Exploring the Power of AI with Peak's Chief of Staff
In this episode, Holly Clarke, the Chief of Staff at Peak, an AI platform for technical and commercial teams, shares about Peak's AI platform, applications, and services that help businesses grow their revenues, profits, and efficiency. She also talks about her journey at Peak, from an AI consultant to the leader of the global consulting team and eventually becoming the Chief of Staff. Holly shares her favourite moment at Peak, which was the Altitude X global conference that brought together industry and tech leaders interested in AI.
00:00 Charles Brecque Welcome to the Tech Story podcast, the place where we interview leaders in tech at fast growing companies. Today, I'm very excited to welcome Holly Clark on the show. Holly is the chief staff at Peak, an AI platform for technical and commercial teams. Holly, thank you for taking the time, can you introduce yourself and share a bit of background about Peak?
Holly Clarke Sure. Yeah, so Peak is an AI company that helps businesses harness the power of AI. We have a platform, applications and services to do so and help businesses grow their revenues, their profits and their efficiency. So we have an AI platform which has a variety of different features that enables users to build, deploy and manage applications at scale across an enterprise. I am Peak's chief of staff. So I joined the business in back in 2019 as an AI consultant and spent two years helping businesses sort of work through what the beginning of their AI journey should look like and how Peak can partner with them. Then I became the leader of the global consulting team and then at the beginning of 2022 became Peak's chief of staff. So I work really closely with our CEO and our chief strategy officer on sort of strategic objectives, special projects and maintaining our world class culture.
Well, congratulations on, I guess, climbing the ranks.
01:27 Holly Clarke Thanks.
What's been your favourite moment so far? Oh, what question to start with. I have two, is that true? Yeah, yeah. Or three or four. Perfect. One of my top moments has to be, so we run a global conference every year, sort of October, November time called Altitude X. And we bring together lots of industry leaders, tech leaders, anyone who's interested in AI and the real world applications of AI. The first year we ran this was 2021 and it was incredible. It turned, AI is such an exciting field. Definitely a bit of a buzzword. But the number of people that came to hear about real life AI, how businesses are adopting AI, the value it can drive and this sort of thing was amazing. It was just like mind blowing, the number of people there. And then a few months before that, our series C funding.
02:25 Charles Brecque That was very exciting. So, I mean, it seems like, you know, you've obviously been in the AI space before it. I mean, there's always been a lot of interest in AI, but I guess more recently there's been even more interest with, you know, chat GPT. Do you sort of see chat GPT as a force for good for what you're doing at peak or is it complementary?
02:45 Holly Clarke Is it competing? Where does it sort of fit within what you do? Yeah, great question. I mean, chat GPT has really highlighted one of the many uses of AI and is a really exciting. Do you see in the news every single day almost like is a really exciting feature for everyone to get involved with it. And generative is definitely a big part of the future. I think that AI platforms like peak, there's definitely some lots of complementary crossovers. There's definitely ways that we can work with generative AI in helping businesses make great decisions. Like all these new advances in AI within the market are all positive. Obviously, there's some work to be done to make sure that they're safe and secure and ethical. But definitely lots of complementary crossovers. Well, it seems like you're, you know, prime, you're in the prime position to make the most of this new attention to AI. And since joining the company and, I guess, growing with it through to Series C, what do you wish you had known before joining peak? I think so my background was actually in engineering and so I was pretty technical joining peak. But I wish I'd been slightly more proficient at my when I was back when I was at university, did a little bit of Python, some MATLAB, some C sharp. We should pay attention a little bit more because I realised when I got to peak and I think, you know, it's very true of many startups. The more you can empathise with the other teams, the more you understand what's going on in different business areas, the better decisions you can make no matter what role you're in. So I think it would have really helped me ramp up faster in those initial roles as an consultant and just having a little bit more technical proficiency. That and someone told me when I joined peak that I should keep a list of all of the achievements that peak had made. Well, I was there and the things I chipped into and those sorts of things to look back on. And now four years later, I wish I'd done that. That I should have done that to look back and look at all the cool things we achieved. Because when you're in a startup, the fast paced nature is just, you know, constantly running onto the next exciting thing, the next exciting thing. And so having that log would have been really cool. Right.
05:03 Charles Brecque It's not too late to build that list. That's true. I mean, yeah, and it's never too late to learn Python or improve Python. But I also studied engineering, but I just find that the Python that they taught us is very different from the Python that you actually need to manipulate your data or do whatever it is. So and what I also found is the developers in the company are the best people to teach you how to code than rather than at uni.
05:30 Holly Clarke So yeah, that's a good point, actually. Like the real life application of something like Python is probably quite different.That makes me feel slightly better about the fact that I definitely lost some years. Yeah. But then I also think, you know, context is everything. And, you know, at the company, you've got context around why are we doing this or how do we actually use this piece of code? So that's true. That is true. Great. And, you know, peak is growing.
