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🗣️ Expert Q&A Series: Zain Kahn

Zain discusses the future of AI in marketing

Greetings, fellow humans. 👋

This is Not A Bot - the newsletter about AI that was definitely not written by AI. I’m Haroon, founder of AI For Anyone, and today, I'm excited to share the second installment of Not A Bot's Expert Q&A series.

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Today's guest is Zain Kahn (@heykahn) - a marketing executive for early and growth-stage consumer startups. Zain has helped companies acquire over 8 million users and is an angel investor and marketing advisor to AI startups.

During our chat, we cover a range of topics, including:

  • How marketing has changed forever in the past few months

  • Capitalizing on the latest AI trends in marketing

  • Predictions about the future of AI in marketing

So many valuable insights were shared during this chat and I'm excited to share it with you.

Let's jump into it...

Zain Kahn discusses the future of generative AI in marketing

Transcript + clips:

Haroon: [00:00:00] If you don't mind just giving a quick introduction of yourself your background and what you're working on today.

Zain: Sure. Yeah. Background originally started off as a very boring career on the finance consulting side pretty soon figured out that I'm not gonna cut it there. Decided to basically with two suitcases and a couple thousand dollars worth of saving move to Canada, decided to get into tech.

Got pretty lucky with my first startup, joined the marketing team there. Learned a lot of cool stuff. By the time that I left there, was leading the team as VP. We had 8 million users in the US and Canada. Done tens of millions in revenue. And while I was there, I got, during the pandemic, I got super nerdy about just like building an audience and writing online.

So got into Twitter scaled an audience of 250,000 plus. similarly on, on LinkedIn, just crossed 200,000 there a couple of months ago. And my interest, in terms of what I write about is what is my itch? I try to scratch my own itch and then I just write about it. So initially a lot of stuff about, marketing, career growth, those like topics.

But [00:01:00] increasingly I am catching the AI bug. Frankly speaking have had it for the last five years. I was living near the University of Toronto where a lot of the early AI work happened. My housemate built a company in the AI space. He sold it to Snowflake then. So been around the space for a long time and was just waiting for it to get to a point where you can actually use it for something.

I know that a lot of technical folks, a lot of the technical upgrades matter, like going from this to this, and that's awesome. To me I was always on the side of okay, cool, like when can we start building companies with this, especially consumer facing companies, not just the B2B infrastructure and all those things.

And I think that time is finally arrived. So getting a lot more into nerdy on, I guess the applied and the B2C side of it now. So that's I guess a little bit of summary of what I've been doing.

Haroon: Very cool. And so five years ago when you were starting to see the progress being made in the AI space I'm curious, did you, having a ton of experience in the marketing realm and having a strong interest there, did you expect AI to be as involved in the world of marketing as it is?[00:02:00]

Zain: I'm a little bit surprised that the first application has turned out to be Jasper and Copy.ai. I wasn't expecting that to be the case. Even when I saw Copy.ai, I thought it was pretty cool, but I wasn't expecting it to be a billion dollar company, so I'm like very pleasantly caught off guard, and I think that's like good validation.

I didn't even expect NLP and then the language side to be like the most dominant side. I I know the work that was happening in NLP and I know some startups that were coming up there, but even then it was like pretty rudimentary. , I think when GPT 3 came in and now with ChatGPT, there's some quantum leaps that just weren't there a couple of years ago.

And like I said, I'm more concerned with the consumer facing side of it and how do you build like consumer facing startups? I'm not on the B2B infra, all that sort of stuff. So yeah, definitely pleasantly caught off guard or anything. Both of them have done an interesting job.

Haroon: And in terms of the consumer facing startups the role that AI might play what are you most excited about? What sort of uses of not only AI technology, but other [00:03:00] technologies that are emerging. What are some of the things that you're most excited about there?

Zain: I'll start on a more abstract there and get, try and get into the more specific things in my head. I think leverage is a beautiful thing and the more leverage you can open up to people, the better for both companies and people. So I think we're, most of us are familiar with the dominant forms of leverage.

