Ji is Co-founder & COO at Zhulilaiye (助理来也), a start-up company focusing on providing personal assistant service to Chinese consumers powered by AI and human agents. She was also a columnist for Forbes China and a regular contributor to The Financial Times China and The WSJ China. A native Chinese speaker, she is fluent in English. Some of her numerous specialties including AI, executive management, international management, operation, product management, and social gaming, allowed her and her team to develop Zhulilaiye (助理来也). The LaiYe product that Ji and her team have brought to life is the hottest, must have assistant anyone could want on their mobile phone. It’s natural interactions are the genius in the way they cater for one’s personal wants and needs. LaiYe can help you grab a taxi, but it can also help you attain the good things in life. This can include ordering coffee or a massage. I was fortunate enough to get into contact with Ji and ask her some questions about herself and her team.
The interview with Ji Gu went as follows.
- If you could give one piece of advice to anyone trying to start a startup company, what would it be?
“I would say do a lot of homework to the startup, the field, the team, and the people you want to enter before starting. Time in the most precious resource you have.”
- What made you decide that you wanted to co-found your own startup?
“For a couple of reasons. The first is that I would have liked to start a startup, but I had no prior experience so I thought it would be good to work with people to avoid pitfalls in starting a startup. The second is that I know myself and that I do not want to be a CEO, so I knew it would be good to work with partners. The last reason is that I do not have one solid idea that I am passionate about, so I knew it would make sense to focus on one idea with a team in order to make it better.”
- What was your biggest setback in establishing your startup?
“The positioning of the product and defining the real audience and users for our product took a long time. Once you can find it then you can really push forward your marketing strategy.”
- Did you always see yourself co-founding your own startup? Or was there ever another plan that you had your future?
“Apart from co-founding a startup, I could also see myself working as an executive at a small or medium sized company. A company in which I could still exert enough influence, shape strategies and provide direction for the company.”
- Did you have a strategy when looking for investors?
“So when looking for investors there are several factors to consider.
- Whether your business is a cash flow business, mainly if your business can generate cash flow in short term. In this case, you should look for investors who can give you resources, not just money, because you don’t really need that much money.
- If your business requires a period of time where you’re funding money then you need to make sure that you are looking for credible or reputable investors because that will allow you to raise more funding later as you survive through the period of bending money.
- The type of startup can determine what you need. Some startups might have special needs that an investor may meet. For example, one of the startups I advise needed to hire a lot of engineers so eventually they accepted investments from a firm that was reputable in the engineering community and allowed them to hire good engineers.
- Before you take money from the investor, you should ask around to make sure the investor is reputable. Sometimes no name investors may have very critical terms that could cause potential problems in the future.”
- Specifically what kind of your service does your company offer?
Our service provides a range of services varying from acquiring food, coffee, taxis, massages, or even house cleaning for our customers. The platform is run through WeChat.
- Tell me about Laiye.
Laiye is the siri that works; a magic that scales. LaiYe is the assistant on your mobile phone that provides natural interactions and runs a full spectrum of services for you.
- Do you have people actually messaging your customers or is it all based on artificial intelligence?
Artifical intelligence. We run a proprietary system that enables intelligent dispatch and automated responses. It runs off a three-step approach that identifies a dialogue system, a recommender system, and a dispatching system. LaiYe is a natural language understanding dialogue system that can provide context-based recommendation through the artificial intelligence we have developed. AI cannot cover everything, however. Of the average number of 150,000 texts sent through our system a day, 75% are sent through AI.
- You have worked in several industries across the US, China, and the UK. Which market has been the most exciting to work in? Why?
“So far the most exciting market is the Chinese market. It has the most competition and the most opportunity for expats and people overseas with degrees because of its population.”
This article is written by Alex Crump. Say hi to him on Instagram at no.tears__crump2.0!