Humans of Tech – Mike Murchison
This month we spoke to Mike Murchison, featured recently in Forbes Top 30 under 30 for Enterprise Tech and CEO of AI powered customer service startup Ada Support. We explore the story behind Ada, what keeps Mike up at night, and why he’d love to find himself secluded with only the ocean and books for company.
Tell us about Ada Support! Where did the name come from and how does the name play into your company’s directives?
Ada is named after Ada Lovelace who is widely considered the world’s first programmer. We wanted to honour that history,. It’s important to remember that the first computer engineer was a woman.
Our company Ada is an AI customer service platform. We make it easy for enterprise customer support departments to improve their customer service through AI tools. We’ve grown in the last year from a team of 15 people to about 65 and we recently hired our new Head of People with Artemis’ help.
The average person spends 43 days of their life waiting on hold for customer service. When Ada is deployed at scale across the world, we will fundamentally change the way people experience customer service. We’d have given so much time back in their day and have made the experience way more delightful for both customer service agents and consumers.
What sparked you to pursue an entrepreneurial career path?
Startups are amazing learning vehicles. I’ve worked on a few over the years and there are few things that I find more challenging than willing something into existence with a bunch of other highly motivated people.
One of the things that’s so fulfilling about Ada is that we’re learning new things all the time. One of the reasons our company is successful and will continue to be successful is because we look for people who have a similar relationship with their work. Ada people view work as an opportunity to grow personally and to level themselves up, to experience challenges head on. That’s basically my relationship with company building and why I love doing it.
Why did you start Ada, what gave you the idea?
The reason we started Ada came out of an issue we were having with the previous company I had founded. My co-founder David Hariri and I started a company called Volley and it was growing really quickly. With that growth, we were experiencing a customer support challenge where we couldn’t respond to all our customers quickly enough. We felt really bad about it because we’ve always believed that really tight communication between the business and the company is essential for any great user experience. That aspect was just breaking down with Volley.
It made us consider if what we were experiencing was also potentially a challenge for other companies. Turns out it was. To really learn about customer service challenges, we joined 7 different customer service teams as agents before we built anything for Ada. We were actually customer service agents and we processed thousands and thousands of phone calls and emails and live chat sessions. We learned first hand how challenging it is to provide customer service at scale.
We built Ada to effectively replicate many of the behaviours we were engaging in as customer service agents. We focused on making Ada easy to use because of our first hand experience – we were part of teams and had faced their struggles. We knew that in order for this technology to be deployed and be effective it needed to be something that customer service reps would actually like to use. That’s why core to Ada’s value is making AI simple and accessible. We would never have had the approach had we not been part of the status quo.
One of our companies principles is “Do it manually first”. When we face any new problem as a team, we ask ourselves how can we do this without building anything. Usually we find that when we approach something manually first you learn so much more about the problem that will influence your subsequent solution that you would’ve missed had you just tried to solve it right away.
Working in the tech industry can be very demanding, what do you do outside work to maintain energy?
I run a lot. For me that’s become something that I need to do to be my best self.
I’m always reading, I love immersing myself in books. Sometimes I dream about going on one of those 45 day transatlantic journeys on a freight container ship. You can actually get on one of these cargo ships as a passenger. I’d love to get a small room and just surround myself with books. I’d have to read!
We’re so distracted by our devices, they’re always on, and I think there’s such a premium on our attention today that sometimes I think the only way to actually experience the world is to isolate yourself from cell reception for a bit.
What advice do you have for leaders and entrepreneurs looking to hire great people and establish a strong culture?
I think it’s critical that leaders spend time understanding how a potential new team member wants to grow personally.
We ask this question at Ada “If we were to grab a coffee 12 months from now, and you were reflecting on how you grew previously over the previous year, what do you want to be able to say?” I think companies that are attuned to people’s personal ambition and are able to create an environment that supports it are the ones that really unlock disproportional productivity. Everyone is showing up because they really want to be there. They are at Ada because it is a learning vehicle for their personal growth. Our organizational growth is really just the summation of our personal growth.