everything is centralized, why not have all that supply of support agents and even ai, even bots in a marketplace that consumers can come in and, and get that inform.

And, and, uh, the, the, uh, web three companies can, uh, pay for that, you know, provide tokens to those people who are giving the, the, uh, the information. And then they can get badged. They can get badged and all that. So, you know, they’re authenticated on the platform, but they don’t become employees of the, of the company.

Me.

Andrew: So anyone who wants to do customer support, Or offer software that does customer support comes into this marketplace. If I see meta mask in one of the press releases, I think, or maybe it’s just on, uh, on consensus website. If Meta Mask, which is a Web three wallet, says we need a customer service agent right now, they take some

Village Dow token.

Robert: No, No, Then, then no. The consumer goes straight to Village Dow and they ask a question in Village Dow about the meta mass wallet. Maybe they’re trying to do something and there’s somebody in the the Village Dow marketplace who answers that question, and then meta

Andrew: pay for that

with the, the Village Dow’s

Robert: with the token.

Token.

Andrew: And as long as the person, And then how do you make sure that you get accurate answers from a bunch of people who just wanna

be logged in

Robert: Right. Because the They get badged. They get authenticated, so there’s an authentication to

Andrew: make sure that they really know, uh, about say, meta mask

in this case.

Robert: Exactly. And they’re not gonna do something fraudulent. And so, uh, so this is the concept, uh, that, uh, they thought would be a great one. And as we socialized it with many other companies, People said, We, we think that makes sense because the mindset is decentralization there. So they’re thinking, why do we need to centralize customer care?

Why do we have to have thousands of people in a contact center? Why can’t we create a different model? So, so yeah. So we said, Okay, we can provide the technology for that. We, we, which we built, uh, and, uh, you guys will partner with you and create this, uh, this, this offering for the entire marketplace. So,

Andrew: Yeah, they don’t, and. As an ethos in Web three, nobody wants a concentration or ownership of anything. And if you said, Look, we’re going to get a customer service team in, say the Philippines, and all of you can hire us and just pay per use, they say no. Why do we wanna trust everything to you? Or why do we wanna even own it ourselves?

They want everything to be decentralized and I guess co-owned. So would meta mask then? I guess they would own the Dow based on the tokens they bought, and that would allow them to both pay people with the tokens and also vote with

the tokens.

Robert: That’s correct. And, and so once again, it’s like, I can think of the ways we’ve done that in, uh, like for retail, we’ve done certain things, so we try to, What makes us unique as a company is that we don’t come as a vendor. We really do come as a partner and we try to understand a space, like to take the healthcare space.

We are working with all these healthcare providers and we’re really deep with them, and then they’re saying, Look, there’s a, the opportunity here is health outcomes. You’re, you’re handling our customer support technology, but like we, we can’t have the patient’s records here. We don’t have the outcomes on your platform.

We just have somebody who looked at their bill and it looks wrong, so how can you guys help us? So your platform becomes the entirety of the customer engage. Uh, you know, way in which we do our work. So if somebody comes into a doctor, they can message us. If we get the data from the patient on your platform, we know why they’re sick or not.

If you can look at that data and give how health outcomes, how they get better there, health, that, that’s creating the circle. So we never thought about decentralization of a platform, but when we were working with, uh, Meta Mask, who’s obviously interconnected between almost. Web three, you know, sites for their, their connect interconnect.

They said, Well, this interconnection gives us a view. What about a decentralization? But we do that in a lot of different verticals that we penetrate.

Andrew: if someone’s seeing it from the outside and says, Look, Rob is just too disorganized. He keeps trying all these different things, just randomly, it might seem disconnected, but it’s more like you saying our customers could potentially. Be largely in Web three in the future. They’re asking for something completely different.

I’m not playing in web three. I’m learning and participating in it because they might be the next Delta, United or Web Airlines.

Robert: Do I? Don’t we? We don’t. I mean, look, We’re an innovative company, a small portion of our company’s budget, a very, Ima, you know, out of the hundreds of millions of dollars we spend on our budget, it’s a small portion. It’s single digit, millions that could be put into innovation. Even the decentralization of this di the Village Dow, that was a small project.

Uh, but they could have big weight and they could have big weight to them. So of course you have to put 99% of your resources into the core things and grow that and expand it. We have a vision around this Alexa styled AI that would show up for the brands, and the brands would have that, and they’re gonna give that to their consumers.

