Saelun Tires
We talk AI assistants and how-to increase productivity with Andrew Kortina, co-founder of Venmo and Fin

In today’s busy world, there’s one thing money can’t buy…time. Most executives and professionals would agree if there was anything that could simplify their workflow, and take tedious tasks off their plate, they’d do it. Others wish they could hire an assistant, but that comes with a hefty price tag. Where the future is going is AI assistants –talk about replacing jobs with robots right?

Andrew Kortina, the co-founder and CEO of Fin, knows all about that. So we sat him down for a chat about his new platform.

Swagger: What is Fin?

Kortina: Fin provides high quality executive and personal assistance as a cloud service. Historically, if you needed administrative help, your only real options for quality work were hiring someone full time or doing tasks yourself. Full time help can be pretty inefficient, because you probably don’t need exactly 40 hours of help every week (but you have to pay someone in 40-hour work week chunks).

Similarly, doing your own admin work gets incredibly expensive if you’re an executive and spending even a few hours per week on things that don’t require your skills (see this post for more detail).

With Fin, you get the benefit of a team of skilled people doing high quality work combined with the flexibility of a cloud / software service.

Swagger: What inspired you two to start Fin?

Kortina: We thought there was a pretty big gap between the software that people want and the things that are available / possible today. What you see in science fiction is this software assistant that is tapped into your stream of consciousness, that can pull up knowledge and execute tasks for you on demand. What you have today is a lot of entertainment media and assistants that can set cooking timers, but not much that is on par with what a human executive assistant can do for you.

Swagger: Why did you feel the need for human collaboration with AI?

Kortina: While the capabilities of software are getting a lot more interesting–particularly, if you look at things that are happening with ML / machine vision–software is pretty far from being able to execute black box tasks and handle arbitrary communications with people. We did not want to wait for pure software to ‘catch up’ with what people can already do, nor did we want to limit the capabilities of our assistant to the tasks that pure software can do well (set cooking timers, check the weather). So we decided to use both people and software on the backend of Fin.

Swagger: Who are your main competitors?

Kortina: Hiring a full time assistant or doing a task yourself. These are both pretty costly (either in terms of your money or time) compared to Fin.

Swagger: How do you see the platform evolving in the future?

Kortina: Our approach, as the name Fin hints, was to ‘start at the end’ and try to build the end vision of our service immediately. The evolution happens on the backend, making our people more efficient and more reliable, which from a customer perspective means not more features but lower cost and higher quality.

Swagger: Can you only use email to ask Fin for help or can you use any other platforms?

Kortina: You can use our app NotaBene to send text, voice, and photo notes to Fin from iOS and Android.

Swagger: Why would someone who might already have an assistant need Fin?

Kortina: We have lots of customers who use Fin to supplement a full time assistant, either to get incremental, on-demand hours of help during busy weeks, or to take care of home/personal chores if they are only able to use their full time assistant for professional help.

Swagger: How do you see Fin changing the way people work more broadly?

Kortina: There has been this shift over the past few years as we’ve gotten pretty good productivity software in the office where lots of executives no longer have assistants. Even if they are a little bit faster at doing their own scheduling or travel booking, it’s still incredibly inefficient for them to be doing their own administrative work, even for a few hours of work per week.

Our goal is to help every person focus on the work that is most important for them to do, by having them delegate to Fin everything that does not require their specific skills.

Swagger: What are the pros and cons of using Fin vs a real life personal assistant, vs an entirely virtual assistant with no human collaboration?

Kortina: Unlike a full time human assistant, Fin does not have hands, so we can’t, for example, run downstairs to get you a cup of coffee or pickup lunch (we can get a Postmate to do that for you though!). But there are tons of advantages with Fin — Fin never has to sleep, go on vacation, or take sick time. Fin can work on many tasks simultaneously. Fin gets way more reps of many tasks than the average assistant would, so we’re more efficient at and more knowledgeable about many tasks.

Compared to a virtual assistant, Fin has more context management and memory that is on par with a human assistant. We get to know you really well. One of the main disadvantages of hiring one off assistants on a virtual assistant marketplace is you have to retrain every person you hire and boot them up on your specific preferences. That gets pretty inefficient pretty quickly.

Swagger: How are the group of humans that collaborate on tasks devised amongst all the Fin users? Are there dedicated people to certain accounts or does everyone just randomly review the inquiries and automated responses for some intervention when needed?

Kortina: What you are talking about is what we call ‘work routing’ which is one of our most important software systems. Unlike with a full time assistant, where every type of task just goes to the person you hired, we can do all sorts of more optimized routing. This might mean things like you suggest — routing tasks to the person most familiar with that specific customer or service provider involved — or other things, like routing tasks to people based on their skills, like sending travel requests to the person who is most efficient at that and scheduling requests to someone else who is better at that.

Swagger: Is there any intent to want to integrate a human hands element? For example like integrating local manpower to be able to have someone physically drop something off at the post office, or stand in line, etc?

Kortina: Human hands would be awesome, but we have our digital hands full right now and probably won’t get to it anytime soon.

Swagger: What are some of the company’s biggest milestones?

Kortina: One thing that we just launched (probably not soon enough, in retrospect) is support for connecting your Outlook calendar. We do a lot of scheduling work for customers, and started out with support for only Google calendar. Adding support for Outlook has opened up a lot of new opportunities.

Swagger: With AI so rapidly advancing and Siri/Google/Alexa all getting better day by day, are there any concerns that there won’t be the need for the human component?

Kortina: Once pure software can do everything Fin can do, we’ll kind of be at the point as a species where no human has to work any more and we can all go to the beach and drink piña coladas.

Swagger: What’s next for Fin?

Kortina: Right now, we’re investing a lot in our agent training programs, trying to refine the programs we have to educate new agents and get them up and running as quickly as possible. We need to invest here in order to scale.

We’re also taking some of the software and tools we have found incredibly useful to running our own operations team and starting to make them available to other organizations, because we have learned we have some innovative stuff that no one else has. So, pretty soon, if you’re someone running a customer service or operations team at another company, you’ll be able to use some of our measurement and performance management software as a standalone product at analytics.fin.com. We think of this kind of like our version of AWS.

Swagger: What’s next for you, Andrew Kortina?

Kortina: I’m spending a lot of time talking to people running ops orgs, both learning from them about scaling, and telling them about our new stack of tools that can help them level up the quality and efficiency of their teams.

 

For more information on Fin, checkout this detailed overview of how Kortina uses Fin, their Blog and this other interview with Benzinga. Interested in trying out the Fin platform? Fin is offering Swagger readers a $60 credit for a limited time only. 

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