Ep. 42: How to Future-proof your Business

Leverage new technology.

Are you wondering if you could use AI or technology to ease your workload? The answer is yes and we’ll show you how. Kevin Meyer, Co-Founder & CEO of Crunch Tech Inc., explains how he uses automation and AI to run his business more efficiently. And Michelle Weise, the CEO of Rise & Design, digs deeper into how you can future-proof your business and the importance of communication in an increasingly tech-oriented community.

(5:42) - Can everything be automated? Kevin discusses the limitations of AI, particularly in terms of generating specific content and designing products.

(14:47) - Michelle emphasizes the importance of internal communications in the workplace, particularly the need to articulate the "why" and the vision behind organizational changes and technological advancements.

(19:44) - Andrea goes over the benefits of automation for small teams and how leveraging technology and project management tools can streamline operations.

Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Michelle: We both need our human skills and our technical skills to bring to the table. You have to have enough human skills to differentiate your work, but you also have to be able to know enough technically to intervene at the right points in time and know when to interrogate the data or the model or the algorithm. If we look at where AI is today, even in its very elemental roots with these kinds of phenomenal innovations, we can see the ways in which some of our work can become potentially obsolete or made easier or automated. But we also can see very readily where our human skills come to the fore.

[00:00:40] Host: Hi, This is Small Business, a podcast brought to you by Amazon. I’m your host, Andrea Marquez. On This is Small Business we cover all things small business that will help you start, build, and scale your business. We will hear from guests with diverse backgrounds, point of views, and stories, with the hope of hearing from many types of small business entrepreneurs. By the end of each episode, I'll point out key takeaways that you can use [00:01:00] on your business journey.

The future of the workplace seems to be constantly evolving because of all the new technological advances that are happening. I mean we've all heard all about how AI is gonna change the workplace and how we work. So how can you leverage these tools to help improve your business operations? And is it even a good idea to do that? How much should you lean on technology to help automate certain parts of your business?

Coming up -- I'll talk to Michelle Weise, the CEO of Rise & Design, an advisory service for organizations looking to design strategies that'll prepare adults for the jobs of today and tomorrow. We'll be talking about how you can future-proof your business by using technology. But first - I want you to meet Kevin Meyer, Co-Founder & CEO of Crunch Tech Inc. You might also know him as the person who developed The CrunchCup alongside his partner. Like most of the small businesses we feature on the show, you can find the CrunchCup in the Amazon store. Kevin is an avid user of automation and technology to make sure that business operations are as efficient as possible. [00:02:00] So if you've been thinking of ways to leverage AI and technology to improve your business then this episode is for you.

Also, don't forget that if you want to hear your story on This is Small Business, we have a voicemail line where you can ask questions or share your entrepreneurial story. We want to hear from you! Find the link to the voicemail line in the episode description.

[00:02:20] Kevin: I was running an agency and we were helping small businesses basically get off the ground. Doing a lot of content and doing a lot of gurilla, kind of just scrappy stuff to make sure that, you know, these business owners who didn't have a huge budget, we could still give them high value production type of content. And so, my partner came to me and basically said Hey, so my daughter, she wants to get into, you know, at least spin up a small business. And she's thinking about things. And the unit economics on a cereal bar are pretty great. You're just selling people cereal. And I said, Yeah, that's, that's great. But you, you're gonna be stuck brick and mortar, you've got a spoon, you've got a bowl. [00:03:00] And somewhere in that conversation I said, you know, while I was a, an editor in the visual effects industry. Sometimes super late at night when the kitchen kind of like, no one's there, there was always cereal and milk. So I would have two cups, one cup with cereal, one cup with milk, and that way I could do my work and not have like a bowl of cereal just kind of turned to mush while I'm working.

And pretty much three days later, he shows up at my front door and he's got this hot glued contraption. At first, I said, you know what, this is gonna be super hard for people to adopt. Like people are so used to just eating their cereal with a spoon and a bowl, and then I used the prototype. And there's something just so uniquely special about being able to sit at your desk and with one hand eat cereal or granola or anything, and I knew it had legs. And so I said, you know what, Rob, my current co-founder, we'll launch it the same way I'm helping other clients but I'm gonna do it. Basically on the house [00:04:00] as a pet project, get all the team that in the agency at the time, just super excited about it. Like, this is a project for like us, like we can do whatever we want. There's no client. We are the client. And it was just a blast.

