The In Conversation series is an opportunity for us to go deep with the people behind Victory Square Technologies’ over twenty subsidiaries and give you an in-depth look inside what it is they do and who they are.
The first in the series is a conversation with Henry Bee of CoPilot AI. Henry sat down with former CBC Radio host and current Victory Square communications guru James Graham to dig deep into the history of CoPilot, break down just what the company does and even talk a little bit of soccer.
James: What is CoPilot AI? Historically, were we to look back, you started as a fintech solution specifically, correct?
Henry: I come from a quantitative finance background writing the trading strategies and risk management for hedge funds. I was also licensed to manage money with discretion. I did that for a number of years. I had experience working in the software industry as well, working at a publicly traded company called Broadridge. With that company, I was able to work with over forty engineers to actually develop and improve software that affected about eighty percent of the brokerage industry within Canada. So I kinda had my hands in all these different pieces of financial advice software and I wanted to put them all together, and that’s why we created CoPilot. And at the time it was just a name for a product, our actual company was called Cassia Research.
And our idea, me and my co-founder being super ambitious, we thought we shouldn’t name a company after a product, we should name a company as a whole so that the company can have many lines of research and those different lines of research can allow us to formulate different products.
One of the lines was CoPilot, so at the time it was designed to really just help financial advisors like myself be able to better manage my client relationships. It’s about being able to build better investment portfolios and shorten the amount of time that the financial advisor has to spend talking with the clients. James, I don’t know if you have any experience with advisors. Typically if you can actually get a 24/7 portal that you log in with your phone anytime during the day, whenever you’re curious about your account and you can just see your investments and there’ll be all kinds of analysis on that phone.
Wouldn’t you agree that the advisor probably wouldn’t need to update you as often? You’re already up to date, in this day and age of instant access to pretty much anything. So that’s kind of par for the course. It’s like online banking right now but for your investment pool. And that stuff just didn’t exist back then. So we were basically on a mission to create that stack and we did. You know, half our team is actually ex-EA engineers. We brought them on. They took a huge pay cut to join us. Like the co-founders actually took a more than a 50 percent pay cut to join us and we were so passionate and created a bunch of tools within a very short amount of time. Ultimately it didn’t work. It still needed to replace the existing software the advisors had and that switching cost that was too high. And so the sales momentum just wasn’t there for this.
But one day we did it. It was almost like an accident. I still remember the day, we had twelve different email campaigns set up and these were complete cold outreach into the financial advisor space. One of them just lit up like a Christmas tree. It was almost like ten times the response rate from that one campaign compared to all the other eleven campaigns. And that was a clear signal from the market for us and we had to double down. Maybe that’s what all startups do. Whatever is working, double down on what’s working. We saw that working, we saw the message was very specific to helping the advisor generate more leads and that was apparently the message that resonated with that audience. So we decided to do a complete 180. I had to sit down with the entire engineering team and was like, look, this is what people want, so let’s give them what they want, right?
So we decided to do a very small scale test before spending a bunch of resources developing product. We tested it ourselves. We actually were able to generate a huge amount of responses ourselves using this technique to generate prospects and ultimately those prospects became clients. So we’re like, wow, if this works so well for us, why don’t we test it on one advisor? If we can just get one advisor success and get them connected to leads and get them more investment dollars, then we would approve this thing. So just around Christmas, we did that for Jason Hilliard. He’s our pilot customer for this new product. He loved our old product as well, and so that was basically the start of the new CoPilot prospecting aspect of the business. We started to offer it officially in February and it just blew up and basically, from February to today, we were able to 10x our revenue and it’s just unstoppable growth from here.
James: If that’s the run-up to the point where we’re at now, how do you describe what CoPilot is? What’s your elevator pitch?
Henry: Well, we say CoPilot allows you to be the driver still. We’re basically the CoPilot that’s reliable, that sits beside you and steers you towards the right path and gives you best driving experience using the best route. That takes a lot of intelligence and foresight. And so that’s how we came up with the name CoPilot, wanting to marry AI with UX — because it’s smart, it’s intelligent — but still ultimately lets the user be in the driver’s seat. I think that’s an important distinction. We don’t want to take over completely because we’re not a consulting firm or a marketing agency. Ultimately, it’s a tool for us to help people with.
James: In this context, what kind of a leg up does AI give you and give the client?
Henry: AI is the difference maker these days and with sales tools especially. If you look at all of the different existing sales tools out there and including Outreach, Reply, all of them are still very much in the realm of traditional manual labor, right? You have a sales executive that buys this package. They still need to take the data, manually enter it into the database themselves, and that takes a huge amount of time. Then you have to manage the leads that do respond. You can’t pound it out across multiple leads, like say 50 a day, and then have to do that every single day across 20 business days in a month. All of a sudden it becomes a huge deal for the entire company. Imagine you have a sales team with 5,000 reps, multiply that effort by 5,000.
