KWAGA @ Paris, France – July 2009 to July 2011
A report published by McKinsey estimated that the average knowledge worker spends 28 percent of their workday on email. Our team enhanced executive productivity in large organizations by alleviating the cognitive costs associated with the significant rise in email volume.
We recruited a team of Ph.D. computational scientists specialized in artificial intelligence to create a digital personal assistant, based on the intelligence of semantic algorithms and machine learning. As a member of a very select group of global startups creating a new market for digital personal assistants (i.e. personal information management), my team took on the challenge of creating a better way to experience the deluge of information and communications.
We initially conducted field research at the APCE (a public institution responsible for promoting entrepreneurship policy, based in Paris, France) to study organizational behavior around email use. Based on this work, I led our team in the design and creation of a succession of alpha products for global early-adopters to test. The feedback we harvested from early-adopters enabled our team to design and launch a commercially viable product for individuals (B2C), which we soon extended to organizations (B2B). We built-up a customer base of 10,000 users within the first six months and launched a series of applications embedded inside Gmail for various factor forms such as desktop and mobile.
KWAGA was the first startup in the world to employ semantic technology to analyze the content of emails in real-time. My team 'A/B' tested more than twelve innovative products developed in succession or in parallel, with varying functionality to gain insight into the market and consumer behavior (i.e. the willingness of people to pay for such a virtual assistant).
Today EverContact, a service of KWAGA, provides signature extractions and contact information updates to mail program contact managers in English and French. 80 percent of the customer base resides in the U.S. and manages SMEs. The business model is based on a monthly subscription fee in addition to paid options like the extraction of archived emails.
Technology — created algorithms capable of identifying and extracting actionable nuggets from inside email in both French and English
Utility — built automated workflows that understand a piece of information, like contact details in the signature of an email, and add this automatically to one's contacts
Partnerships — developed active working partnerships with Google and LinkedIn as well as with competitors to raise market awareness
Visibility — we were written up in TechCrunch, The New York Times, Inc., LifeHacker, ReadWrite, Management, The Next Web and interviewed on CNBC’s Squawk Box
Business model — had our first paying customers within 18 months, based on a monthly subscription model
Funding — raised nearly $1.5 million of series-A funding within 3 years
Award — recipient of the Most Innovative Service Award from the Mayor of Paris in 2009
Creating a new market — requires collaborating and sharing market information with competitors that may feel uncomfortable and even have a negative short-term impact
Privacy and trust — there is a delicate trade-off between sharing personal information with a third-party and receiving the benefits of such a service
Context — people expect a digital assistant to push information when and where it is required, i.e. in real-time and published to the most relevant channel based on what a user is doing
Complexity — addressing a problem without introducing new complexities is frustratingly difficult to achieve
Paradox — individuals most likely to benefit from a service are sometimes those least likely to search a technical solution