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Building Tempo AI: SRI’s Newest Spin-Off Wants to Smarten Your Calendar
Feb 15, 2013
L-R: Tempo AI co-founders Thierry Donneau-Golencer (AI Lead),
Raj Singh (CEO), and Corey Hulen (CTO)
Tempo Smart Calendar for iPhone pulls everything you need for your next event and makes your calendar actionable, saving time and increasing productivity
When I joined SRI Ventures as an entrepreneur-in-residence (EIR) in 2011, I thought I would develop an idea, recruit my co-founders, and build a product within the first six months. As I’ve experienced, the path from incubation to startup took quite a different journey than the one I had planned.
As an EIR, I focused initially on developing a product that would bring together data such as email, documents, and contacts that are typically scattered across one’s personal cloud and present these data as a dashboard on a tablet designed for salespeople. The product would solve a pain point that I had experienced first-hand. Like most business development and salespeople, I had information and notes everywhere, but no central hub on which to access these resources—resulting in lost productivity and stressful moments.
I started developing the concept through a series of paper prototypes and interviewed many sales and business development professionals over several months. Customer development is an art, and I refined my process as I went along. Coming to meetings prepared with a series of paper prototypes and specific questions paid huge dividends, allowing me to spend more time listening than talking. Often, the interviewee would look at the prototypes and provide their input on what would make for their own perfect experience.
As the venture was incubating at SRI, I recruited my brilliant co-founders, Corey Hulen of Microsoft and Thierry Donneau-Golencer of SRI’s Artificial Intelligence Center. Recruiting is difficult—and finding just the right partners for a new venture is even more of a challenge. But through a combination of serendipity and just plain luck, our three different backgrounds molded together perfectly. I had spent the greater part of my career in mobile, Corey in big data, and Thierry in AI. We didn’t know it at the time, but this was the ideal combination of experiences that would help us develop and execute our new venture: Tempo AI.
As Tempo’s value proposition and initial concept came together, with much help and guidance from the SRI Ventures team, we began to understand how to apply SRI technologies to solve the industry needs we wanted to address. We met with SRI researchers involved in the Cognitive Assistant that Learns and Organizes (CALO) and Virtual Personal Assistant (VPA) projects. We looked at source code, demos, and patents—eventually gaining the tribal knowledge that you can only get from speaking with those who have lived and breathed such research. This interaction enabled us to quickly understand which technologies we needed and how we could leverage them to effectively connect the dots. The concept of “connecting dots” actually led to much of the inspiration behind Tempo and even the design of our logo—we connect the dots by pulling your data together.
We began building a prototype that leveraged SRI’s natural language processing, AI, and semantic technologies. Our prototype connected with users’ data and enabled natural language (i.e., semantic) search against this data. The process required significant re-writing and some re-architecting, but we successfully leveraged key frameworks, concepts, and code from SRI.
In parallel, we began shaping our investor pitch and iterating it multiple times with the additional help of SRI’s Commercialization Board. If you haven’t been through this before, the “pitch,” more so than anything else, is a constant work-in-progress, and something we probably iterated upon dozens of times as our value proposition became clearer and our understanding of the market improved. Soon thereafter, we achieved our key milestones and ultimately spun out of SRI in January 2012.
With investment capital in hand, we dove in, recruited a core team, and started building. They say you often start in Place X and end up in Place Y only after exploring Places A, B, and C. Well, this is precisely what happened. We learned and realized very quickly that much of the information that we wanted to surface was directly related to a calendar: meetings, lunches, conference calls, flights, birthdays, etc. And so we asked; what if we surface what Tempo finds next to your calendar events? What if we then take this a step further and assist you with the common calendar workflows that you experience daily? With that, Tempo Smart Calendar was born, an assistant focused on your day. The more you use Tempo, the smarter it gets! And the beauty is that it’s not only useful to just to salespeople, but to anyone who needs to plan their day more effectively.
Tempo pulls together all the information you need to prepare for your next event and makes it actionable: it makes it a “Do Engine.”
The calendar is a launch pad into other apps on your smart phone. With the native calendar, you typically would look at a meeting and then independently open the maps app, or the phone book, or email, to accomplish related tasks. Tempo Smart Calendar saves you those clicks, increases your productivity, and reduces your stress by putting it all there in a beautiful and functional mobile calendar experience. Underneath the hood, we are using sophisticated semantic search and AI technologies to score and determine what is relevant.
Since our spin-out, we have grown our team to seven (and counting!), and built a series of alpha and beta versions that we continue to test with a larger and larger group. Tempo Smart Calendar for iPhone 1.0 is available in the App Store. We encourage you to check it out: download Tempo Smart Calendar
Most importantly, I look forward to your feedback. Please email me directly at raj [at] tempo [dot] ai. Your feedback matters most as we continue to improve and evolve the Tempo Smart Calendar experience.