How Penn Inspired Us To Build An AI Startup

By Krish Ramineni C’15, Cofounder of Fireflies.ai

At Fireflies.ai, our North Star is that people are the cornerstone for success and happiness in our lives. We are building an AI assistant that helps you stay on top of all your conversations and reconnect with the right people at the right time. As you interact across different communication channels (Facebook, Slack, Texting, Email), Fireflies.ai generates follow up tasks and action items by leveraging Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing.

Fireflies.AI
Fireflies.ai

 

My experiences at Penn created a unique opportunity for me to pursue this idea, and the lessons I learned there are imbued into the culture of our startup and our core product.

3 key lessons from Penn:

#1: Penn’s large peer network created a need to stay connected

During my time here, I was fortunate enough to meet very talented and hardworking peers from diverse backgrounds. Learning from others and sharing unique experiences is what makes Penn special. I still remember the late nights in Huntsman Hall where I would keep running into peers who had something exciting to share or would introduce me to fellow classmates who were also working on startups. I thoroughly enjoyed these interactions. However, it was overwhelming to keep up with new connections that I genuinely cared about.

While networking is a very frequent practice at Penn, it was not something I set out consciously to do, nor was I very good at it. Whether I was recruiting and needed to attend a few coffee chats, or to meet with an MBA mentor from Wharton, I loved having positive conversations with people. At the same time, I despised the process that goes into networking because it’s so time consuming. Failing to follow up or simply losing touch over time was a common occurrence.

We develop hundreds of social and professional relationships, and we are constantly promising to do various things in our conversations that end up getting lost. Hence, Penn’s large network made me want a tool that would help me follow up and remember what I needed to do for each of my interactions.

#2: Our educational experiences can be applied to solve tangible problems

Taking the knowledge we gain in the classroom and applying it in the real world is the most important aspect of education for me. Taking action on what we learn helps us push boundaries. When I had a chance to hear Professor Adam Grant talk about dormant ties and read his book Give and Take, I was able to directly relate what he said to my own experiences at Penn. Dormant ties are people we used to know but have lost touch with. When we reconnect with these people, they can add an immense amount of value to our lives.

That got our team thinking about how we could take this theoretical concept and build a product that would improve our ability to engage with our own connections. We have so many social options like Facebook and LinkedIn, but we rarely reach out to dormant ties. When was the last time you spoke with a person who used to be a good friend in high school?

We discovered that people need a reason to talk to someone but struggle to find an incentive. As a result, we also started building a recommendation model that scores relationships and figures out the appropriate time to strike a conversation. In the future, Fireflies.ai will leverage contextual clues from your past interactions to help suggest timely recommendations on what to say and when to start a new conversation with lost connections. Seeing this aspect of our tech come together made us believe that abstract concepts weren’t just meant for textbooks and scholarly journals.

#3: An entrepreneurial ecosystem encourages us to keep building and shipping

I was actively involved in Penn’s startup ecosystem, taking part in Weiss Tech House and Wharton Venture Initiation Program. That environment allowed me to work on an array of ideas leading up to Fireflies.ai. Our team worked on 4 different products before arriving at where we are today. There were many mistakes we made along the way, but we focused on the learnings, getting constant feedback, and continuing to search for product/market fit. The startup space at Penn gave me the cushion to keep iterating. Had we not made those mistakes, we wouldn’t be here today.

Working on startup initiatives while going through school was a positive experience. There were resources that were readily available. Penn’s startup environment also places a value on solving hard problems with powerful technology. Our team used to wonder if AI and ML were well over our heads. Granted that we have a lot more to learn and keep building, I am very happy we are investing in this space. AI will only become more prominent in the years to come. Because there was so much to do, Penn helped me recognize early that I had to selectively prioritize the things that mattered. The entrepreneurial ecosystem pushed us to focus on the core features that eventually made the AI assistant feasible.

Our startup has been in private beta for the past few months. We are catering to busy young professionals, managers, and executives. In the coming months, our goal is to enhance our intent recognition tools and continue to make Fireflies a smarter personal assistant. While we are just getting started, I know I’ll definitely be taking the lessons I learned at Penn with me on this journey. If you are interested in learning more or want to chat about Fireflies.AI, you can reach me at krish@fireflies.ai.

biopic-200Bio: Recent grad Krish Ramineni is the co-founder of Fireflies.AI, an AI assistant that automatically figures out who you need to talk to and what to get done. His experiences at Penn shaped his entrepreneurial journey and the fundamental technology his company is now building.