Executive InterviewsLatest

Meet Chi Tran – CMO at Autonomous Inc

Today we have selected Chi Tran, CMO of Autonomous.ai, to take her Interview. Chi joined Autonomous as one of the first business persons in their early days in 2015 to help build the e-commerce brand and the growth team from scratch. In a little over 5 years, the team has grown to 30 people worldwide, taking charge of a global marketing effort that has brought around 300M dollars in revenue.  

What are the current services Autonomous offers to its consumers – Post-COVID in technology and software?

With the future of work increasingly becoming a combination of office and remote work, we believe businesses must adopt the most up-to-date solutions to help them balance and manage workplace resources for individuals who need them when they come. Keeping track of desk bookings and which employees will use workstations on different days without the latest technological solutions may be a nightmare for HR and managers. To address this developing problem, we created Hybrid OS. We built it to be a must-have organizing solution that handles all scheduling and logistics for organizations that need to keep track of their employees’ hybrid schedules. 

The Hybrid App is a key component of Hybrid OS, serving as a dashboard with all of the information and controls needed for hybrid functioning right at the user’s fingertips. The app allows you to arrange your work schedule, reserve office desks on days you’ll be working on-site, book meeting spaces, and see what your coworkers are up to so you can be sure to reach out to important team members when they’re available. Hybrid Desk combines our software with our tried-and-true Smart Desk series, designed specifically for hybrid offices. Thanks to the desks ‘ seamless integration with the software, individual user preferences are saved and remembered when users book desks using the Hybrid App. We’ve also developed Hybrid Meeting Rooms that merge seamlessly with the Hybrid App. Hybrid Meeting Rooms are versatile, adaptable, and changeable meeting rooms that can be placed anywhere in the company.  

In addition to Hybrid OS, we’ve also developed JAM, a new way for teams to communicate, combining all the best features of popular office communication tools, like Slack and Zoom, into one. We’ve designed it with an out-of-the-box approach, beginning with the problem of remote teams lacking the same cohesion they’d have if they were meeting in person. Engineering backward to meet those needs with innovative new features, like a press-to-talk interface that lets you quickly chat with other team members instead of setting up appointments and Zoom, calls with passwords, and a whole setup process. 

JAM has been tremendously popular both in our own team and the many companies who have already jumped on board. We’re excited to see it grow into the all-encompassing communication tool for teams that we’ve engineered it to be. 

We’ve developed all these solutions because we believe hybrid work will absolutely become the new normal, not only for large corporations but for small businesses and startups as well. With all our solutions, they’re optimized to work flawlessly for small businesses yet easily scaled up to meet the needs of larger companies looking to make big infrastructural investments. 

How are you and your team doing in these COVID-19 transitions with vaccinations and government guidelines?

Our team has always been broadly distributed across a network of experts worldwide, so working in a hybrid fashion is nothing new for us. I work most closely with the marketing team here, but the same can be said of our technology and IT teams and product development teams.  

But we’ve still had to make adjustments just like everyone else during the pandemic, as well as react quickly to ever-changing regulations, which vary in different parts of the world depending on the severity of the pandemic at any given time. Fortunately, we’ve had no issues getting people on our team vaccinated when vaccines become available. We’re always applying the lessons we learn to develop products for other companies worldwide dealing with the same challenges. 

How was Autonomous founded? Tell us a bit more about your goals for the next year.

The story of Autonomous, Inc begins like many small but scrappy team startups: a few ambitious engineers, “so crazy it just might work” ideas, and a willingness to take risks and think of solutions to problems in new and innovative ways. Our story starts in an apartment building in New York City in 2014. Back then, a group of enterprising engineers met together with an ambitious plan to shake up traditional notions of what it means to work in a “smart” office. 

At the start, the Autonomous founding team wanted to integrate their proprietary AI software into a standing desk, leveraging their combined specialties in hardware and software. This saw many iterations, from a robot to a desk with an integrated voice-activated personal assistant. Though the initial results were successful, the team soon realized as the company grew that the AI they had developed would be difficult for the mass market to adopt.  

Instead, they held onto their DNA as hardware and software engineers and produced the trendy Smart Desk and Ergo Chair. Initially, just concepts funded by Kickstarter campaigns, these products eventually grew into mass-produced items used and beloved by millions of office workers and gamers worldwide. That dedication to producing innovative solutions with hardware and software integration is the DNA that still powers Autonomous. 

Our plans for upcoming years still focus on humans and develop products to help people work healthier and more effectively. Now more than ever, people are on the hunt for the best tools that will give them the edge in a post-pandemic world, and many offices and corporations are looking for solutions to help them grapple with new and unprecedented workplace challenges. Autonomous will be one of the leading companies in supplying smart tools for offices worldwide in this emerging new reality. 

