CleverSense – Babak Pahlavan – 2 of 2

"You're allowed to fail, but recover quickly, learn and move forward fast." Cleversense's mobile app is the “Pandora" for the real world.

Matthew: Are there any neat metrics or social proof about Clever Sense that you’d like to share with the audience?

Babak: Well, there’s lots that’s going on with the platform itself. We just recently launched with the public on July 15, and the product we put out, it actually started accelerating the downloads so much that the server capacity was overloaded and we had to add more servers. So, it’s been pretty crazy. People started teaching this beyond our expectation. Because initially we’re talking about a…we call him Alfred, it’s a personal robot. You can teach him about things. What we’re introducing this concept of you can teach him and say that these are places that I like for dinner or drinks or night clubs and whatever and you find other things that match your taste.

And they’re finding out that people are just getting obsessive about making sure that they teach him about everything that they know that they like so he can find other things that match their tastes. And just in a matter of less than a month, we’ve done over five and a half million recommendations we’ve produced, 2 million likes we’ve generated, and a lot of other things that really exceeded our expectations. A lot of people told us that, “No, no, no, people don’t want to do the work, they want to always just be given the results and then just make it super easy.”

And we did make it super easy, the teaching elements of the version that we put out is, the third version actually. It’s fun, it’s kind of quirky, it’s kind of gamey. It’s a bit of a game mechanic built into it, but the people that are into this kind of thing are really resonant with that. Yeah, I’ll teach how to but next time I’m on the go, I want to think of [inaudible 02:01] you think of what matters to me and I just want to press the button. It’s been a pleasant surprise.

Matthew: We know founders face unique challenges when they decide to launch a company. What was the most difficult part and biggest obstacle about launching Clever Sense, and how did you overcome the obstacle?

Babak: I guess the startup as a whole. There’s a lot of times- it’s a puzzle, it’s a massive puzzle but it’s dynamic, it’s always changing so you’re always in a mode of solving problems, and you have to get real comfortable with just facing issues and solving them and just moving on. That should be your mind set.

And at launch, internally this was the fourth generation of the product itself, and we still had doubts. Is this the right one that we’re going to go out with? Is this the time that we’re going to go out with? Should we wait another month? Are our servers performance good enough? And then, basically we did a lot of user testing before we launched and we got it to a point where we said, you know what? It’s good enough. We’ve got the 80/20 rule down, 80% satisfaction [inaudible 03:11]. Let’s just put it out there and see what happens. And then, that’s what it is.

You have to be in constant state of moving. This is my belief. If you’re analyzing way too much, it’s going to create a paralysis. Those are generally not the type of things that…you have to do enough analysis, but then I’d much rather have you still move than still.

Matthew: Lots of people admire entrepreneurs because they appear to make starting companies look easy, we know it can be very difficult. My question for you is: what talent or skills come easily or intuitively for you? What has been difficult, and how do you manage that?

Babak: I don’t know, that’s a tough question. All of us are good at certain things, and we’re not good at certain other things. One of the things that my best friend, my advisor, my investor, who has taught me early on that it’s very important to know what you don’t know so that you can go find others that would actually be able to help you out with those. Generally speaking from a technical side, I’m very good at data mining and product creation and team management and those kind of things, and conceiving things and doing them I’m quick, I’m very fast, I’m very comfortable at doing many, many things at the same time.

But to build a company, it takes a lot more things to actually build a company not just a simple little one shot thing, especially the types of complexes we’re trying to solve. Think about it, it’s a platform, there’s AI involved, there’s machinery, there’s data, there’s the user interface itself, there’s the messaging, there’s what is it you want to do? What is the mission statement of the company as a whole? And for a lot of those things, I think how we overcame it was that we surrounded ourselves with a lot of smart advisors and a lot of good people.

Our team, we’ve been through a painstaking process and really gathered the best of the best. Our team right now feels like family, we are always at the office. Fridays, we have group workout, we go work out and our personal trainer works out, we offer workout, we have a professional masseuse who comes and gives a massage to everybody and these types of people, they help you think better. They challenge you, they aren’t yes men or women, they’re not those. They would challenge you, and I think it’s very important to surround yourselves with individuals that will complete you, that compliment you, that are really much, much better at other things you aren’t necessarily good at. And that’s what we did to solve a lot of issues that we had before.

Matthew: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned since launching Clever Sense?

Babak: I think this alludes to the previous question actually. When you look at companies from the outside, they make it look easy. “Oh yeah, we just got together, a bunch of people and then we just coded a bunch of stuff and then put out a product and it was this smashing success.” It’s usually not the case. There’s a lot of iteration involved, there’s a lot of failure internally and externally, and you have to get comfortable with the idea of failure. It’s OK. Failure is OK. You’re allowed to fail but recover fast and learn and then move on and don’t make the same mistakes again.

I think that’s very key as an institution, as a code of conduct at Clever Sense, because that’s how we started ourselves, from 2008 to 2010 I lost count how many times our stuff failed completely, but we had to do stuff from scratch. We had to find a technology, we had to find a product, there was so many problems but this idea of never giving up, always focusing and understanding that that’s part of the process. Iteration is absolutely key.