But we have these other parts where their marketplaces, and they have big and they have big dynamics and you can’t play in them. By the way, you cannot play in these marketplace. You, you’ll serve an. You can’t play in healthcare not being an expert. It’s, it’s, that’s not how that, that works. You can’t play in web three without being an expert.

And part of that is, uh, is my ability to, you know, get a certain amount of expertise to understand the marketplace, to then make investments in that marketplace

Andrew: I feel like it’s also like your personality. I remember talking with the founder of O Ark. I don’t know if you remember O Ark, They, I guess your Y Combinator based chat, uh, widget that was on site. Um, and I said, Do you wanna get together? He goes, No, I’m gonna go meet with Rob from live person. I go, Yeah, he’s just taking your meeting.

Yeah. You um, I think it was a CYS that I invested in, which did this, uh, chat. Do you know cys? They sold to convers social and then they sold to somebody else and basically my shares went to nothing with them. But it was an interesting experience. I think they also talked to you about what could we do to, to bring things together.

I don’t know how much you wanna say, I don’t think they’d be private about any of what you’d say with them, but what I’m interested in is it seems like this is all part of Rob saying, I want to be open to whatever new ideas you’ve got. Just bring ’em. , Uh, actually you tell me. What is your approach

there?

Robert: No, I, look, I have limited amount of time on Earth, so I don’t have time to meet with, like, I have limited amount of time, like between running a company and I have a family and we think about it, it’s a pretty limited scope of time and I, you know, we all have limited time. It’s, it’s a couple things. One is, in order to do what I do, you gotta be curious.

Like you can’t, you can’t run a technology company and not be curious. Like we wouldn’t be in AI if there was no curiosity. We. We wouldn’t have even been in chat if there’s no curiosity. So new ideas are driven by the curiosity mind. With that said, then you gotta look at, okay, is that something I should play in or is that something I shouldn’t play in?

And that that’s, there’s a lot I, I end up seeing, but there’s very little we play in because we don’t have the time nor the resources to play in these things. So it’s really about does this thing f figure fit to the vision that I have about AI powering the. and then you break that back down, does how, how would we, uh, disrupt that market using our technology stack?

And that’s really how I, how I look at it. But, uh, if you look at Amazon today and look at all the different things that they’re in, we’re not in anything. We’re really in one thing. We, we do one thing very well, and we make most of our revenue off of one thing. And 99% of our people are on one thing all.

But there are marketplaces or other things we have to look at so we don’t get caught off guard. Like if we didn’t pivot into the messaging AI business today, our chat business would be zero. Like we made the pivot ahead of everyone. We disrupted ourselves. And the most important thing is disrupting yourself before you’re disrupted.

And to be around 26 years later, you have to do a lot of disrupting of yourself because if not, we would’ve not been. And we’re a unique company to be around for so long and leading in what we’re doing. So it’s, it’s an interesting dynamic. You know, it’s, it’s technology. It’s never a dull moment. It always feels like a new day.

Andrew: All right. Um, I should say my first sponsor is origami. I saw your eyes light up when I talked about Dows these decentralized autonomous organizations. I understand that you’ve helped create one. What do you think of Dows, and then I should say anyone who was interested in setting it up should go to joint origami.com.

Uh, tell ’em Andrew sent you when you talked to them, but what do you think of them

as part of the sponsorship?

Robert: Look, I, I look, I think I, I, I think it’s, it’s definitely if you look at how the workforce has changed, where the remoteness of people. Or, or, or call remoteness, but we’re not, we’re not in a centralized thinking anymore. I think that the Dow structure is quite powerful for the future of how companies could run.

I mean, the idea that they’re decentralized power, decentralized ownership, voting, I mean, there’s a lot to it. I think, you know, uh, it’s being a, it’s, I, I think ultimately everything that’s going on in blockchain and that core technology stack is a future technology stack for. I do think, we’ll all, we’ll all move there.

That’s, that’s my perspective. So I think the decentralized, uh, organization is the foundation of how those, how you would go there. You know, it’s how the structure of that technology stack is built and, and, and, and it is the, the foundation of, uh, all the great technology are there, whether it’s Ether or you know, uh, Bitcoin, It’s, these are decentralized systems that are, are quite

powerful. So, so I do think

I think the

proper, Yeah.

