21st & 22nd of May
Maribor, Slovenia
Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Peter Schlect, The Saas Co.: »Humans will work hand-in-hand with AI on many different levels«

Peter Schlecht is the founder and CEO of the Berlin-based startup The Saas Co., the fastest growing sales startup in Europe. He is convinced that AI and people will work hand-in-hand, with AI acting as a proactive, data-aware digital partner in our private and professional lives.

Mr. Schlecht, your company recently tweeted that “we are moving from a mobile-first world to an AI-first world,” citing a Bloomberg article that the mobile Internet is over. What exactly does this mean?

In particular, I was citing Google's CEO Sundar Pichai :) The goal of the mobile-first world was to make data accessible everywhere in an intelligent way. Now, the data learns to walk. In an AI-first world, the data will provide the base for semi or fully independent systems, which will take over a huge variety of tasks – it will be like having a proactive, data-aware digital partner in your private and professional life, accessible through your smartphone display.

Bots seem to be everywhere, but still not everyone knows or understands what they are – would you be so kind and explain to our readers in just a few sentences what “a bot” is.

I define bots as software programs that can interact autonomously with persons. The best-known form is the chatbot. As chatbots evolved from rule-based systems to neural net-based ones, they have reached a new level of functionality.

Do you write your emails or does LISA do it for you? :) Does LISA work with all email clients?

:D Lisa is already a great help for my sales emails. She saves me 70% of my time. Hopefully, by the summer LISA's suggestions will be as precise for the rest of my emails as she is for sales.

What is the future of sales? What will sales look like 20 years from now?

On the one hand, humans will work hand-in-hand with AI on many different levels. AI will prepare sales presentations, take over conversations and, on the buyer side, assist with buying decisions. On the other hand, it will be normal for AI to take over the full sales process for a lot of products, from convenience products up to SaaS products.

Some have voiced fears that artificial intelligence could replace humans altogether. Is this likely, in your opinion?

This fear isn’t a new one. In the 70s people were afraid of losing all their jobs through robots. If I was a corn picker at the onset of the industrial revolution, it would have been normal to be afraid of the invention of a corn machine, but certainly the invention brought us more productivity and more wealth. In general we are just bad at seeing the potential new job opportunities. A potential problem will be that the development and spread of AI, and the exponential effects of this, will be so fast that there will be shifts in the labor market we won't be able to buffer quickly enough. 

Financial Times recently predicted that "the AI market will grow from $643.7m in 2016 to $36.8bn by 2025". Mark Cuban agrees that AI is something worth investing in. What does this new hype mean for the field of AI and for a number of companies like yours, which utilize this technology?

It means: be fast :)

The late British science fiction writer, inventor and futurist, Arthur C. Clarke once stated that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Would you agree?

There is a joke in the AI community that every problem in the AI field that gets solved doesn't belong to the field anymore. Although I don't believe in magic, perhaps if we call it the "magic of life" I'll say yes.

Your company is based out of Berlin. Do you expect the role of Berlin to change after the Brexit? If yes, how?

In the short term there will be positive effects: we'll have an advantage over London via better access to talent and to the European market. Long term it’s really bad for the UK and for Germany. However, I don’t expect that the event itself will be the main factor determining which of London, Berlin, Paris etc. will be the leading Startup city in this hemisphere.

What are the prerequisites that one should possess in order to work within the startup world? Which profiles are currently most sought after in Berlin? Is your company hiring at the moment?

Coachability. Sales & Developers. Sure, always looking for sales and dev talents. 
Peter Schlecht is the founder and CEO of the Berlin based startup The Saas Co., the fastest growing sales startup in Europe, used by startups and companies such as Twilio, TIBCO and The German Stock Exchange. Their service is changing sales through artificial intelligence, a Learning Intelligent Sales Agent – LISA – an email bot that helps answer your emails.
Before venturing in the startup world he build his career and gathered experience as a Business Development Consultant at mbrace labs GmbH, a company that developed mobile and web applications for communicating with people in (hyper)-local settings, was Head of Business Development at strucr.com GmbH (now Audisto), a service that helped the user to enhance a site's structure and internal linking, and Executive Assistant to the Chairman at Team Europe Management GmbH.
The interview about the opportunities brought by IOT and AI in the field of telecommunications was made possible by TELEKOM, PODIM Challenge blue-chip partner.
Peter Schlecht was a keynote speaker at this year's PODIM conference.