Maran Nelson

CEO, Clara Labs

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON July 29, 2016

Discussion

maran nelson@marannelson · CEO, Clara Labs
Hi, all! I'm Maran, founder and CEO at Clara Labs. We're designing an assistant that schedules meetings for you. "Clara" (who goes by many names) works on teams at several hundreds of companies, including airbnb, Stripe, Houzz, Genentech. I believe people are the arbiters of meaningfulness, and we should take that responsibility seriously. Looking forward to answering your questions!
John Donmoyer@donjo · Product Designer
I've always admired the fact that you're not just another $9 SaaS and you seem to be focused on a building a great things for a few high quality clients in these early stages. So my question is, without having to give too many secrets away: How did you arrive at the pricing for your product?
maran nelson@marannelson · CEO, Clara Labs
@donjo thanks kindly, John! Means a lot to hear. I'll firstly say: Clara isn't like most SaaS companies. "Clara" (who goes by many names) has *agency* that software alone cannot achieve. It is that agency - Clara's ability to *understand* the will of the customer and manage complicated coordination work on their behalf - that sets us apart, and significantly improves the daily lives of our customers. The only alternative to Clara is very expensive: your time or the time of a dedicated assistant. Both of you will sleep, neither of you will scale as your teams scale, and both of you will forget things :) The value is very much there, and our customers remind us of this constantly ("I would pay five times more for this service without blinking"). We always felt that our customer was our voice of reason: the "end-all-be-all" for Clara. In the early days, we didn't want a product that was easy to ~shrug~ and say "what the heck, I'll buy it". We wanted them to really commit to us, to trust us with work that is incredibly important to them. A non-trivial price point is a good forcing function for doing really valuable work for your user.
Thomas Stöcklein@tomstocklein · FoundersFundersFuture.com
What did you enjoy the most about the YC experience? What are some specific experiences and lessons from YC that help you run Clara Labs today?
maran nelson@marannelson · CEO, Clara Labs
@tomstocklein I actually went through YC twice (though, of course, your hope is to go through once and be done with it). There are so many things that you pick up almost by osmosis being in Silicon Valley, and YC is a hyper-focused "nexus of all reasonably good tech startup advice". The most useful thing I've learned from YC? Is to surround yourself with good people, but reason through things on your own. No one else knows your company better than you do.
Corey Breier@itscoreyb · Agent at Invisible Technologies
Hey Maran! Love Clara, it's a lifesaver and textbook example of an process needing automation. I bet you've been asked this before, but what's your take on the 'stop making AI assistants female' controversy? As a woman and a founder of an AI company with a female name, I'm interested to hear why you named your company Clara, and what that naming process looked like. Do you think it matters if robots have genders? And why did you name yours after a woman if so?
maran nelson@marannelson · CEO, Clara Labs
@itscoreyb Hi there, Corey! Thanks for joining - great to see you here :) As you can imagine, I've thought a lot about this. I will firstly say that Clara Labs is a bit different than most of the "Siri" and "Alexa" products: your assistant can go by any name. People become very attached to their respective "Sawyer" or "Max" or "Lincoln" -- we want our user to play a real part in designing the relationship they have with us. I care more about empowering people - especially people that are oppressed - than anything else in the world. In my eyes, Clara has always been about empowerment: of women especially. If we achieve what we're after, "Clara" will be one of the most powerful, intelligent networks on the Internet. Even today, the majority of the contractors supporting us on the back-end are women: we are one of the only (and best) work opportunities that exist for them. They need the flexibility of picking their hours and working from home; they often take off on emergency trips to the doctor, or want time off for family vacations. Outside of this, Clara is simply a beautiful name. It evokes the notion of "clarity", means "clear" and "bright" in Spanish. It sounded like something that could be a software system, unlike a "Brittany" or Ricardo" which feel strictly human. Most companies that have been founded since the beginning of time have been named after men: I'm excited to see this turn around a bit.
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
Hi Maran, thanks for joining today! What one piece of advice would offer to a first time founder from your own experience?
maran nelson@marannelson · CEO, Clara Labs
@ems_hodge thanks for having me, Emily! Before I give perspective here, I want to remind everyone: I'm still new to this! Everyone's path is their own, and I wouldn't get too caught up in other people's experiences. Being a first time founder is hard. You will feel incompetent, because honestly you probably are incompetent. The founders that don't know this about themselves won't grow. The only thing that gets you through is believing in your vision, and having a great team that believes in it too. The trick, of course, is making sure you're not delusional. Your customers are the only people that can tell you whether your vision is reasonable: you can't operate in a vacuum and expect to succeed. So forgive your inadequacy (you're not alone in it), talk to your customers, and continuously communicate your vision, for your own sanity and for your team's.
pauldeepakraj@pauldeepakraj20 · Architect
Hi Maran, thanks the AMA session. Quick question - how did you get your first 1000 users?
COSTAS ANDRIOPOULOS@candriopoulos · https://medium.com/strictly-curious
Hi Clara and thank you for taking our questions today. 1. Which are the websites,blogs that keep you up to date in your field? 2. How can one start a venture in AI with limited resources?
maran nelson@marannelson · CEO, Clara Labs