Andrew: a group of people get together and they say, We’re all going to co-own this organization. And our ownership shares could be tokens that we have. And so the tokens are what we use to vote for, who leads it, what direction we go in, what we do, et cetera. And our tokens could also be used for paying each other for services.

Kind of like you said with customer service. Uh, time you pay using the tokens from the network. The few interesting. Um, There are few interesting Dows out there. I’ve started interviewing them with origami. For anyone who’s interested, if you wanna set up a Dow, go to join origami.com. And if you’re interested in how these things work, look at their blog.

It’s, right now, it’s a joint origami.com/blog. I’ve started doing interviews with them on, uh, Dows with Dow creators, and I feel like this is the early days of startups. It could work or it. , but the, even the ideas that don’t work have some really interesting potential in them. And I want to interview both sides.

What works, what doesn’t work? And anyway, go check ’em out. Join origami.com. Um, you mentioned earlier you’ve gotta disrupt yourselves. What disruption have you tried that didn’t work? Said some things, work, some things don’t. You have to do a lot. What’s one that you thought would be an interesting

one?

Robert: We were looking, once again, banking is a big vertical of ours and we were looking in, uh, the banking play. Uh, that was, uh, last year. And so we brought someone in from banking. We built the platform on our platform, uh, called Bella. Uh, and then we, about a year later doing it, we realized it, the restrictions in that marketplace, it’s, it’s something that, um, for us to build a platform that bottom wise we had to work with a banking partner.

The restrictions doesn’t allow us to get our consumer experiences to where the vision is of the. And so we ended up, um, shutting that down in, uh, beginning of this year and, you know, we moved forward. But, um, we kind of, you know, banking is a, we have a lot of banking customers. Once again, how do we game, change that market and then provide that platform to ’em?

We said we’ll go ahead and, and do all the work. As we got into it realized we understand why there’s challenges in, in transformation cuz there’s a lot of regulation. There’s a lot of stuff that you can’t change in the system cuz it’s, it’s got a lot of regulation to it. So we said, Okay, better not to, There’s, there’s only so much we can do here.

We can’t fight city hall, so let’s just shut that down and then move forward. So,

Andrew: Why do you think there isn’t more artificial intelligence? Customer service? I mean, why do I still have to wait on hold for an airline for an hour when all I wanna do is ask for something? I can’t find it on their website. I can’t find it in their tree. Why can’t I use Apple chats, Apple apples, iMessage, which is really good to engage with them and get some answers before a human being comes in.

And then frankly, let’s let a human being even come in by chat later. I don’t need them on the

phone.

Robert: It’s really two, it’s really two reasons. Uh, one is, There’s entropy in, in the orgs where, uh, there’s just a lack of wanting to change or there’s a lack of, uh, alignment that, you know, a care group, a technology group. And a digital group are not aligned, and so they, they can’t, You need those three groups together to really make it scale.

The other part is, is technology. Sometimes they have legacy backend systems that just don’t allow for access to an automation. They’re not api, what they call API ready, so they basically, That’s why humans exist. Most humans exist today because they’re in a contact center listening to an intent. Someone says, I want something, and then they go into a backend system.

They look at. And it’s a legacy system. Then they come back and say, I’m gonna answer your question. This space between the intent and the legacy system doesn’t need a human being. We, we can use natural language understanding at a very high level in messaging our voice to understand truly what the consumer is looking for, and then we can translate that to a backend system and pull it back and get the answers.

And that’s the power of the platform. So, um, you don’t need humans anymore. You really don’t, except for these two reason.

Andrew: So when I go to to t-Mobile, they are very good about when I look for customer service phone number saying, Do you wanna do an iMessage chat? I say, Yes, always. And, and then I start saying what my issue is, is that’s a human being though, who’s on the other side of the text, isn’t it?

Robert: Sometimes. Sometimes it depends on how what, what intent you asked. You may get routed to a human being. You may get into an automation. I’m not sure which where you went, but they have both automations and they’ve got. Human beings in those, in

those

Andrew: So why do they have human beings if automation is, is

so strong now?

Robert: Go back to it. It’s really about, they, they have backend systems.

