Lina Trivedi, the woman that invented e-commerce17 Aug 2023 2023-08-17 14:19
Lina Trivedi, the woman that invented e-commerce
Lina Trivedi, the woman that invented e-commerce
In an exciting and exclusive interview following the release of the highly anticipated “Beanie Bubble” movie in July, Venetia Reddy engages in a captivating conversation with Lina Trivedi and Niten Luthra, the visionary co-founders of Joii.ai.
Lina, portrayed as the inspiring “Maya Kumar” by the talented Geraldine Viswanathan in the film, opens up about various aspects of her life, both before and after her involvement with TY INC.
Throughout the interview, she touches on important topics such as female empowerment and the significance of recognizing women’s contributions in the tech and business industries. Watch below or read our interview.
Interview with Lina Trivedi & Niten Luthra
Venetia Reddy: All right, so this is a big interview and a big day. I’m honoured to speak with the woman who is referred to as having given birth to the Internet and inventing e-commerce. Just thinking about that really blows my mind, and that person is Lina Trivedi.
Lina directed the world’s first business-to-consumer website, and that is not a joke. It is the real Lina, and the company was Ty Inc. She shepherded the business to billions of dollars.
But why now? How did this interview come about?
Well, the movie Beanie Bubble, an Apple original is out in cinemas and selected theatres and it is also out on Apple. Lina was part of the early success of Ty Inc – the company. The movie was written and directed by Kristin Gore, and it’s all about the rise and fall of Beanie Babies.
So if you’re watching this, and you were in the 1990s, and you own a Beanie Baby, let us know in the comments as well.
Lina Trivedi: [ chuckles, while holding up a Beanie Baby ].
Venetia Reddy: Yeah, there we go. So whilst the movie takes on Ty Warner’s journey, building the company, he actually, originally started off as a frustrated toy salesman until his collaboration with three women who grew his idea into the biggest toy craze in history.
One of those women, Lina Trivedi, is with us today.
Lina Trivedi is fictionalised as the character Maya Kumar, played by the stunning Geraldine Viswanathan, and if you’re a fan of succession, it’s also really cool that Sarah Snook is in the movie.
And very smart, Robbie played by Elizabeth Banks.
So, Lina, I’m so grateful to have you with me today, and you have successfully moved on to work on some incredible projects.
You created the predecessor to ChatGPT, and this was not acknowledged. Despite selling over a million in sales, and I highlight that point because with your many years at Ty inc, this seems to be an overarching theme in relation to your experience in tech innovation.
Later in this interview, we’re going to cover some important topics on supporting women in tech and business, and authentically providing them the recognition that is well deserved.
Also focused on social well-being, we have with us, Niten Luthra.
Niten Luthra: Thank you.
Venetia Reddy: Welcome.
Lina, you co-founded a company with Niten called Joii Ai. We’ll be hearing more about your work on this towards the end of this interview, but first, Niten and Lina, thank you so much for your time.
Lina, my first question to you is, watching the movie, Beanie Bubble, how did you feel seeing such a huge part of your life being played out on the big screen?
Lina Trivedi: It’s something that I’m still processing. It was actually very difficult to watch when… you’re looking at it as just a movie.
You watch the movie and you’re thinking, “Wow that girl got the short end of the stick,” you know. But then, when you put it in the context of that being you… it’s hard, it’s hard to watch, and it’s hard to process.
And I’m still working on processing it all and still trying to understand how I feel about it. It’s not something- I saw the movie at the same time that everybody else did, so I wasn’t prepared, and I wasn’t uh, I didn’t see it coming in terms of having all these feelings and emotions that I have now.
And needing to process it very quickly, while reporters are calling me and wanting to fact check for what really happened versus what was portrayed in the movie.
But everything that was shown in the movie, I felt that it was pretty…
The timelines were shifted a little bit. For example, the movie shows that the character Robbie, who is Patricia in real life, left as I was coming in but there actually was an overlap with Patricia. She’s the one who made the hiring decision to hire me.
And I have a lot of memories with Patricia. Patricia is who I saw as the Mrs. Garrett. If you remember Facts of Life, she was like the Mrs. Garrett to everybody. She was somebody who just held everything together, and somebody who I felt that I could go talk to about anything.
