ITA Spotlight: XSELL Technologies, Mark Stoehr, CTO
Monday, March 11, 2019
Posted by: Kaylin Berg
Mark Stoehr, CTO, XSELL Technologies, interviewed by William Kennedy, @XSELL_TECH
Mark takes a moment to talk about his "Idea-quakes" and how this has led XSELL to a robust, sales driven AI, all while personalizing the user experience.
William Kennedy: In 25 words or less what is XSELL Technologies all about?
Mark Stoehr: 25 words? That's a tough one. 25 words or less? Xsell technologies starts from the thought of what would it be like if everybody talked to your best Sales Agent, and then working out all the consequences of that.
W: Are you from Chicago or did you relocate here?
M: I am relocated here. I've been here for 13 years, I would have come in 2006.
W: Where are you from?
M: The last place I was at was in China, for a year. During that time my permanent address was in Santiago, Chile.
W: Cool! How did you get involved with Xsell?
M: I was getting my PhD in University of Chicago. It's a funny story, Matt (Coughlin, CEO) was on LinkedIn, looking at some of the people in the University Chicago Computer Science program and he messaged me, he mentioned that on our board we have a trustee of the University of Chicago. I initially did not want to do it, not being the sort to take unsolicited LinkedIn messages, at least in the past.
W: Since you normally don’t reply to these unsolicited messages what made this outreach so different? What was attractive to you about XSELL?
M: I saw that we had a connection. I didn't really want to go, I had a lot of stuff to do on my thesis. But my wife told me that no, I should go because, you know, maybe there's somebody else in my program that would be good to talk with. And so, I decided to go. I believe that if you're going to do anything, you have to do it as well as you possibly can. And so I therefore prepared for the meeting because at the time I had this whole vision that I would be using AI for sales because I thought AI for sales would be a huge opportunity. And we know now that that McKinsey agrees with me, it is a $3 trillion dollar opportunity over the next 10 years.
W: What is your outlook on the local tech companies, in Chicago?
M: I think that software is in the process of eating the world. I believe that comes from Horowitz or Andreessen, one of the two. It came from a famous VC that the software is eating the world. I think that's a really good idea. Because basically, values ultimately always produced by a business process, software can take part of that process, enhance it, automate it. And once you have that, now you have a process that's lower cost to do or potentially higher value. And there are so many processes.
If you think about all the business happening in Chicago right now, we have we have 5.7 million people. And, let's see, what's the domestic product of Chicago? I'm going to cheat here a little bit, you know, we're a technology enabled company. I'm allowed to do this.
There's no way that it's that high. Chicago Metro area is $680 billion in 2017. $680 billion. Okay, so you think about just the volume of processes happening and you think of how many of those could probably be enhanced or automated? Even just a piece of it. I mean, what if one sixth of the work that's being done could be automated? And we've only, you know, we have probably only automated 1% of 1% of 1%. There's hundreds of billions of dollars in automation potential just in the Chicago metro area. And on top of that, that means it's a great place to get started, just to get your first client. There's a of lot of people here to do business with, but then Chicago is also a global city. It has a lot of great global corporations that have offices here, it it has world class universities, it's a great spot for you to actually be a launching platform, to not just go after the $680 billion of domestic product, but to actually go after the US and then the globe in terms of operations everywhere.
W: What is your favorite thing to do at work?
M: Um, yeah, that's a really good question. Because I do so many different things, I'm constantly having to do something new. As far as my favorite thing? I think that my favorite thing in the world- and this is more general than just working and it's just a great gift that I get to have as part of my working day, is when I can come across an idea-quake, I know it's kind of a corny name. There's a better name for it, but it's an idea quake. It's an idea that's so powerful that it it actually shakes your perception and understanding of how you previously saw things. There's lots of ways that I think about how you frame the problems that that we try to solve here at Xsell. I've had the fortune of encountering this multiple times where I learned some new piece, and it just totally changed my perspective such that I was able to redo a whole bunch of things and get a gain out of that.
W: Just like a breakthrough with something you're working?
M: Yeah, one of those moments when you figure something out. An example was the real paradigm shift that we had with the release of our first product and our first software product, the retrieval bot system, the hyper Co-Bot. Yeah and I can't give any details publicly on what those were, but there were a couple idea-quakes that made that software possible.
W: What's the best advice you've ever received?
M: The best advice I ever received, which played a key role in how I crafted what I was talking about when I first came down to talk to Matt and show him some of my ideas about an AI for sales, was that when you propose something, you need to realize that it's boring, but the impact it could have is intensely interesting.
W: Is there a kind of technology that you could not live without?
M: On the one hand I love technology. I work at a technology company, we sell consumer electronics so I could not live without everything that our clients sell. My life as it is now is so dependent on technology then it would be a different life if I didn't have it. But if I had to pick any technology, it probably would be the, you know, all the search technology. I don't think that I'd be able to do my job without my research.