Personality assessments are common, but Crystal CEO Drew D’Agostino has pioneered a new approach – Artificial Intelligence – as outlined his new book “Predicting Personality.”
I’ve always been fascinated by how personality impacts business relationships, even encouraging my employees to take personality assessments such as StrengthsFinder (now called CliftonStrengths). I think a better understanding of yourself and others leads to better communication and talent development. So I was excited to speak with Drew D’Agostino, the CEO of Nashville-based technology startup Crystal, about his “Personality AI” app and new book: Predicting Personality: Using AI to Understand People and Win More Business.
Crystal uses artificial intelligence to predict anyone’s personality based on their answers to a questionnaire or existing information they created, such as biographies, resumes or social media profiles. By analyzing millions of data points within this information, Crystal is able to provide personalized, situation-specific advice. Thousands of professionals globally use Crystal to communicate more effectively, write more persuasively, and build trust faster with new people.
Crystal’s revenue grew by 100 percent in 2019, doubling the size of the company. They have raised $7 million in funding from Salesforce, Hubspot and more, and have 3,000 corporate customers. Drew and his co-founder Greg Skloot were recently named to Forbes’ 2020 list of the 30 Under 30 in enterprise technology.
How did you get into this whole world of personalities? That’s not a subject most people major in at college.
Drew: “I got into this world from my first company. My co-founder and I were 23-year-olds running our first venture-backed software company. We didn’t really know what we were doing. So our executive coaches taught us about DiSC®, which is a common personality framework. At first I was pretty skeptical. I saw personality types as kind of horoscopes, and I didn’t really put too much stock in them.
But then I saw them play out in the workplace, helping us communicate with investors, customers, and our team. I saw how it helped me understand myself better. This was further backed up with more understanding about the scientific research behind personality models. So I became kind of addicted to that and could not unsee them in every conversation or every interaction. It just is fascinating to me how these individual tendencies could impact communication and relationships so much. It also unlocked a lot of really key things to understand about my own personal relationships and to help them improve, like with my family.
So I dove into them while we were working on that company, kind of as a user of personality models. And then when we were fired from that company, as I outline in the book, we decided to try to build a product that could do that automatically. It could tell us what other people’s personalities were like before we met them and open up that data for anybody. So that’s how Crystal emerged.”
There’s been work in this area for many years. Why do you think now’s the time for more widespread adoption of personality assessments?
Drew: “Yeah, there has been lots of work in the area of personality assessment and training and coaching. There are companies that have been around for decades doing that. The reason why now is really interesting, because there’s never been enough data to get personality types or personality profiles without assessments. So it’s always been restricted by who you could get to participate in the big assessments.
But now that everybody has a lot of data online and available, with different communication and social media channels, it opens up an entirely new area for AI to predict personality. So that’s what we built Crystal on and what we wrote the book about. It’s all about how you can now analyze data instead of just relying on assessments, and you can understand people on a whole different scale. Within the world of personality assessments, that’s a complete paradigm shift. That’s what Crystal is leading forward.”
Tell me more about the “Predicting Personality” book.
Drew: “We got the opportunity through Wiley to write our first book last year. We put together an overview of the best personality models for business and how they work. It includes a lot of practical insights about using personality data in sales, marketing, recruiting, and leadership, and also a compact overview of technology and where the technology is going. So for instance, how is AI actually helping people understand each other and win more business? This is the title of the book. We’re seeing it as kind of like the core foundation of all of our thinking. And we hope that it’s a really good guide for a lot of people into the world of personality data and personality insights for the first time.”
So you are looking at personalities of employees in your company, and also potential customers and partners, vendors, the whole gamut. What information do you need to do that?
Drew: “We just need a text sample to get the minimum of around 200 words. And that text sample can come from bios or LinkedIn profiles and resumes. The more structured, the better. And those have varying degrees of accuracy, but we just need a solid text sample.”
I’ve preached for years that while most CEOs spend 70-80% percent of their expenses on people, they don’t focus enough on people management. Years ago when equipment or something was the biggest expense, organizations would have a whole, dedicated crew focus just on its maintenance, building up tons of expertise. To me, the first step is giving people a language to talk about people. Is that what a Crystal helps you do?
Drew: “That’s a really good way of describing it. Yeah. It’s a language to describe behavior, communication styles, motivations, and tendencies. So these are things that bubble up every day anyway, either beneath the surface or explicitly. But it’s very hard to talk about it when you don’t have a standard, because everything seems very subjective. Crystal puts that standard together and then makes it available for everybody on a team, so they can all use the same language.”
Do you have a good example maybe in your own business career of where your understanding of personality helped you with a problem?