Joscha Koepke Of Connectly: How AI Is Disrupting Our Industry, and What We Can Do About It

An Interview With Cynthia Corsetti

Solve a Real Problem: Adding AI to your product should address genuine customer needs, not just serve as a fancy demo. Our exploration into AI-powered image generation revealed that our customers often already had image assets, leading us to double down on the conversational aspects of the sales assistant.

Artificial Intelligence is no longer the future; it is the present. It’s reshaping landscapes, altering industries, and transforming the way we live and work. With its rapid advancement, AI is causing disruption — for better or worse — in every field imaginable. While it promises efficiency and growth, it also brings challenges and uncertainties that professionals and businesses must navigate. What can one do to pivot if AI is disrupting their industry? As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Joscha Koepke, Head of Product at Connectly.

Joscha Koepke is a seasoned professional in the tech industry, currently leading as the Head of Product at, a cutting-edge conversational AI company. Before joining Connectly as a founding member, he had a nearly decade-long tenure at Google, where his roles spanned from Account Management to working in Product within the Ads organization. Joscha’s academic foundation is as global as his career, having attended graduate school at HEC Lausanne in Switzerland and Taiwan National University, enriching his perspective with international insights. Outside the office, Joscha has a passion for the outdoors, particularly surfing and paragliding.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Absolutely, and thank you for the warm welcome. My path to the tech industry, and product management in particular, took a bit of an unconventional turn. Initially, I was immersed in the world of product development within the hair care sector. There was something incredibly rewarding about diving deep into human needs and mastering the art of user-centric design. However, I found myself yearning for a more dynamic environment, which led me to embark on a nearly decade-long journey at Google.

Starting in sales, I gained invaluable insights into customer pain points and the intricacies of building relationships. This experience laid the groundwork for my transition into a product role within the Ads organization.

I’ve always believed that life and career are punctuated by moments that challenge us to choose between safety and risk. Joining Connectly was my leap into the unknown — a decision fueled by the thrill of building something from the ground up. As the fourth employee, armed with little more than a vision and a few PowerPoint slides, I stepped into a journey of immense growth and learning. Today, Connectly has a global team of over 50, we partner with category-defining customers and are pushing the boundaries of AI research and product development. It’s been nothing short of a rocket ship ride, and I couldn’t be more excited about where we’re headed next.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Absolutely, and that’s a fantastic question. What truly sets Connectly apart is our global DNA. From the US to Greece, China to Turkey, Canada to Colombia, and beyond, our team is as diverse as it gets. This diversity isn’t just geographic; it’s embedded in our approach to solving problems and innovating in the conversational AI space.

Here’s a vivid example of how this global perspective shapes our work: our conversational AI doesn’t just ‘speak’ multiple languages; it has to understand cultural nuances. For instance, when we were integrating Bahasa, Indonesia, we didn’t just program it with the language. We immersed our AI in the cultural subtleties, ensuring it could engage users with the warmth and respect characteristic of Indonesian communication. This level of detail and care is applied across all languages we support, from Portuguese and Arabic to Greek, pushing the boundaries of what conversational AI can achieve.

This commitment to a truly global service means our AI can connect with users on a deeper level, transcending mere translation to offer genuine understanding and interaction. It’s not just about the technology; it’s about fostering connections that feel personal and respectful, regardless of where you are in the world.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Certainly. Reflecting on my journey, three character traits stand out as pivotal: being action-oriented, resilience, and empathy.

Action-oriented: Being action-oriented has been a cornerstone of our approach to product development. We’ve learned that real progress doesn’t come from endless theorizing. Action provides information, and we learn from every experiment and every design partnership, no matter how small. This mindset encourages us to challenge assumptions and seek out concrete data through firsthand experience. Whether these experiments lead to success or failure, they always illuminate the path forward more clearly than any speculation could. For example, we now offer a fully enabled AI marketing campaign builder that builds a marketing flow based on a small prompt. Before building the entire system, we asked some of our customers for prompts and wrote the campaigns manually for them to verify if they would be satisfied with an automatically created marketing campaign. Once we saw the first adoption, we doubled down and actually built a feature.

Resilience: I often describe joining an early-stage startup as akin to a roller coaster ride traveling at hyperdrive while being thrashed around by a big wave. Recognizing the journey as a marathon filled with sprints has been crucial. There were days we felt on top of the world and others where the path forward was murky at best. Embracing this dynamic, understanding that each day brings its own set of challenges and opportunities, has been key. This perspective helped us navigate through uncertain times, especially when we were refining our product-market fit, allowing us to adapt and evolve swiftly. Startups usually do not die because of competition but because of a lack of resilience and focus.

