We’ve seen startups try to replace or automate the work of executive assistants, but Esper is trying to do something different — it aims to help those assistants make smarter decisions.
The company was founded by chairman Joe Lonsdale (also a founder at Palantir and Formation 8) and CEO Andrew Lee (previously founder at JamLegend and then, post-acquisition, a product manager at Zynga). It has raised $2 million from Lonsdale, Charlie Songhurst, Garry Tan (who recently left Y Combinator), Isaac Applbaum (previously managing director at Lightspeed Venture Partners), Harrison LeFrak, Lee Linden and Roger Dickey.
Esper has launched two products to start. There’s Esper Scheduling, a Chrome plugin that includes features like saved meeting preferences, daily email digests summarizing your calendar and the ability to aggregate emails into a task list.
Then there’s Esper TimeStats, which analyzes calendars to show how someone is spending their time. Once you’ve categorized a few items on your calendar, TimeStats tries to automatically categorize the rest, and shows you how it all breaks down. That, in turn, can help executives and their assistants decide which meetings are worthwhile and identify areas where they might be wasting a lot of time.
But will people actually use it? Well, maybe they should. Esper points to a number of studies showing that executives are bad at managing their time and they do better at it when they have help. In fact, Esper says it’s already being used as by executives assistants at Dropbox, Stanford Law School, Uber and Code for America.
Lee described the company as “Salesforce for executive assistants,” and compared TimeStats to Mint — it helps users take existing data and understand the bigger patterns and trends. In a recent LinkedIn post, he also talked about his vision for how the role of the executive assistant can evolve:
The future assistant will be a combination of a human assistant and technology – think a cyborg suit, a piece of technology that automates the future of administrative tasks. Instead of talking head, think suggestion machine – giving you choices for your next calendar event, the next course of action based on an e-mail, or the next step it figures out based on your data. Luckily, you’ll have a trusty assistant (who may be supporting more people or providing deeper support) keeping a watchful eye.
While the target customer is an assistant, Esper isn’t just for them — the products can be used, in the company’s words, by “any professional who wants to manage their schedule more effectively.”
As one of the assistant-less masses, I tried out TimeStats for myself. The first pass was a little unsatisfying, probably because I create didn’t enough distinct event categories. But even so, it’s good to be reminded that I do too many damn meetings. And I’m intrigued enough by the idea that I’m going to keep tweaking those categories.