Host: Marco Oliver, Client Success Director at We Build Bots
Guest: Lisa Matthews, CEO at HellyHolly
Marco Oliver: Hi Lisa. Thank you for joining us today.
Lisa Matthews: Hi Marco.
MO: You have a really interesting background. You started out as a doctor in philosophy and then went on to become the founder and leader of an engineering consultancy. Furthermore you went on to be a co-founder and director of another consultancy providing expert witness and forensic services to the construction industry. Can you tell us a little bit more about your journey and how you’ve ended up where you are today?
LM: Yes, sure. I started by studying engineering and did my PHD in Bath. That was really about looking at problems, understanding how you go around solving problems and finding something that you could spend a good chunk of time researching and help push forward the state of knowledge in engineering. After that, I joined a consultancy, a global multi-disciplinary firm, and I worked in all sorts of different bits of the business in Dubai and in Birmingham and projects all over the world. It was great to see how all sorts of different disciplines need to work together to get stuff done.
Then we founded our consultancy coming up for six years ago and that was really to give my husband a bit of better work/life balance. He’s a structural engineer and we thought that we could do something that would give him flexibility and mean that he could see the kids more. So, we did that and that’s been successful so far.
MO: Great. And now you are the CEO of HellyHolly and that’s really your main company at the moment, isn’t it?
LM: Yes, that’s right.
MO: So, your flagship product is Our Canary and that’s what we’re here to talk around today, which is a chatbot essentially. I’ve had a little look at your website and it’s very minimalist.
LM: It is, yes.
MO: It says that Our Canary is a life engine and it’s there to help people juggle life in a single place for all the family. Can you give us maybe a rundown on what Our Canary does and how it works?
LM: Yes, sure. When we started out with HellyHolly, we didn’t know what kind of product we were going to build, so the company was founded to solve the problem of all the stress and conflict and guilt that you get in your life when you’re trying to juggle lots of things and stuff goes wrong. This was inspired by our own experiences. When we spent a bit of time trying to talk to other people and find out whether everyone else had all this sorted, were we just missing out on some key piece of knowledge? We found that actually everyone’s struggling with this and we started learning about the impact it has on people’s lives. That’s when we realised that if we can do something valuable here it can really impact a lot of people and improve their lives, so that’s what we set out to do.
We didn’t know what we were going to build or even if it was a technology product or a tech solution. So, we started off just studying the problem and looking at how people currently handle the problem. When things go wrong, why do they go wrong and how it impacts people. And that’s when we realised that actually, through technology we’ve got the opportunity to solve this for people in new ways that haven’t been available before.
MO: Okay, that’s interesting. So, what sort of problems were you focusing on as underpinning the solution?
LM: The key problems are that we’re living busier and busier lives. People are working more flexibly and they might have more than one job. The old model of one person goes out to work, one person stays at home, just doesn’t exist anymore. That’s not reality for the vast majority of people. And so, that means that you’re trying to share getting stuff done between multiple people. And it’s true at work as well. We’re collaborating more and sharing responsibility for achieving goals. The problem comes when you don’t have the tools that are really designed for that process. So, although we’re living and working much more collaboratively, most of the tools we use to organise ourselves and organise our lives are digital versions of analogue things we had in the sixties. If you think about a calendar, the design of a calendar has not changed from when it was a piece of paper on the wall to when you look at it on your iPhone , it’s essentially the same. It’s a database, so digitising it hasn’t actually delivered any better value to the user.
The tools don’t reflect how we’re working collaboratively and also, they don’t reflect this sharing of responsibility. Whilst we’ve got mobile technologies that help us work flexibly and remotely and in much more dynamic ways, it means that we’re just bombarded with information and notifications. We’ve got all this data that we’re trying to stitch together that’s all in different siloed channels and the only way we’re stitching it together at the moment and looking at the whole picture and trying to see if things are going to work is using brain power. When you’re busy, stressed and tired, the brain is not great at scenario planning, testing logistics, working out okay, actually is there a problem coming down the road which I’m not aware of. And this puts a base load of mental stress on people all the time to think, am I about to drop a ball?
MO: I completely understand that. I think that’s problems that we all face, whether there are two of you in a family or six of you in a family, I think you all have that kind of problem. We’ve got a shared calendar in my house so that’s a step in the right direction in terms of being able to be collaborative and put your events in but it’s not quite where it needs to be, is it?
LM: Exactly. When we look at how collaboration is done at the moment, it still relies on you chucking data out of your silo into a shared environment so that the single player mode is still what we largely live in. If you want to delegate or share something you chuck it over the wall and then you never see it again and you don’t know what’s happened to it, it’s reliant on you remembering to do that and then remembering to check in and see what’s happening. You don’t really know if the person has seen this information - Is it going to work? Are we creating a problem for ourselves? So, that basic logical checking of stuff is currently only done in your own head.
MO: Yes. No, that makes sense. There’s quite a host of possible options you could have probably gone for in terms of Our Canary. You could have maybe had a website, an app.
MO: Some people say that’s old tech now so maybe that’s part of the reason, but what was your reason for choosing a chatbot as the main interface? What is the background for that?
LM: I still remember the day when the realisation dawned on me that we’d been for about three months thinking that what everyone needed was some kind of better calendar, like an actual clever calendar. A calendar that’s not just a database, which is what most calendars are. All of this stuff sounds really obvious in hindsight but I imagined trying to sell this and I just thought, how can you convince people to pick up all the data of their lives and transfer it to yet another new tool and put it down somewhere else and then convince everyone they want to work with to also do the same thing? I thought, do you know what? That’s just not going to happen. There’s too much friction in that. People don’t want another tool, they want a safety net. So, they want something that’s catching the problems before they impact them.
So, when we looked at what people are already doing in their lives for this problem, we found that mostly – because there’s no product that this substitutes - people are obviously still managing their lives at the moment, albeit with the stress and the problems that happen. We looked at how they do that and what people tend to do is hack together a bunch of existing tools, but typically similar flavours. There’s one or two main communication channels and two or three main data sources like calendars, and that’s when we realised that people are communicating non-stop about this stuff. They’re on WhatsApp, they’re in Slack, they’re on emails and all this communication is happening so we need to be right there where people are trying to solve the problems. Where they’re talking about their problems and coming up with solutions, we need to be right there so it’s as frictionless as possible for the service to deliver the value. So, that’s when we realised we’ve got to go to where people already are, and where people already are is in chat. That’s when we realised we’re running a chatbot.