It’s compounded. So our tool really focuses on using AI to sort of digest, parse and make sense of all the rich social data that’s on the social networks, but none of these CRMs and sales tools are able to actually connect to the social networks directly and get that data into the database. Being able to create highly personalized sequences and respond intelligently and efficiently. And so that’s what we do.
James: You made mention of the idea of rich social data. Explain what is that and what is the role of that in the CoPilot?
Henry: So here’s something that you might be able to relate with. I don’t know if you get cold emails from people all the time. All the time, right? I’ve sent enough in my day. But the problem with email is that when it lands in your inbox, imagine just the visuals of it, you have a person’s name who you don’t really know, and then you have a subject line and you have 1000 other emails, so it’s very easy for you to either neglect this email or you probably would want to delete it and not even want to look at it.
The difference with the rich social data on these networks is that you see the person’s photo, you have a chance to see their title, who they work with, and most importantly, how many common connections that you have, right? Let’s say it’s twenty. All of a sudden, hey, I am much more likely to be forgiving and give you that chance to reach out to me and talk to me. Right? So it’s establishing that common trust, getting the shared sort of trust that’s completely missing in an email. We’re able to get ten times as many responses from people compared to cold email and so the data speaks for itself.
James: I was going over your deck and I had this kind of light bulb moment where it’s like when Slack was first trying to sell themselves, they were trying to sell themselves just as the email killer, this is CoPilot, the sales email killer.
Henry: I think it’s very interesting you brought that up because there’s so much parallel beyond just being the email killer. And I completely agree with that sentiment. I think email has been dying for a while, but it just refuses to die. It’s kind of like the floppy disk. It was around forever. The problem is that people are now starting to realize that everybody gets fifty-three percent of their inbox every single day from businesses. The business emails, a lot of them are actually just cold email, from people you don’t know. And so it just becomes harder and harder to reach people. And so you need a much better way to reach people. The tools and networks are already built by companies such as Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin especially, but sales engagement tools aren’t really utilizing all the data that’s out there. There’s so much parallel between us in Slack because Slack actually started as a gaming company as I understand.
James: Actually I knew some of the folks that actually worked for the gaming company before they transitioned.
Henry: Oh, you did? Okay. And I still remember it because I listened to a podcast where Stewart was talking about the moment when he had to face this team and talk to them, gather them up in the room and say, look, we’re going to lay you off because we’ve basically have not had success and traction with this game. And we were as clear, I want to shut this down before I run out of money. It’s interesting because when they decided to shut down. I remember they still had I think three, three million or five million. So I had a lot of cash in the bank and. But they wanted to return the money to the investors and the investors all turned them down and say, look, I would rather not take a loss on my investment.
James: You still have some money, run with it. And they used that opportunity to actually sell a completely different product. Nothing to do with games. It was just a messaging tool. It was an internally developed messaging tool.
Henry: Exactly. And that was exactly what happened with CoPilot. We were selling a completely different product that just wasn’t getting traction. It was getting some traction but not enough. But we realized that we were using our own Social Media campaigns and that’s where the fire started and we doubled down on that. We started offering our own sort of internal services to external people as well. So there’s kind of a parallel there. The other thing is that I actually think we have a much bigger opportunity at hand because if we look at Stewart and Slack, they’re completely focused on internal communication within a company.
But what about outside the company? What about the stakeholders? What about investors? What about customers? The communication for external I think is infinitely more important for a lot of companies out there, especially for sales teams. I think that there’s a huge product market fit there and it’s that there’s just not enough data being utilized right now.
The other thing I want to talk about that could be a tangent, is that we are not just an outreach company. A lot of people are thinking that, oh, what if you run out of prospects, right? Well, first of all, that’s a problem that all of the sales platforms have. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter who you are, doesn’t matter what platform you’re on, there is always a constant quest for a bigger market, more people to sell to, etcetera. So that’s an age-old problem that’s not just limited to social networks. In fact, social networks allow you to connect across borders — so if anything, it helps with that. But the other key point is that not enough people are bringing in prospects and then nurturing them in the correct way.
There are way too many sales teams that are drafting up generic emails. They say it’s personalized, but to be honest, James, like me and you both know they’re just using your first name. If you’re just using one data field, how can you call that personalized, right? People get impersonal emails and when people get them, they kind of have this feeling that they’re never gonna open this heavy email. So it kind of ruins the game for everybody.
That’s the thing that I think CoPilot has a real potential to change the entire face of sales. For example, your birthday’s coming up, your Social Profile knows it, pops up the notification, CoPilot picks it up and all of a sudden you have a pre-drafted campaign that’s completely based on just Happy Birthday, And then you can customize that because I don’t just know your first name, I know all of these different data, like when I saw that you wrote an article for VST that was published by BetaKit and you had a quote in there, I can parse that data directly from that network.
