Using the Future (A.I. and Blockchain) to Solve the Challenges of the Past with Dr. Elena Mechik: Podcast Ep. 315

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We’re continuing our new podcast series on A.I. with my conversation with startup founder Dr. Elena Mechik.

Elena was inspired after spending two months in the Brazilian rainforest to use technologies like blockchain and A.I. to provide transparency and accountability to solve challenges of the past using the technologies of the future.

In our conversation, Elena and I talk about:

  • How she’s using AI in her software and why
  • What blockchain is and why it’s important
  • Her experience in the Brazilian rainforest and the work she did for her PhD
  • How we see AI impacting society (the good and the bad)
  • What it’s like to be a female founder of a startup

About My Guest: Dr. Elena Mechik spent over five months in the rainforest of Brazil writing her PhD on climate change mitigation through sustainable conservation of tropical forests. In 2009, she founded an NGO to minimize poverty and protect the environment. In 2020, she founded INHUBBER, a SaaS solution for contract management, which uses blockchain and artificial intelligence technologies to reduce paper consumption at companies on the one hand and to create a total transparency of contractual relationships on the other. 

About Us: The Speaking Your Brand podcast is hosted by Carol Cox. At Speaking Your Brand, we help women entrepreneurs and professionals clarify their brand message and story, create their signature talks, and develop their thought leadership platforms. Our mission is to get more women in positions of influence and power because it’s through women’s stories, voices, and visibility that we challenge the status quo and change existing systems. Check out our coaching programs at https://www.speakingyourbrand.com.

 

 

Links:

Show notes at https://www.speakingyourbrand.com/315

Elena’s website: https://inhubber.com

Discover your Speaker Archetype by taking our free quiz at https://www.speakingyourbrand.com/quiz/

Join our Thought Leader Academy: https://www.speakingyourbrand.com/academy/ 

Connect on LinkedIn: 

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315-SYB-Dr-Elena-Mechik.mp3: Audio automatically transcribed by Sonix

315-SYB-Dr-Elena-Mechik.mp3: this mp3 audio file was automatically transcribed by Sonix with the best speech-to-text algorithms. This transcript may contain errors.

Carol Cox:
This is a really insightful conversation with my guest, Dr. Elena Metchek, on using the future, including AI and blockchain, to solve the challenges of the past. On this episode of the Speaking Your Brand podcast. More and more women are making an impact by starting businesses running for office and speaking up for what matters. With my background as a TV political analyst, entrepreneur and speaker, I interview and coach purpose driven women to shape their brands, grow their companies and become recognized as influencers in their field. This is speaking your brand, your place to learn how to persuasively communicate your message to your audience. Hi there and welcome to the Speaking Your Brand podcast. I’m your host, Carol Cox. We’re continuing the series that I’ve been doing here on the podcast, all about artificial intelligence AI. I’m excited to bring to you today my guest, Dr. Elena Mitnick, because she is the founder of a software company called Hubba, which is the world’s safest contract management and digital signature software. And the word safest is in there for a reason. And we’re going to talk about buzzwords that you probably have heard of, like A.I., artificial intelligence and blockchain. But we’re really going to bring it down to what does this mean for you as someone who is online as a user of different types of software, what does it mean to have a blockchain or to use software with blockchain and do you software with AI? We’re going to dig into all of this, and we’re also going to talk about how AI is impacting what Elena is doing, but how is going to impact society as a whole, as well as what it’s like to be a female founder of a startup. Welcome to the podcast.

Dr. Elena Mechik:
Elena Thanks a lot.

Carol Cox:
Carol And you live in Berlin, Germany, and we connected on LinkedIn. And like I said in the intro, you are the founder of a software company called in Hamburg. Can you tell us what the software does and who are your users? Who are your buyers?

