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Dr. Jason Mars


A New Voice from a Strange Place in the AI Revolution


Nate Joens


October 5, 2020


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A New Voice from a Strange Place in the AI Revolution

In this video posted on the Structurely YouTube channel, Dr. Jason Mars explains the development of “Clinc” as a means to disseminate information about AI to the public. Mars believes that research on technological innovation within academia tends to stay in academia. In this way, it does not change humanity. Mars goes on to explain key insights about creating a startup from an idea, a simple notion of wanting to change the trajectory of things. From personal belief and motivation to the necessity to adapt to the reality of things, Mars offers a transparent description of both pitfalls and possibilities throughout the process of building a company and promoting new technology. 

In this episode, you will learn:

  • Mars’ intellectual development led him to found Cinc
  • Insights on how to make a successful startup in unlikely spaces
  • How to evolve through vision, productive criticism, and diverting from the norm.

Good Question & Answer Part 1:

Note – These questions are rhetorical- posed and answered by Mars to continue the presentation.

Why did this happen? There are 1000 plus conversational AI startups in  the world, and many of them are struggling.Actually, many AI companies go extinct, right? So how do you actually create a vehicle to disseminate this kind of contribution from an unlikely place- Ann Arbor, Michigan- and in a way that was able to beat out the incumbents so fast?

There are a couple of key elements that I think are critical, especially when you’re in an unlikely place, like in the middle of the country. There are a couple of key principles you have to follow. One of them is, first you have to have the right attitude. You have to have the attitude of taking a leap. I’ve seen many folks treat a vision as a side project. But you really have to engage in a life’s mission, right? You have to have the mindset that this is a mission that will be achieved and a conviction around your vision that’s gonna drive you there, the expectations you have for where you’re going to make your contribution to the world, is what will define your potential. I’ll say that one more time, the expectations you have will define the potential of what you can achieve.  So if you expect to touch every human life, that becomes your potential. If you expect to have a lifestyle company and make I don’t know, 50k, a year extra, that’s what you’re going to achieve. So, you have to have that mindset if you want to really achieve greatness. 

Now another key insight and another key principle that is used and the culture that was fostered at “Clinc” was continuous evolution and adaptation. You have to chase harsh environments to challenge and condition yourself, your company, and your ideas. You cannot stay in an echo chamber, you cannot be safe in a realm where you won’t hear the the hard truths about the idea of the creation- the thing that you aspire to achieve… If you try to avoid the realities that will condition you to realize your potential, then your evolution is going to be slow., you may go extinct. So you have to stay outside of the echo chamber, you have to really embrace the harsh realities. You have to take feedback and assimilate it into your understanding of truth and where that gap is between where you are and where you need to be, so that you can close the gap. Take that criticism, allow hard truths, challenge yourself to do better. 

Good Question & Answer part 2: 

There’s some things I didn’t do well, as a leader of “Clinc.” First and foremost, there’s qualitative and quantitative company building. There’s a qualitative mindset and a quantitative mindset. Early on, it’s very tempting to be qualitative. There’s 10 people, you can help everyone with everything- you just jump in and help.. But metrics is going to allow you to scale so that you can operationalize your company properly. You can have success, and it may not be scalable success, but because it was an evangelical, kind relationship. You’re leading folks into a new market that they don’t understand. However, you may not be able to get 20 sales people to lead people on a journey that they don’t understand. Understanding the difference of what’s scalable and what’s evangelical is very important. …I had left the company with a very bad mantra. I my motto was “not work friends, real friends.” Early on, this was great, right? Because everyone is a group of friends that are successful. Our scaling of the company was so rapid that I didn’t keep up with that perspective. As you scale a business, your numbers of people will scale and so will the delta between the executive leadership and the rest of the company.  That creates an environment where you have to adapt. I used to have the belief that “Well… I’ve got to do demotions, I should do it myself. We can still be friends.” But no, you have to adjust that perspective. 

Additional topics discussed:

  • Growing, creating, benefiting a new world
  • Mars explains the need and potential for updated language models for conversational AI 
  • Insights and pitfalls of startup culture.

Host / Podcast bio: Nate Joens is the Co-Founder of Structurely, a tech company that builds AI services for business that allow for personalized conversations with customers. Joens leads the product, engineering and machine learning teams at Structurely and has diverse experiences throughout the startup life cycle. The YouTube channel for Structurely hosts a variety of people contributing to the conversation about and innovation of tech startups and AI development. 


Guest bio: Dr. Jason Mars is a professor of computer science at the University of Michigan where he directs “Clarity Lab.” According to his website, his work pursues the intersection of “science, technology, and entrepreneurship” with the purpose of inspiring “meaningful impact in the lives of every human.” Not only is he the founder of “Clinc”, as mentioned in the podcast, but he is also an author of ““Breaking Bots: Inventing A New Voice In The AI Revolution”

Resources and links mentioned in the show:

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