Milkana Brace is the founder and CEO of Jargon, the CMS for conversational AI.

Five questions with Jargon

25 November 2020

5 minute read

Milkana Brace is the founder and CEO of Jargon, the CMS for conversational AI.

Milkana Brace is the Founder and CEO of Jargon, the CMS for conversational AI. Jargon’s low-code platform enables enterprise teams to build and operate chat and voice intelligent assistants. Jargon is venture-backed and a graduate of the Alexa Accelerator 2018, powered by Techstars.

Milkana is a seasoned entrepreneur and operator with more than two decades of leadership experience in high-tech, high-growth businesses. Prior to starting Jargon, Milkana held senior leadership positions at Expedia, Groupon, American Express and others. She is passionate about building teams and products from the ground up, has been involved with multiple early-stage startups as an advisor or angel investor, and has spoken around the world on topics related to conversational AI, voice assistants and entrepreneurship. Milkana is a graduate of the Technology Management MBA programme at the University of Washington and holds a BA in economics from McGill University. She has lived in three countries and currently resides in the Pacific Northwest.

01. What was the inspiration behind your company?

We’re witnessing a massive shift in how companies interact with their customers and employees — from a traditional approach of publishing one-size fits all information about their products and services to enabling 1:1 personalised interactions, powered by conversational AI.

At Jargon, we believe that chat and voice conversations will redefine all digital experiences. Jargon’s platform enables enterprise teams to build and operate such chat and voice intelligent assistants, leveraging the power of conversational AI. Our mission is to enable enterprise teams to deliver a VIP experience to each of their customers, across all digital channels.

02. What do you find is the most difficult aspect of being a female founder?

The most difficult aspect of being a female founder is that I’m defined as a female founder, instead of simply as a founder. I don’t show up at work every day thinking that I’m female. I show up at work, focused on what I need to do to be an effective founder. I have trained myself to believe that my limitations today, with hard work and perseverance, can be pushed tomorrow. So, my entire mindset is focused on what I need to change and how I need to grow to become better every day. And yet, the first thing the world sees in me is what I can’t change — my gender. So, there is a very odd disconnect between my internal experience and mindset and how I’m perceived externally.

Being a female founder, especially of a B2B company at the forefront of technology, is a rarity and so I naturally stand out. In professional encounters, my gender often becomes a distraction and draws unwanted attention — not because of inappropriate behavior, but because people size me up, and try to figure out what’s really going on and how I ended up in my position. I’ve learned to press through these early encounters with confidence and typically the conversation and interactions normalise over time.

03. What is the most important lesson you’ve learned since first developing and launching your startup?

Startups are a team sport. The team extends well beyond the company's employees to a broad network of advisors, investors, friends, supporters and cheerleaders. The more people you can bring along on the journey, the greater the chances of success. As the proverb says: “...if you want to go far, go together.”

04. How has the pandemic impacted your company?

Like many others, the pandemic turned us into a 100% remote company. We’ve made some adjustments to make it work, but all things considered it was a seamless transition.

From a business perspective, the pandemic wreaked havoc on some of our customer segments, while being favourable to others. We’ve had to adjust our strategy and product roadmap accordingly. Being an early stage startup, pivots are relatively easy for us, which is a huge advantage over larger and more established companies.

05. Tell us about a role model or mentor who has helped you along your journey.

Outside of team members and our board, the person who’s had the largest impact on our startup journey is Aviel Ginzburg. Aviel was the Managing Director of the Amazon Alexa Accelerator, powered by Techstars when we first connected. Going through the Accelerator was a pivotal experience for Jargon. It defined who we are, how we operate, and started us on the path we’re on today. Aviel’s experience, network and knowledge both as a founder and investor have helped us avoid a million pitfalls, find the right answers quickly and get connected to people who matter. In classic #givefirst Techstars spirit, Aviel is generous with his advice, available on short notice, and willing to help both tactically and strategically.

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