Growing the AI Industry with Michael Weiss

August 18, 2020

Michael spent 3 years working to bring a worlds fair back to the U.S. before starting Ai4, which is the gold standard community for the growing AI industry that connects Fortune 500 companies, AI startups, investors, government AI leaders, and top academics.

John Shegerian: This edition of the impact podcast is brought to you by The Marketing Masters. The Marketing Masters is a boutique marketing agency offering website development and digital marketing services to small and medium businesses across America. For more information on how they can help you grow your business online. Please visit TheMarketingMasters.com.

John: Welcome to another edition of the impact podcast. I am so excited and honored to have my friend on with us today, Michael Weiss. He is the co-founder of AI4. Welcome to the impact podcast Michael.

Michael Weiss: John thank you so much for having me. Awesome to be here. Always love talking with you.

John: Oh, yeah, and I know I am in Fresno today and we were talking a little bit off air. We are just starting to come out of this COVID-19 tragic period in the world history. I know you are in beautiful Cape Cod, which I have been blessed and blessed before to go in my life. So we are having a Coast-to-Coast conversation today. It is just great to have you on with us and be able to share your journey. Michael before we get talking about your great organization AI4 for our listeners that like to learn more about Michael’s great organization on what he does and what they do you can go to www.AI4.io. The number 4 dot IO. Share a little bit about before you founded AI4 what you did and what your journey look like and your background.

Michael: Yeah for sure. So my extremely short bio, I grew up in South Florida and Fort Lauderdale, went to school in St. Louis at Washington University, graduate in 2012, works for two and a half years at this like media & events business called Bisnow, and then I left there in 2015. I started my own venture you could call it which was to bring a World’s Fair back to the US. Pretty much our goal was to organize the world’s first privatized World’s Fair in the US. The reason why the goal was to do a private World’s Fair as opposed to a government-funded World’s Fair was because the US government actually like had canceled the US’s participation in the treaty organization that oversees World’s Fairs known in the present day as world expos. There was not really room to have one be funded by government. So anyway, long story short we started this project to privatized a world fair in the us.

What we did for just about three years was we organized these mini World’s Fairs called World’s Fair Nano. Which were pretty much these like big technology kind of future festivals and we convened 20,000 people through those events and they were awesome. People got to experience VR for the first time or robotics for the first time or try lab-grown whatever for the first time. It was a really cool experience for people.

John: What did you learn? Give our listeners like everyone should learn something from their experiences in life and the more we learn the more we experience the richer our life becomes and the more perspective we have and we take it to our next venture. What were your major takeaways that you have been able to apply to your next venture. Can you just share with our listeners what you took away from the the nano world’s fair opportunity?

Michael: Yeah, definitely a bunch of stuff. I mean one sort of Technology take away I had from just witnessing all of these people and companies that were working in different like innovation categories, whether it was transportation, space tech robotics, was that AI and just the idea really of being able to automatically take novel insights from data, which is really what AI is right now. That was just becoming ubiquitous and powering, you know, innovation across every industry.

Then I will make a more personal level. Something I learned from it was I was 24 at the time when I set out to organize this World’s Fair. My plan to actually get it done in retrospect sucked. It was a very ambitious goal and I did not achieve it but we did a lot of cool stuff and even the World’s First Nano as like a business and as you know a goal to bring this big World’s Fair back failed ultimately it did some good stuff, but I would not have done it any other way. So I think what I learned was I came up with this big audacious goal because it just intrigued me and I went forward and I failed. Now as I started the next thing and I think about the future. I try to get just as excited about having big audacious goals that interest me. Hopefully I will have learned along the way to figure the next one out.

John: Well, let me tell you something. You figured it out Michael. So to your credit I met you still your extraordinarily young and I have been so honored and privileged because of you and your partner’s to be invited to your AI4 conferences which I came to in New York in the last year or so. I spoke at a couple of them, we exhibited at some. I could just tell our listeners out there, you put on one heck of a conference. I go to these conferences all around the United States and actually around the world and yours are one of the most not only relevant and timely conferences but I mean well attended with leaders in all different sectors, whether it is retail, or cyber or all the different things that you are touching is just incredible.

For our listeners out there. We have got Michael Weiss. He is the co-founder of AI4, to find them you can go to www.AI4.io. AI4 for which is the gold standard community to growing AI industry that connects fortune 500 companies, AI startups, investors, and government AI leaders, and top app academics, Talk a little bit about how you then transitioned from your first vision of the world’s fair bringing back the world’s fair and then putting on some of the nano events to then dreaming up this conference that has been just a runaway success.