The cost per acquisition, for people that were super interested and the engagement on our, our initial ads were just like, light bulbs in my head saying, this is something super special. People love this. People are gravitating towards it and they want to be involved or they want to try it. And so fast forward to today. You know, we've sold over I think 500,000 units. We've got warehouses in four different countries, the US Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom. And really, it's just, it's a, a blast to work on it.

[00:04:45] Andrea: I really, really like that story because the success of the product surprised you and right now Crunch Cup is doing great. So, before this we spoke about how much you love using tech to make your operating as efficient as possible considering you’re a small team.

[00:05:00] Kevin: We lean hard into our PMs, our project management system. Every Monday I'm just saying, hey, what are we doing that if it takes you five clicks or it takes you a whole minute of doing something and you're doing this task repeatedly, Like, let's automate that.

[00:05:20] Andrea: Do you believe everything can be automated at this point? Especially since AI is currently gaining a lot of popularity?

[00:05:25] Kevin: It's the question of this century, I think, you know how far can that go? Right, so, a good example of this is that an AI or a LLM, large language model, they work better when they're trained on a certain thing. For example, mid journey, which is, you know, a generative, creative kind of photo content. I can't tell it to, hey, create a photo with my product inside that photo. At least you can't do it yet. And there's some people trying to do this. The AI doesn't know what your product is. You can feed it an image offline or off a website off. You could just send it to a, an Amazon URL. And for the most part, [00:06:00] it's not gonna understand what a product is or how a consumer might use it, just from looking at it and learning about it. I don't think we're there yet.

You know, we did the same thing, like I, I said, oh, I want to do a generative ai, photo kind of sequence in on our Instagram feed cuz it's popular right now. So it's like, gimme a photo of, you know, a 90 year old person skydiving, holding the Crunch Cup, and I sent it a seed image, so it could understand what it's working with and try to use this blend mode. And it was just totally failed. So instead we just said, hey, grandma skydiving holding a water bottle, and we'll just Photoshop it in. And that's what we did.

Other things that it's not gonna be able to do is, it's not very good right now at connecting certain tasks. There's two parts to this. So let's say that I want to create an analytics dashboard based off a table of data. I could ask it to write a formula that says, Hey, in column g I want it to take the weighted average of column B plus C, [00:07:00] and it could spit that out, but if the step before that is what do you need to see to make actionable insights and why do we need to even see the average on column G? We're not really there yet where you can say, Hey, give me analytics. Because your brain is saying, I know kind of what I want, but I don't know exactly what I need. And in some cases, you know exactly what you need and then AI's great for that. But like if I asked AI to design my product, the one that we took, 80 prototypes, it's gonna have a super hard time doing that. And it may halfway through, forget what the prompt is to where it'll start to iterate and you know, you get something that's not a cup or it's completely different and it's got little channels that can't even be manufactured, so it doesn't know what the manufacturing capabilities are unless it's specifically trained on that.

And then it also doesn't know how the human is going to be using it, and it doesn't know certain instances [00:08:00] unless you fed it that info. Technically you could say, hey, I need you to generate a cup. It's got two vessels and it's solving this, this, this, this, this, this, this. And like, you feed it a ton of data, you may get close. But really the way that we should be using AI is to get to a starting point on how we want to direct it.

[00:08:22] Andrea: Can you tell me the top two ways that AI has influenced or benefited your business?

[00:08:28] Kevin: We began leaning into it to do things as simple as like, you know, I'll be honest, I use it to respond to emails in some cases. It’s really good at summarizing text so I can send it a link or give it just a data set of customer sentiment. We're launching a product later this year and a lot of those key points, the attributes of this new product were derived based off of customers. And so there's no way I can read the 12,000, [00:09:00] reviews that have been posted, you know, feeding that data to an AI and saying, Hey, gimme the five key points that people are upset with and want to see made better or resolved.

