Q&A with JJ Xu, CEO of TalkMeUp, winner of Great Solutions UpPrize by Forbes Fund competition for technology solutions that impact the lives of vulnerable populations and/or nonprofit service delivery.
TalkMeUp.co is AI-based communication and interview training software to help improve skills.
JP: What first inspired TalkMeUp?
JJ: I did a survey among my MBA classmates at the end of my MBA first year. People ranked communication training among the top valuable resources offered by MBA program. However the way such training was offered wasn’t optimal; most of the students reported they couldn’t get sufficient coaching. — Witnessing and feeling their struggles inspired me to create a better solution to help.
JP: What steps are you going to take next, after winning the grand-prize of the social innovation challenge UpPrize by Forbes Fund?
JJ: Launching Program H to serve the nonprofits that help marginalized population on language, communication and career development.
JP: What is your background and experience, and did you always expect to be working on AI or a business like this?
JJ: I have an academic background in EECS, got my B.S and M.S in Microelectronics at Peking University. And I just graduated from CMU this year, MBA. I also worked 4 years in telecommunications industry as a sales manager.
I did my first startup in 2012 in China when I had my first Masters. I failed the first time. But it has always been a life goal to be an entrepreneur.
JP: How can people use this to train for interviews or public speaking?
JJ: They just select a specific scenario, speak to the camera, and they’ll get instant feedback detailed in a rubric.
JP: Can people use this to learn how to talk to people in the workplace without unintentionally offending or insulting them?
JJ: Yes. And we will add more advanced content analysis soon.
JP: Can people use this if they have a very heavy accent?
JJ: Accent is OK so long as they articulate.
JP: If you are going to offer it for free to underprivileged sectors, how are you going to then charge corporations?
JJ: The underprivileged sectors will use free product under Program H. We charge corporations for training analytics.
JP: Can this AI be swayed in it’s learning process by specific cultural biases?
JJ: It can, in the future.
JP: In Los Angeles for example, cultural sensitivity is of utmost importance, whereas in New York de-sensitivity and being as upfront and forthright as possible is of utmost importance. Things that are said freely in the East Coast will immediately offend someone in the West Coast. How does AI account for those kind of detailed cultural discrepancies?
JJ: The rubrics with which our AI analyzes the user performance are audience oriented, which means a presenter’s delivery should meet the target audience’s decision making criteria. Different cultures share the similar, if not the same criteria within the same scenario (i.e. client presentation); it is the optimal values are different across cultures (i.e. Americans make more eye contact than people from other cultures) — Our AI is very scalable thus can adjust the differences across cultures.
JP: What has been the biggest unexpected challenge for you so far?
JJ: AWS was down at Prime Day, the day when we were upgrading our product for the live demo next day :p
JP: If you had no limitations or restrictions whatsoever, what would you do with TalkMeUp?
JJ: I don’t think there is a world with no limitations or restrictions. Personally, I think it is the restrictions and limitations that have kept us focused and progressive. I don’t think any company can survive in an ecosystem with no limits. :)
Big thanks to JJ for taking the time to Q&A! You can learn more or keep up at TalkMeUp.co