05:55 Holly Clarke So what's sort of the vision and trajectory for the company over the next three to five years? Yeah. So AI is hugely important. We believe it's fundamental to businesses everywhere. And we also believe that every business needs their own AI and that AI should be put into the hands of those that are making the decisions, the real business users. Now, we have a platform and application applications and services to help businesses do this. But I think over the next few years, we're going to see the types of services that people need and the way in which we adopt AI, how fast applications are deployed. These are all going to change a little bit. So I think, you know, making sure that we're tailoring ourselves to those things is definitely really important. But I kind of see people needing potentially less services, maybe different types of services as AI becomes more commonplace in business, people become more confident. And then as we deploy more and more applications, those get faster and faster. Again, then you'll need slightly different services to go with your platform and applications. So I think as the market grows, as we grow our customer base, these are sort of the trends that we'll see. And then also things like generative AI comes into play and all these new cool features that we can explore. So is it that the AIs are getting better or that the people are being or the market is getting more educated about AI and therefore understand better how to use it and what they're supposed to do with it? I think it's a bit of both. But I think the market becoming more comfortable and understanding the power of AI, I think that will have the biggest shift in my opinion, because at the moment it's super exciting. People have heard about AI, they read about it in the news, you read about chat GPT. But it's sometimes quite difficult to translate that into, OK, well, actually, like, how do I use this to drive better decision making? And how do I make sure I trust the decisions? And there's a little bit of like, you know, this adoption is going to grow and seeing when people see the massive impact that AI can have for businesses and they start to experience it for themselves, then I think we'll see the market shift a little bit as well.
08:03 Charles Brecque Yeah, I think chat GPT, obviously, there's lots of anecdotal use cases around, you know, create this poem or tell me a story. But I guess where we found some applications have been more around, for example, generating snippets for the podcast and how to promote it on social media. Yeah, it obviously requires a human in the loop. But I guess it's powerful, but not, you know, not yet going to transform the business.
08:32 Holly Clarke Absolutely. Yeah, yeah. It's exciting to explore as well, especially in these early stages of world kind of figuring out what what chat GPT is and does and before prompt engineering becomes like a real big thing.
08:43 Charles Brecque Yeah. Or who many people, how many people are behind the interface? Yeah, but great. And, you know, as chief of staff, you play a key role in, you know, growing the company. So and you've scaled the company. So how do you sort of, you know, build culture?
09:01 Holly Clarke What's sort of important? Building culture and maintaining culture is so important. And I mean, I joined peak about six months before Covid. So it was had six months there and then all of a sudden we're in lockdown and then we have several years all working remotely. And then suddenly we have our series C funding and then it's like big shift, you know, and culture is so important. We have built a really strong culture, I believe, a peak with this sort of it's like shared ownership and responsibility. That's been really important. So we have five core values of open, smart, driven, responsible and curious. We live by them. We always talk about them. We have them painted on like a big mural on the wall when you walk into the office. And they're massively important in everything that we do. And the shared ownership, this responsibility manifests itself in different ways. And I think it helps make sure that everyone globally, because we have an office all over the world, feels that same level of connection to peak and peak's mission. So, you know, things like every every employee is awarded with share options when they join the business. So everyone owns part of peak. We have a quarterly team survey that's all open. So you leave your name at the bottom, which is massively helpful because it means that we can action feedback. But it also means that people are sharing, can share really constructive, positive or negative feedback to help us improve with their name at the bottom, which is massively powerful. And even things like when we moved into, we recently moved offices, we actually call our offices club houses because they should be somewhere everyone wants to be. We moved into our most recent new space in Manchester. The morning we moved in, everyone grabbed a cloth, grabbed a bit of spray, started cleaning the office. The cleaners had done a great job, so there wasn't loads to do.
10:55 Charles Brecque But it's that level of responsibility, I think, has really kept the culture extremely positive. And I guess how do you sort of because you're in the US and India as well. So how do you sort of understand with having the same values or clearly communicating them? It sort of ensures that all the teams understand what they are. But what does that mean in practice? I mean, do the founders travel a lot? How do you communicate with those other teams?
11:22 Holly Clarke How do you sort of maintain that common culture? Yeah, so we have so we post covid travel is definitely increasing, which is great. I recently spent a couple of weeks with our teams in Mumbai and Pune, which is amazing. So Peak was co-founded out of India and the UK. So that's meant that we've always had strong connections. Our co-founder and CTO is from Jaipur. And regular communication is the key, I think. So we have a company stand up every Friday morning. All of us. It's one of the things that I run as chief of staff. All of us dial in from our various clubhouses or homes if we're working from home to recap the week. What have we done this week? What are we doing next week? Key customer stories, key product features that have been released. That regular drumbeat of us all getting together massively helps, because it means that we're never more than a week from speaking to each other
12:19 Charles Brecque and that travel post covid is going to be even better. The company stand up is an interesting one. I mean, we're a much smaller company. There's 16 of us and we have a daily company stand up. And it just doesn't take forever. And I think for us, the benefits is that it means that everyone gets to speak to everyone or hear and see everyone. But I guess, do you still do daily stand ups or is it just within the teams? How do you sort of? Yeah.