Dr. Elena Mechik:
Of course, yes. So I’m the CEO and co-founder of In Harbor. In Harbor is a software solution for contract management and digital signature. And what we do in particular, we actually provide a total transparency into all contractual relationships you have is in your company. So we have a very finely designed contract repository so that the users can see which contracts they actually have in the in their companies. They can find contracts very easily. We have a digital signature so that you can actually sign any file format which makes our signature unique. We can assign, for example, an Excel sheet, a video, etc. and we have artificial intelligence to analyze the contracts and deadlines remind us in order not to miss any cancellation period, any important milestone coming up, etc.. So that’s in general, what what we do and our main users are coming from real estate, health care, but also construction companies. And recently we also have a university as a customer for example. So retailers, so actually quite large variety of customers. And at the end what we see and also the statistics show around 80% of companies don’t have a digital contract management solution in place. And here here we go. Exactly. So actually, where do we start? Because what what we say actually is without having this transparency of all contracts which you have in your company, you can’t actually make profile decisions yet. And especially today, what we realize is a financial crisis all over the world. And every company more or less has to see has to to look for options, possibilities of where to save their income. And at the end, contracts do provide this total information. Which services do you need? Which services you could actually cancel, and no one would even realize because no one is using it. Maybe just a few employees of your company. And what we see is just the sea level often doesn’t have this total transparency of all services, software solutions, etc. What they have purchased maybe a few years ago, which are just running and being paid for year for year.

Carol Cox:
Elena And it sounds like with the AI part of your software is that it’s providing a level of intelligence and analysis that is hard for humans to do when there are hundreds or thousands of documents or contracts or things or purchase orders or things that are out there and share a human could, in theory, go and organize and analyze and determine which are being used and which or not. But that would probably take a really long time. And so is it that your software uses AI to do that work or and can you describe a little bit about what is it about AI that allows that to happen?

Dr. Elena Mechik:
So what we actually do? As we provide our users the possibility to extract the most relevant information out of their contracts with help of AI. So it means at the end, if you decide to go digital to to start using a digital solution for contract management, usually you would have to upload all your contracts and extract this information manually. Yeah. What are the important clauses? What are the deadlines? Who has a contract? Partners? And that’s what the AI does for you. You upload a massive contract and our AI is extracting this relevant information for you instead of you, which saves, of course, a lot of time during this onboarding, this initial phase of starting going digital, but also further on while using our solution, you can go into the contract and get the information you need very fast. And of course some contracts are just ten pages long, but some are 200 pages long and looking for the information you need made might take maybe 10 minutes, but maybe also a few hours. And that’s how we save the time for our customers, for our users. But at the end, what we say is that we are supporting the human. We are not exchanging the human and we are supporting in a way that we make the processes faster and the manual work, which would just take long. It’s boring at the end. No one really wants to look for the information. We want to see it straight away and make decisions so we actually help making decisions faster.

Carol Cox:
I’m glad that you mentioned that, Elena, about supporting the work that we do as is humans and making our work more enjoyable, hopefully better, more creative, getting to the things that we do really well as humans, like making decisions based on what what the direction we want to go with, with our business or team or project or what have you. Now I want to dive into your background, but before I do that, can we touch on blockchain? Can you explain to us what exactly blockchain is, why it’s important, and why more and more software tools like yours are incorporating blockchain?

Dr. Elena Mechik:
So first of all, what is blockchain? I think many people know Bitcoin. It’s like the cryptocurrency, which is quite famous. It is based on blockchain, but blockchain doesn’t have to do anything with cryptocurrency. It’s and and what is blockchain? And let’s imagine we have some kind of data, maybe an email, maybe a document, a contract, and usually what would I do? I would save it maybe on my laptop, let’s say that’s the way we did it until now, more or less. Now we have a cloud solution. Maybe we upload it into a cloud, but at the end we save it at one place. Using blockchain, you actually saves this one particular email, one particular contract, not just at one place, but at five, ten, 15, 2000 different laptops, one could say simultaneously. Yeah, And these are actually the blockchain nodes. Yes. The same information is being saved at different locations simultaneously at the same point of time. And that’s provides a way of immutability because let’s say there’s one user and he goes into his laptop and wants to change a particular set of information. All the other laptops would tell you, No, no, no, there’s someone trying to change it. So I think that’s the easiest way of understanding what it actually means. Yeah, it’s a little bit more complicated, but it’s and it’s just saving the same information on simultaneously at different places. And how do we use it? We are working with contracts, we are working with contract management. You might know like the importance of audit trail, of knowing who has changed what was in a contract and if someone would try to falsify the information of when the contract has been changed, by whom or the contract at the end, like how it has been finalized, it it can have immense impact on on your company its end. Yes. And we are saving exactly that information on the blockchain, providing this immutability of information and total transparency of who has changed what, who has uploaded which contract to the platform.

