How is the summer going?
It’s been great! We pitched in VentureCat back in late May 2021, collected some amazing feedback, and then dove right into Jumpstart a few weeks later! It’s been a bit of a whirlwind: we’re in the process of exploring a pivot right now and so having the bandwidth to manage the existing product while scheming new use cases and features has been crucial.
The Jumpstart programming has been great – it has really highlighted how vast the Northwestern alumni network is. I’ve been able to connect with some amazing alums and have built up a strong mentor network.
What’s been the best session so far?
All the sessions have been valuable, but I always find Carter Cast’s workshops to be incredibly impactful. As a serial entrepreneur, professor, and investor, he deeply understands the challenges founders face in their entrepreneurial journey and has designed a variety of workshops and exercises to best position yourself for success. He’s an amazing advisor and gives incredible feedback. In this session, we talked about articulating the value proposition. It’s a surprisingly difficult exercise to be able to condense the entire vision of your company into one sentence, but is key to better understanding
Tell us more about yourself.
I’m currently a rising second year student at Kellogg in the MMM program (MBA + MS in Design Innovation from McCormick). Right out of college, I spent two years in data science consulting working with large Fortune 100 companies on their marketing initiatives. I picked up a great technical skill set during that time, but I knew I wanted to work at a smaller company and on a product I was passionate about so I moved out to San Francisco and joined Lyft back in 2016. It was an absolutely amazing experience. I was on the growth team and touched so many aspects of the business: from performance marketing and driver acquisition, to marketplace dynamics, to new market launches, new ride types, and eventually launching Lyft Pink – the first ridesharing subscription model. After about 4.5 years and a transition into Data Science management, I was ready to take a bit of a leap and start something of my own.
Shortly after starting at Kellogg I reconnected with Ivan Kirgin, a former senior product leader at Lyft who started a venture capital (VC) fund called Tango. We teamed up and started building and experimenting with different products.
Have you always had an interest in entrepreneurship or seen yourself as an entrepreneur?
I think so, but it has been a progression to reach this point. As I mentioned, I started in consulting in which you’re not really a product owner. That experience helped me see that I wanted to work on products and helped me develop the technical skillset to build. At Lyft, I was most passionate about experimenting with new products. I built up a strong understanding of what it takes to build from scratch – both in terms of product MVPs, team building, and growth initiatives. I loved the creativity and sweat behind building things from scratch.
Based on your professional experience, what advice can you give to others on a similar path?
Be focused, but open. It sounds counterintuitive, but I’ve found that it is extremely important to not let yourself get pigeonholed. For anyone early in their career, I would highly recommend that you diversify your skillset, seek new challenges and experiences, and try out roles and industries. Never shy away from a challenge that excites you just because you think you need a certain skill set or prior experience. You’ll be surprised by the opportunities that will arise when you’re open to new ideas or products or roles.
Tell us about your startup, Rhetoric, and how you came up with the idea.
While I was at Lyft, the Data Science team grew incredibly fast. I quickly noticed that the engineers and data scientists who were having the most profound impact at the company and being promoted quickly were those who could sell their work across the large company. It wasn’t just an amazing technical skill set and analytical mindset that led to success, but also an ability to present with conviction, influence leadership, and demonstrate empathy with peers. Fast-forward to COVID times, and we’re speaking into microphones all day at work, so, suddenly, how we speak and present is measurable and quantifiable. Using AI, we now have an unique opportunity to better understand how we communicate, and more importantly, how we might improve! Any data scientist, engineer, or young professional that wants to build their spoken communication skills now has access to valuable data about how to improve.
What is Rhetoric in its current iteration?
We launched a simple prototype as a web application that uses the data from your microphone to provide real-time analytics. Right now, we provide information on speaking pace, filler word usage, rambling alerts, and speaker share. We built the prototype to better understand how users take in real-time feedback and if we can help users build better speaking habits. We’ve learned quite a bit and are now building on top of the existing technology to provide even more value to our user base.
Have there been any challenges as you’re building Rhetoric?
Definitely. We’re building tech that needs to work in real time. For example, if I want feedback whenever I say the word “like”, the alert needs to come instantaneously. It cannot come a few seconds later. The bar of the quality we have to deliver is really high. We’ve tested a few different speech-to-text algorithms and have also built reporting tools to measure the quality of real-time – we try to hold ourselves to strict quality targets.
What accomplishment are you most proud of when it comes to Rhetoric?
I’d say getting to a product that I’m proud of. MVPs (minimum viable products) can be so rough and dirty, and you have to get comfortable with that. You’re still experimenting and testing. Now being able to look at the product and see the value it’s delivering, confirming and validating the problem we’re trying to solve – it has legs.
What’s next for Rhetoric?
We’re exploring this pivot into an end to end presentation platform, and we really want it to be the feedback tool for anyone who has a big presentation coming up. We want it to be really easy to record your presentation and get analytics and feedback on it and share with other people with an amazing feedback interface.
From someone who’s used the product a lot, what are your top three tips for a perfect presentation?
First, stay aware. Let’s review a classic example: the interview process for a job you really want. We’ve all been there. The interview begins and while you’re gushing with excitement and interest (awesome!), your answers are a scatterbrained mess (not awesome!). You’re speaking too fast. Filler words are, like, really, showing up in your responses. Rhetoric exists to prevent these situations. You’ll be reminded to take a deep breath, speak slowly and clearly, and avoid unnecessary filler words. We’ve heard from multiple users that simply having Rhetoric open during a big presentation serves as a calming reminder to take it easy and focus on clarity.
Second, watch out for rambling. IRhetoric will let you know when you’ve spoken for one minute straight. This does not necessarily mean you should stop, but it’s a reminder to be aware of the length of what you are saying and pause for questions. The best answers in interviews are clear, concise, and to the point.
Finally, practice and then practice some more. In Rhetoric, you can save each session and look through your transcripts to see how your answers are improving. You’ll also have access to your stats (words per minute, filler word usage, etc.) for each session.
How can we get started with Rhetoric?
Head over www.rhetoric.app and get started. If you’re interested in an end-to-end presentation platform to source feedback, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article is part of an ongoing series highlighting the startup teams admitted to Jumpstart, The Garage’s pre-accelerator Program. For more information about Jumpstart, click here.