12:50 Holly Clarke And what size did you sort of say, oh, we should do a company stand up? So when I joined, we did a daily company stand up and we always just turn around the kitchen and go through what each team was doing. And then that became biweekly and then now it's become a weekly thing with teams having daily stand ups. So I in my team, the CEO team is myself and CEO, Chief Strategy Officer. We meet with our operations coordinator as well every morning. But then still have this company update on a Friday. They they definitely did start to get quite long. So twenty nine back at half of 2019, you realise there are more and more people joining the company and lots and lots of stuff going on. So we just got to the point where we decided to make it weekly and cover sort of high impact stuff. So it's led by you'll have one person talking about a customer story, one person summarizing platform features and a single independent person hosting it. So that varies week by week. And just having that one round up. I'm really glad that we kept them because it was really exciting. And when things can get lost so easily on Slack, I don't know if you use Slack.
13:58 Charles Brecque Brilliant tool. These get lost quite easily. It's nice to have that round up. Yeah, I know that makes a lot of sense and definitely something that I'd like to follow up on. Yeah, because, yeah, to understand better on the format. But no, that's great. And I guess, you know, obviously diversity and inclusion is super important for any successful culture.
14:20 Holly Clarke So what is it that, you know, as a successful tech company, you've done to promote it? I think it's really important to have sort of a bottom up approach where it's a community of people that are helping define what our strategy is. But I also think it's really important to make sure that it's seen as a priority by senior leadership. So you have like this kind of the bottom up and top down approach, which seems to work really well. So we have a committee called Peak Equals, and it's a group of individuals and various levels of leadership and various different teams, a diverse group of individuals that are on Peak Equals committee who look after CSR and our contribution to charities, diversity, equity and inclusion, social inclusion, well-being. And they do everything from organising events for certain things to running information sessions and training sessions. Even recently, they've developed a fasting policy. As we know that some of our colleagues during certain times of the year will fast for religious reasons. And it's important to make sure that those colleagues feel supported, making sure this committee will make sure we have the right resources in, in our clubhouses and the right spaces for people. And having that group of people has made a massive, has a massive impact. And it's something that people really feel very passionately about. And so it's really important to let people help shape that for the whole organisation and to have representation globally,
15:58 Charles Brecque because that may look different depending on which region you're in. Yeah, I guess it's a combination of awareness and then creating channels so that you can offer spaces or accommodate. And yeah, totally. Yeah, it's great. And when you're sort of chief of staff working with CEO and chief strategy officer to sort of, you know, plan strategies, etc.
16:25 Holly Clarke How do you sort of translate that to the operational level and make sure that you're on track? So this is a tricky one sometimes. So making sure that your shorter term or day to day objectives meet those long term, like the mission, the vision, those long term objectives you have and then making sure they're on track is tricky because sometimes it's quite a long term process. You're making decisions now that need to have a positive impact in the long term. So we have tried using things like OKRs before, setting objectives at a company level and then at team levels with key results that then, you know, determine whether you have or haven't achieved those objectives. So those used to keep us on track. We liked OKRs, didn't love OKRs. They work really well for some organisations. We found that they got a little bit too detailed and you miss the bigger picture a little bit. So we've recently moved to a different format, which I believe we've crafted ourselves, but maybe we've copied it from someone, of weekly and monthly business reviews. So every week as a management team, we'll look at our input metrics and then every month we'll look at the output metrics. So a really easy example is if, you know, generating leads and pipeline is your input, then your output of the bookings that you're taking. So we've started to now look at what data can we see going in and what data can we see coming out to make sure that the short term decisions we're making match up to these long term objectives. So, for example, you know, a short term operational challenge might be changing roles and responsibilities or a change in operating model for a certain region. So making sure that these shorter term, I mean, they're not super short term, but like, you know, immediate and for the next few months, line up with the longer term objectives. It's keeping the long term objectives in mind and then constantly checking in. So are these roles and responsibilities having a material impact? Are we seeing, you know, our delivery efficiency increase in this region or are we seeing like our conversion rates increase or something like that? So keeping an eye on the data, keeping an eye on the data regularly and always linking it to those longer term objectives. So are you using peak to do that? We are getting further and further towards using peak to do this. So there's lots of things we use peak for, but I think sometimes we're a little bit guilty of not always using our own platform to the best of its capabilities. Whilst we use it to the best of its capabilities for our customers and very customer centric, sometimes we need to do a bit of peak. We call it peak on peak. We've had various work streams over the years of bringing together like our platform data and the data we have on the businesses we work with to help make great decisions
19:15 Charles Brecque internally. There's definitely more we can do, but I think we're pretty good. Yeah, I mean, we use the legislate internally for contracts and it really is a great way to sort of understand how your clients interact with the product. And if your product like ours is up and coming and still being developed, sometimes you can sort of relate to their complaints or feature requests. But yeah, I think if you've got an AI, you should. It must be a lot of fun playing with it to sort of grow the business.