Carol Cox:
Okay. That’s that’s an excellent description. Elena, thank you so much. I was very easy to understand and about the blockchain and then hence why the software that you’ve developed. Why it is safe to use the word that you have in your LinkedIn profile safe, because one person can’t just go in and change something without there being some type of indication that it’s no longer matching the copy or the the original or whatever the last original was that other people have whether someone changes something accidentally or not accidentally on purpose for nefarious purposes.

Dr. Elena Mechik:
Yes, exactly. Exactly. So we are providing this safety on one hand, but on the other hand, we are also encrypting every contract being uploaded to our system. What does that mean? It actually means that all the contracts, also documents being uploaded to our system are saved in a cloud. Yeah, we are a software as a service solution. We are a cloud based solution. Usually there are a lot of risks coming in with it. Yeah, someone else might get access to the cloud solution gets the access to your information, to sensitive data, and we decided we will actually encrypt every contract, every particular contract, making it impossible for a hacker to look at your contracts and look at your data. Yeah. And providing the end to end encryption. And that’s our safety level. Security level. And we actually don’t know of any competitor who would provide this level of security for contracts.

Carol Cox:
Fantastic. All right. And we’re going to I can’t wait to to dig into what it’s like to be a founder of a startup looking for seed money, but in particular a female founder of a startup. But before we get there, let me let’s go back in time. Elena, what got you interested in technology, software development and founding this startup in the first place?

Dr. Elena Mechik:
I can go back to 2004 to to tell you the story, and it started at a totally different place actually, in the rainforest of Brazil. I it was a university project I have been invited to. I was doing my master and I just read about about it that there’s a possibility as a student to go to Brazil to spend two and one half months in the Amazon rainforest. And I just said, Yeah, I can’t say no to it. And it was very adventurous. It was very exciting. I totally fell in love. Was this nature. This is a forest. It’s a tropical forest, as I just knew from books as a child, so to say my master degree, I was studying industrial engineering and my topic was actually airplanes and it was the first pyro I would say I made. I decided actually to write my PhD on that On the topic of tropical forests, of the ways of how we can conserve tropical forests from illegal logging, because that was also something I was just part of. I heard the forests being blocked, being present, being there, and it was just so painful, enjoying this beauty on the one hand and hearing this noises on the other hand. So during my PhD I found a method of how we can actually sustain the forest with economic methods to empower the people living in the forest, to stay in the forest, not having to leave it, etc.. And by the end of my PhD I got to know the blockchain technology.

Dr. Elena Mechik:
It was 2017 and I saw in the blockchain technology a possibility to actually provide a sustainable and transparent supply chain because at the end it’s again a contract, a contract for a license to log off timber, which is legally locked off and there’s illegally locked timber which is coming into the to the supply chain. So what we said is actually going to contracts and providing this connection between the goods, the timber which has been locked with the final product which has been produced. Providing this transparency is a way of actually fighting the illegal logging. Yes, that’s that was the first idea. But then we started talking to companies, to furniture producers in Germany. We realized the market is not ready yet. So as market is not ready to go, the step of actually paying more for the production at the end, if there’s no push from the government, from the state. And what we saw at the same time is that we can’t jump to this step of having a transparency into the contract. Build relationships when many companies don’t even have a contract repository, a digital contract repository. So many don’t even have the central overview of all the contracts they have within the company. And that’s how the journey of Inaba began. This actually first step of going into this long way to actually the vision of providing a total transparency into contractual relationships. And yes, that’s that’s how it started.

Carol Cox:
That is I was not expecting that origin story at all. That is so neat, Elena. And I love that you you saw how technology could be used for good. Because I feel like so often, especially with everything that’s been going on with social media and how detrimental it’s been to our politics and our society over the past, what, like seven, eight years? And trust me, I’ve been on this bandwagon, too, where we tend to look at the negative aspects of it. But I you know, I see there’s so much potential. And I of course, there’s going to be downsides. Of course there’s going to be nefarious actors, people doing things with it that we don’t want them doing. I’m sure there’s going to be a need for some regulation. But I also feel like these positive case studies of how we can use technology, whether it’s AI or blockchain for good, like finding illegal logging or which timber is from sustainable sources. And I just love that. That’s the approach that you saw. You saw the vision of what could be possible with not only being there in the Brazilian rainforest, but then also your background in technology and finding a way to bring them together.