James: So the more data points you have to work with, the easier it is to personalize that and in turn, that will leverage the action.
Henry: That’s right. Not just to pick up leads, but after the leads come in, continuing to nurture them. Anytime that there’s a life event, anytime you posted the article, we can potentially use that as an opportunity for you to reach out and say, how are you, James? Typically with financial advisors, if you have a rich uncle that suddenly passes on, there’s an inheritance of $2,000,000. If your advisor were to reach out, imagine that, reaching out to you just at the right moment. You will be more comfortable in starting that conversation and at least consider letting him manage some of your inheritance ahead of all the other advisors. So sales is not a one and done thing. Unlike pitches, sales is a multi-point, multi-touch process and the more touches that you have at the right time, the more likely you’re going to get the sale. So CoPilot definitely helps.
James: Where does CoPilot fit in your competitive landscape?
Henry: I don’t know if you saw that slide but we categorize, in terms of outbound versus inbound on one axis. And then on the other axis, we had sort of highly intelligent AI versus manual and basic labor, but CoPilot dominates the intelligent outbound quadrant. Well, Patrick and the folks over at Price Intelligently claims that if you can just put AI in your sales pitch, it will increase the amount of price that people are willing to pay you. So you have this arms race where every company will claim that their product has AI. Hey, we’re here now and they’re there. So let’s all run to the cliff. Are they going to fall off the cliff afterward because you know you’re not actually doing it with AI right? Smart customers can see through that.
Whereas with CoPilot, we’re really building the entire platform with AI in mind from the ground up. We currently already have AI that can differentiate the sentiment within the message by reading through the message. Now we’re not big brother. We don’t read your messages, the AI automatically categorizes. A lot of salespeople actually deal with a lot of noise every day because they send out a lot of messages. They also get a lot of messages back, but because they get a lot of messages back, they’re not being efficient because they’re not able to get on the phone. Filtration becomes an issue. The time, the effort that sifting the messages often takes, it’s a tax on their everyday work.
But with CoPilot, the AI would actually go in there, sift it out for you, and save you a ton of time from having to manage the people who are just not interested and have a very low probability of ever converting into a sale. Instead, you can pre-program it so that these prospects get an automatic, pre-drafted message to hopefully turn them around. To a salesperson that’s valuable. It will also tell you who might be interested now or may be interested later. So that’s the very basic form of AI at work. A much, much more sophisticated version will allow the salesperson to train their own AI to categorize the responses. So that’s one simple way to save time with AI.
James: Now we’ve talked about how the roots of CoPilot started with the beginnings of Fintech and financial advisors, but it seems like it can work with a much wider spread outside of that. What other markets can you see CoPilot fitting into and being applicable with?
Henry: Anybody that needs more customers and more business, I think could benefit from using this. A local business, especially outside of enterprise sales, just getting down to the grassroots. If you run a pizza shop, how do you get all of your neighbors to come in and check out your shop?
Everybody else on social networks, whether it’s Facebook or Linkedin, you can target by geography. You can target by job title. You can target by a lot of data that are specific to your income. So for real estate agents, instead of sending out mailers to rich zip codes, which is a yesterday thing today, I can target neurologists or whatever high paying jobs that you can think of. We’ve actually had very good outreach done by some very clever customers of ours.
One of them that comes to mind is targeting tenured professors within the two universities around his city. Academia is super niche and they all talk to each other. It’s a very small community. So it’s like, oh, do you know Bob? Did you hear that? That advisor that reached out to me, do you know him? Yeah, I know him too, you know, it just spread word of mouth and then they all become clients and so within I think two, three months of using CoPilot, he actually generated twenty conversations. Out of those twenty, he got quite a few of them to convert into clients and we’d never seen anything like that. So it just tells you the power of how targeting a niche with the right tool, and with the right message can really accelerate your sales. So I think it’s not just financial services like I said. Local businesses, dentists, doctors, massage therapists. All kinds of businesses that need to reach out to the right people can potentially use it.
James: How do you achieve growth in what’s obviously a challenging field to work in?
Henry: Yeah, the financial advisors’ services niche is super tough. They’re scattered people. I once read an article somewhere saying that most financial advisors have ADHD and that’s why they’re attracted to that profession I think. It’s just so filled with conversation with either clients or prospects. Basically, they just don’t have time to listen to your sales pitch. So we really had to learn to get to the point quickly with our email messaging being highly targeted. We used to spend $20,000 every single month on Facebook ads. We generated about 300 bookings from that $20,000 spend, which is actually pretty good. But today we use CoPilot to replace all of that ad spend that we used to spend to generate the same amount of bookings.
