Test your assumptions, look for feedback, adjust and repeat.
Mahi de Silva is the Co-Founder and CEO of Amplify.ai, the platform which enables brands to leverage AI to automate marketing engagement and extend them into conversations that are immersive and persistent – with tools to measure, optimize and manage the full lifecycle of a brand experience. Amplify.ai’s end-to-end platform helps companies acquire, engage, educate, communicate, entertain and transact with the billions of consumers around the globe that use popular social networks and messaging applications everyday.
Mahi has been long been a influencer in how companies leverage technologies to to measure, optimize and manage the full life-cycle of a brand experience. He began his career with Apple in 1989, and prior to founding Amplify.ai, he was a co-founder and CEO of AdMarvel Inc, a mobile ad platform that enables publishers and operators to source, manage and tracked advertising from any ad network. After Opera Software ASA acquired AdMarvel in 2010, Mahi served as CEO Opera Mediaworks, the world’s largest mobile advertising platform.
Today, in addition to leading Amplify.ai, Mahi serves as chairman of the board for Noventis, Inc., a digital payment-processing platform.
Where did the idea for your company come from?
Two inspirations came together, the first was what we saw in China and WeChat in 2015, how 100s of millions of consumers used a social messaging platform to connect, communicate and transact with brands. It was basically a re-imagined version of a business we built on top of SMS in the early 2000s. The second inspiration was the vast computer power on cloud computing platforms like Amazon AWS that made it feasible for a startup to operate AI systems (Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning) at scale at a very reasonable cost. These came together as a new AI-powered platform to help brands “amplify” customer engagement on social media and the web.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
The morning consists of a quick breakfast with the family, a chance to check-in with the kid’s activities for the day before they go off to school. Early mornings are also prime time for calls with our teams in Asia, partners and prospects in Europe, and then people on the east coast of the U.S. We try to schedule internal meetings before noon to maximize the opportunities for a follow-up. If I need to meet someone in San Francisco, this is the ideal commute time into the city.
At lunchtime, I have a chance to catch up on what’s happening in the news and our Industry on Medium, Flipboard, etc. While most days I bring my own lunch to work, I try to go out for lunch with my coworkers once a week, just to bring a bit of social interaction into work life. On occasion I’ll schedule a lunch meeting with partners or prospects, which I think is better than meeting at an office; it’s more sociable and people are less likely to get easily interrupted or distracted.
Early afternoons are ideal for external calls because it’s early enough for east coast and still mid-afternoon for the west coast. This is also the best time for me to work on my to-do list. It is when I’m most creative, so I take the time to work on presentations, financials, and prepare for upcoming calls/meetings.
For dinner I always make it a point to cook once a week on weeknights. I enlist the help of one of my kids to help me prepare and dinner.
Afterwards, I’m back on my laptop wrapping up things that didn’t get done during the day, preferably in a quiet place without interruptions. Typically this is the best time for talking to the team in Asia and partners and prospects since it is the beginning of their day.
Lights out around 11:15pm.
How do you bring ideas to life?
The best ideas come from interacting with customers/partners and understanding their problems. Ideas can be championed by anyone at the company – passion for your ideas is the company’s “squeaky wheel.” We start with the notion that if we solve a real problem for someone, then we’ve earned their trust to help them tackle bigger tasks. The challenge is to solve these problems in a scalable and re-usable way, so that we can replicate this method for future thousands of customers.
What’s one trend that excites you?
AI/Machine-assisted communication and transactions. We are going to see convergence around virtual assistants, smart speakers, mobile devices and messaging to help us be much more productive.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Embrace iteration – expect failure, learn and evolve. This applies to everything from a pitch deck to how you develop your product, to how you finance your company and the makeup of your team.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Take more risks. Hire the best people.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
We will soon get to a model of “fair value exchange,” which is exposing our persona and preferences to get more personalized goods and services. Unlike today, we as consumers will have more control of how and when our data is used and by whom. In the 21st industry, I believe we’ll see massive gains in personal and business productivity, far beyond what we saw in the 20th century.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Test your assumptions, look for feedback, adjust and repeat.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
We promote a new vision for customer engagement – not every brand is ready or open to this new paradigm, but it’s hard to ignore successful case studies that are rooted in data and outcomes. From early on we focused on acquiring a few marquee clients in important verticals that could become great case studies. Not all of them were successful, but it only takes two or three to get your economic flywheel moving.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
There’s been a few failures, but the biggest lesson is not to sweat the details. The only thing that’s constant in business is change. Change in the economy, your customer’s needs, your competition, the “health” of your team, your investor expectations, etc. Your job as a CEO is to have a good grasp on all things, big and small, that can impact your business.
My biggest failure was at a company where we started at zero and grew into a multi-million dollar business in a multi-billion dollar market. I felt we had built a strong team and the business required less and less steering. I believed that it could operate on semi-auto-pilot mode. I was wrong.
Expect the unexpected, set clear goals and milestones – every business requires steering. If you don’t have a clear view of what’s next for the company, you shouldn’t be charting the course. Hand it off to someone that can.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Autonomous, multi-passenger commuter drones that fly above existing railway, highway and freeway routes that pickup and dropoff only at designated mass-transit locations. This would overcome much of the concerns about the FAA having to drone-control our vast airspace, since much of this airspace could be machine controlled with drone-to-drone communication. This could bring subway-like mass transit efficiency to metro areas like the San Francisco Bay Area at a fraction of the cost of digging tunnels and laying tracks.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
$100 for Global Entry (5 year membership) for expedited clearance through U.S. customs. I’d often spend 45 minutes in line at SFO when returning from an international trip. It now takes 2 minutes tops. But the life changing BONUS is that you essentially get Domestic TSA PreCheck status as well if you use the “trusted traveler number” whenever you book domestic travel. This easily saves 30 minutes of waiting time at an airport.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
G-suite for email, calendar, hangouts, drive, docs and sheets (though we still use MS Excel for complicated Excel models and financials). There are no servers or software licenses to manage. We also use Slack for everything internal, from status reports to company news and team collaboration.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
An oldie but still a goodie, “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t” by Jim Collins. It emphasizes that human capital is the most important capital of all and explains how to be a “Level 5” leader.
What is your favorite quote?
“Perfect is the enemy of good.” -Voltaire
So many startups begin with a view of building something perfect, but end up delivering nothing close to it. I believe that you should set your sights on something really good, and through iteration, turn that into something great.
- The only thing that’s constant in business is change.
- Set clear goals and milestones.
- Embrace iteration – expect failure, learn and evolve.
- Take more risks. Hire the best people.
- The best ideas come from interacting with customers and partners.