Michael: Yeah. Thanks John. So you kind of had a World’s Fair Nano. we still like technology and we kind of fell in love with AI. It was clear that smart computers and machines that can literally think for us or going to represent a massive part of the future. So we decided to focus on AI. Through World’s Fair Nano, which was a consumer-facing kind of event. We decided that it would be much better business model if we focus on industry and business people. Yeah, so we decided to do AI for business was really the initial concept.

We entered sort of the market with a very niche approach and so we did one event that was all focused on AI for financial services, another event that was focused all in AI for healthcare and then AI for retail and for cyber security. Over the past 2 years we have been doing those and they have been going great. They are application only events to attend. As you kind of mentioned, we get a really legit crowd there. I think we have helped a lot of you know, really big Fortune 500 type companies just make more sense of how to approach their own AI projects.

John: Did you do this with your partners from the World’s Fair Nano or did you come up with a new group of partners that you co-founded this great conference?

Michael: Same crew, same crew.

John: Same crew. Isn’t that nice, you guys stay together? That is awesome. I love that. I have done that before in my life from business to business and I have had a lot of success doing it with the same crew because then we were able to focus on the vision forward instead of worrying about is this the right partner is that partner doing the right thing you already had a relationship with them and a trust in them. So obviously it makes the execution in my experience easier. Did you find the same with you?

Michael: Oh definitely. Yeah. My my main co-founder Marcus, I have known him since college for a dozen or so years. Very very solid relationship which is the key to success.

John: Awesome. Yeah. So talk a little bit about the first conference’s you put on in New York City and why you subdivide in fascinating by topics and how did that work out? Because I went to them, but I want you to share from your vision why you chose certain topics and how those conferences evolved and worked out in New York in the last couple of years.

Michael: Yeah. You know, to be honest we chose these niches of like AI in particular industries. Just just to provide focus to the theme. There were a couple other events. We had seen that were more generally theme like AI for everything and we wanted to be different. So we came out with this niche of the AI for these particular industries and we chose the industries based on our assessment of the current value of AI within them.

Financial services, banks, hedge funds, credit card companies, insurance companies, they are all going crazy with machine learning models to give loans, fight fraud, or build chatbots or whatever it is. So we chose that and then healthcare, also just amazing adoption rates within health care whether it is hospitals for models to predict patient re-admittance, or read medical scans, or pharma companies trying to predict new drugs. So we chose healthcare and then cyber security in retail, same reasoning. There is just really compelling use cases in those domains.

Then you know as we have kind of gone over the past couple years what we realized was that while we were doing these like 400 or so person events in each of these industries. We realized that there was just not enough consistency to like this AI industry community in terms of no one knows the rule book yet for how to actually approach AI within an enterprise setting. People are just confused whether they are a business person, whether they are a data scientist. Confusion abounds right now when it comes to AI within these enterprises. Which is okay because it is just new, people are just still figuring it out.

While its new there are leaders in this space. There are certain company, certain people who are just father along their own AI journey. We felt that it is critical for the longevity of AI as an industry to to really provide the same group of people who care about how I with a place to meet. So what we ended up doing in 2020, which obviously is a bit different now because of the virus was we decide to combine our four events into one larger AI for show. So we cover finance, healthcare, retail cybersecurity. We also added telecom, energy, and automotive. Always separate tracks that you have like your own unique content, but then you get to kind of cross pollinate with people who have lessons from other Industries.

John: Got it. So now we are coming out of this COVID-19 tragic period in the world history. Originally, I know your event was scheduled to be in Las Vegas in the end of the summer in late August early September. Share with our listeners how you have re-envisioned this year’s conference because of the COVID crisis and how as an entrepreneur you have remained flexible and evolve your thinking as to how to best put it on this year and some thoughts about your conferences in the future.

Michael: Yeah. Good question. There is a couple thoughts we had, so A, obviously as an event business that makes 95 percent of your money doing a big physical event then you have a pandemic hit. The key thing that cannot happen is a large gathering. It is almost laughable as far as like the macroeconomic climate impact it has. But anyway, so that happened which was curious to say the least. Then it was like, okay. So what do we do?