James: So you’re basically your first customers, you’re the proof of the pudding right there.
Henry: Exactly. As an enterprise SaaS company trying to grow really fast, if we run into a problem, chances are a million other businesses have the same problems as well. One of the problems we had was how do we generate interest and book demos and close customers. So if our products can work so well for us, we know it can definitely work well for other businesses as well.
Being our own customer also allows the people who work on the product to have control over the feedback process as well. Anytime that they see a bug, they see something not working well or they have an idea that pops up when they shower, they can actually submit that to the engineering team and they’ll implement it right away. So that’s what happened to us as well. A lot of the problems that we’ve caught and our customers caught which means we don’t need a QA team.
James: People that love the product enough that they’re essentially willing to evangelize your product to others and they’re just willing to do your QA testing as well.
Henry: Pretty much. So it’s definitely a win for our customers and us.
James: So we had financial advisors and people that are now chasing after academics and other interesting niches. What other kinds of companies are you seeing right now taking advantage of CoPilot?
Henry: We’re seeing a lot of action from broker-dealers and the top wirehouses as well. And when I say wirehouse, it’s not a term that’s familiar to Canadians, but maybe when I talk about Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley it might ring a bell. So all of these big old school financial firms, they have a lot of internal financial advisor teams. They are just starting to realize the power and a lot of people there are signing up. Actually, if you look at our Slack channel for leads, it’s just lighting up every few minutes with big names. A lot of these people are super interested in using Social Media to prospect.
These advisors are attending probably three to four conferences a year and at the conferences, very serious people are saying you gotta use Social Media more, but they just don’t know how. Or they don’t want to right? Well, it’s like it’s a dark art. I can message you through a network. But it’s like, how do you have to spend the time and effort to really wrap your head around it? Exactly how do I use the tools to my best advantage? So all of that is within CoPilot. We have a template and we help you on board, help you target people, help you brush up your profile. We have a fairly good on-boarding process for exactly that purpose.
James: What don’t we know about CoPilot that perhaps we should?
Henry: We actually play soccer. I mentioned that half of our product team is from EA. So our engineers and lead designer used to work on EA’s top product, which is FIFA. Our CTO and Co-founder is from EA and worked on FIFA.
James: So you’re all a bit soccer-obsessed?
Henry: Actually Jackie (Former Victory Square Manager) was actually a part of it. She’s really good at soccer, so it’s like why not? We actually won a championship at Urban Rec, to us it’s good fun because none of us are professional soccer players.
James: What’s next for CoPilot? What’s coming up that people need to be aware of?
Henry: We’re coming up with a very exciting product release actually around October and Q4. It’s a major, major milestone for the entire product team. So everybody’s really like pumping their fists, waiting for this release. Because this release will include the enterprise sales angle. It would allow a supervisor and a bunch of salespeople to coordinate with each other and to allow them to reach out to people and not send the same messages to the same people because that’s obviously a very awkward situation. There are a ton of other things in the release that will make it very very special.
So that’s going to be a huge update. Other than that, we are looking at raising our Series A soon, so Q4. That’s the big stuff. I think that capital will really allow us to accelerate and be aggressive about capturing other verticals. I think our tool is novel enough that not a lot of people are catching on yet.
James: Are you going to put that back into marketing or to continue tech developments?
Henry: No, actually eighty-five percent of that money will be used straight up to acquire customers. We have a fairly aggressive roadmap that we put into our investor pitch deck in the projections, so it’s really just about pure customer acquisitions when we raise that capital. And we already have three proven channels of acquisition. So it’s ready. When a VC comes in we just put the capital towards that. Q4 is our goal for raising the Series A and we’re reaching out to some VCs. Even now as we talk, we’re getting introduced to the right series early stage VCs in Silicon Valley.
I think the final thing I’ll say, James, just in terms of the morale of the team, is that it’s never been this good. It’s because the moment when we used our own product, generated enough bookings and we were doing it ourselves, I think everybody kind of just had the light bulb go off. They’re like, Holy Shit, we could be onto something really, really big here. And so everybody from the intern to myself, to my co-founder, if you know, if, like if I had my co-founder here, Jesse here right now, he’d be like jumping up and down the table right now that just pronouncing to the world how great this is. I can see the motivation from the entire team to really want to strive and make this huge. I’m excited.
You can learn more about CoPilot AI here: https://copilotai.co
Henry Bee is the CEO and Co-founder at CoPilot AI. He grew up in Vancouver but is still not used to the rain yet. In the last few years, he’s seen first hand how Vancouver is rapidly evolving into Silicon Valley north. Henry is excited.
James Graham gets to tell stories about technology and people for Victory Square Technologies. A former host and producer on CBC Radio, he can still be found on-air in Vancouver, likely talking about cake.