Tope Awotona launched meeting scheduling service Calendly in 2013 because, well, scheduling is hard. He wasn't the only one who felt that way; by 2021, Calendly had achieved a $3 billion valuation. Now, armed with data from Calendly's more than 10 million users, Awotona shares how he thinks meetings will change in the future--and how entrepreneurs can stand to benefit.
When you think about the future of meetings, what needs fixing?
At Calendly, we think about meetings in three distinct phases: scheduling, preparation, and follow-up. We call this "the meeting life cycle." Automation is going to change all three phases.
So what changes in preparation?
Today, most people are not prepared for meetings, and it's not because people don't want to be. It just takes a lot of effort, because the necessary information exists in many different places: in your CRM, your email inbox, LinkedIn, and even in articles you haven't read yet. Today, there are products that can aggregate external and internal data very well, but in the future, those things will merge into a single tool.
What is the biggest innovation today that's going to increase in value over time?
One thing that's really exciting is automated note-taking. Over the next year, I predict the adoption of automated note-taking from meeting recordings and transcriptions. Having transcripts will allow folks to better prepare for future meetings, and we'll also be able to use those notes to trigger actions. For example, meeting invites could be sent out automatically if someone ends a meeting by saying, "Hey, we want to meet again in two weeks."
How else can these technologies improve productivity?
I think most people are not good at knowing how they're allocating their time. I get really excited about a world in which you have a product that helps you say, "These are my priorities for the next three months; help me allocate my time toward serving these goals." So when I receive a meeting request, that tool could tell me, "You don't have the time to take this meeting, because you need all the hours you have left in the week to achieve this goal."
And then there's meeting coaching. If you look at the reasons why meetings are ineffective today, it's a combination of poor agendas, not having the right participants, and not providing enough context to the attendees. The technology exists today to actually coach people toward running more efficient meetings.
Such tools could flag things like a missing agenda ahead of a meeting, or afterward say, "Ten people attended that meeting, but only two spoke; did you really need the other eight people?" Or, "That meeting was 50 minutes, and 10 of it was just people trying to find a document; you could have saved 20 minutes by sending the document ahead of time."
Over time, you can train these tools to give you very specific advice. So let's say, for example, you're a salesperson conducting a lot of demo calls. A coaching tool can give you a lot of feedback on what a successful demo call looks like, and tell you, "This is the sequence in which you want to actually demonstrate your product to somebody; this is the right way to present pricing. Make sure you articulate the value before you just list the price."
How can entrepreneurs take advantage of these changes?
The people and organizations that will succeed are those that value time--their most precious resource--and use it efficiently. To succeed in a time-based economy, we will need to embrace technology and services that re-establish the value of human connection and help us reclaim our time.