If you want to stay ahead of where business technology is going it's always best to follow the money. And - for someone like me who runs a technology business and also covers technology - one of the best places I go to see where the money is going is a boutique venture capital firm in California.

Emergence Capital is unique in that it invests mostly in startups that are working on business collaboration and productivity applications that they hope will one day turn into the next Salesforce, Bill.com or Zoom.  They should know. The firm, which is headquartered in San Mateo and also has offices in San Francisco, were early investors in those companies - as well as Intacct (now owned by Sage), Box and Yammer (now owned by Microsoft) - which are or were successful applications that have been used by millions of people, including many of my clients. Sure, the firm has made a few wrong moves. But their wins over time have overwhelmingly made up the difference.

So where is Emergence Capital putting its money now? According to this great ZDNet piece by Tiernan Ray, it's artificial intelligence. Creepy artificial intelligence.

"Our hypothesis is that cloud software will become more and more personalized, it will become hyper-tailored to me as the employee," Jake Saper, a venture capitalist with Emergence, told Ray. "And we call this coaching networks."  By coaching, Saper means software that is watching, learning and then advising.  And he gives examples of this, using four portfolio companies of his firm.

So, ready to be creeped out?

The first is Vymo, which is a smartphone app that tracks your sales people wherever they are and then, using a "variety of machine learning approaches" makes suggestions for other prospects to call based on the sales person's location and other factors. Vymo literally learns from the best performers in an organization and, according to the company, abstracts the best behaviors to coach the rest. It helps to predict "next best actions" in the moment so sales people can close more deals.  I'm not sure how thrilled my sales people will be to have a Vymo watching their every move but far be it from me to get in the way of anything - and I mean anything - that will help them generate more revenue for my company.

Then there's Guru, a "collaborative knowledge management" app that watches employees as they work inside their company applications - like Salesforce, Slack and Zendesk- and then builds a knowledge base that makes suggestions, on the go, for doing things better and more productively in that application. The company says that with its AI technology, "the knowledge you need finds you as you're working. Freeing you up to focus on what you do best." The makers of Guru want you to think of the app as like a "trusty sidekick--but with slightly less spandex." Ha, ha! Get it? I think this is a Batman and Robin joke. Regardless, it's also creepy. So is Batman. And Robin. And spandex too. The whole shebang, actually.

There's also Chorus.ai, an application that "plugs into" the popular video and collaboration application Zoom and then listens to your conversations and gathers data which is used to help coach sales and service people how to better answer questions - real time - based on the previous responses. Nothing creepy about that, right? Go ahead Chorus, listen away. Make your suggestions.  "Yes, dear, I will remember to pick up the milk and...wait, based on my past interactions with you I'm being told not to forget to say that I love you." (pssst....thanks Chorus!).

Finally, there's Textio, an application that provides "augmented writing" help for its users, where, as the company describes on its website, with each keystroke, the system gets smarter and is able to help better predict how to communicate our thoughts so that "together" you and your lovable bot can build a "positive training loop" where "collective insights" will be continually delivered "right when you need them." Ah, technology and you. What a team.

I'm told that the VCs at Emergence are also considering an investment in bitchy.ai, an app that uses machine learning technology to predict when your co-worker will next complain about their job so you know in advance when to put in your earbuds. And also smelly.uhoh that uses a combination of GPS and IoT technology to predict the least offensive time to use the bathrooms based on traffic and the number of breakfast burritos consumed that morning in your office. Kidding, kidding.

Yeah, it's all creepy. It's machines watching us, learning what we're doing and then telling - sorry, helping - us to do things better. I joke, but this is serious stuff - and important. Because isn't that what technology is supposed to do? Help us be more productive and profitable? The partners at Emergence Capital think so. As creepy as it may seem, they're absolutely right.

"Imagine a world where (products like) Vymo ends up succeeding wildly," Saper said. "It becomes the world's most insightful database of what makes a sales rep successful, this type of rep that responds to this type of prospect in this manner ends up increasing their close rate by 15%."

All of these applications are being already used today by big named brands from Expedia to McDonald's and will continue to expand significantly into the business world throughout 2020.  That's because artificial intelligence is quickly turning today's office applications into more than just software. It's creating real time coaches that never sleep, never stop learning and never (thank goodness) use the bathroom after eating three breakfast burritos.

The smartest entrepreneurs and business owners will quickly get over the creepiness of all that and leverage these technologies to help them grow their businesses. The ones that resist this trend are doomed to fail in the long run. Just follow the money and you'll see I'm right.

Published on: Dec 26, 2019