Zayd Enam co-founded Cresta in 2020 as he and his team kept trying to answer the question of how they could help the workforce do their tasks at the level of experts in terms of efficiency and productivity.
In 2016, Zayd Enam and his co-founders began planting the seeds for Cresta at Stanford’s AI labs. While doing their research in the labs, they began asking themselves the question of how they could use AI to “better support the workforce.”
Instead of following the emerging trends of using artificial intelligence to automate work, Zayd Enam wanted to find out if AI could be used to become allies and sidekicks for workers. At the time, the team found that the current AI tools could not help employees out in real-time, alongside humans. The machines could not understand human conversations, and so they could not be used to improve our daily performance.
Soon enough, Zayd Enam and his team found that AI tools could be used to improve conversations between two people through expert guidance. The AI tools at the time could only offer insights after the conversation, but only a few of them could do so while the conversation is taking place.
So, Zayd Enam and his team launched Cresta in 2020. The company uses a real-time AI platform that could “observe conversations, identify high-leverage expert behaviors, and coaches teams to exhibit those behaviors,” through AI tools that guide teams throughout the conversation.
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Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
Zayd Enam: In my work at Stanford, we started by building a platform that helped computer science teaching assistants and graders give consistently good feedback to students, because we noticed that there was a huge gap in the quality of feedback. This was something we were particularly familiar with at the lab, so we focused on building a system that learned from students and TAs year-over-year with a focus on identifying common mistakes and what feedback produced better results. Ultimately, we were able to double the speed of the graders.
However, the market itself wasn’t very large, and we realized that we wanted to take the idea and expand it across all knowledge work. Sebastian Thrun then gave me a piece of advice that has stuck with me ever since: go to the desert. In his work with driverless and flying cars, he went out to the desert in order to test and build a system that actually worked, then came back to the lab and studied the science, which ended up being a better approach because it was real-world tested. So out I went into the world
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Zayd Enam: I knew that I had a great product on my hands, but during an early pilot the CEO of the company we were working with decided to wind down the customer support team. With that setback, I moved Cresta into sales, and with a small team of two other agents and me, we began showing incremental revenues of $100,000 a month. At the end of the day, it’s important to not just know you have a great product, but it’s important to also be willing to put in the work.
Jerome Knyszewski: So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Zayd Enam: Great, we are working to launch a new product, securing new customers, and producing real results for the customers we have. We know that we have a great product and it’s now about making sure companies know they have a great way to help their sales and care teams all become experts on day one.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Zayd Enam: When we were fundraising early on we had an investor meeting in our office. We didn’t have much furniture at the time. We were super scrappy and were just trying to make do and put what we had into our product. We bought two five dollar folding chairs and set them up for the meeting. We thought we had enough seating for our meeting with the VC firm. When they showed up in our office, we didn’t have enough seating and the VC team ended up sitting on the floor. I was very embarrassed. But the VC team took it with stride and had great attitudes. They ended up funding us! I learned that if you surround yourself with the right people who share the same vision and attitude about how to approach a new business — you align yourself with the right people.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a few examples of tools or software that you think can dramatically empower emerging eCommerce brands to be more effective and more successful?
Zayd Enam: Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Cresta and products like it, which use AI to empower contact center agents with real-time scripting, resources and tools to guide every customer interaction to its fullest potential. With customer contacts way up, it’s more important than ever to keep leaning into this.
Beyond that, though, simple discovery tools are also key. The easier that a customer can find your products, the better experience they’ll have
Jerome Knyszewski: As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies an eCommerce business should use to increase conversion rates?
Zayd Enam: The most important thing is a smooth process from start to finish for a customer. The harder it is to discover, add, and purchase your products, the less likely you’ll secure the sale.
Jerome Knyszewski: Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that an eCommerce business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
Zayd Enam: Trust is often best built through conversation with representatives of the brand. Whether it’s a chat, an email, or a voice conversation, customers want someone who can address their issue or answer their question, but it can sometimes be the luck of the draw whether that customer gets your best agent or one who needs improvement. With that in mind, it’s clear that you need to ensure that this customer touch point, which can make or break a business, is solid every time.
Jerome Knyszewski: Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful e-commerce business? Please share a story or an example for each.
Zayd Enam: Build robustness into your model. Think about toilet paper for the pandemic, for example. The model was lean and expecting steady demand, and then the pandemic hit and manufacturers couldn’t keep up.
Be mindful of customer touch points. We aren’t in the era of the Model T anymore, which came in everyone’s favorite color as long as it was black. Offering them solid, positive touch points everywhere ups the chances of a successful conversion.
Start with excitement. What excites the customer you want to reach? Work backwards from there — like what they do with the newest iPhone.
Have a systematic business model. You have to have an understanding of everything, like customer acquisition and advertising. The more you know, the more you can build that robustness into your model.
The best ecommerce businesses figure out how they can become organically shareable. Think about Apple’s AirPods, for example, or the earbuds that preceded them that marked you as an iPod user. Something that is iconic or eye-catching can go far.
Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?
Zayd Enam: You can find me on:
Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!