You’ve seen it in the companies, such as Google, Facebook, Apple. They are iterating like heck. To put out a product, there’s all kind of analytics involved and all this monitoring. What are the things that are working, what are the things that are not working? And then get comfortable with the idea of failing, recovering quickly, move on and then just do this process a hundred more times until you achieve the metrics that you are trying to achieve.

Matthew: What bit of advice do you wish you would have known before launching Clever Sense?

Babak: I mean, I knew this but now I feel it more and understand it more. Building companies, especially startups in the tech world, it’s a lifestyle. It’s not a job. These kind of things, you’re in it 24/7. You have to be at the point in your life that, first of all, this has to be really your passion, otherwise it just won’t work. You have to be so much enthusiastic about it. You have to have so much enthusiasm about it that it has to consume you.

A lot of people actually call it borderline obsession, borderline insanity. Because most sane individuals, after failing 40-50 times, they just give up. Let’s move on, just change course. You have to have this inherent belief that what you’re doing makes sense, creates value, and is going to solve something for the world. You’re going to do something that will leave a mark so it’s worth fighting for. When you fail, just pick up again and go at it again over and over and over until you reach it.

The challenge, a lot of people don’t know it. They can hear about it, but they won’t fully understand until they start doing it themselves. That’s why a lot of startup CEOs when they get together, it’s an instant bond because they understand the challenges more than people who haven’t done it before.

Matthew: What mentor has played a significant impact in your development?

Babak: We’ve been very fortunate actually in that regard. We’ve had plenty of people Certainly my advisor, Professor Jeff Ullman, who was my advisor at Stanford has been instrumental. He told us early on that I was just thinking about doing this at Stanford. He was like, “You might be up to something really big, go out there, try it out, if it doesn’t work out, come back.” When your own advisor tells you something like that, it really shifts your direction, your mindset about that it’s OK to take a chance. It’s OK to get out there. A lot of people would give up and get out and jump into the wild and just try something that’s unproven. Why would you do that?

But getting to meet these sort of individuals, such as Jeff, I mean it’s very, not only inspirational, but it’s also very heartwarming to see that there are still these kind of people- there’s plenty of them actually- that they want to bet on the young generation, and they want to see that we can build stuff and create value and we can do the right things. So, Jeff Ullman certainly was one of them.

There were another set of folks that came out of [inaudible 10:44]. He stood with us for over a year and watched out progress, and he helped us raise our funds. He’s been absolutely amazing, he’s the CEO of [inaudible 10:58] Corporation. He’s extremely busy, but every time I have a question or issue, he’s always a phone call away. He’s been calling from Geneva. He’s been all over the world and he calls me and says, “What’s going on, is there anything you need help with?”

And these kind of individuals that they become your mentors, it’s very, very important to surround yourself with these kind of people and to be lucky enough to be able to be mentored by them because these are the kind of people that they make you think that when I grow up, I want to be like them. I want to do exact things that they are doing. It’s very powerful to be surrounded by these kind of people. They genuinely want to help you and they can help you and they put their time with you.

Also, they take a chance with you. They would let you run and see if you succeed, and even if you fall down they say it’s OK, get up, get going again, learn. Let’s move on; let’s keep going. It’s very important to have this kind of individual, this type of individuals around you to help you succeed.

Matthew: What advice would you like to share with our audience about launching a startup? If you have to distill it, what are the key elements?

Babak: More than probably anything else, I would say if you’re at a point in your life that you can take some risks and you have an idea and you think there’s some sort of value to it. The best suggestion I have is just do it. Just do it, just get out there and do it. We are living in a universe that the pace of innovation is just skyrocketing. You can get cloud computing, you can get servers literally on pennies, and it used to cost thousands of dollars. You have access to so much information. You want to learn iOS? Just pick up a book and download some examples and learn how to do it. Want to learn PHP? It’s at a point that access to information, access to computing power and access to talented people is…there’s plethora of these elements.

If you have an idea and if you feel like you can go for it, take a stab at it, go for it. If nothing else, it’s going to be one of the best learning experiences of your life. Because you’re going to do something that is out of ordinary. And you’re going to learn so many other angles of other essentially attributes that are required to build a company. Unless you do it, you’re not going to learn it.

Matthew: Before we close, I would like you to give our audience your vision for Clever Sense and how you hope it will change the world.

Babak: Our mission is to curate the world around you. The information delivery, the mechanics are in place, its old school searching terms and what not, that’s going to change significantly, and you are going to go to the era in which AI engines can actually learn from us and they can actually help be there when we need them, and help us to distill down our choice and figure out how to save us time, how to find out best things for us. And really help us to live better and really enjoy life at a different level. So we will never miss out and we are always taken care of.

So, you’re going to see that and that could be your smart phone, that could be your car, it could be even walk into a mall to have this friend to actually tell you, hey these couple things that are on sale, one of them is really going to match your taste. You should definitely pay attention to it. We’re going to see artificial intelligence play a much, much bigger role in our lives over the next decade or so, and we’re going to be a big part of that story as we move forward.

Matthew: Babak, it’s been a pleasure having you as a guest on FounderLY. We’re rooting for your continued success at Clever Sense. For those in our audience who would like to learn more, you can visit their website at and download their mobile app.

Babak: Thank you so much. Thanks for having us. It’s really a pleasure.

Matthew: Thank you.

Babak: Thank you.


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