So what we kind of realized is that, the value that an event like ours provides it is mostly two things. It is education and its commerce. Its education in our case in the form of learning how AI is impacting different industries and it is commerce in the form of facilitating like AI companies meeting and users buyers at banks or healthcare companies, or retailers. That is why people go to events. That is why people buy booze. That is why people listed in the audience. That why people speak. It is education and commerce.

So in this air of COVID over the past few months have been like well, can we still provide that value prop to people without a big physical event and the answer is of course, yes, because the internet is a beautiful thing. The most one to one thing we are doing to the event is we are just porting the physical experience into a digital platform. It is going to be great say. It is August 18th through 20th. So it is three days and we are going to have all the same tracks, a bunch of speakers. You can like schedule meetings with people and take video meetings you can filter through, really cool networking function. We are building like a whole sort of exhibitor booths section on our website where you will be able to filter by type of companies you want to meet and you will be able to request meetings all the stuff.

So we are going to have a great sort of just digital event. Honestly, we are expecting like 2 or 3,000 people or something in Vegas. We will probably have, because no travel cost, easier for global audience. We expect to have 5,000 or more, you know tune in which is going to be cool.

John: I bet you your participation now, will even be more international and diverse than ever before given that like you said, people can be coming in from all parts of the world whether it is Asia, or Europe, or Russia, or anywhere South America, easily because there is no travel or airplanes and hotels needed. People can just either participate, speak or be an attendee from all different parts of the planet now, that is fascinating.

Michael: Yeah, totally. So I think there is lots of cool opportunities on that front to just have a much bigger audience.

John: For our listeners who are excited to either attend or request a sponsorship opportunity and do they find you just at www.AI4.io or there are other ways to interrelate with you that I am missing.

Michael: Yeah, the website’s great and you can always email me personally. Just Michael@AI4.io is always fair game.

John: Perfect, Michael@AI4.io. So, you have this coming up on August 18th to 20th, the big conference. That is going to be fascinating. So you go from two to three thousand participants now to five and people can be sponsors, speakers, or just attendees.

Michael: Yeah. Exactly. It is really all the same characters will be there. We will have amazing speakers, sponsors, attendees. There will still be press that attend. Yeah, it is really the same vibe. The main thing honestly you miss out on is like the entertainment component. That said we are going to do some fun stuff regardless. We are going to do each evening like sort of a big virtual video networking thing. We will have like some drinks, we will have some music. We have been thinking I will give you a fun tip. Do you know this thing called Cameo?

John: Yeah.

Michael: So I think we are probably getting we will do like a cameo or two to get like some fun celebs to tune in for these networking things to make it fun for people.

John: Awesome. That sounds just awesome. I think cameos’ wonderful. In fact my son just when he graduated from law school, like I shared with you. We were both, comedies a common theme in our family. We all grew up loving Seinfeld, he grew up loving Seinfeld. We all used to watch it as a family. I actually have the actual Soup Nazi from Seinfeld.

Michael: Yeah, he is on there.

John: Yeah, he taped the most wonderful message for my son because it was a just like your event we had for him. It was not a in-person graduation, which is a very special moment in both parents’ life and of course the student’s life, but it was a virtual graduation. So it made the virtual graduation even more fun because he referenced it and he talked about it. It was just it was just great. So I think Cameo is just a great brand and they are doing really fun things that I know a lot of people that have used their talent in their platform and the results are just wonderful. So I think that is a brilliant idea. That is just brilliant.

Michael: That is awesome. Sounds like you beat me to it. So that is awesome.

John: Yeah, talk about other things you are doing in in this soon to be post COVID new order for this year at least to keep your brand and your tribe as I would like to call it engaged and relevant with your platform. What are the things you are going to be doing besides your big event on August 18th, 19th, and 20th.

Michael: Yeah, totally. Through this whole COVID thing, we had to reflect a bit on what AI4 is and the value it provides. As I mentioned earlier, the two main things we do with the event is commerce and education. So while we are going to still provide those things in this big digital event, we have also come to learn and realize that we can provide both education and commerce in other ways as well.

On the education front we have started doing these trainings and tutorials which are 5 up to 16 hour trainings for either like business execs to learn AI or data scientist to pick up new skills. They have been going great. We actually had our first one happened over the past two days. We had 17 students tune in, 2 1/2 hours each day. It was like the business exact one. We partnered with this amazing person who has been teaching such stuff for years and it was awesome.

So now we are building a little AI training part to our business. Then on the commerce side. Yeah, we have realized one of the key values that people get at any event. Our event included is just getting to meet people who might want to buy your stuff. Then on the other side getting to meet vendors who might have solutions that you have not thought of before that could help your company solve some problems.

