Building a startup remotely

Vince talks to us about his startup moni.ai and how to make a startup work when your team lives miles apart.

Vince

Moni.ai is an open platform version of Apple’s Siri, which can be used by voice or text input where you can ask questions and customize triggers and actions.

The team has seen a gap in the market and are focused on ramping up their software to contend with some of the giants in the industry.

To do this they’re cleverly using a piggyback technique such as Airbnb used with Craigslist, so we tracked down their CMO Vince Magaline to find out a bit more about him, the team and Moni.ai.

Tell us a bit more about yourself.

I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and went to the University of California Santa Barbara for my Bachelor’s Degree where I graduated in 2009. Soon after I landed a job as a financial advisor, but after 3 years I decided that it was not going to be a fulfilling career for me, luckily around the same time I was presented with the opportunity to attend grad school for an MBA and so I jumped at the chance.

After graduating in August this year, I was interested in trying something new and a less conventional path. Both my Father and my Uncle are entrepreneurs so in hindsight it seems inevitable I’d stumble across AngelList. There I found Christian Clas the CEO of askMoni and the rest is history!

Tell us a bit more about Moni.ai and your team. 

It all started with our CEO, during his studies in Economics Christian wrote a thesis in ‘knowledge management’ and became aware of the problems arising from managing and representing data, information and knowledge. After working in several related projects in knowledge processing and communications together with three Universities and targeting a call to neuro-bio inspired systems. He realised this could be monetized which ultimately led to askMoni, now moni.ai, an entrepreneurial approach to artificial intelligence and automated knowledge processing.

Right now, moni.ai uses the open API of Wikipedia and Reddit to retrieve a lot of information. However, this is simply in order to provide some content for Moni to pull from when she’s asked a question. The goal is to have reliable, user generated content as the natural language information source from which Moni pulls from. This makes us unique.

We’re also making moni into a building block. By providing an API interface, developers can connect to moni.ai, define speech patterns and trigger custom events to make their own voice enabled products.

The Team

One interesting thing is that my partner and CEO is in Germany. I’ve actually never met him in person, although that will be coming shortly when he travels out to San Francisco within the next couple months. Up until now, all of our interaction has been via email and Skype. We talk every single day and I feel like I’ve known him for years already. It’s really crazy just how far communications have come in the past decade. Amazing really.

What tips would you give to others who are thinking of working as a remote team?

Regular meetings

Group and one-on-one meetings are key since you will not be working next to one another on a daily basis. We have been using Skype mostly for our meetings. The majority of our communication is done via email, but there is no substitute for video conferencing when working in virtual teams.

You have to make the most out of the time you have so make sure every meeting has a predefined agenda as to what will be discussed, to allow everyone time to properly prepare. Note: Try to keep the ending of the meeting as flexible as possible to allow for the discussion of items that come up during the meeting. One of the key advantages of a startup is having flexibility, so make sure to use it.

Synchronise

Teams should share their calendars Outlook, Google Calendar, whatever it is you use, you should update it regularly as this makes it easier for your teammates to know when the time is right to contact you.

It can also be a good way to help motivate each other, and find out when teammates aren’t pulling their weight.

Respond quickly

Make intercompany emails priority and you should really reply to your emails within 24hrs minimum. Replying slowly can make your team lose motivation, respect and trust in you and your commitment. So make sure to go the extra mile.

Remember to Collaborate

Most of all, it’s easy to keep a lot of work to yourself for a week and then share it with the group to find out that your partners had a different vision or had already worked on that. Don’t waste your time, and collaborate as much as you can. Even though you might not live close there really is no excuse!

What are your goals for the future? 

Our goal right now is to get people to literally ‘ask’ Moni questions via our iPhone, Andriod and Web apps. What’s important is communicating that Moni gets smarter with every question she’s asked. For questions that Moni does not provide a reliable answer to, we have acquired the services of Amazon’s Mechanical Turk a crowdsourcing marketplace for work that requires human intelligence. With each question and answer provided Moni’s capabilities will get stronger and stronger. Users are helping us literally build Moni’s ‘brain’ so we’re looking into how we can reward our users for their support.

What’s so intriguing about Moni is that we are creating a ‘collective mind’ where people from all over the world can continuously contribute to the world’s first community generated brain. We believe that this model holds the potential to be more powerful, and more useful to everyday people than any one pre-defined database. Moni’s ‘brain’ will ultimately be a reflection of our users, and this creates great possibilities.

I’m very much looking forward to where this goes and where it leads me in my career. I love having the ability to make key decisions with the open mindedness and encouragement of our CEO. It’s very exciting and I couldn’t be happier to simply be building something that has the potential to reach so many people and hopefully improve their lives.


We’re currently rebranding the whole website and app which will take effect from the 1st of January 2015 so watch this space!

 

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