One year of Going Charlie
Kostas here, CEO and co-founder of GoCharlie.ai. Along with my cofounder Despina Christou, our Cheif AI Engineer, we formed the company in July 2021 while being part of the Alchemist Accelerator class 28, precisely one year ago today. To celebrate the anniversary of our founding, we decided to launch founders month for GoCharlie!
While it’s been a year, we are still very much in the early stages, having just launched our first product this past May. It’s been quite a ride, and I wanted to take the time to introduce to the world more about who we are, why we’re building GoCharlie, and where we’re heading.
Why did we form GoCharlie?
Despina and I are a pair of unconventional Ph.D. AI researchers. Unconventional in that we didn’t go to grad school to become professors but rather to push the boundaries of AI so that we could become entrepreneurs and use that technology to solve big problems. At heart, we are also both deeply passionate about creativity. Whether writing, painting, 3D graphics…we love creating. GoCharlie.ai was started to combine our passion for creating with our backgrounds in Artificial Intelligence. By combining these passions, we hope to build the AI Paintbrush of the future that lets you turn anything you imagine into a digital reality.
In early 2020, that opportunity arose. We came together after consulting for several marketing agencies and realized there weren’t many solutions to help content creators automatically generate optimal marketing content at scale. We immediately realized this opportunity was the perfect first step toward achieving our vision.
However, building a solution to create marketing content like a marketing language model, was more challenging than we thought. For over a year, we iterated just the two of us with different approaches to building marketing language models — RNNs, CNNs, Transformers. Collectively we dubbed this content generation engine Charlie.
Charlie was good but had mixed results. We knew we had to train bigger models but simply didn’t have the capital, so for over a year, I also applied for several research funding projects to NSF, DOE, DARPA, etc. Unfortunately, nothing came through, and I wasted a year preparing these vast proposals.
With a lack of funding and the pandemic in full swing, we paused our efforts in building a company until a friend of ours suggested we join an accelerator, so spring of 2021, we joined the Alchemist Accelerator. Specializing in helping tech startups, we learned a lot about customer and product development. They inspired us to form the company that summer, and in the fall we were able to raise $150k after their demo day!
At the end of 2021, we had enough capital to decide it was time to expand the team and build a marketing SaaS platform to serve Charlie.
Expanding the Team
At the beginning of 2022, we proudly brought on board Brennan Woodruff full-time as our COO. Coming from Softbank and previously Uber, he fell in love with our vision and knew he had to be a part of it. While Alchemist taught us quite a bit about business dev, we needed someone who was truly an expert in it. At the same time, we brought on Ryan, a full-stack web and cloud developer, as our CTO. We critically lacked the skills to build commercial SaaS software, and Ryan was our Navy Seal to help us turn our own ideas into a fully functioning product.
Progress so far…
Since January 2022, we have worked night and day. We continued to innovate, improving Charlie and developing new multimodal capabilities, such as converting an image of a product into content. We iteratively built our SaaS platform and began customer discovery interviews to refine our ideal customer persona, and improve Charlie to solve their pain points.
In early May, we finally launched our first product!! With very little marketing (mainly organic), we grew to 464 users and 50 paying customers in two months, with total revenue of just over $5,000. In the last six months, we also raised an additional $250,000 in funding from family and friends. With our initial traction and additional funding, we’re aggressively expanding Charlie’s capabilities.
Where Charlie is going…
Currently, Charlie is a fantastic technology! A hybrid of several models, including GPT-3, our proprietary multimodal language model (we call MegaCharlie), and predictive analytics, Charlie can generate, enhance, and analyze short-form marketing content (such as social media posts and ads). Charlie can also take an image and create an ad for it; this capability is the first commercial tech of its kind.
Our road map over the next six months is loaded. We plan to expand longer form writing capabilities like blogs, summarize blogs into shorter content, such as posts and ads, and analyze videos to generate content out of them too. We are also training bigger versions of MegaCharlie on more data to eventually drop the dependency on GPT-3 and commercialize MegaCharlie as an API product.
We learned a lot of lessons along the way and are still learning many more as we grow. To help other first-time founders just starting out, here are some tips:
- If you’re in the early stages, I recommend you join accelerators to get off the ground (e.g., YC, TechStars, Alchemist, etc.).
- Learn to deal with a TON of rejection and failure. Almost every day, you will be dealing with constant rejection or failure. The stress will get to you eventually; learn to deal with it properly. There’s a reason 90% of startups fail.
- A successful startup takes time to grow and succeed — sometimes years, even decades! School, movies, and silicon valley success stories brainwashed us into believing you’ll become a millionaire in a few months of launching a startup, but the truth is it will take years.
- Networking and customer development (discovery and validation) are more critical than product dev.
- Pick your co-founders carefully, and make sure they are not only talented but also as passionate and dedicated as you are.
- The MVP you build to enter the market should be a painkiller, not a pharmacy
For those of you reading this, thank you for being along for the journey. I’m excited about what the future holds for Charlie, our team, and most importantly what we’ll enable you to create.
Co-founder and CEO of GoCharlie.ai