You've got media, you've got capital, you've got code. Capital I think, has become a lot more abundant over the last few years, especially with VC. If you are smart enough and you're driven enough, you can probably find capital. Even right now, even though the market's down, like the really smart people I know who are trying to build companies can still find capital. Might be at a slightly lower valuation, but compared to what it was 10 years ago, we've seen a quantum leap on that end.

Media, I think we've seen a huge leap. 20 years ago if you wanted to get a word out there. You either had to pay tons of marketing dollars or you needed to, find a way to get on TV or get on radio. Essentially, very gate kept [00:04:00] institutions, and now it's just the two of us that are talking right here on this podcast, which thousands of people are gonna listen to.

I've got an audience of, hundreds of thousands of folks. So quantum leap in terms of providing people with leverage on that side. I think the place where we've seen, I think a lot of , what's the word I'm looking for, advancement, but not necessarily as much as we should have seen is on the code side.

And this insight isn't unique to me. Heard it on a few podcasts. A few of my friends have talked to me about this as well. I think code has done a great job of opening up consumption, right? So for example, you have your phone in your hand, and thanks to all these apps that you have in your phone, you can consume a lot of content and that's pretty cool.

You can produce a lot of content, which is also pretty cool, but you don't have the ability to produce, for example, a platform or really get creative with code unless you have a degree in software or you spend years and years doing this stuff. So even though, we say everyone should learn how to code.

I think in reality that's probably not so easy for everyone and I [00:05:00] don't think we're ever gonna be in a world where a hundred percent of people can code. With something like AI where you can actively generate code or at least make it a lot easier to build things without explicitly knowing how to code, I think that opens up a whole new set of opportunities that wasn't available before. Now I don't think this is gonna replace engineers, and I'm honestly speaking not the best person to talk about this. I'm sure that the good engineers or the best engineers will become a 100x more productive, but I think we'll finally reach a point where the average person can move from the point of just consuming to a point of actually producing.

So that's the thing that I'm on a very, on an abstract layer, very excited about. And then I think we talk about applications and when I talk about applications, we talked about the marketing side. I think the marketing side is pretty interesting. As the content creator, the applications that I, for example, find most interesting that are booming right now are around researching.

So a lot of my time, for example, goes into research when I've used ChatGPT for the first, it wasn't perfect. I can tell it wasn't [00:06:00] perfect, but it was better than anything I could have expected. It did a better job than the four or five people that I tried to hire in the Philippines for 10 bucks an hour. Even in terms of writing, giving me ideas and so on, it was almost like I'm sparring with a college grad. So that's not nothing. I think in a very short space of time, it's doing a pretty great job. Now the next question is, will it ever get to that 80th or 90th percentile where it actually becomes useful for me?

So that's just from the content creation perspective. I think we are seeing things with images. I think we're seeing things with videos. I wouldn't be surprised if in the next 10 years if you have the ability to write a good script that you can just feed into software or the AI and it just on the other side puts out a really cool movie for you or a TV show for you or something that you want.

I don't think that's like unthinkable. With Midjourney and stuff and DALL-E too, we're already seeing cool stuff on the art side, but I don't think it's unfathomable to think that we could see a Hollywood production [00:07:00] type of thing coming out in 10 years from someone's bedroom.

I think with things like, Spotify and all these other things and being able to record at home and all the software, we are seeing a lot of folks produce the highest caliber of music from their house. The question is, will we be able to see this in film? So again, like I said, I'm very interested in consumer applications.

I think marketing side we're definitely seeing. I think the content side, especially for me as a writer, I think there's a lot of applications that are brewing. And then I'm very interested to see on the broader media side as well, what can be done there. And obviously I know that there's things like Copilot now which help you with auditing your code and making suggestions and so on.

I'd be super interested to see if you get to a point where you just sit there and you tell the AI here's the sort of like app I'm looking for and it just spit out five versions of an app for you and you just pick and change and verbally tell it and it just changes. Now no-code and low-code to some degree does that.