@candriopoulos the AI community is actually incredibly open and encouraging: you should be able to find a lot of great resource all over the web. A lot of our perspective in starting Clara, though, hasn't been about "state of the art from day one": we were very (_very very_) scrappy. We did many things that "didn't scale" to prove we had product market fit, and it has taken us two years to develop the technology we have today. Being here looking back, I think we went at this the right way. We built the right product because we understood the problem we needed to solve, and we didn't put the cart before the horse, so to speak, from a technology perspective.
Thomas Stöcklein@tomstocklein · FoundersFundersFuture.com
How did you first come up with the idea for Clara Labs? How did you assemble your team?
Alex Bush@alex_v_bush · Author of http://iosinterviewguide.com/
How did you validate your early hypothesis about the product? MVP? In what form?
maran nelson@marannelson · CEO, Clara Labs
@alex_v_bush "MVP" was "Maran and Michael (my co-founder) scheduling meetings by hand". We would wake up at 2am to schedule meetings for people, because we wanted to provide an "always-on" service. When the volume got to be too much for us, we outsourced our work to contractors. Everything at Clara has been this way. We are a very pragmatic team, but we've always maintained a relentlessly high bar for the customer experience. Even so, you fail sometimes -- but usually people forgive you, because they know you won't stop until you get it right. Our early customers have got to be some of the best and smartest in the world: talking to them and supporting them in their daily lives is fun. We save them hours of time every week, and have done so for two years now. Their feedback has shaped the product in massive ways from the beginning.
Harry Stebbings@harrystebbings · Podcast Host @ The Twenty Minute VC
Thanks so much 4 joining us today, love Clara and have heard such great things from @michelletandler I am intrigued whether you agree with @dennismortensen in this space 'do vertically specialised use cases like Clara and Amy have advantages over the incumbents with regards to the highly specific data you have built in the calendaring space?' Love to hear your thoughts! Always welcome on @twentyminutevc
Uhma@deleted-594972 · Brr
Hello Maran, Thank you for giving an opportunity to ask you questions. What are the key advantage(s), besides Huge Cost Savings, in hiring Clara vs "Jenna Fischer" ? Thank you.
Chris Allan Li@chrisallanli · Creator of Smarthash for Instagram
What was the #1 thing that helped you increase your user base in the beginning?
Mackenzie Burnett@ciaomack · Cofounder, Redspread
Hi Maran :) I've always admired Clara's incredible company culture - I think a lot of this manifests from your deliberation in recruitment. Can you share a little about what qualities you look for (beyond a job description) when evaluating potential new team members, and why those particular qualities are important to you and Clara Labs?
maran nelson@marannelson · CEO, Clara Labs
@ciaomack thank you! This team and my closest friends are incredibly similar (and in fact many of our teammates were friends with us for years before joining). They are deeply thoughtful, curious, willing to be wrong, and all have a real heart for people. I am honored to get to be surrounded by these people every day: I have learned a ton from all of them.
Jordan@inventitorfixit · CEO, Scout. sendwithscout.com
Hi Maran, I've been using Clara for over a year and I just love it, but I've noticed you've focused really heavily on making Clara bulletproof at scheduling. What cool new things will Clara be able to do for me in the next year?
maran nelson@marannelson · CEO, Clara Labs
@inventitorfixit Clara knows *so* much about our customers that no one else in the world knows. We want to make that information more valuable to you, and really change the way you think about your relationship with us. Clara should be everywhere you are: on your phone, in your Slack. We should be helping you achieve your dreams in deeper and richer ways, by making you a better relationship manager and helping you get more done.
Jordan@inventitorfixit · CEO, Scout. sendwithscout.com
@marannelson yay!!! I'm so excited to be able to text Clara!
Corley@corleyh · COO @ Product Hunt
Hi @marannelson! 👋 So fun to have you here, answering questions from the community. One of the things I appreciate most about you is how you listen and process information. You are willing to admit what you don't know - which I think allows you to learn quickly. What do you think most contributes to your ability to learn and adapt quickly? What tips do you have for people who aspire to be great listeners?
maran nelson@marannelson · CEO, Clara Labs
@corleyh :) oh man Corley - thank you for that very kind compliment. I think good listeners 1. care about people and 2. appreciate that they don't have all the answers. If you think you've got it all figured out? You won't think there's anything to gain in conversations with other people. Every person on earth can teach you something that could change your life. I really believe in that, and go around looking for it. Meeting people like you proves to me that it's true!
Thomas Stöcklein@tomstocklein · FoundersFundersFuture.com
If you had to pick one, what's your superpower?
maran nelson@marannelson · CEO, Clara Labs
@tomstocklein It's a kind of ridiculous and nearly religious feeling, but I care about people with every fiber of my being.
Thomas Stöcklein@tomstocklein · FoundersFundersFuture.com
For your next funding round, how would you win over new potential investors trying to decide between investing in Clara Labs or say x.ai?
Jason Cavness@jasoncavness · CEO/Founder of cavnessHR
At what stage did you start thinking about HR and do you see HR as something that can add value to a Startup or something can be done once the Startup is more established?
Arun Agrahri@arunagrahri · VP Engineering of Twine - twine.com
Hey Maran, thanks for joining today! Can you share how Clara Labs has evolved over the last two years? Specifically, what were your initial assumptions and what did you learn over time.
Zuhayeer Musa@zuhayeer · student @cal building things
Who did you originally build Clara for?
maran nelson@marannelson · CEO, Clara Labs
@zuhayeer for myself. Highly, highly recommend building products that you personally need: it took us far in the early days.