Back in 2011, Aaron Frazin was almost finished with his degree from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business and going on a lot of job interviews.
Every interview required tedious hours of preparation as he researched his prospects and tried to piece together everything he’d need to know about the interviewer and the company so he could make a grand first impression.
“You can stand out by preparing,” he says. “You can stand out, you can close the deal.”
After many unsuccessful job interviews, Frazin got an idea: If he automated the search for details on the people he was meeting with, he’d both be prepared and get back many hours of his day.
In January 2012, Frazin teamed up with co-founder Rob Volk, a technical guy who was previously the CTO of a weight-loss app with 350,000 subscribers called Beyond Diet, to create a new personal assistant app called Charlie.
Today, the company is expanding from its original web-only version with an iPhone app, plus adding support for Microsoft Outlook and a new paid version.
“A personal assistant for the rest of us”
The promise of Charlie is that it will search 100,000 Internet sources for Google News and LinkedIn to provide a digest of what you needed to know before a meeting.
Interests, recent personal news, company funding announcements, or big customer wins? Charlie will tell you all about it. You could walk into a meeting with only three minutes of preparation time, and know that both of you enjoy playing video games.
But when the app first launched as a private beta in 2013, it was literally just Frazin and Volk doing the research by hand, taking the information the clients were giving them and producing a report by hand overnight, Frazin says. He was right back to spending hours and hours doing meeting preparation, only now he was doing it for other people!
“At the beginning, we faked it,” Frazin admits.
Last October, the full version of Charlie launched as a service that would hook up with a Google Calendar account and send an email digest of what you needed to know for your next meeting. Now, it actually works automatically, with no human intervention required. At the same time, Charlie raised $US1.75 million in seed funding.
Today, Charlie’s ambitions are accelerating with the launch of an iPhone app that delivers these pre-meeting reports as a push notification. Plus, it supports Outlook now, which makes it friendlier for businesses.
Finally, it now has a paid option that offers deeper insights into the people you’re supposed to meet with for $US19/month (less if you sign up today, the day of the iPhone app’s launch).
Under the hood, a major area of investment for Charlie is in machine learning, a hot technology that companies like Google and Facebook are using to provide more personalised experiences by literally getting smarter over time.
“It’s been a huge technical challenge to not only figure out which is the right ‘John Doe’ you are meeting with, but also, what’s important to your conversation and what’s not,” Frazin says.
In practice, that means Charlie should provide only the most relevant news items, Twitter posts, and whatever else is relevant to the meeting at hand. The more focused the data, Frazin says, the more prepared the user will be.
There’s plenty of competition. Lots of companies are trying to build smarter calendars that provide more and more information. No less than Microsoft is testing an app called Revolve that does something similar to Charlie, at least on paper. But Frazin says that Charlie’s laser focus on that “personal assistant” mindset will set the company apart.
“We’re built on one purpose,” Frazin says.