But I saw this like funny tweet recently is like no-code people will spend [00:08:00] five days doing what five lines of Python could have done for them. And I think there's a lot of truths to it. So I'm wondering like if AI helps us get to the point where we are actively able to just create software through language expression.

Haroon: I love the approach you took to explaining leverage and the different forms of leverage and how AI is assisting with coding as being a form of leverage. On the marketing side there's obviously, we already have a ton of channels for mass distribution mass reach.

But I'm curious does a world with AI generated content dilute the content consumption experience at all?

I'm just curious, like what your thoughts are on the future of content creation since we're seeing such a proliferation of content as a result of things like ChatGPT.

Zain: Yeah, great question. Any form of leverage will cause massive inequality. Whether you're looking at capital, you're looking at code, you're looking at anything else [00:09:00] is gonna cause massive inequality, and I'm pretty sure AI is gonna be the same. So folks you know who make good decisions, which then get compounded with the help of leverage AI being in this case, you're gonna do massively well out of this. Just as people who knew how to write code well did pretty well out of it. But then folks, who aren't good with it are probably gonna end up with, potentially with their jobs threatened.

So I think this is probably bad news for the bottom 80% of content creators If I'm being honest, because the bottom 80% of content creation, I think this is like an open secret at this point, is they just copy what other folks are doing. They paraphrase it a little bit and they remix it a little bit.

But the reality is like they're taking what the top 10, 20% of content creators are doing, and then they're mixing in a little bit of their own thing. So if something like AI just 10x's your creativity or the output of your creativity, and you're not that creative, chances are it's probably not great news for you. So for example I've tested Jasper and ChatGPT for writing Twitter threads [00:10:00] and for doing research. The stuff that it puts out, frankly, just looks like the average Twitter thread. Like it genuinely just looks like the average Twitter thread in terms of quality, not like the top stuff, but it just looks like the average Twitter thread.

So I think what AI is gonna do is really push out the bottom 80% of the market and a lot of the content is gonna end up looking like each other. And what that's gonna do, first thing, it increases the bar for high quality content. And number two, it's gonna create a higher demand for content writers or content creators who are really good.

Because when everything is like robot produced information, you're gonna want a genuine human connection, and you're gonna want to get your content from a genuine human being, not from an AI-generated thing. And there's a place for AI-generated things. I'm sure people will want it and seems like people do want it, and I'm probably gonna be consuming that content as well.

But at some point you do want some information, some content coming from a real human being.[00:11:00] I think potentially could be a case where the best content creators end up becoming even more valuable because they've got something novel to say. And final thing I'll say on this, connecting to the novelty part, is AI is trained on past data.

So it's ability to say something great is there, but it's ability to say something novel, I don't know if it can or cannot say that. I think that's like an open question. So the ability to create something truly novel, something that hasn't been said before, something hasn't been done before, I think that will probably command an even higher price in the market and will give you probably better returns in the long run.

Haroon: What can a startup do to put themselves in a position where their content marketing strategy is winning. And they're not just falling to the wayside with that 80% of startup content that is gonna be largely ignored. Is there any practical advice that you might have for startups that want to create content that withstands the massive amounts of changes that we're [00:12:00] seeing in content marketing right now?

Zain: Sure. Whenever we've seen a jump in technology when it comes to marketing, there's always a huge arbitrage opportunity, and in the past I've seen that arbitrage opportunity lasts for at least a few years. On the technical side, I think we, we see it on Twitter, a product gets launched, and one week later, someone else has copied that same product, and on the technical side, people move really fast. But on the marketing side, I don't think folks tend to move that fast. The last major-ish thing would be Facebook ads and paid ads. And that game ran for like years and years. And I was reading this Facebook ads has been around for 10 years, and it's only at this point that people are starting to get like really sophisticated about messaging and what your LTV looks like and what your AOV looks like and all these different metrics.

This level of sophistication definitely wasn't there in the market five years ago. I think five, six years ago you could literally buy a domain name and Google would direct all traffic towards you because your domain just matches the word that people are looking for. That was like a pretty simple growth hack that people were using for a surprisingly long time.

