We’re still many years away from computers being able to write and create content at the level that humans can. But today there are a number of ways we can leverage artificial intelligence to help us write and publish smarter. This is the belief of AJ Frank, the chief executive of Verst. Frank is a technology and product veteran who’s worked at Uber, Twitter (Vine), and Google (YouTube) before coming on to lead Verst in 2016.
Based in New York, Verst is building an intelligent, modern publishing platform. Frank and his team realized that in today’s publishing landscape, many of the tools are outdated, overly complex, or don’t offer enough. Verst saw a wave of publishers start to move towards building custom content management systems to manage their content, which is often both expensive and time consuming. Frank believes that publishers shouldn’t spend their resources trying to build a complicated CMS; instead, they should focus on what they do best — creating amazing content. Verst wants to be the technology layer that makes publishing intuitive, while at the same time offering powerful tools such as advanced analytics and A/B testing to help us create and share content more effectively.
With the recent launch of Verst 2.0, Greylock’s John Lilly caught up with Frank to talk about what drove his team to build a new publishing platform and how it will differentiate itself from the other tools out there. They also talk about the pros and cons of building a world-class tech company in New York, how Frank thinks about interviewing engineers, and the operating principles that set the foundation for Verst’s company culture. (Disclosure: Greylock is an investor in Verst.)
Below are a few key takeaways from the podcast:
- Prioritizing the mobile experience: Frank says that publishers aren’t only on desktop anymore, and many of the existing tools have underinvested in creating great publishing experiences on mobile. Their goal is to make Verst just as powerful and easy to use on mobile (or any other device) as it is on desktop.
- “If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”: Frank subscribes to Reid Hoffman’s notion of getting your product out quickly so you can gather real feedback before over-investing time to make it “perfect.” They launched Verst early and learned a lot about what publishers liked, what the gaps the product had, and now have been able to work on fixing those gaps for their new launch.
- The future of publishing: Lilly says the future of publishing will be multi-screen and multi-modal. Frank agrees and says there are many ways technology can and will help us publish more engaging content and get it in front of more people. Verst enables writers to publish more intelligently, with features that help them write stronger headlines, pick better photos, and publish to multiple platforms at optimal times.
- Hiring the best engineers: As part of the interview process, Verst will have an engineering candidate come in for four hours and work on a coding problem. They then evaluate the candidate’s code structure and code quality, but more importantly get a sense of what it’s like to work with the person and how they think about problem solving.
- Clarity vs. transparency: Lilly and Frank agree there is a distinct difference between transparency and clarity. Lilly says transparency can be used as a crutch when leaders share data openly but don’t explain the reasoning behind their decisions. What employees value more is clarity — understanding why the company is making key choices.
Elisa Schreiber is the marketing partner at Greylock Partners.