There were a lot of holes in what actually happened with Patricia that seemed to be filled with the movie. Then again, it’s a fictionalized movie, but it was based on a book that the author interviewed hundreds of people to produce the story.
So the story is not my story. It’s the story… that is a compilation of accounts from hundreds of people, including Patricia, including me, including a lot of people that were involved to varying degrees from owners, collectors, people who worked at Ty, Ty’s family, you know.
So, granted they’re still inaccuracies, even in my story. For example, I remember in the book that Ty wrote Patti’s poem. There’s a Patti the Platypus, this poem.
And I wrote the poem. So, that was something that I was really confused about, like how did it happen where he got credit for that poem? But I guess I understand a little bit of the dynamic behind that particular Beanie Baby.
But I think it’s just important to understand that it’s not my story. That’s the story that has been told through countless interviews and countless accounts of what happened, and when you look at it that way, for me to see the movie, it’s overwhelming.
Venetia Reddy: Yeah, you mentioned, with the poem in a Los Angeles Times article, Gore mentions how eBay would not have existed without Beanie Baby, so I mean just that statement alone shows how much of the story this really is.
Also, you’re credited with writing the first 136 poems for Beanie Babies, and in an insider article, you mentioned that you did 80 of them in 24 hours after creating a mock-up in Photoshop for the CEO, Ty.
If you can take us back to that moment, what was your schedule like in terms of the creative process of literally creating global hype and a sensation in history?
I mean, the sales must have been overwhelming, so what was that experience like for you?
And my second question is, how does that segue into how you work today?
Lina Trivedi: It was crazy, you know. I look back and I think of that. I was younger then, so you hear a lot about college students pulling all-nighters to study for exams and things like that. I was doing that routinely. I was pulling all-nighters, sometimes two nights in a row, and then getting some normal sleep the next night, and then just doing that all over again.
I was just on this powerhouse of energy that I was channelling toward what I was doing, and I loved it. I love that innovation stage. I love creating and producing something, and the excitement that comes with it. It invigorates me, and I love it.
And I feel that with joii.ai, that I’m working on right now with Niten. It’s bringing back a lot of that same connection with that same energy because I’m creating something all over again in a space where what we’re creating does not exist.
And it’s going to produce a solution to a problem that is going to have an impact on a lot of people. And, Niten, I don’t know how you feel about this, but I think that the last 90 days- we’re 90 days in, we just celebrated our 3-month anniversary a couple of days ago as co-founders and it’s just been that the last 90 days have been crazy. What do you think, Niten?
Niten Luthra: Uh, 100% And I feel honoured because I feel in some ways, even though I didn’t live during the Ty era with Lina, I’m getting to see some of that magic. It’s phenomenal, and Lina’s just amazing to work with, so it’s a really awesome time.
Venetia Reddy: That is amazing. There is something interesting… I know that we’re going to talk about Joii.ai a little bit later on, and I’m really excited to get into what you’re currently working on and just tap more into the energy of that. But just to revert back to the movie, some really interesting twists happened in the movie and I just want to touch a little bit more on your relationship with Ty Warner.
In the movie, there was sort of a very intriguing relationship that the two of you had, and just like Niten talks about your creative energy, it seemed like Ty really admired those creative aspects and everything that you brought with you.
In the movie, when we reached the scenes where there was a big celebration and the company reached big levels of success, I really thought, whilst watching the movie, that in the hype that was coming whilst everything was working out, Maya was going to get the position that she obviously wanted.
But that didn’t happen, and I was disheartened just watching the movie. So how did that feel for you? And why do you think that happened? Given the amount of time that you invested into Ty Inc, you invested your time, your energy, and you seemed even more so invested at times than maybe Warner himself.
So, how did that happen? How did it make you feel? Did you lose confidence? Did it bog you down? And how did you find the courage to bounce back?
Lina Trivedi: Yeah, there’s a lot there to explore. And there’s a lot of layers. I feel that there was a lot that we were doing with the internet that I didn’t really even know we were doing.
I think that he just gave us full license to do whatever we were doing, and he just told us, “Keep doing what you’re doing,” without necessarily understanding the full scope of it, but seeing the pieces of what was coming from it and maybe that was through the comments that were coming. You know, the calls that were coming through the call center.
