AiThority Interview Series With Angel Gambino, CEO and Founder of Sensai
Ideally, we want to get to the point where Sensai AI can help people maximize the reach and effectiveness of every single social media post.
Know My Company
Tell us about your journey into the Intelligent tech industry. What galvanized you to start Sensai?
I see enormous potential for AI. We’re way past the “hype” stage for AI and well into the “becoming meaningful” stage, where all sorts of industries and organizations are implementing exciting new applications for AI.
I first saw the opportunity for Sensai emerge from a confluence of factors, and I think a lot of people can relate to this in their personal life: there’s this sense that certain aspects of social media are broken, that Facebook and these other big social media platforms have become a cluttered mess of spam and trolls and dehumanization. This became really clear to me around 2010 when I was working out of The Alchemy, a building in a historic part of Detroit that I’d recently purchased and leased to small businesses, creative professionals, and non-profits.
I was born in Detroit and am very involved in its revitalization efforts. Not only was I a landlord to these businesses, but I also tried to lease to people where I felt I could add value as a mentor or advisor. What I found was, over and over they asked me how they could use social media to effectively market their businesses.
Social media was a huge marketing channel for these independent professionals. But when Facebook and the other big players really ramped up monetization, the algorithms changed and it hurt SMBs and creatives who were now experiencing a plateau in their organic growth. They had to spend more time on social media to get less growth, and increasingly they were being asked to pay for placement or “boost” their posts to the top of the feed.
Remember, these are not deep-pocketed companies with large marketing budgets, they are SMBs, nonprofits, and independent professionals with little to no budget for marketing.
I wanted to help those who needed it most. I wanted to develop Sensai into a service that would help bring some order to the chaos and give small business owners, artists, and independent creative people a chance to recapture their own audiences and outsmart the algorithms. I wanted to level the playing field with the more monied interests that have been flooding the social media.
The Internet used to be a place that was supposed to be open, where every underdog had a chance to get noticed and build an audience. But in recent years, it’s gotten so cluttered and crowded and impersonal that just having great content isn’t good enough anymore. Lots of talented people have become fed up and dispirited from trying to fight through these mysterious algorithms.
Even social media marketing experts often don’t know “how to do social” anymore; their “best practices” playbooks are always out of date.
So that’s how we’re using AI at Sensai – it’s to help people try to “outsmart the algorithms” and get back to using social media for what it was meant to be; as a place to build powerful relationships with the people, organizations, and causes that you care about the most. We use AI to efficiently scale our business with velocity.
Sensai produces AI insights and strategies for subscribers that would otherwise cost them tens of thousands of dollars, hundreds of hours, and require teams of hundreds of analysts and data scientists to produce. This simply isn’t an option for most small businesses and creative professionals. One social media manager can now manage hundreds of accounts rather than a handful.
As a woman in AI Tech industry, what sets you apart in the way you run the business?
I have a special concern and understanding for the significance of how as AI developers, we are ultimately “training” the AI, and ultimately the AI will influence how we interact based on the biases infused in development. I see it as my duty as a woman in AI to ensure that there is enough diversity of talent and thinking to point these algorithmic biases in the direction of causing more good than harm.
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I consider myself to be mission-driven. I am passionate about creating markets and expanding opportunities in underserved spaces. As a white girl in Detroit, I often was growing up and making friends and learning how to navigate in spaces where I was a minority, and this gave me a unique perspective and empathy for undervalued places and people.
As a woman in tech, I have a first-hand understanding of how our industry often is too quick to only listen to the voices of certain people who look like what a “tech leader” or “tech executive” is supposed to look like.
The tech industry has some pretty significant work to do to overcome its systematic sexism and unintended blind spots to create a more inclusive culture that brings out the best performance of everyone on the team. I believe we all benefit from taking responsibility to acknowledge, encourage, and support the breadth and depth of talents, perspectives, and voices of everyone at the table.
As a woman in AI, which is arguably even more predominantly male in its leadership ranks than many other areas of technology, I feel like my perspective as a woman makes my company stronger.
My team understands that I have a bigger vision than simply making people and companies more effective at social media. I aspire to create more empathy in the world by using AI to better understand how to use social media as a catalyst for invoking empathetic engagement between individuals and within communities. I’m inclusive in bringing this dream to life so that we can all emerge from where are now to a much better place in the future.
Big egos are not a gender-specific thing, and of course, you need to have a strong self-confidence to be a CEO no matter what is your gender – but I feel like many women-led organizations tend to reward collaboration and merit more often than some other companies I can think of. The CEO sets the tone for the company culture, and as a woman CEO, I want my company culture to be inclusive and collaborative and open to all of the best ideas from talented people.
The tech industry is starving for talent! We need all the talented people that we can find, and we can’t afford to create a culture within our organizations that ignore and diminishes the contributions of more than half of the world’s human population. Not only is it wrong to be exclusionary or discriminatory, but it’s just a terribly short-sighted way to do business.
What does it take to start and succeed in the AI/ machine learning ecosystem?