Another great thing it's able to do, and this has helped us optimize our process flow is really like content generation and the creative content that goes into like, let's say an email. So there's a prompt that I've made, it that has about 10 steps and every three steps I ask it to reply or to halt and ask if it needs any more information, if it understands. And in some cases it'll say, yeah, what about this, this, and this? how do you want to go about this? And we build out some of our email marketing just like that. We'll say, hey, generate five topics that are interesting to post in a email newsletter or an email blast to our customers. Here are four examples that we've done in the past, and it'll come back to us and say, Hey, here are five different email topics [00:10:00] that we can send out. And then that third step, I say, pick one of them and tell us why that's the best

one to actually push content out for. Once the content's built out, we can say, Hey, also generate a SMS message for this exact campaign. And it'll summarize that down into 144 characters so it can fit the sms character length. We've got now an email campaign. We've got SMS campaign, we've got our posts that supplement that campaign on our social media channels, and that would've taken, previously, maybe a few days and like bouncing, brainstorming between two or three people to like come up with that kind of content. As long as you're giving it the information it needs, it can take 30 seconds to do what it would take a few days and a few people. It’s super powerful.

[00:10:50] Host: You're listening to This is Small Business, brought to you by Amazon. I’m your host, Andrea Marquez. You just heard from Kevin Meyer, Co-Founder & CEO, Crunch Tech Inc. [00:11:00] You can find out more about the Crunch Cup in our show notes on our website: Thisissmallbusinesspodcast.com.

Kevin gave us a behind the scenes look into how he uses technology and AI to smoothly operate his business. Because they're a small team, time is money and so automating repetitive tasks is super important to ensure that the team has enough time for other priorities. So, if you've got a small team like Kevin and a lot of work to get through, then maybe automating some tasks can help you out.

Like Crunch Tech Inc., the small businesses we feature on This is Small Business are some of the many small businesses selling in the Amazon store who have tapped into some of the tools and resources offered to help them succeed and grow. One of those resources is the Amazon Small Business Academy where you can find the help you need to take your small business from concept to launch and beyond. You can strengthen your skills at no cost with live and on demand trainings, Q&As, events, and even find more This is Small Business content. If you don’t know where to start, you can take the free self-assessment on the Amazon Small Business Academy site at www.smallbusiness.amazon.

[00:12:00] So far, we've talked about how Kevin used technology and AI to automate his business operations. So let's dig deeper into other ways that businesses can leverage technology and make sure that they’re prepared for the future of the workplace with my next guest Michelle Weise, the CEO of Rise & Design.

[00:12:20] Michelle: I think it helped that there was enough I think hoopla around the fact that it was very confident sounding, but often wrong. And so you had to go in, right, with a little bit of skepticism and doubt. So it is really important to double back and, and make sure that some of this stuff is helpful.

As small business owners, there are certain kind of time saving things we just need to rely on, to be able to save our mental space for the activities that really matter. Those kinds of tools are just, you need them when you don't have massive teams to do the grunt work for you, right? So you need time saving gestures and, and, and exercises and mechanisms. [00:13:00] I definitely rely on it here and there just as a, as an idea generator at certain points in times. I'm not the best, for instance, at creating agendas for meetings, so it just helps me quickly remember what does an audience kind of just need to know at a high level from some of the, the work that I'm presenting to them. But I, I, I definitely love it as, as an efficiency mechanism, but I'm definitely seeing that my role is clear and more defined now that I see what the tools can offer.

[00:13:28] Andrea: I’m so impressed sometimes by what AI can do but also, I feel like when people talk about it being “efficient” I feel like I spend more time explaining all the parameters of what I want to it, then if I just did it myself. Like, AI is making some type of mark, but I don’t know if it’s where we need it to be yet, at least in my experience. And thinking of looking into the future, what are some other trends you're seeing in the workplace that you think small business owners should look out for?

[00:13:57] Michelle: I think the biggest piece is, [00:14:00] for me at least, when I've seen, when I've worked with different kinds of organizations, the piece that's never going to go away is how critical internal communications is. You can never really over communicate how and what you're doing. I think the sort of dissemination and the knowledge share, getting it across to a wide array of stakeholders is, is just always critical and I, and I just kind of marvel at how we forget about it in different kinds of trans, I, I lead different kinds of, Internal transformations for organizations and companies and you get so mired in the what and the things to do, it can get really easy to forget to point to the why and why we're doing this. And really when you're trying to galvanize a large group of people, that insistence on the over communication of the why. And the vision and why we're doing all this work has to happen all the time, almost to a point where it gets annoying for people because they're just like, oh, they're saying it again, [00:15:00] but it needs to be there for people to kind of hear it, and feel a part of it. So I feel like that piece is kind of far and away just the thing that just keeps emerging, even through any kind of technical or technological enablement that goes on within an organization. That piece is, is always clear.