The feedback that he was seeing in the forums that were on our website and when he said, keep doing what you’re doing, then I’m doing all of these different things that are now being recognized as the first of so many things in technology today; the first form of social engagement, the first trace of e-commerce, and the first interaction from a business to consumer.
It wasn’t like I planned on doing these things, I just had this space to do whatever I wanted to do, and limitless resources to do it. I had an American Express card that was essentially limitless, and I was able to get whatever it was that I felt I needed, which was an amazing opportunity.
I had digital cameras, like the very first iteration of digital cameras. I had Photoshop 1.0, I had Corel DRAW, the first iteration of CorelDRAW, and the entire suite of Corel Software.
All of this different technology that was coming out, right at the beginning, I was able to access it, and it wasn’t an issue of needing to pay for it, so I was able to overcome that obstacle.
So then, what comes next? What comes next is the innovating and the creating, which is all the fun stuff that I was able to do without really a whole lot of direction, and I think when you talk about that scene in the movie where everybody was anticipating that I was going to get the position that didn’t exist, it was a position that I wanted to be created.
I wanted to be the Director of Technology. That was the title that I wanted, and my brother was there the whole time, we brought my little brother on before the website was even created. It was the two of us that were working together, so I wanted a title for him as well. I wanted to have benefits, I wanted to have insurance and I wanted to have all the things that come with being a full-time employee, because even though I was working 60, 70, and 80 hours a week sometimes, I was still on paper as a part-time employee.
I wanted what comes with having a normal job, just all of the basic things. I wanted a 401k plan, I wanted all of those things, and it seemed like not too much to ask. Ultimately, I didn’t get what I was asking for. There was a counteroffer, but it wasn’t what I wanted.
I came to the table with what I thought was fair for me and my brother, and I felt that the response coming back with this counteroffer was, “This is an excellent salary for someone your age,” is what was told to me.
And I was like–
It was the same for my brother, my brother had just graduated high school, and it was the same that was said about him, that he just graduated high school, and this is a very competitive salary for someone his age.
And I was just like, “Who the f*** cares how old we are?” That was what I was thinking and I was really upset about that, so I walked away.
What everybody is saying now is, that was the start of the fall of Beanie Babies. And why did that happen? Because the way I see it, my brother and I worked so hard in building social engagement on the website. We were connecting with people, and people were excited to come to the website, people would come to the website sometimes ten times a day to see what’s happening in this world that we created online.
And there was an online value to what we created that was not recognized, and that just sort of diminished when we left the site. I watched it for a while after I left, I was visiting it, you know, thinking, “What are they going to do with the diaries? We were posting on the diaries eight times a day, and it was always this excitement.
They did try to carry on the diaries, but it didn’t have the same part. It looked like some corporate executive was just making up things like, a Beanie Baby talking about how it’s raining outside and they’re looking out the window watching the rain.
And I was thinking, “Nobody cares about that!”
You know the drama was all gone. The ones that we were cultivating with all these stories that we were creating, and it was really sad to me to see that go away, and I guess when you look at it from a bird’s eye view, that had an effect on sales as well. There were probably other factors, too, in terms of the supply and demand being mismatched.
I’m sure that had an effect as well but as far as my role in it, I think that’s something significant that had an impact as well.
Venetia Reddy: Lina, just touching on the topic, what you wanted for you and your brother. What do you think, in the current landscape, and to the same extent that still happens, so how do you think it should be dealt with in this day and age?
Do you think it’s still something that’s very prevalent in terms of how full-time employees are treated versus part-time employees? And how can we sort of bridge the gap?
Lina Trivedi: I get calls from a lot of people that ask if I am bitter about what happened. And what my feelings are about making $12 an hour, while Ty is now a billionaire, and on all of the Forbes, the highest ranking earnings and lists and things like that.
And I’m not bitter, because how can I be bitter. I agreed to work for the wage that I was making. It was 1,250. But then I started, I think, at 9 and had a raise to 10, and then it elevated over the years that I was there.
But I agreed to it. I agreed to work for that, and I was enjoying the work that I was doing, and I think that I made a lot of choices, where I was focused on the fact that I was in the role that only one person in our world has the opportunity to be in, ever.
I was at the very spot that someone needs to be in to do all the things that I was doing. If Beanie Babies had gained traction a little bit earlier or a little bit later, the story would have been way different. But I was in the eye of the perfect storm, and I have to be grateful that I was the one that was there, and my brother was there too, and we were both in this unique position of being able to do all these great things. And that’s how I look at it.