They, they’re making available, um, you know, there’s, there’s a, there’s a prioritization in every company cuz they’re dealing with their own big business, uh, opportunities. Then they’ve got stuff that’s going in customer care and customer engagement. It’s just that, that’s really how we have to look at it.

So,

Andrew: You’re saying it’s just legacy. If they would allow you to have full control of T-Mobile, like if you rob owned T-Mobile tomorrow, you’d be able to connect it and have a solid customer service experience. But it would all be text and I mean all

be automation.

Robert: Yeah. I mean, if I could take a big company and just stop my fingers, like it’s hard at every company, not just T-Mobile, even our own company, like cuz you’ve got a, a list of priorities. They, but they’re moving quickly. The, the thing is, that company in particular, like most of ’em, they’re moving very quickly.

Some of our customers, 60, 70% of their volume comes through our platform. It’s our platform versus voice, which only four or five years ago was two. So it, everyone’s moving very quickly, especially post the um, uh, what we had happened during Covid when the contact centers got shut down, a lot of people just moved into platforms like ours.

Andrew: you’re saying the technology exists. The only thing that is missing is the time and the resources to

connect the chat automation technology.

with the database of

information.

Robert: It’s not a technology problem anymore. It’s not. It was because the natural language, natural processing parts are very, we have our own, based on our data sets, that they can process a lot of diverse ways in which people ask intent, and the rest is just getting to a backend system.

It’s not, uh, it’s not technology anymore.

Andrew: What about this? The advice that I gave Shane who ran assist. Forget about customer service. They have no money and they don’t have enough of a voice in the company to allow big changes versus go for marketing departments. Sales departments, they have a budget, they have a clear way to show results, and they have a willingness to spend money.

Do you think that that’s also an issue? Was I right in that, In that advice and then you think that’s also an

issue?

Robert: It depends on the company. In, in a company like T-Mobile, their, their agents are first, like their care. They care is the front line they call it. So some companies, they’re very much the front line. In some cases, you’re right, they’re usually are bigger budgets in sales of marketing. That’s just a fact like that.

You are correct. So if you can tap those budgets, you should go to, like, we have a fair amount of revenue that goes through sales, you know, sales event. And that’s really where we are as a company. And, and that’s where we’re focused. But, but there’s still a lot of customer care. There’s a lot of transformation there.

And when you’re using ai, it all gets blended. So somebody messages in, they may message care, they may message sales, they may get a marketing message. It’s proactive and reactive. It’s a very powerful tool messaging because it’s, it’s an always on connection into the consumer’s pocket. So, you know, how do you, uh, you know, engage with the consumer?

It’s not in silos anymore. It’s through a single pipe into their.

Andrew: Uh, Dude, I heard that, you know, e uh, Twitter has reviewed their email marketing software thing. , they, they basically have their own MailChimp, so I said, Let me try it just because that’s the only one they let you embed in your Twitter account. And then the, the move is to have somebody automatically take your email addresses out.

If you don’t like them, you take ’em out and then you move ’em into a better email provider. I went into their chat to say, When do I get API access? The one said, Oh, API access. That’s not our division. We have to transfer you to another division. I go within the chat, Couldn’t you just make it seamless and transfer me?

So he says that’s what we have to do. And it’s been literally a day and three hours since I’ve done that and still have not gotten through that other department. And that’s, that’s still working. And that’s a pretty, you know, tech savvy

company I

guess.

Robert: Yeah, I mean it’s just, there’s a lot of silos. You know, most companies are just sitting in silos and stuff like that, and that’s what it is. There’s a department over there and, and as a consumer we get lost in it cuz we’re like, well, can’t you just take care of this for me? You’re my front line. And they can’t.

So that’s, that’s really, it’s pretty typical of what goes on in the world

today.

Andrew: but live person does enable that. And your customers are doing that back and forth seamlessly. And so when I say to you, Should I have advise, uh, assist, you’re saying we do that too. We do that right now. We talk to the sales department and say, You can do some, you can get some sales from an automated assistant

using live person

Robert: Yeah. And that’s the, that’s the thing we. We, um, we enable that and, uh, and bots don’t have a department. That’s the beauty. Like an automation is not department. It’s just sitting there as an intent listener and trying to process. So the good thing about bots, they don’t sit in departments. They’re just, they’re just hanging off a set of intents and they can process a tent, sales, service, or market.

