Editors Note: This week we are excited to welcome Jaclyn Nelson, the CEO of Tribe AI, for a Q&A on AI for SMBs. Tribe is a AI consultancy that works with companies of all sizes to unlock the full potential of AI within their business by providing access to strategists, data scientists and engineers. Tribe has built hundreds of AI products and attracted over five hundred AI engineers. Prior to starting Tribe AI Jaclyn spent 8 years at Google incubating new businesses and scaling tech companies at CapitalG, Alphabet’s growth stage investment fund. She remains an active earlier stage investor in data and AI companies through her fund, Coalition Operators.
[MV] Previously, building AI capability was only considered by the largest corporations given the resources required. While the latest developments in generative AI make it possible for every company to consider AI in their business, it may not be obvious for business owners to know where to start. How would you advise an SMB business owner on how to get started on their AI journey?
[JN] The AI landscape has evolved dramatically over the last year, making it more accessible than ever before. This evolution is not just for large corporations; every business, especially SMBs stand to gain (or lose) significantly. The key is to take that first step.
To start, it’s helpful to have a basic understanding of AI and its capabilities. I find content from Bens Bites, AI with Allie and AI Exchange can help make this topic more accessible. Beyond reading about AI, I advocate for a hands-on approach. For instance, using OpenAI's GPTs, SMBs can experiment with workflow automations without needing advanced engineering skills. This practical experience can help you understand AI's potential impact on your business with minimal investment. As the AI ROI for your business becomes more clear, you can decide to invest engineering resources against high ROI use cases to maximize the value.
Businesses that leverage AI to do more with less will not only gain a competitive edge but will be well-positioned to thrive as this technology becomes universally adopted.
[MV] AI innovation is evolving so rapidly that its hard for even sophisticated market participants to stay on top of the latest developments. Would you recommend that SMBs attempt to be early adopters or wait until the technology starts to reach a steady-state?
[JN] Many SMBs are already reaping the benefits of AI, using it to optimize operations, enhance customer engagement, and even drive innovation. If you wait for AI to hit steady state, you might find yourself struggling to catch up later.
Starting with AI now means you get to grow with the technology. You'll learn what works, what doesn't, and how to make AI serve your specific business needs. It's not about going big right away. Start with a small project. Maybe automate a routine task, or use AI to analyze customer feedback. Small wins, big learning!
Dive in, experiment, and learn on the go. It’s the best way to ensure your business isn't left behind in the AI platform shift, and to ensure you and your team are gaining the necessary skills for this next phase of growth.
[MV] You've talked about phase one of generative AI adoption in the enterprise being about efficiency gains. Is there a particular function or role where these efficiency gains show up most prominently?
[JN] We’re seeing clear gains in Engineering, Human Resources and Legal.
Engineering: Tools like GitHub Copilot, are revolutionizing software development. Copilot assists programmers by suggesting whole lines or blocks of code, improving coding efficiency and accuracy. By automating routine tasks and analyzing vast amounts of data, AI enables engineers to focus on more complex and creative aspects of their work.
HR: AI is transforming HR in profound ways. From automated screening of job applications to AI-driven performance analysis, the technology is making HR processes more efficient. AI helps in identifying the best candidates, running candidate analytics, and forecasting workforce trends, allowing HR professionals to focus on strategic initiatives and employee engagement.
Legal: For legal departments, AI is a game changer in document review and legal research. It can process NDAs, flag contract anomalies, quickly sift through vast amounts of legal documents, significantly reducing the time lawyers spend on these tasks.
In all these areas, generative AI is not about replacing human effort but augmenting and enhancing it. By taking over repetitive and data-intensive tasks, AI allows professionals to focus on more strategic, creative, and interpersonal aspects of their work, thus driving overall efficiency and productivity.
[MV] Tools from companies like OpenAI put AI capabilities into the hands of individual users for a countless number of use cases which is incredibly powerful, yet, it doesn't always make sense for companies to take a DIY approach. How should SMBs think about buy vs build?
[JN] Where you can you should get started by using out of the box solutions like Microsoft Copilot or ChatGPT Enterprise. More and more existing software solutions will also build AI capabilities into their products like Canva, Notion and Powerpoint. I expect this trend will continue and there will be more and more off the shelf AI-powered products you can integrate into your workflow.
When your needs require customization, greater accuracy or control and the ROI is clear for your business, then it’s time to build custom solutions. At Tribe AI we build custom AI products and solutions for large companies, and we’ve seen incredible results but the business value has to be significant in order to justify this investment.
[MV] Are there certain aspects of AI that are still more fiction than fact? How should business owners consider what's real today and applicable to their business, and what's still just hype?
[JN] Today, AI spikes at tasks involving data processing, pattern recognition, and predictive analytics. This includes applications like chatbots, recommendation systems, process automation, and data analysis. These are not just feasible but are being widely used across various industries, where they are driving significant value. Some of the more sensationalized aspects of AI, like fully autonomous AI possessing consciousness, are still in the realm of The Terminator.
[MV] AI can feel scary to many individual contributors who might fear that AI will replace them. How should business owners address this topic with their teams?
[JN] AI today is about augmenting human capabilities, not replacing them. There's a lot of apprehension in the market, and it's completely understandable. The first step is to acknowledge these concerns openly.
The leaders who I’ve seen be most successful in mobilizing their teams on AI opportunities took a clear stance. They declared an AI-enabled future for their company, they dedicated their time to AI initiatives and galvanized a group of people who were excited to do the same. Most notably they set expectations that learning about and using AI wasn't optional, and was critical for all parts of the company.
Creating a culture of continuous learning is vital. This can mean providing tangible opportunities for teams to engage with AI through offsites, workshops, hackathons, or training sessions. These initiatives should offer hands-on experiences with AI tools and real business applications.
But more than just providing learning opportunities, it’s about creating an environment where learning and experimenting with AI is encouraged and celebrated. This means recognizing and rewarding efforts to engage with AI, even if they don’t lead to immediate success. Incentives drive behavior and with strong leadership I’ve seen many teams navigate this new AI landscape, with excitement instead of apprehension.