So we realized that commerce component, we could kind of take from out of the event and just do it on its own. So we started now essentially matchmaking digitally like AI companies with and users through right now very simple, you know fairly manual system, but we are slowly building more of like a platform around it. So that has been really interesting too, just to see that kind of growth.

We are going to do the digital at this year. Next year, hopefully a physical event if not a digital event and I think events will remain part of our our ethos, but I think we are also going to expand the ways that were able to provide AI education and commerce as well, which is cool.

John: Which is really cool because here I am an old school guy. You are a very young man and I am now 57 years old and during this COVID-19. I took two online courses. Not only thoroughly enjoyed them, I felt so engaged by them. I got so much out of them, much more than I ever thought. It forced me to improve and learn and expanded my horizons personally and professionally. I think that is a tremendous use of the online platforms now that you will be able to leverage.

Not only will you be able to next year have in-person events, which or at least one huge event and I have been to your events before and then not only packed but they are packed with the best of the best of each industry. You will also be able to have such an international flair to the people that who want to be engaged with your organization, get to interact with because if you do digital events as well, it keeps people year-round attached to your brand but also constantly learning whatever is the latest and greatest and as we know AI is really a very quick evolving industry. So you get to really keep up and keep your people very engaged with the latest updates instead of just having a one-off every year which is fine. You get to really actually have a much larger organization, probably. Following than ever before so you take a crisis and you make it a huge opportunity. I think you are going to grow faster than you ever expected.

Michael: Thanks John. Yeah, I am weirdly hopeful. I wish I would not have thought maybe four months ago when I realized our entire business was impractical for the next 12 months?

John: Yeah, but again like you said, we are all forced to think differently from the circumstances that none of us created but the great entrepreneurs they are flexible and they roll with it and they take issues and crises and they really figure out ways to evolve and you have done that and I really am impressed and I am very excited of course to participate again, August 18th to the 20th and for our listeners out there that want to participate, want to get engaged, want to learn more about Michael’s great event, also other programs he is putting on with his organization AI4. You could go to www.AI4.io. Michael any final thoughts before we say goodbye for today until our next visit together.

Michael: Final thoughts, I guess who is like the main type of person John who listens to this would you say?

John: Well it is actually interesting. It is people from all different, it is around the world and a lot of young people your age and even younger so you have a lot of young listeners out there. That actually want to be the next Michael Weiss.

Michael: Yes. So if its young people which I still consider myself mostly one of. Yeah, just just go for it. I think it is really easy to especially with social media and online to be like, “oh, I can’t do that. Oh, I can do that” like that person in his credential. “Nah, fuck it.” If it is something that is interesting to you, just do the damn thing. You will figure it out as you go and if you do not figure it out, it does not matter because you will have learned a lot. So you will forgive the next thing up.

John: That is just great advice.

Michael: Just go for it is the main the main thing I would share.

John: It is funny. I was interviewing a someone on a podcast just the other day and he said people talk less about fear than sex, they talk about their fear, their own fear, less about their own sex life because they are so embarrassed about fear and overcoming their fear to start something in your advice is great. Just do it. Do not worry about failing. You know, there is no such thing as failure if you learn something from. Look at you, you learn from your first experience and it is not a failure, you learned and now you have made a massive success out of this next venture and you are still amazingly young. I mean like super young.

So I have been to your events and as I said, I am very discerning about the events that sometimes I am invited to a lot to speak and also participate, or sponsor, or whatever, or just exhibit. Your events are second to none and you have really figured out a way to make them feel both special but also very expansive in terms of the people, and the visibility, and the diversity that you have at your events, massive success. Now taking it online and having the whole world be able to participate. I can only imagine what is going to happen at this upcoming event. I think it is going to be a huge success Michael.

Michael: Thanks so much John, for the record. I turned 30 this year.

John: Oh my God. Like I said to my listeners and to you as well. Super young, 30 is super young. I have a son that is 28, and a daughter that is 33. So to me, you are super young. For a listeners out there to find Michael and his partners and his great organization and to learn more about his great event coming up August 18th to the 20th. Go to www.AI4.io. Michael, you are making a great impact. You are making the world a better place, and I thank you for coming on the show today, and you are always welcome back.

Michael: Thanks so much, John. You are absolutely the best and I hope you have a healthy and safe 2020 and I will see you digitally in August.