An Interview With Raj Singh Founder And CEO Of Tempo AI
Raj Singh is a mobile industry veteran having worked across the space over the past 13 years. Raj is the Founder and CEO of Tempo AI focused on developing a smart calendar. Tempo AI was spun-out of SRI (Stanford Research Institute) where Raj served as an EIR (Entrepreneur in Residence). Previously, Raj was the founding Vice President of Business Development for Skyfire, a mobile browser that supports full Flash rendering. Prior to Skyfire, Raj co-founded venture-funded Veeker, NBC’s mobile video citizen journalism service and ToneThis, CNET’s top downloaded ringtone creation product.
Raj has also worked in product management, engineering, strategy and consulting roles for Kodak Mobile, Dell Mobile, Cellmania, MobiTV, PlayPhone, Tellme, Samsung, Turk Telekom, IGT, Hungama Mobile, Vlingo and Antenna Software. Raj’s personal projects include GameChalk, an SMS multi-player game service, Pubwalk, an LBS bar-hopping service and Wired Mashup of the Year winner in 2006 and YumYum Labs, an Android recipe voice search application and Sprint App 4G Challenge winner. Raj is also a mobile advisor to numerous companies including Movoxx, Nearverse, TinyTube, LocalResponse, Textopoly, Knocking Video and also an investor via ENIAC Ventures.
Raj is a regular mobile writer and speaker including formal and guest blogging for GotoMobile, Venturebeat, O’reilly Emerging Telephony and VisionMobile. Raj is a mentor at 500 Startups, MobileMonday Momentum, Stained Glass Labs, Orange Labs and Founder Labs and has also made contributions to a number of mobile user and expert groups including the JCP, MMA and the Bluetooth SIG. For more information, please see www.rajansingh.com.
Can you briefly describe about your company & the offerings?
Raj Singh Founder And CEO Of Tempo AI – Incubated at SRI International (makers of the mouse, Siri and other technologies), Tempo AI develops Tempo Smart Calendar which is a next generation personal assistant focused on your day. Tempo connects with your data and then enhances your calendar with additional information to make you better prepared for what’s next. Example enhancements could include displaying relevant email and documents, LinkedIn and photos about the attendees, Yelp and FourSquare details about the meeting location and much more.
In addition to pulling together all the information you need, Tempo makes your calendar actionable by providing 1-tap actions to save you valuable time. Example actions include auto-dialing into a conference call or instantly letting someone know you are running late or even viewing the drive time to the meeting location.
As you continue to use Tempo, it learns and improves like a real personal assistant and increasingly becomes more proactive with smarter suggestions and actions pushed to you. To provide this experience, Tempo leverages unique AI and machine learning technologies licensed from SRI. Tempo was launched into the App Store in Feb ’13 and has received rave reviews. Tempo is backed by Tier 1 VCs and is based at SRI in Menlo Park, CA.
What do you currently do?
Raj Singh Founder And CEO Of Tempo AI – As CEO, my job is to make sure we execute! Execution is a combination of many things but includes setting goals, articulating a vision, recruiting and motivatingtop talent, putting out fires, iterating, learning as well as failing and much more, all as fast as we can. Tactically, each of those items translates to a ranges of things and as a CEO, you are often pulled in many directions but you ultimately need to normalize everything and focus on the number 1 priority.
At present, much of my time is spent thinking about product and working to improve product execution speed and so I spend my days speaking with customers but also observing process and tweaking along the way. Just like your product, you can A/B test with processes and meetings and it’s amazing how much more efficient you can make things!
Can you summarize how your role has taken different dimensions as the company evolved?
Raj Singh Founder And CEO Of Tempo AI – As mentioned above, my job is to identify and focus on the #1 priority and that priority does change day-to-day. At the beginning, I spent significant time on recruiting, maybe 25-35% of my hours just sending and cold-emailing and meeting people on LinkedIn and via the network.
Quickly that morphed into product development and more importantly stepping-in where we needed help which was QA early-on and so I spent countless hours just testing and filing bugs. At the same time, I was speaking with customers, collecting feedback and translating it into the product roadmap.
