Zayd Enam dropped out of his PhD program at Stanford to co-found Cresta with his teammates Sebastian Thrun and Tim Shi at the university’s AI labs. The team had been busy researching the use of AI to improve human performance of tasks, which could greatly improve humanity and society.
In May 2015, Zayd Enam and his team discovered that they had finally discovered an app “that made business sense and where AI had tremendous impact.” With some convincing from Thrun, Zayd decided to drop out of the PhD program and start his own company. And so, Cresta was born.
With Cresta, Zayd Enam says his goal is to help “humans do better and build better relationships.” So, what does Cresta do?
Zayd Enam says that using Cresta’s AI software, their clients’ sales and support teams will receive “personalized” coaching in real-time that could help them provoke positive changes in behavior every time they interact with a customer. Also, Cresta writes coaching plans that fits each agent’s skills, strengths, and weaknesses, while teaching them critical skills that would help them achieve better results.
At Cresta, Zayd Enam has found an effective way to use AI as a complement to workers, and not their replacement. Currently, the company processes 100 million conversations every year. They have also been cited 100,000 times by prestigious Machine Learning journals. So far, the company’s investors have also funded 27 multibillion-dollar companies.
Jerome Knyszewski: What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Zayd Enam: The real-time effect is what we’re most proud of at Cresta. Our platform understands conversations as they happen, then offers recommendations and coaching to improve performance for agents. This is a tough approach to take in AI — we don’t just automate tasks, but rather use what AI is good at to analyze data and help people improve at their jobs.
Jerome Knyszewski: Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Zayd Enam: It has to start with personal wellbeing. Look at things that bring you energy, because energy isn’t a zero-sum game. What you do personally that brings you energy brings you energy at work. If you’re happy at home, it makes you happier at work. Invest in both.
Understand yourself. What brings you energy? For me, that’s working out, eating healthy, connecting with family and friends, and at work, it’s working on creative ideas, making customers successful, and solving a hard problem.
Jerome Knyszewski: None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Zayd Enam: There are two people I need to thank. I’ve already mentioned Sebastian Thrun, who is my mentor and still Cresta’s executive chairman.
The second is Tim Shi, my co-founder at Cresta and the company’s current CTO.
Jerome Knyszewski: Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The Pandemic has changed many aspects of all of our lives. One of them is the fact that so many of us have gotten used to shopping almost exclusively online. Can you share a few examples of different ideas that eCommerce businesses are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?
Zayd Enam: Because we’re shifting almost exclusively online, that means that demand is skyrocketing. Right now, eCommerce is trying to reckon with seismic shifts in shipping, frustrated customers, and more. Addressing all these issues can be done by being upfront with customers and preparing your teams to respond to those common questions.
Jerome Knyszewski: Amazon, and even Walmart are going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise retail companies and eCommerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?
Zayd Enam: Having a strong product at this point is table stakes for success. What now matters is the rest of your customer’s touch points. How do they interact with your brand? The more they trust your brand — the more they have a positive experience with your brand through all of those touchpoints — the more likely you are to enjoy success.
Jerome Knyszewski: What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start an eCommerce business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Zayd Enam: The most common mistake I see is not having that systematic approach. Early adoption is great. Having a good product is essential. But the more you’re able to understand the entire business model — or assemble a team around you that works in conjunction with you — then the likelier you are to succeed.
Jerome Knyszewski: In your experience, which aspect of running an eCommerce brand tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
Zayd Enam: Outsourcing their support. Too often, I’ve seen approaches essentially forget about support or chat functions, but U.S. companies lose more than $62 billion annually due to poor customer service (source). Each conversation is an opportunity to make or break your brand.
Jerome Knyszewski: One of the main benefits of shopping online is the ability to read reviews. Consumers love it! While good reviews are of course positive for a brand, poor reviews can be very damaging. In your experience what are a few things a brand should do to properly and effectively respond to poor reviews? How about other unfair things said online about a brand?
- Being responsive and showing the brand cares is important.
- Trying to remedy the situation quickly and efficiently is key.
- Using that feedback to understand what went wrong and how to improve the business is crucial.
- You can’t make every customer happy but you can learn from a poor review and build on top of it.
- You learn more from poor reviews than from the good ones.
Jerome Knyszewski: You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Zayd Enam: Using AI to benefit the healthcare industry which would also include the strained mental health industry would be a movement I would get behind and back. For example, making it easier for people in distress to quickly have a conversation — from 911 calls to suicide hotlines and domestic violence incidents. Humans and technology can make true strides in healthcare and mental health in particular.
Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?
Zayd Enam: You can find me on:
Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!