We are all learning new techniques from each other every day. You need a focused approach, based on what you actually want to accomplish with AI. It’s not magic. You have to know what your desired outcomes are and what problems you’re trying to solve with AI. Once you start to understand the parameters of what AI can do, and what kinds of specific applications are already becoming a reality, a lot of people are pleasantly surprised by the possibilities.
In the immediate category of AI solutions where Sensai operates and where I have my main expertise, I’m seeing lots of companies who are using AI to personalize the customer experience and deliver unique engagement with customers in a way that is most relevant and most impactful for the customer, in a way that anticipates the customer’s needs.
At its best, AI is already helping companies deliver a deeply personalized customer experience that also saves time by eliminating repetitive, tedious tasks for humans on both sides of the customer interaction. It’s helping to provide better customer service and better customer outcomes.
AI can help your company market products and experiences to real individuals, not just stereotypical personas. It helps you go deeper into knowing and understanding your customer. The actionable insights of AI are profound, and we’re just barely beginning to scratch the surface of what is possible with this technology.
How does AI impact returns on Social Media budgets? Which platforms could get best returns from leveraging Sensai?
Sensai uses AI to help people get the right social media followers faster, not just an artificially inflated follower count with lots of bots, or followers who immediately unfollow, or followers who are difficult to activate. Sensai helps customers drive engagement more effectively – during our beta, active customers who used our guidance built their audiences, on average, 129% faster than non-active customers. Sensai operates on the major social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.
Social media has become cluttered and complicated. With so many changes to the rules of the social media platform algorithms, lots of very smart marketers no longer know “what works” on social media. Sensai analyzes the total picture of our customers’ audience, competitors, and the overall environment on the social media platforms and then makes strategic, AI-driven recommendations on what small business and creative professionals should do differently to get better results from social media – including everything from “which hashtag to use,” to “which content topics to post about,” to “what time of day to post.”
For our Luminary customers, we even use AI to create their posts for them, so that they become curators and editors rather than having to produce all posts themselves. Sensai uses AI to help offer a range of support from those who want to DIY their social media presence through to brands who want a complete outsource “DIFM” (do-it-for-me) solution.
The DIY customers ultimately have to create and curate good content, but success on social is really about finding the right combination of content, metadata, and timing to drive the biggest engagement and attract the biggest audience.
Since the algorithms are ever-changing, it’s too complex for any human to keep up with. This is where the AI factor comes in. Sensai uses AI to help people focus on that human element of building relationships and connecting – the aspects of social media that everyone was attracted to in the first place.
How do you consume news and updates from the AI industry? Which leaders do you keenly follow—
Twitter is great for this, of course, and I follow lots of publications and thought leaders there. I also recently served on a panel at VentureBeat TRANSFORM 2018, along with Ashu Garg, General Partner at Foundation Capital; Jasjeet Thind, Vice President of Artificial Intelligence at Zillow Group; and Matthew Sadofsky, Director of Growth Marketing at Tilting Point. They all had excellent insights on the AI industry landscape.
At VentureBeat TRANSFORM, I also enjoyed hearing from Clara De Soto, co-founder of Reply.ai; Vanja Josifovski, the CTO of Pinterest; –and Amir Khosrowshahi, CTO AI products from Intel. In Michigan, I’m a huge fan of a company called Clinc in Ann Arbor – they have a great CEO and research team who are doing amazing things with conversational AI.
Tell us about your AI and Deep Learning research programs at Sensai?
We have created an AI-driven method for analyzing social media performance, in a way that is faster and more comprehensive than hundreds of human minds combined. This is the power of machine learning at work! For example, we have identified a few best times of day for posting on social media – the times of day when social media posts tend to be seen and engaged with by a much larger audience, compared to the rest of the week.
The results were surprising: for example, the best time to post on Twitter is in the middle of the night: Monday at 3 AM ET (55% better engagement).
Of course, every audience is unique and your ideal times of day might be different, but this is the type of actionable information that Sensai can give – and it’s all based on AI-driven deep learning, developed by our data science team. However, the true power of AI comes in when we distill this down to personalized posting times based on a particular post for a specific objective in as close to real time as possible.
Ideally, we want to get to the point where Sensai AI can help people maximize the reach and effectiveness of every single social media post.
What does your ‘Ideal Customer’ Profile look like? Which new geographies are you currently targeting?
Sensai is intended to be accessible and affordable to anyone other than large corporates who rely on social media as one of their primary marketing channels. At just $99 for our Professional product, vs. thousands of dollars for agencies or enterprise solutions, we aim to make this widely affordable.
Our Luminary customers start at $500 per month and get to utilize the service as a quasi-agency. Our ideal customer could be anyone in the small to medium size business space, especially B2C service providers, as well as entertainers, musicians, artists, writers, independent creators and makers, and entrepreneurs.
Basically, anyone who needs to build an audience on social media for their business or their creative work. We are primarily focused on the US, but are growing rapidly in the UK and seeing some sparks of growth in Canada and other regions.
Which other industries are you looking to expand your AI capabilities?
We are still an early stage startup and we feel great about our value proposition for the SMB and independent entrepreneur/creator market. So, I’ll leave it at that…we are totally committed to serving the customers that we’re serving, and we’ll see where the future leads.