19:50 Holly Clarke Definitely. Yeah, absolutely. And given that we're gearing the platform to both commercial and technical users, for us having a mixture of to have lots of data scientists at peak who work on the platform to build applications, to work with our customers, but also getting those commercial users on there and looking at the even down to like looking at what our dashboards look like and how user friendly they are and these sorts of things and what customisations we can have. Like getting commercial users who are similar to the users from the businesses we work with that are using the platform.
20:21 Charles Brecque So valuable. Yeah, I mean, I think whenever you're building something for a persona, it's very well, you know, imagining what they need or want, but it's not until you actually speak with them that you actually realise what they actually care about. And often it's not what you expected. Yeah, totally, totally. But it seems like you get to get the best of both.
20:41 Holly Clarke So great. And as a chief staff, are there any sort of books or people that have sort of inspired you? Oh, great question. I recently was given a copy of the book, The Great CEO Within. Which I forgot who the author is, but it's a brilliant book. My favourite books are those that are a bit more interactive, that have sort of frameworks and tools that you can use in your own lives. And because sometimes I find with reading books about work is that they're great and then I'll forget them if I don't have something to take away with me. Love the, I think it's The Great CEO Within. Brilliant book, loads of really cool tools. Everything from like how to, so we talk a lot at peak about sustainable high performance. So making sure that you can perform to a high level, but it's, you know, it's not you're not burning yourself out. You're looking after yourself. This book has some brilliant tips in there for work life balance. It has things like energy audits. So like think about the things that give you energy that you do in your daily tasks. How can you do more of the things that give you energy? Because, you know, studies show that then you'll perform those tasks and the other tasks even better if you're doing stuff that you love. Stuff like inbox zero, which is the concept is kind of if you have something coming through Slack or email or your messages or whatever. If it's less than two minutes, it takes less than two minutes to complete it, do it straight away. If not, add it to your to-do list. Then easy. I like that one because I already do that. There's like slight validation there. And then other things like if you work with busy stakeholders and chunk up that if you have lots of, you know, non-urgent requests or tasks, chunk them up, cover them all together once a week and then move on.
22:41 Charles Brecque It's brilliant. Brilliant book. Highly recommend. It sounds like a great and practical book that I need to check out. Yeah, it's good. And you're on the Tech Story podcast.
22:51 Holly Clarke So what's your favourite tech product that it can be hardware or software? Oh, well, I obviously have to say Peak. I'll pick a non-Peak one as well. Peak is amazing. Incredible AI platform making AI accessible to business users everywhere. And my favourite of our applications is to do with pricing. So lifecycle pricing of products is super exciting because it means you can maximise margin in promotional periods, reduce waste, which is really important, you know, balance brand image, those sorts of things. Hugely valuable. I have to say, though, my favourite tech product, non-Peak, is something called Frogbox. No one has ever heard of it. I only just recently heard of it, but came to contact with it recently. I'm a keen cricket player and watch a lot of cricket. Frogbox is this piece of kit that lets you live stream local cricket matches, which feels quite niche. But it's amazing. Oh, wow. It's so cool. And you kind of like programme it so that it looks exactly like the bottom bar on the screen shows you the bowler, the batter, like the score. It's amazing between overs, like a little pop up comes on and shows you like some stats.
24:07 Charles Brecque It's amazing. And when you're live streaming, who watches the cricket? I mean, do they have to be in your network or is it to the whole Frogbox community?
24:15 Holly Clarke It just goes up on YouTube. Oh, wow. Because YouTube Live is so good. When I've watched the team I play for when I've not been playing, there are only three or four viewers. But it's amazing. It's so good and encouraging. I'm a big believer that like local communities and, you know, supporting local communities and supporting local sports clubs is a really important thing. And it makes it so accessible. Family, friends watching. If you've got an away match, you know, they can have a nosey see what's going on.
24:45 Charles Brecque It's brilliant. Yeah, I mean, it sounds like a great product. I know nothing about cricket and not a huge fan, but I can definitely relate to Frogbox. Seems like a really cool product. Yeah, super. Great. Well, thank you very much, Holly, for being on the show and best of luck growing peak. Thanks. Thanks for having me.