I've also noticed with, you know, as we're switching to remote and hybrid workforces, there's sometimes, especially for cultures that are more familiar with FaceTime and in person time, it can feel difficult to let go, and it's hard to kind of, focus on the deliverable as opposed to seeing someone work and feeling like they're working hard. And so that's where I think I've tried out every kind of possible project management tool in every organization. And those, those really are helpful in terms of keeping people on task and oriented toward, what is it that we're trying to accomplish and who's working on what? [00:16:00] I feel like the most kind of friction that emerges that I've seen in, in workplace challenges is around lack of clarity of what your role is. But I think when you use these different kinds of project management tools well, it's very clear who does what and when you need to hand something off or, or get into a moment of collaboration.

[00:16:20] Andrea: Collaboration I think is such an important aspect as you look to growing your team and thinking about scaling your business too and how you leverage the best tools that allow you to do that. And then there’s this human skill aspect of it that sometimes doesn’t come through when using these tools that needs to be prioritized too, right?

[00:16:40] Michelle: As we think about those trends for the future of the workforce, I think one of the things we're going to really see real transformation around is how we reimagine on the job training. We've seriously disinvested in training our existing workforce, [00:17:00] and I think what we're seeing in some of the innovations out there is a real excitement around how do you take your workforce, understand, and make really transparent mobility pathways within a company, and how do you kind of assess using AI and different kinds of skills that you bring to the table, as well as the gaps that you may have to move towards those other goals within the company that you may have. And it's really exciting to see some of these platforms emerge that make that kind of re skilling, much more concrete as to, okay, here I am now. I think I want to go be a systems network analyst, or I think I want to go be a human resources manager. Here are the 10 competencies I'm lacking, and here's how I might fill them.

And, and those kinds of things are emerging, which is really exciting to see on the innovation front. And so I think as we think about transparency and retention within the workforce. We're going to see more emphasis on how do we reimagine building those skills while in the flow of work. [00:18:00] I'm really excited to see how more and more companies figure out how to pull out or carve out 30 minutes a week, 30 minutes a day, to help people gain the time to actually acquire those new skills for, this emerging world of work. And I think that's like a really huge myth in the business world is that if you invest in your people, they'll leave you for your competition. Instead, it can really deal with this high turnover rate that we see in a lot of different companies. How do we keep our people? How do we make them feel valued? We actually teach them new skills.

[00:18:35] Host: That was Michelle Weise, the CEO of Rise & Design talking to us about the future of work. As always, here are some key takeaways:

  • One. Automation is great, especially when you've got a small team like Kevin's. When you automate repetitive tasks using AI or technology, it'll help free yourself up for other important tasks that you might need to focus on. So do your research and leverage the tools available to you. Kevin thinks about this every Monday, [00:19:00] so maybe you want to start adding an hour of every week to auditing yourself on what can be automated to free some time.
  • Two. Both Michelle and Kevin mentioned various ways in which they leverage technology to improve their operations. Kevin talked about how AI helps him generate emails or look through his customer reviews, as well as project management tools that help him stay on track. Michelle mentioned that a problem she sees in a lot of businesses is that sometimes people aren't sure what their role is and technology can help with that. You can use project managements tools to make sure that everyone knows what they need to doing, especially as your business grows. Michelle did also say that face time is also very important and there isn’t a replacement for what human connection can do.

I'm curious – Have you been thinking about how you can automate to improve your business operations? Or maybe you've already done that in many ways. I'd love to hear about your journey! Reach out to us at thisissmallbusiness@amazon.com to tell us what you're up to. Or let me know what you think of the episode by leaving a review on Apple Podcasts – [00:20:00] it’s easier if you do it through your phone. And if you liked what you heard -- I hope you'll share us with anyone else who needs to hear this!

If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur, and I hope you are if you’re listening to This is Small Business. Or maybe you already have your small business up and running and you’re ready for the next step. A super valuable resource that can help you is the Amazon Small Business Academy where you can find the help you need to take your small business from concept to launch and beyond. Take the free self-assessment on the Amazon Small Business Academy site at www.smallbusiness.amazon.

That's it for today’s episode of This is Small Business, brought to you by Amazon. Until next week – This is Small Business, I'm your host Andrea Marquez -- Hasta luego -- and thanks for listening!

CREDITS: This is Small Business is brought to you by Amazon, with technical and story production by JAR Audio. [00:20:50]


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