Andrew: where do you think AI’s gonna go? Like if you and I now talked 10 years ago, if we talk, say in five years, realistically, what am I gonna see?

Robert: The, The, you know, technology’s always been there to like, give us time back. Like that’s the nature of technology. And so I just think in the next 10 years, I don’t know if it’d be five, but let’s call five to 10 years. Um, we will have a lot more AI automations in our lives. And it’s, once again, Alexa is a very limiting thing.

It’s command based. It’s Amazon, it’s Amazon’s intents. We’ll have more things in our life around automations that are doing tasks for us. Finding me a great place to take my family on vacation, helping me with the brand, helping me understand my healthcare better when I wake up in the morning, tell me what to do, keeping me like a little health coach.

These are the things that are gonna be in our lives. Like it’s inevitable. These, the

machines will be, uh,

Andrew: inevitable, but it almost feels like, um, what did Shane used to say? It’s not artificial intelligence, not ai. It’s ai, it’s eventual intelligence. Like we’re always so close to it, but not there. Do you really believe that, say five years from now, I’m with one Medical, the

the healthcare provider that was

acquired by Amazon.

Do you think that instead of having a set of buttons on their homepage right now, one that says Schedule a meeting visit, uh uh, have someone treat me now, et cetera. Do you think I might have a button on there that just says, Speak and I could say My back hurts and have them help me. There’s something going on with my hand here.

Can you help me with this rash? You think that will happen? A button I talk to, I get a response.

Robert: Yeah, I don’t think in five years, but, but definitely, I’ll tell you this. We’re doing it now. We can give you health outcomes. And automate those health com without a doctor. A doctor is an interpreter, like a customer care rep, the same thing. They’re an in between a data set and you, you have an intent. I want to know why I’ve got high blood pressure.

And they basically say, Okay, go out and get a blood test. I’ll tell you what’s going on. They come back there an interpreter like, and, and by the way, they’re 10 years behind science. Like doctors are 10 years behind science because they can’t stay up with the latest degrees cuz they’re running a practice.

So a machine can take the latest in science, correlate what’s going on in your body, and give you a health outcome at a ver at a higher rate than a doctor can. So that’s the type of stuff that I think is possible. It’s possible now, and, and we’ll see in the next five years, a huge transformation in, in that area.

So,

Andrew: But will I actually see it work? I still can’t get Siri to understand, to pause the podcast. Half the time. I can’t get Alexa to understand basic things.

Robert: These are notis. They’re not, These are, these are, these are, uh, command based systems. They’re not, they’re not, they don’t have conversations with you. They take a command play and play music. Uh, what time is it they’re doing, They’re translating voice of text and doing a search. That’s all they’re doing.

They’re not coming back with,

because

Andrew: see.

Robert: conversational AI is a personalized experience where you say, I wanna do something, and it says, Okay, here you go. You say, Well, here’s what I need to do. And you, and it comes back because it’s usually a series of terms. Could be five or six different QA pair question answer pairs that gets you to an outcome and that that’s the part that’s really.

Andrew: Got it. This is, this is basic stuff. This is not what, what you’re talking about doing. .

I get it. I see. It’s frustrating that the interface still doesn’t work on that, but that’s the audio part of it. Do you think that I’ll be able to go to a phone company in five years and have customer service eliminated?

no,

People, all automation.

Robert: no, we have one of the big telcos in Australia. We already have like 70% of all conversations come through messaging and 50% are automated. So it’s not, you know, and that’s over the last couple years we’ve gotten there with them two years, three years. So in five years from now, we’ll be able to automate.

As long as the systems in the backend become available, we’ll be able to automate.

Andrew: 80, 90%, the last 10% might be left to human beings, and that’s

gonna be a dwindling supply.

Robert: Sometimes you need human beings because there is, uh, compliance. There are things that. From a compliance perspective, need a human being because there’s rules and regulations in every industry. Sometimes it’s government rules and regulations, which requires a human, Like for instance, you can’t have a machine given outcome for help today.

The FDA does not allow it. You need a doctor. So even if you have a machine that tells the doctor what to do and the doctor, they, they cannot, um, a machine can’t say, Oh, here it is without a doctor looking at it. It’s not allowed today in the FDA for, for most cases. For some it is, but for most cases, you need.