What I am bitter about is my life after Ty, and I bring it down to my daughter. She’s 13 now, but when she was in fifth grade, she always viewed me as this tech goddess, and she’s always talking about all these great things that I had done in tech when we’re out at places like Walmart, you know.
She’ll just start talking about things that I’ve done, and I’m like, “No, no, come on, let’s go.”
Venetia Reddy: [ chuckles ]
Lina Trivedi: But she was so excited to be able to take her first tech class, which was Lego robotics. It sounded so fascinating and so exciting, and she was just so pumped to take this class, but within ten days she wanted to quit.
And I was like, “Why, you were so excited about it, why do you want to quit?”
And she said that the class was broken up into small groups. Each group has three boys and three girls, and in every group, all the boys are taking over, and all she does is stand there and nobody lets her talk.
Nobody listens to any of the girls’ ideas, and it’s just not fun. She’d rather just stay home and play games, or video games.
It was a huge wtf moment for me because it’s happening to our children.
That experience that I just described, that my daughter went through is what I went through my entire career, after leaving Ty. I feel that I had so many stories that illustrate the unfairness that exists in the tech industry, that It’s ridiculous, and it’s sick, it’s disgusting, it’s gross.
And that’s what I’m bitter about.
Venetia Reddy: Lina, just to touch on that, the unfairness and that experience of your daughter, and what you experienced after leaving Ty Inc.
It takes me back to the movie where at the end of the movie, all three women are placed in a very triumphant position and Robbie, at the end, outsmarts Ty and becomes an irreplaceable partner to him, and it sort of shows that cutthroat interaction between men and women that you also speak of in the business world.
What do you feel has changed now versus the 1990s? You say that you’ve still experienced so much of it after leaving Ty Inc.
So, what has changed from then till now, and what do you think still needs to change? How do we stand up for ourselves and what is your best advice moving forward into that?
Lina Trivedi: I think that the movie was accurate in that sense. Patricia– Robbie was triumphant in the position that she held.
She navigated her waters very well, and I heard that she’s done very well for herself. Also, as soon as we left Ty, we started a firm and we were doing great. There was a lot of excitement behind what we were doing. The landscape was wide open.
We were approaching companies right when the Internet was starting to become a thing where big corporations were like, “We need to do something on the Internet.” And I was coming to the table with years and years of experience.
So I was able to just grab all kinds of different, fun and exciting projects. But just like how my daughter’s story was about the Lego Robotics class, it felt like there was a moment and time where… Well, granted there was the dotcom burst, so there was a little bit of chaos that occurred over a period of time through the dotcom bubble crashing.
And outside of that though, there was a big air of, “Okay, the boys have arrived. We’ve got it from here,” because now Facebook becomes this big thing, and all of these big brands that we know today became this big thing, eBay, which gained its traction from me, ushering all of our collectors. To go to eBay is now a big thing.
I was still doing a lot of great things, but I feel that— I haven’t seen the Barbie movie, but I know that there’s a juxtaposition between the Barbie world and the real world, and I feel that my entire life after Ty was producing this bubble where I was able to innovate and create in my own space.
Yet, I was still barricaded from what was going on in the real world. So, that way I was able to still do all the things that I love, and now, everybody is looking at these things that I did, like WordBotic. Everyone is calling it the predecessor to ChatGPT, and I did that almost ten years.
When ChatGPT came out, I was looking at it and I was like, “Okay,” you know, because it felt like something that I had already sort of done. Now I’m working on Joii.ai, and I feel that it’s going to revolutionize the way that people connect with one another and I’m really excited about that.
There is still so much unfairness and inequality that exists with a lot of different groups of people but I think what is starting to become different now is that people are recognizing it.
I think that there were decades where it just was not acknowledged or recognized, and I think Niten can actually speak on that, because he’s one of the men that I feel understands that there is an issue.
But we need to explore what the issues are because people like Niten don’t totally understand what the issues are.
So, there is a need for people to listen and hear from people like me on what the challenges really are, so that we can begin to fix it. I don’t know, Niten, do you have anything to say about that?
Niten Luthra: Yeah, no, I mean, I think there’s definitely been an increase in awareness and diversity inclusion programs that many corporations are definitely shedding more light on.
