Alumni Success Story: Artavazd Minasyan’s (MBA ‘12) Response to COVID-19
AUA alumnus Artavazd Minasyan (MBA ‘12) is a serial tech entrepreneur. He has co-founded two successful startups — Krisp, an AI-powered noise reduction technology, and 10Web, a platform for building, hosting, and managing WordPress. Krisp offers an innovative solution to real-time noise cancellation during calls and has received “The Product of the Year” award in 2018 on ProductHunt. With the rapid spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, when millions of people worldwide were forced to work from home and use various online platforms to communicate, a noise reduction technology became essential. The founders of Krisp quickly responded to the ongoing situation and offered a new free plan and dropped prices to Krisp users. Check out our interview with Minasyan to learn more about his background, Krisp, his future ventures, his formula for career success, and his advice on launching a startup.
How did you come up with the idea of creating a noise reduction application?
My friend and Krisp co-founder Davit Baghdasaryan was in the U.S. at the time and worked for Twilio. He used to take frequent trips back home and during these periods he had to work remotely, which included many meetings and important phone calls in the evenings (due to the time zone difference). Davit had to answer some of these calls from outside, a coffee shop or a car, and noise turned out to be a very disturbing and inseparable part of his remote work routine.
We hang out and drink coffee a lot. During one of our chats I asked him if he could solve one problem through machine learning, what would that be, and he instantly said “noise reduction.” We took the quest to solve it, although at first Davit thought that it was just a joke. We started to work on the idea and the implementation of noise reduction technology together, along with my friend Stepan, and after eight months we had the first-ever prototype, which motivated Davit to quit his job at Twilio and jointly establish our startup Krisp.
Tell us about Krisp. How does it work? Why did you call it Krisp?
Krisp is an AI-powered noise reduction technology, which is an innovative and new approach to real-time noise cancellation in calls. It’s based on a neural network that we trained using datasets of different noises and datasets of voices of thousands of people. Thanks to this, our new algorithm is able to distinguish ‘clean’ human voices from noise and with that we had the best tech in the world in our hands. We decided that the best way to launch our new tech would be to have it as a stand-alone app that we would call Krisp (as in crispy clear) and you could use it with any conferencing, communication, streaming and recording apps. It’s available for Mac, Windows, iOS users as well as a separate Chrome extension.
You have quickly responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, offering a new free plan and dropped prices for Krisp. How has this affected Krisp downloads? What feedback have you received from the new users?
COVID-19 has greatly impacted the world and the majority of people had to quickly switch to remote work. It was incredibly stressful, and we wanted to step up and help remote workers in need and make sure that we could provide them with noiseless work conditions to the extent possible. We introduced a free tier (120 minutes/week) and offered a 30% reduction in prices. We also made the app free for government and hospital workers, as well as teachers and students.
The feedback was overwhelmingly positive and many people reached out to us throughout these difficult times, and our app downloads have significantly risen in the last couple of months. We are honored and glad to become a necessary app for any remote work routine and make the lives of remote working people more productive and less stressful.
Are you a Krisp user yourself? What areas of improvement do you see, looking at it from a user’s perspective?
Due to the current global situation, our company switched to remote work as well, which made us all start using the app more frequently and understand it better through the user’s eyes.
It has actually tremendously helped us all to have more efficient and noiseless calls, especially for those employees who have kids and sometimes struggle with noisy conditions. One of the main enhancement features for the app would be sound quality, which is not at its best at the moment, but we’re already working on presenting a new full-band version of the app soon.
You mentioned a new video product during WCIT 2019. Are you currently developing it? Tell us about it.
Up until now the focus of our app was to make remote workers have productive and noiseless business calls and remote meetings. However, there’s always more than noise to those meetings and as remote work has become increasingly popular, many companies have thousands of fully remote teams dispersed across the world.
So, we have decided to shift the focus of the app and make it about the overall productivity of remote workers. Noise reduction is not the only problem people face, so we decided to tackle the next one — video backgrounds. We will have a solution that will allow users to keep their privacy and be able to change their background during a video call anytime and from anywhere.
How do you manage to combine your academic background in physics, mathematics, and business administration?
In addition to earning a PhD in mathematics, I have also founded different tech businesses. I would say I think more like a businessman rather than a scientist. I was in search of a problem that had a great practical demand and where I could both fully apply my mathematical knowledge and open more room for my business knowledge and skills. That’s how I found the problem of noise reduction to be exactly what I needed to pursue my goals.
Have the knowledge and skills gained at AUA contributed to the success of your business venture/s? How?
The answer is definitely yes. As a startup co-founder, you need to wear different hats in different times: finance management, business development, sales, marketing, negotiations, and so on. The MBA program at AUA is a perfect place for acquiring comprehensive business knowledge in all those disciplines.
Another great aspect of the program was getting acquainted with the American business culture and the environment through numerous business cases and professors with prior background in multinational corporations.
What is your formula for success in a career?
There are a variety of components that play a significant role in the deep tech startup like the right market, the product, and the team. So I have summarized it into a single formula:
It consists of five main factors — great idea, team, product, execution/distribution, and luck coefficient, and here’s how it looks:
Success = Idea * Team * Product * Execution * Luck coefficient
The first four factors are definitely interconnected and overlap, but despite that, you still need to approach each factor separately. Of course, the last component isn’t tangible because it’s luck, but surely if you turn your idea into a viable great product with a strong team and execute it correctly, luck and success will follow.
What is your advice to those young people who plan to launch a startup?
The starting point is always the most important and vital phase of the startup. And the ultimate advice would be to define all the key objectives of your goal and learn to prioritize a single one out of those objectives and, whenever you encounter a problem, split it into smaller parts and try to solve it one by one. All problems come down to one thing — you either learn to solve it yourself or find people who can solve it together with you and that’s how any successful business functions. Many tech giants started out small and later turned into trillion-dollar companies and no one knew they would receive hundreds of million dollars of investments when they were just starting to test the waters with their new innovative tech.