Meet the CEO on a mission to democratize Artificial Intelligence

  • Sameer Maskey, who founded Fusemachines, says he wants to build an organization that could make a bigger impact.

Aug 27, 2018-

Artificial Intelligence fascinated Sameer Maskey ever since his undergraduate days while pursuing his bachelor’s degree in Math and Physics from Bates College in the US, he was already conducting AI research. Then, he decided to pursue a PhD in Computer Science focused on AI at Columbia University. After completing his PhD, he joined the IBM Watson Research Center, where he came up with various statistical algorithms to improve speech-to-speech translation and question answering systems. Maskey left IBM after five years and started teaching as an adjunct assistant professor at Columbia University where he now teaches various courses such as Deep Learning, AI for Business, and Programming for Entrepreneurs. In 2013, Maskey started Fusemachines as founder and CEO as he wanted to take his research and experience and build a company that could make a bigger impact. In this interview with the Post’s Alisha Sijapati, Maskey talks about how technology can help budding entrepreneurs run a business and how AI has changed HR and talent management. Excerpts:

Fusemachines has four stations in the US, Canada, the Dominican Republic and Nepal. What systems are in place to allow seamless collaboration between these offices and what can other companies learn to streamline their own operations?

Communication is an important factor to manage if you are a multi-national, multi-time zone company. Our offices run almost 24 hours a day with the office in Nepal leaving for the day as the New York office comes to work. Hence, understanding what a team in the other office has already accomplished on a given project and communicating that is important. We use various tools and internal frameworks to keep the offices around the world feel part of the same company. One such tool is Workplace by Facebook which allows people to share not just their projects but also about personal accomplishments and wishes. Other tools we use are Slack, Workchat and Zoom. We have also built an internal platform that allow teams to keep track of projects and key KPIs through dashboards that let managers across countries communicate without having to request information about every minor report. This keeps the whole company on the same page. Internally, we encourage everyone to communicate whenever they feel the need.

How has AI changed the way HR and talent management do their work?

AI has added another dimension to human resources. Recruiters can get a more complete candidate profile from various data sources and make better hiring decisions. Human bias will be minimised and the ‘right’ candidate can be selected. Instead of spending precious time on repetitive/low-value tasks such as onboarding, holiday leave allocation, etc, HR managers can focus on mentoring and collecting feedback. AI can also help streamline performance reviews and provide meaningful insights. We will see such AI solutions being deployed in more companies in the future.

How does technology help budding entrepreneurs in their businesses?

Someone once said that building a startup is like jumping off a plane and building a parachute on the way down. You don’t know if you will be able to build the parachute. The amount of work that needs to be done when you build a startup is humanly impossible for one or two individuals, but somehow successful entrepreneurs manage to do it. One of the reasons many entrepreneurs are able to have superhuman productivity is due to the use of technology. Especially these days, there are AI technologies that automatically set up meetings, build prototypes, check quality of writing, automate lead generation and outreach, automate experimentation in marketing and keep employees engaged. Entrepreneurs should use as many tools as possible to improve productivity, especially in the early stages of a startup.

What are some qualities that entrepreneurs must possess?

Perseverance (grit), passion and patience are some traits that are necessary. To build a successful business, you also need to have the ability to identify opportunities and react to them in time. If you believe in what you’re building, the passion comes through and you are able to convince others about your idea/product/service/company. You have to roll up your sleeves and do what’s needed. A lot of perseverance is needed to stick to your beliefs and not abandon what you started. Being an entrepreneur means having to go through a rollercoaster of emotions. Being able to deal with emotions, stay patient and have enough grit to go through day after day of highs and lows is very important. I like what Jack Ma, Alibaba’s founder, said, which summarises the grit you need to be successful as an entrepreneur, “Never give up. Today is hard, tomorrow will be worse, but the day after tomorrow will be sunshine.”

What can other companies learn from how you ensure accountability and the management of partners?

Senior management, partners and employees need to feel ownership of the company, the team and its projects. If you create an environment where the senior management and partners feel connection and ownership, accountability comes naturally. Hence, we spend a lot of time trying to make sure that not just senior management but each individual in the company feels ownership of what he/she does. Besides tuning the culture for high accountability, we also keep track of key KPIs and have open, transparent discussions about them regularly so that everyone knows where they stand with respect to their benchmarks and goals.

What are the things that you think bind your employees together, despite them being scattered around the world and working flexible hours?

Culture! Culture is essential as you build a company—laying the foundation from the very beginning. As a company, we believe in diversity and equality as our core values, and these values are part of the organisation’s heritage. Diversity in gender and race and equality in education and social well-being are important for us. Everyone in the company is aware of these values and this awareness affects the daily decisions they make across offices around the world. Having well-defined common values helps bind employees together. We also try to celebrate festivals across different countries. We celebrate Holi in the NY office and Christmas in the Nepal office. Such celebrations and respect for different cultures also help in improving understanding and bonding between teams. We make sure each employee is respected and treated equally no matter the gender, race, wealth, education or position in the company, from C-suite to cleaning personnel.

What are some of your tips to keeping employees motivated?

I would rephrase this question to “How do we inspire employees?” Inspired employees are motivated and take extreme ownership of what they need to do. It is very hard to inspire employees. I don’t think money or fear works. Employees get inspired when they believe in the company’s mission and vision. Hence, one of the best ways to keep employees inspired and motivated is to regularly communicate to all employees the company’s vision and missions, and help them understand how their responsibilities play a role in this journey of accomplishing what the company is setting out to do.

Published: 27-08-2018 08:31

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