Andrew: All right. Uh, second sponsor lemon.io for anyone who was listening to us and goes, You know what? This whole artificial intelligence discussion is bringing up an idea for what I should be doing at my business, but I don’t have somebody internally you could do, We don’t have the bandwidth. . Well, you’re in luck.

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If you want to get an even lower price than everyone else, go to lemon.io/mixer, gle.io/mixer g. All right. Now I gotta ask you the hard question, why no profits after all these years? I’m looking at the financials and it’s negative, negative, negative.

Why?

Robert: No for we went. A period of, uh, investment in the middle of Covid cuz we were growing like a weed. Uh, it was, the growth is pretty extraordinary. And then we went to a heavy, heavy, uh, investment period, which we pretty much have restructured and now we’re getting back. We, for 20, over 20 years, we’re generating cash.

So we’ve been, you know, we didn’t get here cuz we weren’t. And then, but when we had that opportunity. But now things have normalized,

you know,

Andrew: I’m even looking at 20 18, 20 19. It’s, I think it was 23 million negative in 1887, negative in 19, 20 20 was 89, 20, 21, 90 3:00 AM

I misreading it?

Robert: 28 is when we started our investment into the AI platform, and then we built up during the rest is in Covid. Yeah. And then if you look before that, yeah, we, we drew generating cash flow, so.

Andrew: All right. Um, I don’t do stock stuff, but I did notice that the stock is down tremendously. What’s going on? More than

the market even.

Robert: I mean, the market’s been hit pretty, our sector got hit pretty bad. If you look at everyone’s down somewhere between 50 and 80%. Uh, so, you know, we’re part of a market, uh, you know, correction that’s going on. The one thing is that we are very focused now on generating cash again. So we are, you know, we told our shareholders, you know, we’re gonna be doing that.

Uh, we’re, we’re focused on that. And then the next couple of months we’ll be doing that. So we’re getting back to how we got here. Uh, you know, there’s a lot of lessons learned during Covid. I have to say. It’s the best of times and the worst of times. It was the best of times cuz the demand in our world, it was the worst of times because it, it, there were a lot of things in there.

Uh, like I did, I broke some rules like investing. Uh, on the way that we did during that timeframes when we really stepped up the, the investment where, if I could go back, I probably would’ve tempered it a little bit, but it looked like at the time that this demand would keep going and going. And now we’ve seen, obviously going back to more normal rates of growth. So, but, uh, you know, I, uh, often said you should never burn cash. It’s hard to control. So when you burn it, you gotta be able to control. And, uh, so, you know, we’ve done periods of heavy investment, like when in 18, even before that, we were investing in ai. Like we went heavy in AI to become an AI leader. And we didn’t have any of that back in 18.

And we now we’re the leader in that. Uh, but the other part is just, uh, growth in the market sometimes, you know, you see it. And then a lot of us were like, Okay, how long would that last? And we were keeping pace with it.

And

then,

Andrew: Meaning what? What were you spending money

Robert: It’s mostly, it’s like we did a lot in sales and marketing. So you’re like, you

basically, you’re

Andrew: More sales people, more marketing,

more

advertising.

Robert: that and you’re opening that up cuz you’re seeing this demand that this wave of demand that’s happening, uh, you know, and then you, Correct.

Building a company is just the biggest part is making hard decisions. Like that’s the hardest part. And the part that makes you a leader or not a leader, how many, you gotta make a bunch of hard decisions about how the company will get run.

Andrew: Oh, I see what you mean. Like, um, looking at your financials for 2021, it was 469 million revenue 242 in sales and selling a general and administrative

expenses

is, is that what I’m

seeing?

Robert: Yeah. And then in 20, and so we took, now we’re taking that all down to normal. We took that all down to normal percentages of revenue. Uh, so that we we’re in line with how we wanna run the company because ultimately, especially in this environment, uh, the best thing you can do is just strengthen up the balance sheet, strengthen up the p and l, and uh, and that gives you a future, another 26 years.

So that’s kind of our tact right

Andrew: Though also 2019 before the pandemic, basically more in sell, in selling general and administrative than in revenue.

So even then you were spending a lot on, on,

sales?

Robert: Yeah, In 19 we started to ramp up the sales team. That’s when we got into all the AI and, and automation parts. So, so that’s, that’s when, you know, starting to 18 was building the platform. Then we brought in our sales and marketing behind it, and then we basically grew it out, and then we had all that demand during Covid, which you could see, we started to pick up.

