The sudden rise of generative artificial intelligence has prompted the world’s largest technology companies to invest billions. For $20 a month, any small business can start using genetic AI, which can ultimately prove to be a game-changer in the cost of operations and the size of the business they want to grow.
That’s the message from Karim Lakhani, a Harvard Business School professor who has studied technology for 30 years, and says the oldest saying about AI in computer science will be as true on Main Street as it is in Silicon Valley.
“Machines will not replace people, but people with machines will replace people without machines,” Lakhani said Wednesday at CNBC’s “Small Business Playbook” virtual event.
For small business owners, Lakhani said, the AI journey should start with exploring three platforms: OpenAI’s ChatGPT+ (which can be purchased for $20 per month), Microsoft’s Bing Chat (which is free), and Poe, which is Access offers genetic AI tools on a variety of platforms. Experimenting with these tools will quickly show small business owners the power of AI for their core tasks.
OpenAI with Microsoft – Bing on mobile, seen in this image.
Jonathan Raa | Photo only | Getty Images
He mentioned three areas in particular:
- All consumer contact.
- As a thought partner for new business ideas.
- As a “super assistant”, it is able to handle much of the “drudgery” that owners face today on its own.
While GM AI has been criticized for “hallucinations,” or inaccurate results when searching, Lakhani said business owners shouldn’t be distracted by it. It’s a real problem, but it’s not the important example of how small businesses are starting to use the tools.
“I see ChatGPT as a thought partner that lowers the cost of insight and new ideas,” said Lakhani.
One example: a venture capitalist in California who worked with immigrant owners of lawn care and fencing businesses. The owners did not have good English skills and it could be costly to use translation services for customer communication campaigns, from email to text. “Now these entrepreneurs can put their ‘broken English’ into ChatGPT and get perfect Harvard or Oxford English, any English you want. Now they had this superpower,” he said.
The same business logic applies to an e-commerce provider on a platform like Shopify that wants to translate a website into multiple languages for other markets, which could be costly with traditional translation services.
AI and dealing with angry customers
Small business owners can take angry customer emails that need to be addressed, ask ChatGPT for options on how best to handle them, and have a number of bullet points ready to reassure customers. “There will be options,” Lakhani said.
And the same applies to positive customer communication. “Providing ChatGPT to employees will help with all marketing copy,” he said. “The inclusion of ChatGPT in this process will be good and efficient,” he said.
When small businesses need to develop social media campaigns on Facebook, X (formerly Twitter) and TikTok, ChatGPT can generate “amazingly actionable ideas,” Lakhani said. “It means thinking back with you.”
And this should also be extended to Gen AI imaging tools like Midjourney, DALL-E and Stability AI.
Ultimately, Lakhani says, AI will prove critical to three keys to business success: scaling, scoping and continuous learning. It’s about how many more customers you can serve, how many more products and services you can create, and how business owners continue to learn. “The operating model, the way you deliver value, can be optimized,” he said.
Where to start with AI learning?
According to Lakhani, the starting point is YouTube.
“YouTube is your friend. I can’t tell you how much I benefited from this revolution. …I spent so much time on YouTube. There are great YouTubers who spend all their time and effort thinking about problems and solutions through ChaGPT and Gen-AI. Start by creating a crash course on YouTube. It has a great AI algorithm to guide you on your journey,” he said.
The key is to start and practice. “You have to learn how to practice it and know its great benefits but also its limitations,” he said.
In his own life as an academic, Lakhani says he sees generational AI as his thought partner, sparring partner and editor. “ChatGPT never gets mad at me if I change my mind and ask ten million things,” he said. But making an AI a thought partner can only happen through practice, and unlike large companies that are burdened with bureaucracy, small companies have the advantage of being flexible and being able to start this AI journey without friction or delays.
“ChatGPT is the Ironman suit,” Lakhani said. “Tony Stark is not a superhero or a god. He is only human. This is what genetic AI and AI tools can do for every worker. It’s your AI power suit. … A team of 10 can have a footprint of 1,000,” he said.