This week we had a chat with Vlad Chernyshov, the founder of Dasha.AI, a Russian startup. This technology replicates human voice using artificial intelligence.
The company’s goal is to automate workflows, reduce the high cost of human labor and drive profits.
“Practically speaking, our goal is to replicate human voice for any kind of conversation between people in such a way that you won’t be able to figure out you’re speaking with a robot. In scientific terms, it means passing the Turing Test.” – explains Vlad.
The platform undergoes a variety of modifications and improvements across many levels but its current focus is on automating voice communications between companies and their clients.
“Such communications are ubiquitous in sales, marketing HR or customer support departments. Basically, all the main divisions in a large company can be our client”, Vlad says.
The Dasha.AI team is very diverse because the company focuses primarily on talent when recruiting employees.
“In our team, we have a professor, 2 Ph.D. holders, 6 graduate students, and 22 participants and winners of the world programming championship. Our workforce consists of about 70 people in total. We are based in St. Petersburg and Novosibirsk, but we also have several remote Moscow-based employees,” Vlad says.
In Dasha.AI, the company’s management communicates with both its in-house and remote employees via Slack and Zoom. The team uses standup for project management, product management, preparation for meetings and team synchronization.
Vlad says, “Most often, we had the challenge of reducing the time spent on meetings. This applies primarily to gathering information from a team or individuals within teams in order to be able to aggregate it, draw up an agenda or make conclusions.”
The higher the number of employees in a company, the more difficult it is to build workflows without missing anything. “It all started with the fact that our employees, including remote ones, became quite large in number and we needed to maintain the general context of the firm. We needed to ensure that everyone knew who was working on what and who had done what.”
“As soon as the number of people reached 10 in two cities, problems started creeping up immediately. No one could really understand what this or that person was doing.”Vlad Chernyshov
CEO of Dasha.AI
Standup creates a certain workflow ‘framework’ that can be filled with structure, changed and adjusted to your team’s work. “We started by creating the very first general standup that still works for us. Once a week, all the 70 employees answer three different questions concerning their activities, depending on which department they are in. In our General channel, we receive a long joint report with all the answers.”
He explains, “When reading all this information, employees (both old and new) may have an idea of the company’s activities, what happened recently, and where we are headed.”
Dasha.AI permanently uses only two Standuply functions: Classic Standups and Advanced Standups (based on Asana integration tasks).
Vlad says, “Likewise, as a CEO, I have access to a number of direct reports that I use to directly monitor my subordinates. So, I supervise 8 people, and for each of them, I assign a large set of tasks on a weekly basis. Otherwise, it would have been difficult for me to track work progress on time and detect any blockers.”
The rest of the team uses regular classic standups for weekly reporting. “As I’ve already said, there is a common standup for the entire company, including interns. And there are specific standups for each team, where sets of questions occasionally change. In these meetings, the team leader asks questions related directly to his department and gets a general overview of information from each team member.”
In the screenshot, you can see all the Standuply functions that the Dasha.AI team uses.
Around 2018, Vlad stumbled upon an article on vc.ru by Standuply co-founder Alex Kistenev. “I love reading vc.ru, and this article sturred something in me because this was a story about a Russian-founded company, which operates globally, like us. And when the need arose for such a tool, we didn’t even look for any other solutions — instead, we immediately integrated Standuply in Slack. We’ve been using it since then,” Vlad says.
With the deployment of Standuply, Dasha.AI planned to cut the amount of unproductive time spent in standup meetings. “For example, when people in a standup meeting tell how and what they did and what they are going to do, the time they spend on this is utterly unproductive,” Vlad says.
“Now with Standuply can automate the way we collect the necessary information and create a meeting agenda based on it.”Vlad Chernyshov
CEO of Dasha.AI
Vlad himself uses customized Advanced Standup (CEO Weekly Report), which, he says, can be easily used to interview any executive of any level. He shared with us some examples of questions:
- What’s your top of mind?
- What did your team do last week?
- What were your successes?
- What were your failures?
- What’s the plan for the next week?
- Any blockers you’ve encountered?
- Do you need anything from the company’s head?
“I found this set of questions very useful because they allow you to keep track of what the senior manager is thinking about, and whether their thought are consonant with the company’s plans and goals.” – Vlad explains.
He says, “I clearly see what they did over the past week, what they plan to do over the next week, and I know whether their results for the week were consistent with the tasks assigned in the previous standup.”
“I can also immediately address any blockers that are clogging their gears and keeping them from going full speed ahead without missing anything.” Vlad says, “If I’m the only one that can resolve a particular issue, then I would definitely step in and help.”
Dasha.AI uses Standuply to conduct a performance review. Performance Review is a process of evaluating an employee’s job performance. Different organizations have their own differences and features of conducting such surveys.
However, the general principles are the same almost everywhere. Dasha.AI runs such a process once a quarter and the entire company participates in it.
The performance review process consists of three stages: a completed questionnaire and two standups, which consist of a 360-degree feedback and self-evaluation.
In addition, this process is also important for tracking your people growth, because one of the main tasks of any manager or team leader is to transform an intern into a true professional.
Vlad gave us a comprehensive overview of this process at Dasha.AI.
First, an employee fills out a form in which he/she collects all the achievements for the last quarter. They’re described in a constructive way with quotes from a 360-degree feedback report.
Vlad explains, “The employee’s immediate supervisor describes their superpowers and gives recommendations on how to develop them. The development areas are then described – these are the areas that a person needs to work on, a growth area where they have certain challenges.”
The second stage is a 360-degree standup report by Standuply. This is a standup where everyone gives anonymous feedback about the people working with then, answering a list of questions.
The range of questions can be wide – from direct questions about a colleague or boss to a discussion of their expertise and efficiency at work.
“It is important to interview in such way not only their team members but also those from other teams interacting with this person.”Vlad Chernyshov
CEO of Dasha.AI
The third stage is self-evaluation. This is a process of self-evaluating one’s own work, success, and development as a specialist.
“The employee provides answers to a fairly large list of questions,” Vlad explains, “this allows you to check what values the person has, in what psychological state they are (satisfied/not satisfied with his own career growth), whether they understand the company’s mission and goals, whether they have comments on the company’s activities, etc. We have about 20 questions in this standup.”
Based on the outcome of the performance review marathon, a managerial political decision is taken: to promote/demote an employee, dismiss or still keep them in their current position, but motivate them by promising a promotion in six months’ time when a certain action plan must have been completed.
This ensures that, first, they will develop as a professional, and second, their goals will be aligned with those of the company.
Also, Aram Hardy, Co-founder and CMO at Dasha.AI, add some words about Standuply: “Over half of startups crumble because of ‘people’s reason’ when there are some disagreements and conflicts inside the team, which could be resolved through negotiations.”
“I believe that the proper and prompt implementation of Standuply helps to clarify the activities of each individual employee.“Aram Hardy
Co-founder and CMO at Dasha.AI
Aram also says, “When each employee is aware of what is happening in the company in every single department, motivation increases and the level of toxicity inside reduce.”
All the main benefits and results of this cooperation, Standuply absolutely helps Dasha.AI to make sure everyone is on the same page while their team grew from 10 people to 70.