Columbia Entrepreneurs: Avoma Uses AI and NLP to Give Busy Sales Teams Their Time Back
No matter what your intentions on Monday, there will always be those weeks when Friday arrives and you feel defeated, having spent hours dealing with email, scheduling, and minutia instead of getting substantive work accomplished. Anyone who has ever worked in sales or customer success especially knows the feeling.
Avoma is an artificial intelligence startup founded with the goal of solving this persistent problem. The company offers an “intelligent meeting assistant” that automatically records meetings and pulls relevant action items and topics from them, promising to save sales teams hours of productive time by banishing repetitive tasks and eliminating the need for multiple administrative tools.
Avoma is one of five Columbia University-affiliated startups selected to present at the 4th Annual Columbia Startup Demo Night in San Francisco on September 20, 2018. We chatted with Avoma CEO, Aditya Kothadiya, CTO Devendra Laulkar, and Head of AI Albert Lai, to learn about the company, how they got started, and their plans for the future.
CVC: In a couple of sentences, what does Avoma do?
Aditya Kothadiya: Avoma is an intelligent meeting assistant for Sales and Customer Success teams. Avoma automatically records customer meetings, transcribes them, and extracts key insights like Next Steps, Questions asked, Topics Discussed. It then helps enter this data into your CRM.
You say “intelligent meeting assistant.” This word gets used a lot; what do you mean when you say “intelligent”?
Albert Lai: Avoma integrates with your calendar, looks at your scheduled meetings, and automatically dials in to a scheduled meeting at the appointed time, recording both video and audio for the meeting as a silent attendee.
It then transcribes the meeting audio into full text using Automatic Speech Recognition and also identifies different speakers in the conversation using our deep neural networks.
Then, our system identifies if there are any action items, and labels different sales-specific topics discussed in the call using Natural Language Processing.
Can you explain why this is important and who your target customers are?
Aditya Kothadiya: Our target customers are B2B Sales and Customer Success teams and their leadership.
Sales and CSMs have to juggle between 3–4 different tools (Calendar, Note-Taking-App, Web-conferencing, CRM) to run a single customer meeting and have to do a lot of multi-tasking.
They have to engage with the customer, ask right questions, listen to their feedback and handle objections effectively, capture customer’s key details, and then share this information with the team and update it in the CRM.
They have to do this 4–5 times every single day. That’s a lot of inefficient and ineffective way of having important conversations with prospects and customers.
Avoma simplifies this workflow for Salespeople and CSMs with the unified and intelligent solution. It’s combines calendaring, note taking and recording tools. It also creates automatic transcriptions, and extracts notes and insights in a single tool.
Avoma also helps Sales and Customer Success leadership by giving them the visibility and ability to listen to their teams’ meetings and accordingly coach and train them effectively at scale.
Do you have any observations or predictions for your industry that you could share?
Albert Lai: We believe the era of the “knowledge worker” will be over soon, and the era of “intelligent worker” will become the norm. Having access to information is not enough to get your job done, instead having access to intelligent workflows that take care of repetitive activities will allow you to focus on your strengths and spend more time on high leverage tasks.
Today, salespeople spend more than 50% of their time on data entry and administrivia.
The majority of these tasks will be automated using Artificial Intelligence in some form. We don’t consider automation is replacing these tasks, rather augmenting existing workers and making Sales and Customer Success professionals very efficient and effective in their core jobs.
When did you first have the idea for Avoma? Was there a particular moment when you decided to go “all in”?
Aditya Kothadiya: I had initial idea in late Oct of 2016 when I was working as a Product Management leader in an enterprise company 247.ai.
While launching new products and taking them to market in a B2B space, I would be doing Sales, Onboarding, and Customer Success for the first few deals. Once the product had been proven, I’d hand it over to specialized teams to close more deals and onboard more clients.
Often, this would lead to poor and broken experiences for customers as they hop through too many team members, face too many handoffs, and there would be a lot of context lost. This would result in lost or delayed opportunities. That’s when I observed these inefficiencies in B2B account lifecycle and decided to solve it.
I did over 30 customer development interviews with B2B CEOs, Sales and Customer Success leaders and individuals to validate and understand the problem deep enough. When most of them resonated and validated this problem, I knew it was time to go all in.
Eventually I quit my job in Mar 2017, incorporated Avoma and started working on it full-time.
How did the founding team come together?
Aditya Kothadiya: I knew of [Avoma CTO] Devendra many years ago through a common friend while we both were working on our own startups back in 2010. We stayed in touch, and eventually sold our first companies to larger companies, and after a few years were looking to start a new company, so we got together to start Avoma in July 2017.
Devendra Laulkar: I had also worked with [Avoma Head of AI] Albert at Pulse. We were brainstorming some ideas together, and it felt natural for him to join the team. He joined Avoma in August of 2017.
What has been your greatest success so far while founding/building the company?
Aditya Kothadiya: We’re just under a year in our operations, and still in early stages of our execution, but we’re proud of the fact that we were able to raise pre-seed capital in Oct 2017 without having a product and technology built; we raised it based on founders’ background, our vision, and potential market opportunity.
Funding is not a destination, of course. The true accomplishment is the innovative technology and product we’ve built so far, with much lesser resources and in much shorter duration compared to our highly funded competitors, and that helped us to acquire our first paying customer in July 2018.
What part did your time at Columbia University play in creating your current path?
Devendra Laulkar: I attended Columbia University to complete my Masters in Computer Science. At Columbia, I was exposed to cutting edge research conducted at Center for Computational Learning Systems. This experience at Columbia has helped shaped my understanding of Machine Learning systems and helping data in guiding decisions.
While building your company, what have you learned so far that you wish someone had told you before you started this journey?
Aditya Kothadiya: As a CEO, I wish someone would have told me this before that focus on your core skills and high-value tasks — like talking to customers and building great products — and outsource all other administrative tasks like sourcing candidates, doing bookkeeping and taxes, figuring out benefits plans, etc. to specialized people.
Initially, we optimized doing everything ourselves in the interest of saving cost. In the beginning, I think spent more time doing things that didn’t benefit the business enough, and was not our core strength.
Is there anything else you would like us to know about? Where can we learn more about Avoma?
Thank you, Aditya, Devendra, and Albert!
To meet the Avoma founding team, plus four other innovative startups, come to the 4th Annual CVC Demo Night in San Francisco. It’s the biggest event for Columbia entrepreneurs on the West Coast. Get tickets and details here.
— Irene Malatesta is a writer, marketer, and CVC West board member. You can find her @irenekaoru.