Dr. Elena Mechik:
Exactly. What I actually saw is that people are fighting illegal logging for ages for 20, 30, 4000 years. We see these challenges. We see the impact which is taking place like the climate change. And I think everyone has to believe it. Bye bye now. And what I see is that we can’t fight the problems which exist for so long with the existing technology. So they need to be new technology which will show us or provide us the possibility of fighting the problems we had in the past. And that’s blockchain, that’s AI. There are some other technologies coming up, but we need to look at the challenges from the past with the eyes of the future, so to say.

Carol Cox:
Oh, very well said. I like that. The challenges of the past with the eyes towards the future. Yes. Okay. So, Alena, so let’s talk a little bit about kind of AI and how it’s affecting different industries, trends that you see and where where we’re going as far as both the opportunities and the limitations or potential consequences of this. So we’re recording this right at the end of January 2023. So I’m time marking this because the AI field is changing so fast, so many new tools and developments are coming out all of the time. Where do you see trends as far as these AI tools and platforms that are coming out? Which ones have you been using? I know you’re not a you don’t have a crystal ball and who knows what things are going to look like six months or a year from now, much less 3 to 5 years from now. But what what are you seeing and what are you talking about in your tech spaces?

Dr. Elena Mechik:
Yes, as you are mentioning, it’s like the world is changing dramatically right now. And I think many people are in touch in one way or another. Have heard about the chat. And it’s incredible. I mean, I think it’s shocking on the one hand, what you can ask and which replies you can get from it. I already know in my just friends circles that they like children of my friends who are who started using the chat in order to write essays to who are already getting better marks, better, better grades. Because of the chat, of course, everything will change. I think everything from that moment. Some industries will change, the educational system will change. When we look at Google, yeah, Google is a great search machine and but it’s similar to going to a library at the end. Yes. So it was a big change from going to the library physically to going to Google and asking any question and getting a kind of a list of books you can read in order to get your answer. But now all the information is just in one chat bot. You can ask anything, you get the information, but on the other hand, you don’t know where the information is coming from. You don’t know the sources of of where the AI is taking the information providing to you. So what I see actually happening is that we will be using this chat or some other. The chair or some other tool, just one to answer all our questions. And we will be very excited at the beginning. And at some point we will stop checking the sources. And that’s the biggest challenge, which I see, because the government does have to interfere in a way, and I’m not sure the bureaucracy is fast enough to interfere. But as we know, we are all lazy. And I think it’s and that’s that’s the that’s the challenge here. We will become more and more lazy just trusting one source of truth which can tell us anything at the end.

Carol Cox:
Yeah. Thank you for bringing that up, Elena. And I’ve been using chat quite a bit since it came out in early December 2022 and actually last week’s episode I shared examples of how I’ve been using chat to rewrite emails to even kind of write some case studies based on testimonials that we have from women who’ve gone through our Thought Leader academy. So it kind of it takes the testimonial and wraps it into a case study. I also use it to generate ideas for podcast ideas for blog posts. So it is. And, and I’m just that’s how I’m using it. But there are so many things that can do. It can generate programming code for you, It can write podcast transcripts and it actually knows like, here’s the intro, here’s the music, here’s the segue way to the next section. It understands different formats. It can write poems like Dr. Seuss. I mean, it is it’s mind blowing and if almost become used to it. And I have to keep reminding myself every day how extraordinary it is that we have this tool literally at our fingertips where we can just ask it a prompt and it will generate original content, so to speak, because it’s just predicting the next word. But to your point, chat GPT, which is made by open AI, it does not tell you where the source sources are coming from that is generating this reply, whether it’s a blog post or so on. And there is another AI tool out there, forget its name right now I think is I don’t think it’s for public use yet. I think they’re still in testing mode, but it actually will come back with a reply and it will tell you the sources they got it from. So whatever the Internet sources are.

Dr. Elena Mechik:
And so the question is, what is the source like still? Are we going to check the sources even if we see it?

Carol Cox:
Probably not.

Dr. Elena Mechik:
Actually. It makes it more secure. Like you feel it’s there’s a source behind it. But are you going to really check ten, 20 websites and check the accuracy of this website, which is being used as a source? Actually, it makes the work, the life, the processes much faster than we are used to.

