Hello and welcome to the debut post from Re-imagining the Status Quo with Innovation—an interview series hosted by yours truly here at Wrk. This series seeks to shine a light on young Canadian companies that are providing innovative solutions to perennial problems in the tech space. First up is part one of a two-part interview I recently conducted with Philippe Beaudoin. Philippe is a self-proclaimed comic book nerd, tech enthusiast, and also happens to be the CEO of Waverly—an exciting Montreal-based start-up whose platform has been designed to redefine the algorithmic parameters that shape our internet feeds. That sounds like quite the goal, let's see how he plans on delivering on that.
Patrick Bourke (PB): Hi Philippe, thanks for taking the time to talk to us in what is the debut outing for Re-imagining the Status Quo with Innovation series. So, can you tell me a little bit about Waverly and why you felt it was important to build it at this time?
Philippe Beaudoin (Phil B): The why is very simple: I used to be addicted to my phone. In a bad way. I could spend hours scrolling through a stupid social media feed. (I learned that's called doomscrolling.) I used to get triggered by a comment and frantically type an angry response. I often got trapped in an echo chamber and ended up judging people who were not part of that "tribe".
In short, more often than not, tech made me feel crappy about myself. Not enough to give up on it—I can't see how I would live without tech—but enough to feel bad at the end of the day.
I had to work hard to climb out of that hole and I'm not done yet. I still spend some evenings doomscrolling. I still get distracted and click on a video when I wish I was doing deep work. I still feel my priorities get shuffled by some algorithm that steals my attention away from what I know really matters.
Technology today makes it really hard for everyone to be the person they want to be. But as a technology lover, I'm convinced that it doesn't have to be this way.
Waverly is my answer to that.
We describe Waverly as "a discovery engine for your better self". We want to be an alternative to the content feeds you naturally go to when you let your finger do the driving. Instead of doomscrolling on TikTok or Instagram or YouTube, we want you to come to Waverly and spend some quality time with content your best self would approve of.
We did this by building an Empathetic AI that gives you room to express yourself, your goals, and your aspirations. The core concept behind Waverly are the waves: short paragraphs that describe anything you're curious about, why these things matter to you, where you like to read about them, the people you trust to bring you good information…
A wave is totally free form. It can be a journal entry, a research paper, a collection of quotes you love… Anything!
When you share a wave with our Empathetic AI, Waverly goes on the hunt for content that will help you fill the need you expressed, trying to take into account any preference it can infer from your words.
The result is a feed of content that just feels good. It's a healthy alternative to the snackable content every other platform offers.
PB: Amazing, I could definitely reduce the time I spend doomscrolling. I'm curious to get your thoughts on the relationship between traditional media on digital platforms and the manner in which these stories are consumed. To me, it feels imperfect, and from what I can see Waverly is focused on improving that relationship. What do you see as the biggest challenge in achieving that goal and how can AI help overcome it?
Phil B: I think many people in the traditional media industry care about writing good quality and original content. Unfortunately, this is not the type of content that tends to surface on existing algorithmic streams. You need an appealing cover image, a sensational title, you probably want to write in a way that emotionally triggers your audience so that they reshare your article. To be successful in today's social media landscape you have to play the algorithm's game.
Our hope is that by fundamentally changing how these algorithms work by making sure they listen to everyone's better selves—we'll increase the likelihood of surfacing good quality original content.
If people spend more time engaging with quality content, those who were good at creating it — people from the so-called traditional media industry—will find their way back into the spotlight.
Waverly's platform is designed to replace the hours we spend doomscrolling on social media with articles and content that better matches our actual desires and interests.
PB: One of the first things that appealed to me when I joined Wrk was the simple yet crystal clear way our CEO, Mo spoke about business process automation. I sense a similar vision from Waverly. Can you speak a little bit about what has informed this vision and why such detailed clarity is so important for a start-up looking to build an innovative platform in the tech space?
Phil B: Building a start-up is all about convincing people to join you. Investors, early employees, users… Even your loved ones! I can assure you that without a clear vision my wife would have forced me to go back to Google.
The best tool you have to convince people is your vision. It has to be something they care about and you have to be able to articulate it in a way that convinces them you see it more clearly than anybody else.
The vision is important because it's the only big thing you'll have for a while. A start-up is built by accumulating many small things. You won't have that much money to begin with. Your initial product will be small and it will only get you a few users. If the vision is too small, or if it's not clear enough, people will start to only notice the small things and they will lose hope.
Waverly is addressing a problem that many people feel acutely. Our vision is filled with hope. Hope that we can tackle this problem if we dare to build algorithms that no one is even thinking about. Algorithms that can only exist if you start from the principle that people are good — not lazy, like every other social media feed assumes.
PB: As you may be aware, human input is an integral part of the Hybrid Automation platform we have built at Wrk. Not only as a way of differentiating ourselves from our competitors but also because we really believe that human-empowered automation blends the best of both worlds. How is Waverly using human cognitivity to achieve its goal of enhancing the information delivery systems we all use daily?
Phil B: Automation has already taken control of our content consumption. Information is being produced too quickly for us to keep up. We delegate the process of choosing what we'll see to automated systems—so-called algorithms.
Current algorithms track our behaviour and use these breadcrumbs to decide what to show next. However, this process is so opaque that it feels like magic to most people. The problem with magic is that, unless you're the magician, you have no idea how to change the outcome of the trick when you get tired of it.
Like Wrk, our goal is to place humans in the driver's seat. Waverly is all about empowering people. AI has too long been seen as the magic wand that would automate everything precisely how you want it to be automated… But there is no way to know how you really want something to be automated unless the system asks you.
PB: That makes a lot of sense and mirrors the vision we are striving towards here at Wrk. Let's get back to that later.
Phil B: Looking forward to it.
Want to read the second part of this interview? Check it out for additional insights!