And I’ve had the pleasure of not only working with Lina recently but other amazing women, leaders in the field of technology, and what women bring to the table is so vast and important to the ongoing development of products and solutions.
I think, without them participating actively in this, I don’t think the world is going to be the same place. So, it’s good to see it move. I think Lina’s point is valid though, there’s a lot more work to be done, and as Lina has been explaining her story to me, honestly, I can’t imagine what it would have been like to have gone through what she went through.
Her journey is incredible and hopefully, many young women will appreciate some of the hurdles that Lina went through and hopefully will be able to avoid some of those as people move forward.
Venetia Reddy: Lina, as Niten has said, you have most certainly been an inspiration for many women out there, including myself. When I watched the movie and read some of your articles, I was very inspired by the work that you’ve done, which is groundbreaking, revolutionary work.
How can we really work towards recognizing women like yourself and supporting women like you instead of tearing them down? How do we work towards giving them the recognition they truly deserve?
Lina Trivedi: I think it starts with the women. I think women allow themselves to be… put aside.
And there is an element of us not sitting down, of continuing to push forward, continuing to fight for what’s right, and voicing the inequalities and the injustices as opposed to just sitting down at the end of the day, having wine with our girlfriends and talking about it, because then it just sticks in that little bubble and nobody hears about it.
As women, I feel like, if I were to talk to you about some of the injustices that I have dealt with, you’ll be horrified but you’ll get it. You’ll understand. You’ll be like, “Yeah, I could see that,” because you’ve experienced it too.
How do we take our experience and put a spotlight on it, so that these corporations that are trying to figure out what the solution is, understand what the problem is?
Because I don’t think that the problem has really, truly been articulated. There’s a huge dialogue right now about childcare being a benefit just like health insurance, just like, you know, all of the other benefits that we have.
And it’s a dialogue that is stemming from a conversation about how childcare is an economic issue. It’s a business issue. It’s not a woman’s issue. And that dialogue stems from this conversation that we’re having.
We need women, and there are a lot of champions of that particular challenge that are voicing the rationale behind why childcare is a corporate issue, why it’s an economic issue, why it’s a business issue, and why the economics of childcare needs to be addressed from a business standpoint.
There are other issues, too, you know. Let’s talk about it. Let’s bring it to the forefront, let’s comment about it. Let’s figure out how we’re going to bring all of those stories out there. When I talk about my story, there are hundreds of women commenting about how the story resonates with them, and they bring forward some of their own ideas of things that have happened to them, and how all these dots connect with each other.
We need to do that, we need to continue doing that, we need to continue commenting and stop being silent. The role that we take, where we just accept that this is just how the world is, and I’m just going to work within it. We need to stop doing that because it doesn’t have to be the way the world is.
Venetia Reddy: I completely agree with you Lina, you have been a great example of that. You are so transparent and authentic even on your social media. For example, in your last Instagram post, you challenged an article that was written about you, and with your ground-breaking success, it’s without a doubt, there will be negativity that lurks in the corners and irrelevant or irresponsible communication.
And like you said, the journalism that resurfaces when amazing stories are brought to light.
So, what I do want to just ask you is that, I think one of the main themes with what you just said is being authentic. With the pandemic coming to an end, and also AI developing at the fast rate that it is, there’s a lot of sources. There’s an overload of information, and what I think a lot of people, myself included, are looking for is authentic and responsible communication that is at the forefront to lead the future generations; children, families, and to really be a part of that movement.
How can we work together, and how can men and women work together to really make that a possibility, so that the children of the future can really enjoy a world where creativity is encouraged without limits?
Lina Trivedi: I think that when we were talking about the Wall Street Journal piece, the reporter, I would like to believe he didn’t have the intent to produce a piece that had that reaction from me. I think that he wrote a lot of positive things about what I did, but the bottom line is that women are so… crippled right now that when you take something like a charge that I had over 25 years ago and put it in the same sentence as me being the co-founder to Joii.ai right now, it’s insulting, it’s demeaning, and I’d like to believe that it wasn’t his intent.
But I think it comes from the fact that a lot of people don’t understand the experience of the women, you know, the life that we have been living in a system that has us crippled, yet we have to continue functioning while we’re disabled.
And I believe that if Charles Passie understood that experience a little bit better, he might have taken a different tone.