Carol Cox:
Absolutely. Elena So let’s talk about you being the founder of a software startup and in particular being a female founder of a software startup. So what has been the experience been like? Are you the primary developer or programmer of the software? Do you have a development team? Like tell me a little bit about how your your company is structured and then then we’ll go on and talk about the investment side of it?

Dr. Elena Mechik:
Yes. So I’m responsible for the operations as a CEO. I am responsible for marketing strategy for marketing campaigns and also the sales cycles. I’m also the face towards investors, towards our key accounts and actually talking to you. So I’m the face of the company. One can say, Yeah, we have a development team, we have a CTO who is, who has his team of backend frontend, AI, etc. and we have our CEO and that’s basically it. Yes, it’s hard to say. I mean, if someone tells me what has the challenges of a female founder of female sea level founding a text startup, even like blockchain, that specific it’s very male dominated field. But it’s and to be honest, I don’t feel it. I don’t feel being discriminated. I don’t feel I say like, if I would have me as a man, I would compare and tell you it would be easier or that would be harder. I can’t compare really. I what I what I see is that usually there are no women around me. Like, that’s definitely what I can tell. There are no female investors. There are no female sea level companies like the key accounts. It’s totally male domain and sometimes there’s a sea level making the decision afterwards. I may I might be talking to a female assisting the sea level, but I to be honest, like in the last three, four years, there’s not even one female decision maker I had. Oh, okay. Not even one. There were maybe two. Maybe two during the whole time. Yes. But it’s like very, very seldom.

Carol Cox:
Well, and so and thank you for for being a founder of a technology startup, because you’re starting to change that by having by having more women like you out there. So in your LinkedIn profile, it says that you’re in seed round. Can you explain to us what exactly what is a seed round? What does that get you? And then what comes after that?

Dr. Elena Mechik:
Yeah, so we are in a financing round right now. Yeah. Talking to investors, getting to know like new people, enlarging our network. We were actually present on, on crowdfunding investment platform which is quite famous in Germany, It’s called company STO which just has ended. We are still talking, continue talking to investors. And what we realized I think is this financial crisis as we were mentioning before, the world is changing from technological perspective, but also from the financial perspective.

Carol Cox:
Yes, the interest rate hikes that have been going on since 2022 in the US but also in Europe certainly have not helped, I’m sure, attracting investment money.

Dr. Elena Mechik:
Exactly.

Carol Cox:
Exactly. Well, I mean, I wish you a much luck in that. And I’m so impressed that you are working on this. How can listeners best connect with you? I definitely make sure to include a link to your LinkedIn profile so that they can find you there and anything else you like to leave us with.

Dr. Elena Mechik:
Yes, it would be great. Like to to exchange, to share experiences with other female founders, with people from who may might see that they don’t have a digital solution in place yet they might see the benefits, but also just exchanging experiences. I see such a high benefit in it from just female to female and see how we can be strong together to enlarging our network. And the best way to connect is is through LinkedIn, but also through our website. It’s in harbour dot com and while booking a demo I will certainly see it and we can just connect and exchange ideas on various topics. So I would be very happy.

Carol Cox:
Oh, fantastic. Listeners of the podcast know that I have a background in technology. I was a software programmer and built large systems for large Fortune 500 companies. This started about 20 years ago and I left the technology space about ten years ago. I was burnt out on coding. I wanted to start something else. And speaking. Your brand was born in 2015 and I loved it, but I didn’t ever think I would get back into the technology space. I really thought I had closed that door. But with the development of these AI tools, I’ve gotten excited again. So we are working on some things here. Speaking your brand that I’ve kind of been dropping hints at for the past a little while. And so we everyone stay tuned because we will let you know once we have future developments on some of the AI apps that we are creating. So, Elena, maybe I’ll see you at a technology startup conference one day.

Dr. Elena Mechik:
It’s looking forward and I’m quite excited of what you are developing. Yes.

Carol Cox:
Well, thank you so much for coming on the Speaking of your brand podcast, it’s been a pleasure chatting with you. For those of you listening, thank you so much for joining us today. We are going to continue the series on a AI, so make sure to stay tuned with that. And then after we wrap up the series on AI, we have some other episodes coming up with some Thought Leader Academy clients as well as getting into Women’s History Month in the month of March. I’m looking forward to this episode until next time. Thanks for listening.

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