The growth rates were phenomenal during 20, uh, 20. So we had these phenomenal growth

rates. We, yeah, 20, we hit our 21 plan, our revenue plan in 19 2020. We put a year’s worth of revenue in ahead of time. So it was pretty extraordinary. And then we were, you know, we built up that sales team to handle that demand, luckily.

And then we came through the other side. So, yeah, so

Andrew: Why do you think that things are not growing as much online? I would’ve thought that malls would be dead. We just, the people finally discovered online shopping and just like all of us in tech who didn’t go into stores, once we discovered we could buy from our phones, . I thought the rest of the world would make that discovery and never go back into stores.

They’d go into stores. Why does so much of what we do

go back the way it was?

Robert: I mean, it was, I think pre pandemic. It was 15, 16% of commerce was e-commerce. And then post pandemic’s, 20, I think it’s 26. So it is, it is 26% of commerce, half of that in the United States is Amazon and the other half is everyone else. So you’re right, because I, I think it’s the consumer experience. The consumer experience is still not great.

It’s still, it sometimes feels better to go into a store and have a conversation or look at the product. And so you’re right when, when I started the company in 95 at the beginning of e-commerce, we were all like stores will be. Five years from now, 10 years, like literally dead, you’ll never walk. I mean we were all excited and then what happened was we saw that consumer experiences all became pretty dull.

Their websites with pictures, they all look alike cuz Google has an algorithm that says, If you don’t look like what we want, you don’t get indexed. So everyone created the same website. If you remember the beginning of the internet, the dot. Everyone was making all different websites. They had flash on ’em, they had a left hand nav, a top, I mean, it was just all over the place.

And Google came in said like, We want it one way. And if you don’t do it that way, which serves Google because everyone got, has to keep searching to find something. So, but most e-commerce sites are still limited. Even our customers, the big telcos and stuff, the majority of their sales is not made. It’s made in stores, it’s made on phones.

It’s still not made online, so they want more digital, but it’s just, the process is still, we, It’s not one click, it’s not, it’s hard. Most of the time there’s

Andrew: That is a good admission. It really is still not as good as it should be, and I don’t recognize it because I’m just so used to online experiences, and even when it is, it does become very dull. And I’m not someone who looks for entertainment from shopping, but I could understand how other people would be.

I’m seeing some interesting models like the live video that a few sites like

Amazon or even Amazon’s doing it and.

Robert: Live shopping. Yeah.

Andrew: Yeah. All right. What about on a personal level? What are you doing that’s interesting? Like are you still seeing a therapist? Are you doing

anything to

Robert: No, I haven’t

seen the therapist since. So yeah, the, the story therapist is Frank Morio. In between my, uh, when my first company went under in this one. If you get a chance, I have my podcast over the wall. I interview Frank about when I was on the couch and building the company, and he gave me some real great life lessons on how to, uh, understand change.

But, uh, I’ve always had, like in my life, different coaches and stuff like that. I mean, you have to constantly learn and grow, uh, especially doing this for a long time. So I have like experts and coaches and people that are, uh, you know, that are always there. You have to, you gotta read a.

Andrew: Who do you have now as a coach? What do you have that’s an interesting, like non-regular

coach,

Robert: I don’t have anyone,

I mean with the business

in our business

we have Tim’s story. We have the guy who, he was a coach to a lot of the big sports athletes, Oprah’s coach. So he’s um, He’s in our company. He’s actually volunteering. He’s, he’s an amazing guy. He’s a pro bono, just helping us and an extraordinary human being.

Uh, big heart. Uh, a really interesting person. So he’s, he’s in the company every day. He gives, uh, different, uh, he does a video on Monday and he gives ideas during the week. Post every day, which I think is phenomenal for the employees. Um, for me, I mean, I have a family, I have three young kids. I have a one year old, a four year old, and a six year old.

And if you have a one year old and a four year old, six year old, and then you’re running a business, everything in between is no time. So you’re barely, you know, and, and, and if you have new, you have these new kids and in themselves they’re, they’re like creative forces. And, uh, they’re, they’re very fascinating to, to watch them and, uh, and see them grow.

And so, uh, between those two things, you

know,

Andrew: The big thing for me is, Dad, why don’t you play with me? And it’s like, Oh, there are gonna be so few years where they say, Dad won’t. Why don’t you play with me? I’m gonna regret not doing that, but at the same time, there’s something else to do. How do I

figure out where to go?