If someone is trying to dig into my past to find things to discredit me, I don’t think they would have trouble finding it because I have an arrest record that is massive from the 90s.
I read another article that said that I was arrested for theft, or something like that, and
they don’t allow me to tell the story of how that theft charge was because me and my friends were at a liquor store. My friends didn’t have money to buy beer, so they stole beer, and it ended up being a police situation.
Regardless of the fact that I got arrested and had this charge, I had a blast through the 90s. My life in the 90s, going to all of these parties, clubs and concerts was like the life that I think was very idyllic, you know.
There was just so much that happened there, and it makes Jersey Shore look light FM, is what I always say, because we had such a good time. I had the most incredible friends that I’m still friends with today, and there’s no way that any of us that was there would look back and say that we regret anything.
I don’t regret a thing, I had a fun time, and it’s a story that I’ll have to tell at some point.
I think there was a scene in the movie that showed the New Year’s Eve party, and that really probably captured a little bit of my spirit. Because I remember that New Year’s Eve, I actually had a computer at the New Year’s Eve party, and I was working while I was partying at someone’s house.
And I had to go somewhere where there’s going to be a computer and a phone line because I needed to be able to access the Internet, and it didn’t quite happen as it did in the movie where I did this big countdown, you know. But there was a countdown, and I was partying and I did run to the computer to go check to see what was going on with the site and I did call my brother.
We were freaking out because we were like, what the hell just happened, and what is going on.
The partying definitely plays a role in the story of the 90s and whatever anybody wants to dig up about it, I’m going to stand behind my life and I think the more important thing is to focus on what came out of it; the things that I learned, and how it shaped me as a person.
I had a horrible attitude toward authority throughout the 90s, and eventually, that got to a point where I had to humble myself, and I did that.
I learned a lot from it, I took all of what I learned, and I feel that I made an impact on those communities because after, when I was coming out of that situation, I worked in a nonprofit for about 3 years, and I took everything that I knew and everything that I had learned as well as these experiences that I had with interacting with women who were from all different walks of life.
I’ve spent probably in total, maybe a year and a half of jail time in different places. Like 20 days here, a little bit of time there. I had such a horrible attitude that I would get arrested, and the judge would not give me a bond, because I never came back to court.
So, that’s what a lot of my jail time is. It’s not jail time because of the charge, it’s jail time because of my attitude, and I think I even told a couple of judges that I didn’t like the way they were talking to me, so I had some words for them that got me in trouble.
I was just very rebellious, and I learned a lot from it. And I’m not like that today. 20 years ago, that’s who I was, and I’ve learned a lot from it. Now I use those experiences to teach my daughter how to handle adversity and unfairness.
She was born with a disability, and there is so much inequality that is in this world that relates to people with disabilities. And she is a child growing into a teenager, just learning how the world works.
I’m using a lot of my experiences to teach her the proper way to respond to some of those injustices.
In the movie, it says that I was a Med school dropout. I actually was a Law school dropout. I was so rebellious that even though all the Asian parents wanted to send their kids to Med school, I wasn’t going to do it. I refused. I couldn’t stand the sight of blood.
I couldn’t deal with the dissection of frogs in Biology class. There was no way I was going to Med school, but I was able to negotiate Law school as the appropriate path for me and that was acceptable to my parents, and that was the path I took.
But I did drop out, and I did start working full-time at Ty. I stopped going to school, I just dipped, you know. I loved everything I was doing at Ty, but what I was getting at is that I teach my daughter how to navigate the injustices in a better way than maybe I had when I was younger.
She is only 13 years old, but she is the formal complainant with many state agencies on different laws that have been broken by the city of Beaver Dam.
There is a case right now with Martial Arts America, which is an organization that she spent a lot of time at. She has an understanding of what ADA Law is, what responsibilities are of businesses to follow the law, and what her rights are, so a lot of times when things happen, and you understand what the rules of the game are, then you can take actions that will actually produce results as opposed to just crying about it and swearing and telling people that they’re being unfair, or whatever, which is kind of what I did when I was younger.
Venetia Reddy: I really think that the lessons that you’ve just shared, and that vulnerability; taking responsibility and accountability for the actions that you did do, and how you have looked towards progress and instilling those lessons into your daughter is truly quite remarkable.
