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Women Leading the AI Industry: “There is absolutely more room in the universe for original ideas or for great ideas” with Monica Banks and Tyler Gallagher

When I first had the idea for Gugu Guru and started building it, I cannot tell you how many times people said to me, “Are you sure someone else isn’t already doing this?” or “This is so obvious — why hasn’t someone already thought of this?” It’s almost as if people don’t trust that there can be […]


When I first had the idea for Gugu Guru and started building it, I cannot tell you how many times people said to me, “Are you sure someone else isn’t already doing this?” or “This is so obvious — why hasn’t someone already thought of this?” It’s almost as if people don’t trust that there can be an original idea anymore or they’re suspicious that something so simple as a quiz could be a solution to a big problem. My lesson would be: don’t let the concern that someone may have thought of it before stop you from doing anything you want to do. There is absolutely still room in the universe for original ideas or for great ideas that may have been thought of before but haven’t been successfully acted on and realized yet.

As part of my series about the women leading the Artificial Intelligence industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Monica Banks, CEO and founder of Gugu Guru, a free website that delivers highly personalized, unbiased and expert product recommendations to new and expectant parents based on their answers to a style & lifestyle quiz. Powered by a patent-pending proprietary algorithm, Gugu Guru has helped tens of thousands of parents identify the best match products for their growing families.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the ‘backstory” of how you decided to pursue this career path?

Back in 2014, I had been a marketing consultant in the mom & baby industry for several years and saw new products like strollers, bottles and other baby gear for parents entering the category at a seemingly endless pace. I realized that as the market was being inundated with these products, it was becoming more and more difficult — in fact, almost impossible — for parents to easily and confidently identify the right products for their family’s needs. Parents were extremely overwhelmed with the selection; spending a ton of time researching online and aimlessly walking the aisles of baby stores. Additionally, they were often relying on friends & family for recommendations only to find that one size does not fit all and wind up with the wrong products to meet their respective family’s own unique needs.

When you look at existing item-to-item recommendation systems like those utilized by Netflix or Amazon, they are not effective for first time parents because these systems rely on user behavior like past purchases or browsing history. For example, if someone purchases Game of Thrones Season I, item-to-item recommendation systems determine there’s a high likelihood the user will also want to purchase Season II. The reason that this type of system just doesn’t work for first time parents is that there’s really no data like that in the purchase or browsing history that will indicate, for example, what stroller is right for their family. There are many complex variables at play and specific questions to be answered when recommending the right baby gear such as, “What is the budget? Where does the family live? How important is living an eco-friendly lifestyle? Do the parents plan on having more children close in age?

I knew there needed to be a better way to make recommendations so I created Gugu Guru. Using artificial intelligence powered by a proprietary algorithm, Gugu Guru makes expert and highly personalized product recommendations for parents based on their answers to a fun quiz about their personal style, lifestyle and product preferences. We also have our AI-assisted Gugu Concierge service that leverages the data we collect from the quiz and combines that data with a human intelligence and one-on-one customer service with one of our expert consultants.

What lessons can others learn from your story?

When I first had the idea for Gugu Guru and started building it, I cannot tell you how many times people said to me, “Are you sure someone else isn’t already doing this?” or “This is so obvious — why hasn’t someone already thought of this?” It’s almost as if people don’t trust that there can be an original idea anymore or they’re suspicious that something so simple as a quiz could be a solution to a big problem. My lesson would be: don’t let the concern that someone may have thought of it before stop you from doing anything you want to do. There is absolutely still room in the universe for original ideas or for great ideas that may have been thought of before but haven’t been successfully acted on and realized yet.

Can you tell our readers about the most interesting projects you are working on now?

Right now, Gugu Guru is partnering with two other major brands to create a unique registry and shopping experience for working mothers.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

As a working mother of two young children, the first person that comes to mind is my husband for many reasons — his encouragement, his support, and also his creativity and professional savvy — to name just a few.

What are the 5 things that most excite you about the AI industry? Why?

1. Medical innovations. I think anything that has the potential to improve medical care or save lives by enabling more rapid diagnosis and treatment is exciting.

2. Generally just making life easier. There are already AI sites that do things like create delicious recipes based on what you already have in your kitchen or create a personalized travel itinerary that includes the least expensive flights.

3. Improved work/life balance. AI can allow people to do their jobs more efficiently so that they can spend less time working and more time living.

4. Enhanced customer experience. AI definitely allows for new ways to surprise and delight your consumer.

5. Improved data analysis. Al offers the ability to see data in new ways such as identifying patterns or spotting opportunities that may have not been evident before.

What are the 5 things that concern you about the AI industry? Why?

1. We become too reliant on AI. One big concern is that we forget the human aspect and this could create a world that becomes colder and more disconnected in a time where we definitely need more warmth and togetherness.

2. An incomplete picture due to complacency with the intelligence. Strong AI has to be constantly refined and honed. Even with Gugu Guru, we are thinking of new questions that need to be answered for our product recommendations to be accurate.

3. Garbage in, garbage out. The success of AI depends on the people who code it and the date that goes into it. The data must be clean and accurate to ensure that the outcomes are correct.

4. Wrongly replacing human resources with AI. AI can only go so far without human intelligence yet there is still a valid concern that if a piece of code can do something and thereby reduce overhead for an employer, that the employer could be tempted to replace good, hardworking people with AI.

