On April 1st, 2019 we interviewed the founder of Testfire Labs Dave Damer, who had the
idea of making the award-winning meeting assistant Hendrix.ai. Dave has over 25 years of
experience in driving innovation in business communication and management.
In the second of our startup interview series we learn about the challenges of working with
AI, and the importance of building the right network as early as possible.
Dave also shares how his product changes meetings from being inefficient to meaningful.
Read full interview here:
What is Testfire Labs' product, and what impact has it made on your customers?
Testfire's flagship product is called Hendrix.ai and is a natural-language artificial intelligence (AI) assistant that attends meetings. In meetings it automatically captures notes, action items and data points, and uses machine learning to then identify potential workplace bottlenecks, areas for collaboration and delivers insights into organizational productivity.
We find that the use of Hendrix.ai makes our customers more focused and present in their meetings. Where it used to be that someone would get maybe a couple of action items out of a meeting with the rest of the notes and data typically getting lost, with Hendrix they’re extracting a lot of data. Now customers don't have to be writing down all the notes, but instead spend their time more efficiently, and focus on the actual meeting discussion.
What is the most challenging part of working with AI?
The most challenging part of working with AI, is that there is so much research available out there, and so we spend a lot of time reading and digging through it. The field we are working with is natural language processing. It seems that a lot of people perceive speech detection to be a solved field, when the reality is that there is still a lot of work to be done.
With our product, we can get a fairly accurate stream from a conversation, but models still don’t exist that are very effective at punctuating texts and structuring all meetings. As we know, meetings can sometimes be chaotic, so it can be a challenge to summarize them. Also, most meetings are held in English, but people come for all over the world and so the speech detection is still not very good at handling a lot of different languages. We are working on creating language models that can detect the different regions of the world.
In your experience, what is the greatest success factor that has led you to where you are today?
To me personally, it has been sheer persistence and this unwillingness to stop.
We have had some interesting challenges in our way, especially when looking at some of our competition that is extremely well funded. It can be daunting to look at a competitor that has 20 times the amount of seed funding that you have. And it can be a challenge to find funding in Canada. But somehow, we have managed to keep going and keep it all together. I have found motivation in getting through the low points and enjoying the highs.
'In Tech we talk about ’swinging for the fences and setting big goals’ - what is the risk and big swing that you’re taking with Testfire Labs?
The big thing we are going after is changing meetings in a truly meaningful way. The way meetings traditionally have been done hasn’t really changed in over 100 years. Every day large companies have thousands of meetings, and if the CEO counted heads, they’d see exactly how much that meeting actually costs. Often times, we perceive meetings as ineffective, and a lot of people wish they could get that time back.
This is something I’ve wanted to change for a long time. Now, we get to use AI to make some big changes in meetings, expect for the collaboration aspect.
What is one piece of advice that you wish you had when you started, and what piece of advice would you like to give to someone starting on their journey today?
Testfire Labs is my third startup. So through my experience I have discovered that you need to be tapped into the right network as early as possible. Find someone that already has a network or domain experience and bring them in either as an advisor or as a business partner. Have them directly involved in your business.
I have been building this network for two years now, and I just started spending time in Silicon Valley in January. I realize now that I should have been there from day one.
What is one of the most important lessons you have learned from being a founder?
You really need to curate a team that are experts in their field, and where everyone participates in building a strong and open team culture. In a startup there is really no hierarchy either, so everyone has to be able to carry multiple hats and just get the job done. It makes being a founder and building a startup a lot easier when you can spread the load like that.
If you had one ask that you could put out there, knowing that it will get to the person or people that need to read it -- what would that be?
My one ask would be for investors to invest more in Canada, and especially in AI and technology. We need to get people with capital more engaged here. I feel like we are catching up, but we are not creating nearly enough AI startups in Canada, even though there is lots of money here. The money is just not making its way to the startup companies enough to help them grow and scale globally.