[00:13:00] And people built huge businesses off of this. So I think in the short run, probably in the next, anywhere for the next five to 10 years, there's probably gonna be an arbitrage opportunity for startups that can get in here and really learn how to use this. So that's in the short to medium term, a huge opportunity.

I don't have a clear answer for what these tools are gonna look like, obviously we've got Jasper, we've got Copy.ai, ChatGPT obviously looks like it's gonna one up this and help folks create even better content. So the first thing is: just get in there, use those tools, see what people are creating and see how you can use it to supplement your content.

So one trend that I'm seeing so far is folks can really use this to do a lot of, number one research. Summarize the stuff that they're looking for.

Number two, it's actually not bad at idea generation. So if you say something like SEO and if you say, "Hey can you give me like a list of like 100 keywords in this space?" Now, can you organize this by the ones that are most competitive or at least competitive? Now, can you give me, 10 matching phrases for this? Can you [00:14:00] give me meta descriptions for this, a meta tag for this, all those sort of things. It's not bad. I'd say it's at the level of an intern or like a first year employee.

That's how I think of it. Which is not bad, right? Because a first year employee in the US and Canada is probably gonna cost you around like $50,000 and this thing is what, like couple hundred dollars a month. So there is like a pretty substantive drop in cost.

So you almost have this army of interns at your fingertips. Which you didn't have before. So that, is like pretty low hanging fruit that you can pick right now. And I've talked to folks who've used this to generate content and put it out on SEO. Now obviously Google's trying to catch up and is trying to detect SEO content.

But a funny thing I saw a couple of days back is someone posted, this is like they ran content, GPT-generated content through a GPT content checker. And the first one that they put out it said 100% AI produced content. Then it goes back to GPT and the prompt that they put is "now write the same thing, but in a way that can't be detected by SEO trackers" or something, or that [00:15:00] Google can't pick up.

And then they take that output and then they ran it through through that thing again, through the software again. And then it said only 30% AI content, right? So we're just like such a small, simple hack, you can basically avoid detection to that degree. Now, I'm just using SEO as an example.

Google is super competent. They've created a lot of the underlying technology in this space, so they'll probably catch up and I don't think it's gonna be easy to game SEO, but it could lead to the rise of new channels or the potential to game the algorithms on certain channels, and I'm sure people will.

So that is number one. Number two is the scale of content, because now because that you've got this thing at your fingertips and it can produce almost an infinite amount of content. So not only is it dropping the price of an intern, it's also increasing the production of an intern, right? So now this intern is costing you $200, but the thing that would take an intern a couple of days to do, now it takes an intern five seconds to do.

So this intern [00:16:00] can now mass produce a bunch of content for you that you can use across a bunch of other platforms. So that is some early trends that I'm noticing that you can lean into as a marketing team. What happens five to 10 years from now and we are the really big winners emerge, I don't have an answer.

The way I'd like to say this, I heard about this concept on a podcast recently, is there are window opportunities and there are door opportunities. A window opportunity is you can just look through the window and you can say, okay, I start here and that's how I get to point B. Or let's just call it monetization in this case. And a door opportunity is I know that there's a big opportunity behind this door, but I'm not 100% sure how this thing monetizes necessarily, or what the path to getting to your destination looks like. So using it to really drive down the cost of like intern level work and, mass produce some B or C grade content is definitely there and a lot of people will exploit it.

And I'm sure a lot of folks will end up creating seven and eight figure businesses. How do people leverage this to create genuinely unique [00:17:00] content and create a hundred million dollar, billion dollar companies off of that distribution? If I had that answer, man, I'd be building that company right now .

Haroon: So let's say you're a student and you're hearing all of this stuff that let's say you're interested in getting into growth or marketing or something along those lines. And you're hearing all of this talk that entire marketing teams are being replaced by ChatGPT or other top layer tools like Jasper or Copy.ai. What would you suggest to students or young professionals who are seeing such a rapid change in not only the job market, but just technology in general so that they can best position themselves for success in the future.