5. Of course, just like anything else AI can be used in the wrong way. To give an example, if you start taking AI as gospel when it comes to something like predictive analysis for crimes, you create the risk of profiling people unfairly.

As you know, there is an ongoing debate between prominent scientists, (personified as a debate between Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg,) about whether advanced AI has the future potential to pose a danger to humanity. What is your position about this?

My position is that we can’t let fear prevent us from innovation because a lot of good can come out of AI. We just have to proactively monitor these innovations and when we see something going awry, put controls in place immediately to protect the public. Perhaps it seems easier said than done but the bottom line is that technology is not inherently evil. It’s the wrong human behavior that can taint the technology. Look at the Internet and everything good that has come of it — yet we still have the dark web, cyber bullying, etc.

What can be done to prevent such concerns from materializing? And what can be done to assure the public that there is nothing to be concerned about?

We need to be our own Guardians of the Galaxy with these things. Innovators, companies and technologists need to proactively show the public that these types of innovations are being closely watched and regulated. As a human race, we should ensure that no philosophical, moral or ethical stone is left unturned when there is even the slightest concern raised. If you want to assure the public, then we should be sure to constantly show examples of how AI is being used for good.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share a story?

My brother and his family live in Puerto Rico and when Hurricane Maria hit, all I wanted to do was help. Though I wouldn’t consider myself an influencer so to speak, I knew I had a network of industry brands along with an audience of parents. I called upon every brand that I knew for product donations and hosted a huge raffle of baby products where 100% of the proceeds from the tickets sold went to Unidos Por Puerto Rico. Gugu Guru managed to raise over $4,000 for the charity and, though that is a drop in the bucket as far as what is needed for the island’s recovery, it still felt great to tap into the resources that I personally had available to do some good.

As you know, there are not that many women in your industry. Can you share 3 things that you would you advise to other women in the AI space to thrive?

Women tend to juggle a lot so I think thriving — especially in the AI space — requires practicing extreme focus. With regard to focus, I would offer these three pieces of advice:

1. Keep it simple at first and try to perfect the most basic form of your idea. Don’t make the mistake of trying to build the more complex thing or layering on too much for that first pass. When I had the idea for Gugu Guru, I created a rough version of the quiz and algorithm using Survey Monkey. This helped me identify a few key things about the user experience and desired outcome that saved me a lot of money and time when I set out to build the actual site.

2. Don’t get distracted by vanity metrics. I always go back to the book, The Lean Startup, and its example of the meal delivery service that perfected the experience with a feedback loop involving just one customer before growing and scaling. Things like site traffic, numbers of users, press mentions might not mean anything for your business if you get focused on them too early and can actually distract you from the metrics that do matter. For example, if you don’t have a perfected system and you start driving huge volumes of users, you will very likely miss the little fixes and little enhancements that will make a big difference in the long run.

3. Don’t get distracted by others. There are new start-ups and entrepreneurs every day in this space and sometimes it’s easy to get distracted by what they’re doing or their perceived success. You can’t compare yourself to anyone or get hung up on what others are doing in the industry or you can fall off course. I’m not saying don’t be vigilant or aware of what’s going on around you — just don’t allow it to make you lose focus on what you’re personally building.

Can you advise what is needed to engage more women into the AI industry?

Women are introspective creatures by nature. I think women can start simply by taking a look at the problems they face daily and then asking the question: “What information could help make things faster/better/more efficient and how can AI assist to get that information?”

It’s also a question of how to get more women involved in STEM in general. I think it starts with teaching these ideas from early childhood (regardless of gender) and making the concept of AI fun and not intimidating.

What is your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that had relevance to your own life?

It takes 20 years to make an overnight success. — Eddie Cantor

Patience is the biggest lesson that I have learned in my entrepreneurial journey. Every time I try to speed things up or force success, it always backfires in some way. Impatience and the impulsivity driven by impatience are behaviors that have caused me to make my biggest mistakes when building this company.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

The movement would be around putting more things in place to allow women to thrive in both their career and motherhood. About 90% of Gugu Guru’s mom users are returning to work in some capacity after having a baby and it always breaks my heart when I am talking to a woman who wishes that she had more time at home to spend with her infant before going back or simply wishes for more flexibility than what she currently has. They do it right in other countries — in Canada they get 12 months maternity leave! We really need to fix it here in the US.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/monicabanks/

Instagram: http://instagram.com/gugu_guru

Facebook: http://facebook.com/guguguru.registry

Twitter: http://twitter.com/theguguguru

Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/guguguru

Thank you for joining us!


About the Author:

Tyler Gallagher is the CEO and Founder of Regal Assets, a “Bitcoin IRA” company. Regal Assets is an international alternative assets firm with offices in the United States, Canada, London and United Arab Emirates focused on helping private and institutional wealth procure alternative assets for their investment portfolios. Regal Assets is an Inc. 500 company and has been featured in many publications such as Forbes, Bloomberg, Market Watch and Reuters. With offices in multiple countries, Regal Assets is uniquely positioned as an international leader in the alternative assets industry and was awarded the first ever crypto-commodities license by the DMCC in late 2017. Regal Assets is currently the only firm in the world that holds a license to legally buy and sell cryptos within the Middle East and works closely with the DMCC to help evolve and grow the understanding and application of blockchain technology. Prior to founding Regal Assets, Tyler worked for a Microsoft startup led by legendary tech giant Karl Jacob who was an executive at Microsoft, and an original Facebook board member.

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