Is the rise of artificial intelligence profoundly changing what it means to work? AI is all around us, and its applications run from the mundane to the fantastic. But many are questioning the growing symbiosis between machines and humans. As machines begin to manage more of our professional lives, are we at risk of losing our human connection?
For Growbots CEO Greg Pietruszynski, the answer is a firm “no.” His company’s mission is to use AI to revolutionize the sales industry – and he’s clear that this doesn’t mean selling will be done by robots. Quite the opposite, in fact.
When he and Co-Founder Luke Deke started Growbots as a lead generation agency in 2014, they did so with the mission of making rapid growth a possibility for SMBs, bypassing expensive sales team and huge ad budgets. Three years later the company is on track for a $4m AAR with their AI-backed sales automation process. In the process, they continue to give their customers the one thing that salespeople truly need – more time to build real relationships.
It’s a refreshing take on artificial intelligence and how humans can use it, and Pietruszynski wants us to learn more.
The company you founded back in 2014 looks quite different today. What were the real turning points for you and the team?
Pietruszynski: We started awfully lean back in May of 2014, that’s true. We began as a lead generation agency, aiming to really understand the process and the data behind successful lead gen. The work we did laid the groundwork for Growbots; we were able to validate our process with real customers before creating the prototype for an automated platform.
One of our first big goals was to get into a U.S.-based accelerator. We were interviewed by YCombinator, but our prototype wasn’t ready yet so we weren’t accepted. It was worth the effort though. We got some really valuable feedback that helped us raise money to expand our product team, and get that prototype ready.
Three months later, in January of 2015, we were invited to join the 500 Startups Accelerator in San Francisco, which was an amazing experience, both personally and as a business team. There were two things that made that really exciting. We were the first ever Polish company in the program, and we were the first company to be accepted prior to launch. We actually released our beta version of Growbots during 500 Startups Demo Day in May of 2015! That was when we knew we had a vision, and a product, that would unlock growth potential for any business, in any market.
Your program relies heavily on AI and machine learning; what does that look for the customer?
Pietruszynski: It starts when the customer tells us who their perfect customer is, the exact kind and type of person/industry/team/organization that needs and loves what they offer. Then, two things happen. We comb through our data files; we are constantly scanning millions of sites and profiles, extracting data points.
We use machine learning to look at your previous marketing messages, and also millions of other campaigns, and do a deep analysis of the exact type of person who responds best to your message. Then, we fill your pipeline with more of those ideal people.
It’s really quite simple for our customers. They are still in control of their marketing message, although we offer lots of good advice and guidance, the final content is up to them. We make it possible to connect with vastly more people in a day than any salesperson could on their own.
You say your company is all about making new connections. What about the people who say AI is actually making us less connected, having conversations with chatbots, etc.?
Pietruszynski: It really comes down to how you use the technology, right?
I firmly believe that salespeople are, generally speaking, really good at building relationships with other people. It’s probably what led them to sales in the first place. We don’t aim to disrupt that. What our technology does is give them more time to have those human conversations, because they aren’t spending their days slogging through data to find leads, score them, and deal with the day-to-day administration of managing a pipeline. That’s all automated, so the salesperson can build those relationships. Our customers have more time for real human connection. That’s the difference between what we offer and what some of the other bot models have.
You have an interesting take on AI and how it works; in fact you’ve mentioned Elon Musk and his AI work at Tesla as a model. Can you give us your insights there?
Pietruszynski: What I’ve come to understand is that there are two distinct parts to creating a successful artificial intelligence app: there’s the data, and there’s the algorithm. Most AI researchers will tell you that getting enough meaningful data is 90 per cent of the challenge. If you try to create a successful algorithm before you have enough data, you’ll be much slower in getting the meaningful results you need.
I look at the difference between Tesla Motors, which is right now collecting data from every single Tesla on the road, and Google, which is getting data from a handful of prototypes. Tesla is able to incrementally improve their product, one algorithm at a time, while Google is trying to complete an end-to-end solution with limited data.
We definitely follow the Tesla approach in our own product. More data means better results. You can’t learn inside a closed-loop.
What’s next for you? Any new opportunities you’re excited about?
Pietruszynski: We had an amazing 2016 – revenue grew by something like 1,200 per cent last year, and we opened up a new office in Cleveland. In May this year our numbers guys told me we hit a huge financial milestone, with a $4m AAR.
As we continue to grow, we take a very machine learning approach to this, carefully looking at all the data, and making intelligent decisions on where to grow next. I love coming to work every day, and hearing how our product is literally changing the lives and fortunes of SMBs, helping them scale in incredible ways. For me, that’s what this is all for.