What are the major challenges in adoption of AI for marketing and sales? How does Sensai help customers overcome these challenges?
One of the biggest misconceptions that people have is that AI is this mysterious, nebulous, advanced concept that you need a PhD to understand. The truth is, AI is more accessible than ever before. You can start experimenting with AI applications right now!
We’re already seeing AI adoption in marketing and sales with applications such as chatbots – not to replace human customer service reps, but to make their jobs easier by answering routine questions and escalating the complicated calls that require more careful handling.
TGI Friday’s is using AI to recommend signature cocktails based on the guest’s personalized pattern of ordering previous drinks. It’s all about personalization and using AI to make suggestions that are more relevant, more on target, more centered in that customer’s reality.
That’s what we’re trying to do at Sensai, too: we’re trying to democratize AI. We want to show our customers how AI can support them with smart, clear, actionable insights and recommendations to help them be more effective in their social media marketing, and how the AI itself is not this mysterious, impenetrable thing; it’s friendly and helpful and easy to understand.
Sensai’s AI is not intended to be a magic bullet or an overnight success and it doesn’t “take over” your social media presence or affect your brand voice; it’s more like a social media coach or concierge that gives your company ongoing suggestions and thoughtful little nudges to help push your business in the right direction.
What are your predictions on the use of AI for human performance?
AI is not “the enemy.”
There has been too much doom and gloom about the future of AI and how it will supposedly destroy jobs. I see AI as being a powerful, supportive complement that will help humans unlock new levels of performance and human potential. It’s true that AI is going to lead to some job losses, just like the consumer internet eliminated a lot of the value of stockbrokers and travel agents. But AI is also going to retain lots of jobs and create new ones.
AI is going to unleash the additional human potential for creativity and productivity; it’s going to take certain repetitive tasks off of our to-do list, and it’s going to open up more space and more demand for that creative, emotionally intelligent human element that no machine can replace. I see AI as improving the way that people work, instead of replacing the need for people.
We’re always going to keep finding new ways for people to add value, just like we have in every successive evolution of technology since the Industrial Revolution.
The Crystal Gaze
What AI and machine learning startups and labs are you keenly following?
There are so many startups and labs that are doing great things in AI and machine learning right now, it’s hard to list them all! But in general, at Sensai, we are looking at lots of interesting stuff coming out of Stanford, University of Michigan, Toronto, Montreal, the UK and China – Chinese companies such as Sensetime and Toutiao, as well as the overall industry and infrastructure that is developing to support smart mobility.
What technologies within AI and computing are you interested in?
Basically: I’m interested in anything that helps real people create real connections and real conversations. Sensai is all about helping people cut through the clutter and “be good at social and use social for good” by authentically connecting with their ideal audiences. Ironically, I see our AI technology as being totally in service to enabling and empowering human voices.
As an AI leader, what industries you think would be fastest to adopting AI/ML with smooth efficiency? What are the new emerging markets for AI technology markets?
The sky is the limit on AI adoption, and it’s not just the usual suspects. Financial services and insurance companies are not often known for having the most leading-edge, “hip” customer-facing tech, but they’re already using AI for a variety of purposes, especially for customer service and risk management. I’ve developed smart mobility ventures that are utilizing IoT and AI in fascinating ways. Some of the most boring sectors will be transformed by AI. AI is happening everywhere and the newest applications might surprise you.
What’s your smartest work related shortcut or productivity hack?
Even as a busy CEO, you have to make time to relax and take care of yourself. I love to have a cup of tea to start the morning, and I try to keep perspective; remember that there are “no bad days, only challenging moments that help you appreciate the good moments.”
Tag the one person in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read:
In the interest of supporting my fellow female founders, and also because I thought her fireside chat at VentureBeat TRANSFORM was so particularly inspiring: Clara de Soto at Reply.ai or in support of my Michigan roots – Jason Mars from Clinc.
Or, Amir Khosrowshahi, CTO at Intel, or Vanja Josifovski at Pinterest. These are all impressive AI leaders, representing the diversity that AI requires to become a useful way to create a better world.
Thank you, Angel! That was fun and hope to see you back on AiThority soon.
Angel Gambino is a WIRED Top 100 executive who has built companies on three continents. She’s also an urban regeneration pioneer, a visionary investor, and a passionate environmental lawyer. The technology phase of her career has included co-founding investment partnership Prehype Partners, senior roles at the BBC and MTV Networks, and leading the pioneering UK social network Bebo. She has also played pro soccer, and she ran logistics for the USWNT at the Olympics.
Raised in Detroit, she recently returned to San Francisco as founder-CEO of a social artificial intelligence startup called Sensai. Sensai gives people and businesses the technology tools they need to be successful at social media marketing.
Angel is a founding partner of Prehype, a venture development firm, co-creating startups with the world’s top corporations and entrepreneurs, and which has spawned several companies with substantial exits.
Sensai makes people and businesses successful at social media. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other platforms are complicated, ever-changing, and increasingly demanding of your money and time. We give you the power of A.I. to make the most of your time and money on social media. With Sensai, you get know what and when to publish, whom to engage, and how to exceed your marketing goals.