Zain: Great question. A nice parallel for this would be something like TikTok. So a lot of the best agencies that have come up on the TikTok side and the a lot of the best creators and marketers that have come up on the TikTok side aren't people in their thirties and forties. It's a lot of these like young guys and girls who are in their twenties who are building these things because they learn how to build an [00:18:00] audience.

They know all the growth hacks. So they're really the innovators in this space. They really know how to figure this out. It's been a few years now, and now other bigger brands with older teams have cracked this stuff as well. But the early innovation, for the most part, came from the young folks, from what you call the influencers.

A small sidetrack. But a good tip for young marketers out there is always pay attention to what the lifestyle influencers are doing, because those are the folks that are just doing it for like the pure love and joy of content creation. Always pay attention to them.

People look down upon them, but those are the folks who are really experimenting with the content, the likes of the Logan Pauls and Mr. Beast and so on. Pay attention to what they're doing.

For the software kids, again, this is not my domain of expertise, so I can't speak to this too much, but like I said, I think it's safe to say that if you're a software engineer or something, this is gonna make you 10, maybe a hundred X more productive.

So I'd be looking at how I can leverage these tools to to make myself more productive. I'd also give folks a warning, in the sense of, just because you know how to use a [00:19:00] calculator and do like thousands more calculations than you could do before, it's still worth knowing how to do multiplication and division and addition and subtraction.

It's always good to know the basics because if you've got the first principles in place, then you know how to kind of reason from first principles and build something truly unique or valuable. So just because you can use Copilot or just because you can use Copy.ai or something, doesn't mean you shouldn't learn how to write compelling copy or that you shouldn't learn how to write code or a scalable code or have good hygiene when it comes to to creating stuff.

So still learn the basics and then realize how you can leverage this tool, which is AI, to basically then a hundred, thousand X those strong fundamental.

Haroon: I'm curious, if you have any thoughts on how students can figure out what is and what isn't worth learning because learning curriculums aren't changing fast enough, right? And so a lot of students and young professionals are gonna have to take initiative on their own. So how can they understand what is a waste of their time versus what is like [00:20:00] something that they should actually learn the foundations of.

Zain: Good question. I think it depends on the game that you're trying to play. So if you are an engineer and you want to build things, then you know, you really want to get nerdy on the technical side of it and you really wanna learn that side of it. But if you're more interested on more the applied side of it, then you definitely don't need to know, like the intimate stuff about what's happening here. So for example, if you're on the technical side and you really want to build a technology, then you obviously wanna understand what all these different models are and what they're doing and so on.

But if you are on the kind of more abstracted side of it, where you're looking for the applied side, which is frankly where I'm spending a lot of my time now, you don't really need to understand much beyond what the API is doing and what you can get out of this thing. So you're basically obsessing over the more practical side of it versus the more technological or engineering side of it.

So the [00:21:00] right answer, I feel is always do what you find compelling to you internally, like what you pull towards. There's just too much information in the world. I don't think there's any right or wrong information.

I think there's information or knowledge that you're gonna use and gain and really like nerd out on, and then figure out things that nobody else knows and then put that out in the world in some sort of product, service, or knowledge that's gonna benefit society.

Haroon: . So last question I'll ask is where can people find you? And is there any exciting project or anything that you wanna share?

Zain: People can find me on Twitter and LinkedIn. First name is spelled Zain, Z A I N. Last name is spelled Kahn, K A H N. If you search me I'll show up near the top. And then I've also launched a newsletter recently. The newsletter is called Superhuman. You can find it in my bio, but you can find it at superhuman.beehiiv.com as well.

And the goal of Superhuman is simple. I talk about the idea of leverage. I think AI is gonna give everyday folks a lot of leverage, and my goal is to basically figure out how do people use [00:22:00] this? basically 10 x in, on every dimension of their life. Whether that's their health, whether that's their productivity, whether that's something more specific like marketing, or anything else.

That's basically what I'm trying to do is make AI accessible to everyday folks and yeah, really make it useful for them.

And that does it for today's interview.

As always, thanks for reading, and see you next time. ✌️

- Haroon - (definitely) Not A Robot and @haroonchoudery on Twitter

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