Robert: look, it’s the hardest thing imagining these two things.

But I, uh, I remember reading a book somewhere on, uh, the best thing you can do for your kids is just show. The life that they should lead. And you know, I do. I, my, my grandfathers, my, my everyone, my family, my dad, I mean, my mom, everyone, they worked hard.

Like they came immigrants from Italy and didn’t come with anything and they worked hard. And so I never looked at working hard as anything more than normal. Uh, it may be a different mentality today, but if you wanna be successful and you wanna go after big things and it’s hard going after big things, I can tell you, especially in this environment, like we’re in a very negative environment now on many different levels.

And when you’re living in that environment and you’re creating new things, you have to be strong. You have to be committed, and you gotta work hard. Like if you can work a little harder than everyone else, you can win. That’s what I tell people, like, if you put in the extra hours, you’ll win. And that’s what it’s about.

Working in any company or don’t do. Uh, say if you don’t wanna make the commitment, then don’t do the job, cuz it’s not a job of, um, dial it in. There’s no CEO role anymore where you play golf and you’re, uh, you know, uh, hanging

out

Andrew: How many hours a day do you work

now?

Robert: I mean, I’m up at five. I do a workout in the morning.

One of my guys who, uh, who’s like, like he was an ex-athlete, I work out with him in the morning by video, you know, by seven o’clock. I’m kind of, uh, preparing myself for my. And by, uh, I take, I don’t take calls till 10 usually, cuz I want, I have to prepare my day and get ready. I think about, okay, what’s this day gonna be about?

What do I wanna achieve? Uh, and then I’m, I’m working until about 7, 7 30 and then sometimes I have to take calls later at night. Cause I, we have a global business. I was just in South Africa for two days last week. Cause we have a bunch of new customers there. We have one of the largest banks I did, I flew down on a, arrived on a Wednesday night, did Thursday, Friday, Flew back Friday night and 15 hours each way.

I was so excited, like an amazing, this, uh, called CAPA Tech, a great cool bank that services poor people who are unbanked. They have 20 million consumers to talk to the CEO and listen to, uh, what they want to do and how our technology’s gonna play a part in that. That’s, that’s why I get outta bet, you know, working with those big customers.

It’s just, it’s really exciting.

Andrew: 24 hours though, means that you don’t even

get to go and look around.

You don’t get to go

Robert: I didn’t see

Andrew: there to

Robert: I, I got into my hotel at like two o one o’clock in the morning on a Wednesday. Woke up, had an eight 30 breakfast with a partner of ours down there, and then started a full day of meetings, had a dinner with one of our customers, Went to Joe Burke the next day, had three meetings there, and hopped on a plane, United Flight, back to Newark.

And that’s, that’s it. And, you know, I, and you get a lot of energy from it. Uh, just, it was exciting and, uh, it’s just to, to hear. Is the CEO of these companies be like, you know, we, we think your company is gonna help us, like change the game on what we’re doing with our business. And you’re a partner of ours, uh, like I’m willing to get on a plane and go see them.

Andrew: Hmm,

Robert: you gotta be willing to do that even 26 years later,

Andrew: All right. Well, congratulations on all the success. I’m looking forward to talking to you. I’m also looking forward, frankly, to see more, more AI in my life. I don’t feel like I have enough that I feel a pleasant, wonderful experience. From where am I gonna get the best wonderful experience right now. If I wanna

go and see something,

Robert: I mean, I, I think, I think Chipolte, like one of our cousins, they have a pepper bot. You can order burritos and do all this stuff and, uh, burber.

Andrew: Chipotle on

their site,

Robert: Yeah, on, on their, on their app and then, um, and then Burber in their app, like really cool stuff there. I’m talking about the retail side, but like, we do a lot of stuff with, with so many different brands now.

But there, there’s a lot of cool things out there, but I, that’s our goal. You know, I wanna put a loving, caring, trustworthy AI in your life that can help you with your brands, your healthcare, you know, the most important, intense intentions in your life. Uh, we wanna create an AI that will solve those really important intentions.

Andrew: All right, Rob, thanks so much. Of course. The website is live person and the podcast that you have is over the wall. Thanks. Five one,

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