What is Autonomous doing to innovate in terms of technology and remote working?

At Autonomous, we believe that very shortly, there will be no gap or barrier between working. We call it the ‘Work Anywhere’ model. We envision a future where employers won’t be limited by time zones, borders, countries, or aesthetic preferences—instead of looking only for the best talent, no matter where in the world it can be found and growing into a global network of individuals who make up a cohesive team. 

We are developing both hardware and software tools with the help of advanced technology to connect not just people with people but also people with smart furniture, devices, offices, and more. This is why we’ve developed not only our Hybrid OS software but hardware integration as well. 

Our SmartDesks integrate with the technology we’ve developed in the Hybrid App to give new levels of cohesiveness, customizability, and organization to offices everywhere. This flexible approach is critical as different industries and companies will require different levels of customizability to suit their unique needs and philosophy to work. Since hybrid work is a developing business model, it’ll take on many different iterations before it becomes standardized industry-wide (if that ever happens). 

Thanks to our well-established foundation engineering smart, ergonomic office tools, we’ve been able to innovate on top of that to create brand new, disruptive solutions to tackle new challenges. The old ways of organizing offices and managing employees just aren’t going to cut it, and we need innovation now, more than ever, to handle the big changes coming our way. 

How did the pandemic affect your business, and how are you coping with all the changes?

Just like most businesses around the world, we had to make adjustments due to the pandemic. While much of our team has always worked remotely or in different countries, the teams accustomed to meeting together and working on projects in person had to adapt to working together remotely as the pandemic grew and changed in severity throughout the past couple of years. 

Amazingly, last year our company not only overcame these challenges, but we actually grew at an unprecedented scale and added on more talented people to our team than ever before. Demand for our smart, ergonomic office solutions transitioned from corporate offices to people looking to invest in their home office setups. So we responded to our customers’ demands and saw a lot of success because of our ability to adapt quickly. 

We learned a lot from these challenges, and those lessons have actually driven a lot of the innovation you see coming out of Autonomous now with Hybrid OS and JAM, the latter of which emerged from our desire for a more cohesive and effective form of communication after experiencing the well-documented stressful effects of Zoom fatigue and often disjointed communication on Slack. 

So, in addition to innovating our own solutions, we’re always listening to our customers and staying laser-focused on the ever-changing trends and emerging needs of the modern workplace. So while it’s been a challenging time, it’s also been a time of incredible success and growth for our company as well. 

Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?

When it comes to the marketing team, we have to stay on top of the trends and approach our customer base in fresh, new, and creative ways. So especially in light of the challenges of working remotely away from other team members, I needed to make sure my team didn’t experience burnout and mental fatigue.  

At the same time, the pandemic has afforded me a lot more opportunities to have deep, intimate, and meaningful conversations with each of my team members, which has given me a much better understanding of how everyone on my team operates. In that sense, it’s actually brought our team closer together and me personally closer with each team member, despite our physical distance at times. 

My advice to managers and team leaders everywhere would be not to forget or overlook anyone on your team. Take the time to get to know them and invest in them, and equally important is never to forget your own needs as well, so you can be the leader your team needs you to be during a challenging transition. 

What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?

We’re lucky that our company has all the necessary tools to help us work effectively during a hard time. Part of the advantage of working at a company that specializes in software development is the availability of our own in-house tools that are both cutting edge and, of course, available for us to use and test before anyone else. 

I personally love our internal audio communication software, JAM, because it’s quick, private, and super easy to use. It’s been a trendy tool for my team and other teams throughout the company. It’s been a really great cohesive tool as our company expands and hires on new talent as it helps new employees feel more included and in direct contact with their colleagues despite not always working with them in person. 

Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?

We offer a broad portfolio of products which means we have competitors in many corners of the market. But we generally pay less attention to what our competitors are doing and more to what the world needs.  

When it comes to competition, we tend to occupy new corners of the market in which we have little or no competition because we are more concerned with innovating for the unfulfilled needs that our customers have due to the challenges of a post-pandemic world. We’re more forward-thinking than simply copying what everyone else is doing. We’re focused, more than anything, on moving forward into the future. 

What is something you would like people to know about Autonomous moving forward?

We’re here to challenge traditional notions of what it means to be a productive and successful company in 2021 and beyond. For companies big and small, well-established and just getting started, everyone needs to change their minds and preconceived notions of office working. This is especially important for managers to embrace. 

We think giving your team freedom and flexibility is the best way to manage them. Based on my own experience, this has been a tremendously successful approach. To that end, Autonomous will continue to innovate and create hardware and software solutions for companies transitioning to a hybrid work environment moving forward. 

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