Empathy: Creating a culture of psychological safety and assuming good intent has been foundational. Recognizing that venting is part of the process, we’ve strived to ensure that our team feels supported and understood. This environment allows for open communication and constructive feedback, driving innovation and cohesion. Empathy extends to our user base as well; by genuinely understanding and addressing their needs and challenges, we’ve been able to build products that resonate on a deeper level. I was personally added to over 50 WhatsApp groups with our customers to help them and hear their suggestions and complaints.

These traits are more than just personal characteristics; they’re principles that guide our team and our product development process, ensuring that we stay grounded, focused, and aligned with our vision.

Let’s now move to the main point of our discussion about AI. Can you explain how AI is disrupting your industry? Is this disruption hurting or helping your bottom line?

AI is fundamentally transforming the landscape of our industry by enhancing the digital shopping experience, making it more personalized, efficient, and akin to the offline shopping journey that many consumers miss online. Our conversational sales AI assistant, Sofia AI, epitomizes this shift, offering personalized shopping assistance that was previously exclusive to in-store experiences. This not only bridges the gap between online and offline shopping but also introduces a level of engagement and personalization that traditional online platforms have struggled to provide.

The disruption caused by AI in our sector is decidedly beneficial to our customers’ bottom line. By integrating AI-driven conversational assistants, we’re enabling businesses to scale their personalized customer interaction without the overhead of human salespeople and training. This not only boosts sales but also enhances customer satisfaction by providing a tailored shopping experience. For our clients, partnering with us opens up new avenues for revenue growth and customer engagement. For consumers, it makes online shopping more enjoyable and efficient, as they receive personalized guidance in finding the perfect product for their needs.

In summary, AI’s impact on our industry is both disruptive and immensely positive, creating opportunities for businesses to innovate in their sales processes and for customers to enjoy a richer, more interactive shopping experience.

Which specific AI technology has had the most significant impact on your industry?

Foundational AI models lay the groundwork for our conversational sales assistants, similar to providing them with high school and college education. These models equip our AI with a broad understanding of language, customer interaction, and basic product knowledge. However, what we do at Connectly takes this to the next level, offering an “MBA” for these models. This advanced training involves honing the AI’s skills with specialized knowledge about specific product categories, sales strategies, and customer service excellence.

A critical factor in this rapid evolution is the improvement in open-source AI models, which are becoming more performant every day. This enhancement allows for effective training with smaller datasets for specific tasks, significantly reducing the barrier to creating highly specialized and efficient AI solutions.

By integrating technologies like Retrieval-Augmented Generation (RAG), we ensure our AI has access to real-time information, making important information like price changes, stock availability and offers as real-time as possible.

Can you share a pivotal moment when you recognized the profound impact AI would have on your sector?

A pivotal moment for us at Connectly came shortly after our launch over three years ago. Back then, generative AI was not as advanced as it is today. We initially focused on messaging-based marketing automation, but it quickly became clear that customers craved more than just one-way notifications; they wanted genuine two-way conversations. They asked clarifying questions, sought advice, and showed us that a deterministic chatbot approach was insufficient. This insight was a turning point, highlighting the critical need for and profound potential of AI in transforming customer interactions into meaningful dialogues.

How are you preparing your workforce for the integration of AI, and what skills do you believe will be most valuable in an AI-enhanced future?

To prepare our workforce for AI integration, we foster a culture of continuous learning and hands-on experience with AI technologies, like ChatGPT. I encourage our team to actively use these tools in their daily tasks, from coding to data analysis and even summarizing meeting notes, to become accustomed to AI as a powerful assistant in their work. The essential skills for an AI-enhanced future align closely with those valued before AI’s rise, but now they’re supercharged with AI’s capabilities. The key is not to become complacent or to take AI’s output at face value. We emphasize the importance of staying curious, maintaining a critical mindset, and using AI as a tool to augment, not replace, human intelligence and creativity. This approach ensures our team not only adapts to but also thrives in an AI-enhanced landscape.

What are the biggest challenges in upskilling your workforce for an AI-centric future?