As we approached launch, my time shifted to launch preparation which included everything from thinking about press strategy to App Store optimization. And this pattern just continued, whether it was fund-raising, scaling, process and more. CEOs have to be able to identify priorities, focus but be able to task switch like swiss-army knives.
How has been your experience of reaching out to potential investors?
Raj Singh Founder And CEO Of Tempo AI – They say the more investors you know, the worse you are at fund-raising because it means you are pitching a lot! Well, I know a lot of investors 🙂 Without writing an essay on my experience, my key learning was that the process does change. Having been part of a team that raised money 5 years ago was not actually that relevant to my most recent fund-raising experience this past Spring.
Fundraising has its own patterns and what might be resonating in the venture community is in constant flux. At present in our new Angel/Seed/Incubator economy, business and/or product momentum is critical to fund-raising and arguably 90% whereastechnology may only be 10% although they will likely state the contrary. My best advice is to speak to others who have raised money and ideally at a similar stage (eg Seed, Series A) and those that have raised more recently as they will be able to provide more relevant feedback than those that raised in the 90s Dot Com boom, for example.
Tell us about the culture of your company. What insights have you had about culture as the company has grown?
Raj Singh Founder And CEO Of Tempo AI – As a company grows, politics, middle management, processes will all emerge. When your company is less than 10 people, you can keep everyone in the same room and there is very high transparency and arguably almost everyone can be involved to some degree in the decision making process. When you grow to 25, it becomes inefficient to send mass emails and some want be involved but others don’t like meetings and so sharing while keeping everyone focused becomes more challenging. As you grow to 50, you begin creating your first layer of management and this introduces a new set of challenges because egos and politics can start coming into play.
No matter what size, I have followed a simple philosophy – be accessible and be transparent. CEOs that are not accessible and/or approachable creates information and communication gaps. Similarly, CEOs that air-brush or sell even internally is not productive. Being straight-forward and being there to speak to will return dividends to your team culture.
What are some of the difficulties you faced while building your product/ solution?
Raj Singh Founder And CEO Of Tempo AI – Tempo is a product built on AI and machine learning. An interesting challenge with all machine learning products is the constant balance between providing relevant and irrelevant suggestions. Too many irrelevant suggestions results in noisy experience but being too strict may mean that the correct suggestion isn’t returned at all.
As a result, this requires a lot of human testing. Whereas normally there is a “correct” answer, in this case, the weighting of suggestions is more of a “what feels right.” In addition, the volume of data makes this tuning very difficult – it’s akin to Google trying to develop a system to QA search quality and results. We ultimately built some custom processes and approaches to help mitigate this problem but it was certainly a product challenge and a new learning since I was new to the AI domain.
What is your advice for fellow entrepreneurs?
Raj Singh Founder And CEO Of Tempo AI – I meet many folks with ideas but they are often not much further than that. They are talking to potential customers and collecting feedback but they are ultimately stuck in analysis paralysis. Until you start building, you can’t start learning.
I believe that at idea phase, you can only learn really small things like whether a category is hot or not but once you have a product (eg an Alpha/Beta), you can learn bigger things. And even more exciting is that once you have 10K+ users, you can learn really big things. Your ultimate goal is to learn as fast as you can and to learn big things. To do this, you need to start building and see where the road takes you.
I often start with a category (eg I want to build a better calculator). I then start building not knowing where it’s going to take me. As I build, I start learning, iterating, testing and I find some niche that I had never even thought about. This pattern is almost always the case – you plan to go from point A to B but end-up at C and this is a good thing!
Looking back, are there things you would have done differently?
Raj Singh Founder And CEO Of Tempo AI – Retrospectives are always hard because you can never predict the future. There are certainly some tactical things that we may have done differently. For example, we should have probably spent more time load testing since we had a lot of ops type problems with launch. We probably could have also simplified some of our product decisions and we could have taken some different engineering design approaches but all this aside, it wouldn’t be a retrospective unless we went through it.
As a CEO, you have to use all the data you have and make the best decision at that time. It’s better to make a wrong decision than to make no decision which you often see in larger companies where a decision may be deferred for years. We definitely made some wrong decisions but we ultimately executed and that’s what mattered.
If I went back, there isn’t much I would have done differently.