I want to lean more into what you’re doing right now, moving forward from your lessons and the movie, and moving away from all of that.
You specialize in AI, which is another big craze right now. As you mentioned, WordBotic, I think, was the predecessor to ChatGPT? And now you have co-founded with Niten, Joii.ai.
So, tell me more about Joii.ai. I did watch a clip on the website, I think it’s remarkable.
Loneliness, social disconnection after the pandemic. I know I had trouble just going back out there into the world again, and just thinking, “Where do I go from here?” I’ve been cooped up in the house for such a long time, so tell me more about Joii.ai.
Lina Trivedi: Niten, tell them about it.
Niten Luthra: Okay, so the premise of Joii.ai is really all about, “How do we do life together?” Many of us are very busy, we have responsibilities. I think I’m probably working harder now than I ever have in my life, and I never thought that day would come when I could say that, but it’s the truth.
Also, people are geographically very dispersed, and when you think about what we take away from this world, what we take away is the quality of our experiences.
It’s not the house that we built, the cars that we drive, the money that we have in the bank. It’s the quality of the experiences, and that really comes through social engagement with the people that matter most, which are close friends and family.
So, Lina and I got together three months ago, and we were having some very casual conversations about this concept. And we recognize that the problems are huge, as you can probably appreciate.
And we said, “What can we do to remediate this problem?” How can we fix it? And in true form, Lina, being the visionary that she is, talked a bit about how we can adopt AI, because AI is the big thing right now, so how can we bring AI into this.
So, effectively, what we have done to address this problem is to incorporate AI, and how we do that is, we have something called Digime, which effectively is a replica of yourself.
So you would have this replica that you would train. You would have control of the replica, the replica would get to know you, and ask correct pertinent questions about your likes, dislikes, and points of view on certain things, and as you train that through gamification, you’ll get to a point where that replica will engage with the replicas of family and close friends.
And as they engage in banter, that banter will be very entertaining, and there’s a high likelihood that you will want to participate in the banter.
So you know, Lina, for example, if we’re engaging, Lina might call me and say your Digime said this, that’s really interesting, and we’d engage in banter. But also, it would create opportunities for Lina and I to engage more on the phone in person, and so on and so forth.
There are so many use cases for this, that the list is more than an arm’s length in terms of the things we could do with it. But in essence, it’s about bringing people together a lot more, and when we think of social media today, the proliferation of it, it’s all about a like and a swipe and that’s really not connectedness.
But this is so much deeper than that. So, we strongly believe that people need to do life together to avoid the consequences of mental illness, and physical illness. These are all the effects of loneliness and isolation, and we believe the solution that we want to bring to the market is going to really help people keep those connections, maintain them, strengthen them, grow them, and effectively ensure that people are in each other’s lives.
And we also want to bring a feature where we track social connectedness so that people know how often they’ve been able to engage and pump them to keep those relationships tight by engaging more. Lina, I’m sure you have a lot more to add, but that’s my point of view.
Lina Trivedi: I just love it. It’s so exciting and I’m really excited about developing it. I think when you think about Facebook and Instagram, we have thousands of followers and thousands of friends, but we really don’t know who any of them are, and when I pull up my Facebook feed I don’t see things from my brother.
I don’t see things from my best friends. How do I stay connected with them? It’s not Facebook, it’s not Instagram, It’s not any of these social media products that are out there right now, and the issue is real. My daughter just had a hospitalization that lasted seven months, and it just took our whole lives into a whirlwind, and this very issue of her feeling disconnected and disengaged with people played a huge role in that, and I see the struggles that she has with trying to connect with people.
And this is the future, our children. Yeah, and I also see it in my peers and my parents, and everybody else is struggling to connect with the people that they truly care about. We can say, “Oh, I love my brother, I love my besties. I love other people in my family, but I talk to them maybe like once a month,” and that’s so sad to me because there are so many opportunities that exist where we could potentially connect.
One of my favorite examples that I love bringing up is when we talk about, “I’m going to the store. I’m going to go to Target, and if the Digime, the digital version of any of my friends were to tell them, “hey, Lina is going to be at Target this afternoon,” they probably have to go to Target, too.
They could just pop up at Target. And we’ll end up going to the Target Cafe, having some coffee or whatever, and hanging out, and it would be a social connection that wouldn’t have otherwise happened.