The main challenge in preparing our workforce for an AI-centric future is the tendency to overestimate AI’s capabilities. It’s relatively easy to create a functional AI demo, but developing a fully deployed product is much more complex. Therefore, our focus is on setting realistic expectations and educating our team about AI’s current limits. Understanding both the potential and the boundaries of AI is crucial for effectively integrating it into our work, ensuring our team remains both ambitious and grounded in reality.

What ethical considerations does AI introduce into your industry, and how are you tackling these concerns?

In addressing AI’s ethical considerations, we prioritize transparency and data privacy. We ensure users know when they are interacting with AI rather than a human, upholding clarity in our communications. Additionally, we strictly adhere to the highest standards and regulations regarding data privacy, safeguarding user information diligently.

What are your “Five Things You Need To Do, If AI Is Disrupting Your Industry”?

  1. Think Big, Start Small: It’s essential to aim high but begin with manageable, tangible objectives. Our journey with the AI sales assistant started within the fashion industry, allowing us to refine and perfect our approach before expanding to other sectors. This strategy ensured we could achieve early successes and learn valuable lessons, setting a solid foundation for broader application.
  2. Don’t Limit Possibilities by Today’s Standards: The rapid decline in compute costs and the accelerating pace of innovation in AI mean that what’s expensive or impractical now might soon be viable. We constantly evaluate our strategies against the evolving technological landscape, ensuring we’re ready to capitalize on opportunities as they become accessible.
  3. Solve a Real Problem: Adding AI to your product should address genuine customer needs, not just serve as a fancy demo. Our exploration into AI-powered image generation revealed that our customers often already had image assets, leading us to double down on the conversational aspects of the sales assistant.
  4. Invest in Upskilling Across the Company: Making AI a valuable tool for every team member empowers them and enhances productivity. By upskilling, our account management team, for example, can now perform data analysis tasks that were once the sole domain of specialized analysts, freeing up resources for strategic initiatives.
  5. Action Creates Information: Theoretical planning has its limits; real learning comes from experimentation with actual users. We were actually surprised by how specific many of the conversations with our Sales AI were and that users had a pretty clear goal in mind when engaging.

What are the most common misconceptions about AI within your industry, and how do you address them?

The most common misconceptions we encounter are that AI is easy to implement in a production-ready environment and that it can solve all problems effortlessly. To address these, we emphasize the design partnership and feedback loop required to successfully integrate AI into existing systems, highlighting the need for careful planning, testing, and iteration.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

While I’m not one to live strictly by quotes or frameworks, the concept of a growth mindset resonates deeply with me. I’ve always been drawn to challenging myself and stepping beyond my comfort zone, both personally and professionally. A prime example of this was learning to paraglide. Embracing the sheer novelty and challenge of it, the experience of flying was exhilarating, marking a significant personal growth milestone.

This adventure mirrored the challenges faced in the workplace. Tasks that initially seem daunting, pushing you well out of your comfort zone, can often trigger a defensive or overwhelmed response. However, shifting the perspective from “How am I ever going to manage this?” to “What am I learning from this situation?” can transform the experience. This mindset has been a guiding principle for me, turning potential stressors into opportunities for growth and learning. It’s about embracing the journey, with all its ups and downs, and finding value in every challenge encountered.

Off-topic, but I’m curious. As someone steering the ship, what thoughts or concerns often keep you awake at night? How do those thoughts influence your daily decision-making process?

Too many to count 🙂 I’ve learned the importance of focusing on what’s within my control. Understanding that I have complete agency over my decisions and actions, rather than the external environment, helps center my approach to leadership. It’s impossible to control every external factor, but we can control our responses to these changes.

This philosophy also extends to my team. We’ve established a set of guiding principles that shape our decision-making process. When faced with challenges, we revert to these principles, ensuring our actions are aligned with our core values and objectives.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’d launch the “Listening Movement,” focused on the simple yet transformative act of truly listening to one another, bridging divides across political views, life choices, and beliefs. We’ve become so accustomed to rewarding the loudest and most sensational voice in the room that we’ve forgotten the healing power of listening and empathy.

How can our readers further follow you online?

You can find some of my writing here on Medium at I also share some of my thoughts on Linkedin at

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

About the Interviewer: Cynthia Corsetti is an esteemed executive coach with over two decades in corporate leadership and 11 years in executive coaching. Author of the upcoming book, “Dark Drivers,” she guides high-performing professionals and Fortune 500 firms to recognize and manage underlying influences affecting their leadership. Beyond individual coaching, Cynthia offers a 6-month executive transition program and partners with organizations to nurture the next wave of leadership excellence.