Disrupting an Industry Through the Power of Language
School of Management alumnus and co-founder of Persado Assaf Baciu ‘05 on having his venture being placed on CNBC’s “Disruptor 50 list” – and why starting a company is like running a marathon.
CNBC’s “Disruptor 50 list” includes School of Management alumnus Assaf Baciu.
Imagine your best friend – they know how to talk to you, what influences you, they know when to be serious with you but also know how to make you laugh, they know how to persuade, uplift, motivate and genuinely connect with you. Why is this? Because that’s what friends are for! What if technology could do the same?
School of Management MBA alumnus Assaf Baciu ’05 is the co-founder of Persado, a “cognitive content platform that generates languages” for marketing purposes. In May, CNBC included Persado in their “fifth annual Disruptor 50 list”; the 50 companies are acknowledged by CNBC as innovative and “forward-thinking startups [which] have identified unexploited niches in the marketplace,” and “have the potential to become billion-dollar businesses.”
Baciu explained, “Persado’s artificial intelligence platform today has the world’s largest marketing language database.” It also has “unique language models and analytics capabilities that allow us to provide unparalleled insights and generate the right words for any audience or individual.” He said that Persado can help brands in finding the right language “that not only resonates with their customer segments, but resonates with each individual customer.” According to Baciu, the importance behind this is that being able to connect through language allows the brand and the customer to create a strengthened bond, as well as “helps brands build both short-term sales and long-term relationships that will fortify their businesses through thick and thin.”
In a time where brands are in constant communication with their consumers via “email, Facebook messages, Fitbit messages, Twitter messages, app notifications, online banners, and search results,” Baciu said “now, more than ever, it is important to reconnect with consumers, as it is the ‘Tinder’ age, where alternatives are one swipe away.” Through Persado’s artificial intelligence and machine learning, Baciu explained that “Persado delivers the language that will resonate the most; that will inspire and achieve the very effect that human communications were ALWAYS meant to deliver – engagement, and action.”
In the future, Baciu said he sees Persado developing in areas of healthcare and wellness. “For example, over 125,000 people die each year in the U.S. because they don’t take their prescribed medication; choosing the words that will inspire them to take their medication can have a tremendous impact,” he said. “It can also change the experience you have with your Fitbit if the device chooses the words that will take you off your couch.”
Baciu’s path to Persado began after he received his MBA from USF when he landed a job with a “provider of cloud-based speech technology solution for customer care.” After the company was acquired by Nuance in 2007, Baciu became Director of Product Management and moved to the United Kingdom to help in its expansion; there, he met the CEO of the mobile commerce platform Upstream, who expressed interest in Baciu joining his team. “The idea was simple – the choice of words in promotional messages has a significant impact on the success of a campaign,” he said. "Upstream had some proof points around that impact, and I decided to join and help develop a technology that could automatically generate the precise words and phrases that would inspire any audience or person to act. We worked on the technology for almost two years and then decided to spin it out of Upstream,” he said. “This is how Persado was born.”
At USF, although his MBA emphasis was in telecom, he said he expressed interest in entrepreneurship. Baciu explained that professors in the School of Management, one being Department Chair and professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation Mark Cannice, “did a great job working with me and and [helping] me participate in a few startup competitions,” where “the germ of creating a business remained.”
Professors in the School of Management did a great job working with me and helped me participate in a few startup competitions where the germ of creating a business remained.
Assaf Baciu MBA '05
Now, as an entrepreneur of a company nearing its fifth year, Baciu offered some words of reflection: “Starting a company is a marathon, and you need a fantastic initial team to go the distance. You cannot compromise on the quality of the initial team,” he said. “You also need the mental flexibility to adjust your dream/view to market response to your offers – that’s hard for the ego but a must for a successful trajectory.” He advises other aspiring entrepreneurs “Don’t wait. Do! Fail fast and improve. You grow from failure to failure.”
By Lonny Wysard
Entrepreneurship and Innovation Faculty
USF MSEI Faculty offer insight and inspiration in the field. For example, Professor Mark Cannice publishes a Silicon Valley Venture Capitalist Confidence Index, a nationally-recognized report of trend data and analysis on the confidence of Silicon Valley venture capitalists in the future high-growth entrepreneurial environment.