Our technology is focused on our inner circle of close friends and family, and how we can elevate the quality of those relationships by leveraging AI and some of the technology. It’s a beautiful thing for me to see the problem that technology created, and produce a solution that technology is going to solve.
Venetia Reddy: That is amazing. Is it already public or is it going to be released, is there a launch date?
When can we expect to use this site?
Lina Trivedi: It’s in development now. I’m so excited about it, and I’m creating it now. Literally, these all-nighters that I’m doing right now are for working on joii.ai, and I’m so excited about it.
We have a website, joii.ai and people can sign up to our waiting list to become a beta tester. We’re inviting people to come and just test it out when it’s ready. We’re not quite at that stage to have it ready, but we are looking at launching it this year.
Venetia Reddy: Amazing. I’m really curious about Joii.ai, how did that name come about? Is it because it’s joy with social connection and loneliness. How did that come about?
Lina Trivedi: Oh my gosh! The name of our company was such a journey for me and Niten.
But for me, Joii.ai did resonate with me because of that. I was like, what are we doing? We are bringing joy back because I felt that the world is missing that, we’ve become disconnected from the joy.
And you know, Beanie Babies brought joy to people, and that’s what I loved about Beanie Babies and seeing all of the stories that came from people talking about the experiences that Beanie Babies kind of augmented, and the joy that it brought to them.
There are so many stories of that, and we don’t have that. I don’t feel that in our world right now, and we spelled it J.O.I.I. The two “ii’s” represent two people.
We haven’t yet crafted our final branding, but the way that I see it, those “ii’s” are gonna end up somehow, being in it–
It’s really rough because we’re brainstorming our branding right now, and that’s why it was important to me to spell it as J.O.I.I.
It’s going to be fun going on that branding journey with Niten but that’s what it means to me, I don’t know. Niten, what do you think about Joii, why do we call it Joii?
Niten Luthra: I love the name. I mean, we always wanted this to represent positivity and we think that the fabric of society’s been really impacted by the proliferation of social media.
We believe that what we’re doing brings joy back to people. The pursuit of happiness is really about community and being involved with other people. I think that’s why I give full credit to Lina because Lina mentioned the name initially and I was like, you know, not quite convinced but as we talked about it more, I was like yeah, I love it. It’s perfect, we should go with it.
One thing I would like to just add very quickly to the audience who will be watching the podcast is that we’re not creating a synthetic companion, we’re creating something that helps people foster more in-person relationships in a variety of different ways, so that’s one thing that’s very different.
And we’re not a social media play in the sense that there’s gonna be thousands of people that you’re going to connect with through us. This is really about your call and that’s what we’re really focused on.
Venetia Reddy: Lina and Niten, thank you so much for talking with me today, it has been such a pleasure. We have covered such important topics, and I really hope the audience listening is inspired in so many different ways with joii.ai that’s coming, and with just supporting women and their efforts. I hope we see lots more progress in this area in terms of diversity.
If you haven’t watched Beanie Bubble, the movie, it’s amazing. Niten, have you watched the movie yet?
Niten Luthra: I have, in fact, Lina and I watched it the same day. Lina, I think, was at a theatre watching it and I got a chance to watch it on Apple TV. And let me tell you, I couldn’t get away from the screen. Food, and meals, regardless, that was less important.
What was important was watching the movie and I got to experience Lina on the screen, and what I saw is the similarities were just unbelievable. I mean, it was a surreal experience for me if I’m honest.
Venetia Reddy: Yeah, amazing. I watched it last Saturday, and it was such a great experience.
So, if you haven’t watched the movie yet, I hope there haven’t been too many spoilers in this interview.
What I suggest is, to go watch the movie first and then come back to this interview. So save the interview and come back because it’ll be a whole lot more enlightening.
Thank you again, Lina and Niten for your time. It’s been amazing and for the future, I wish you both the very best with your new ventures with joii.ai.
Niten Luthra and Lina Trivedi: Thank you.
For those curious about how Joii.ai works, a helpful video showcases how the technology works: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q4d7D8Xk8tw
Furthermore, meet the brilliant minds behind Joii.ai as they share their inspiring mission in the video below: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZOxX8OYvYs
Lina Trivedi: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lina-trivedi/
Niten Luthra: https://www.linkedin.com/in/nitenluthra/