The Human Factor in Artificial Intelligence
The debate about whether advertising is an art or a science has long been a part of the industry’s origins. While creativity certainly plays a critical role, in the digital age, the industry relies on hard data. Zeze Peters may be perfectly primed to navigate the age-old debate. Peters’ background is in aerospace engineering at Cornell University, but he’s spent the better part of 15 years developing products and e-commerce platforms. With Beam.city DNA, Peters and his team help businesses plan, automate, and optimize digital ads across the internet, using one platform.
Peters spoke about the difficulties of founding a startup and the importance of maintaining humanity when dealing with artificial intelligence.
What’s it like transitioning from aerospace engineering to digital marketing and AI?
I worked on space robotics, I worked on aerial robotics, but right after that, I spent over a decade building and releasing over 1,100 products. So, my transition from aerospace to digital marketing has been gradual, and I found in all these products that I made and pushed for release, we would always run into some sort of manual overwhelming task when it came to the actual growth step — the actual step of making revenues. I decided, “You know what? There’s always a lot of manual tab jumping, spread-sheeting that we have to do. Why don’t we automate as much as possible here to make growth very easy?” And that’s why we built our company.
Companies often boast about the accuracy of their AI to predict trends in marketing. What’s the best way to still account for the human factor?
I think anybody who hyper-focuses only on the ability of the system to predict trends usually misses the human factor significantly. I think, for almost every business, the human factor is the most important piece because, one, that’s where strategy comes from, just figuring out the playbooks. Two, the creative aspect. Human creativity is so far unbeaten in our ability to think up new coherent or even incoherent ideas or images for what we’ve got to offer and make it interesting to other humans.
You’ve spoken before about some of the trials and difficulties of an early start-up. Can you talk a little about the challenges you faced? What advice might you have for future entrepreneurs at that stage?
I’m a hyper-technical guy! I’m an engineer. I did my undergrad in mechatronic systems; I worked on robotics and video games. What you find is all those are really good at creating solutions to problems, but they’re not particularly great at helping you run a business successfully. Problems include starting the company off without speaking to enough customers upfront, without going through a day or two in the life of a customer. One of the first companies I worked on, we had to pivot in 30 days once we came out to the market. We found that we had the right solution, but were delivering it in the wrong way. Another problem is a lot of technical people go out and start a business without selling. Imagine you spend a year building something after interviewing 20 customers, and at the end of that year, none of those customers committed to you. Remember, this is all about business. Business is building solutions to problems people have, but you also need the commitment from the people in the form of payment to know that you’re down the right path.
Take me through an average day at Beam.
My day starts usually at 4:30 in the morning. I wake up, and then I have my first meeting with part of our team that is based out in Bangalore. We talk about development, design, support, and then I get about two hours to work on my stuff.
Once it gets to about 8 o’clock, I start having meetings with my local Toronto team. Then, I usually have meetings with customers, advisors, or fundraisers. Once my meeting crunch goes, I then get back to being able to focus on the things that I want to do, whether it’s making my own outbound sales outreach, creating sequences in communications for clients, or — when I have to — writing software to help our team get over a hump. I am a hyper-technical founder for this company. We don’t have any CTO above me, or Chief Product Officer, so I wear multiple hats, and I have to juggle them as I see fit.
What would you say are the most important traits for entrepreneurship?
There are different kinds of entrepreneurs. There are people who build businesses from a lifestyle perspective. They want to have a certain amount of money and live comfortably for themselves and their families, and that’s completely valid. It’s a fantastic company. But there are also start-up entrepreneurs. If you want to be either of the two, the bottom line is, you’ve got to have communication skills. If your customers don’t understand you, if your team doesn’t understand you, you can’t build a team, you can’t get customers, you can’t get investors.
Number two, you’ve got to spend time networking. One thing I tell people is don’t do it alone. I know some of us are kind of like Rambo — that one person who shows up and changes everything. That’s usually not how it works. You might be the sole founder, but you always need a team. You always need to have people who have skills complimentary to yours, so never go alone. Network as hard as you can and get people to commit.
Then, third, if you’re a founder, you’ve got to be persistent. You’re going to run out of money. You’re going to screw a lot of things up. Keep running, because the only way for a company to fail is for the founder to give up.
Kenny Hedges | Contributing Writer