How AI Can Replace Digital Marketing Agencies: An Interview With Adriel’s Michelle H. Lee

At this year’s Web Summit we spoke to the most promising startups in the world. Among them, we found one that stood out for us – Adriel. We asked Adriel’s Michelle Hwayeon Lee how AI can help you invest in digital advertising with laser precision, whether you have a budget of $100k or $1.

This is a transcript of a video interview recorded with Adriel at Web Summit 2018 this November. You can watch the full interview below.

Hi, Michelle! Please tell us about your company and what you do.

Michelle H. Lee: Adriel is a marketing agent that does everything automatically for you. So when it comes to digital advertising, whether you want to run Google ads or Facebook ads, Adriel will make the best decision for you. All we need from you is the small details about what kind of business you are, what kind of customer you want to target.

Within one second Adriel will come up with a proposal – write the keywords, the location, determine the budget for everything, and once you’re ready to approve – just click ‘Launch’. That’s when the optimization will take place – Adriel will try to learn what strategy is the best for your business. It will try out hundreds of keywords every day and whichever platform or keyword gets more reaction, it will invest more money in.

So we try to help the small business that doesn’t have that big of a budget, meaning they can’t afford to spend it on a digital agency because those have a minimum budget requirement, and they don’t have the time to perform all this deep analysis by themselves either.

We want to make marketing simple for them. There are no budget requirements – you can spend $100, $10 or $1, the goal is always to optimize that dollar that you invest and make marketing as easy as possible for you.

Yeah, we get that question a lot, the “Are you trying to replace humans?”

And how many people do you have on the team at the moment?

MHL: We have 11 people so far, five of them engineers, all French because our CTO is French; our CEO Sophie [edit. note: Sophie Soowon Eom, one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Asia in 2017] is Korean, so right now we are based in Seoul. We’re currently also in a Facebook accelerator program [edit. note: Namsan Lab, a tech startup incubator created by Facebook in partnership with Asan Nanum Foundation]. Then next year we’re going to focus on getting series A funding.

I was also wondering, because this idea of implementing AI into a tool that would cover such a huge chunk of marketing is pretty huge, do you think one day your tool could replace the marketer as we know them?

MHL: Yeah, we get that question a lot, the “Are you trying to replace humans? Because sometimes humans are better.”

Yes, humans are better. But we are trying to help startups that don’t have the money to hire people or hire an agency. These people want to sell their product but they’re not sure where or how. We’re trying to help all those small little startups out there.

You’ve mentioned half your team is French, does that mean you’re based between two countries? Do you use any special management techniques?

MHL: No, we’re all based in Seoul, so internally we don’t have a problem. And when it comes to the product, that’s the good thing about SaaS – even though most of our customers are from the U.S. and Europe, there are no geographical challenges there, and our support team is on the telecom 24/7.

But we are hoping to one day move our headquarters to the U.S. or Europe, so if there’s any investor out there who’d want to invest in us – we’re always here! [Laughs]

There are no budget requirements – you can spend $100, $10 or $1, the goal is always to optimize that dollar that you invest and make marketing as easy as possible for you.

And with Adriel, do you prefer innovative marketing strategies or does it go with the conventional methods?

MHL: Right now what we’re trying to do is to create a solid logic for business strategies.

So, for example, if our client is a cosmetic startup, we create a logic where we know there will be a lot of demand from Southeast Asia right now because the purchasing power over there is going up. A lot of women there are looking for skincare products, so we’re trying to recommend them to try this market instead of their “favorite” market, i.e. the U.S. and Korea. So Adriel will check if that logic is true, and if it is, it will spend more money on those markets, and if not, it will try every other market out there and whichever gets the best reaction it will put more money in. And that’s just B2C.

With B2B, if, for example, you want to sell your legal service online, it’s not a good idea to use Facebook mobile or Instagram to advertise it – most companies will be looking up legal services on desktop, so Google would be a better idea than Facebook mobile.

So we’re trying to test out a lot of logic like this, and though Adriel is still learning, we’re trying to make it smarter and more sophisticated with each case. I believe we will end up with a completely new marketing engine any person can use.

What has been the biggest challenge so far with the development of the product or the product itself?

MHL: The biggest challenge is to get enough people to sign up so we can get more data for Adriel to learn. Adriel can only grow when there’s enough data for it to process. So that’s why we launched the beta version – so that more people can sign up and provide us with campaigns we can learn from.

Do you have any advice for anyone who wants to launch a startup or start a new business?

MHL: I think #1 thing is to get more confident in what you’re doing. Obviously, everybody wants to make money and be successful, but at the end of the day what’s important is that you are confident in what you are selling, and that’s not easy.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.


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