May 3, 2024

Why Part and Sum’s Jose Chiriboga Thinks AI Is Like a Knife

Why Part and Sum’s Jose Chiriboga Thinks AI Is Like a Knife

"I don’t use it to search for answers, but to search for questions."

"I don’t use it to search for answers, but to search for questions."

Can you just tell us a little bit about yourself? What are you working on right now and how did you end up there?

Right now I am in charge of all the ecommerce accounts at Part and Sum. I have a long background in marketing, specifically in the ecomm fashion world. I actually started [an ecomm fashion company] when I was in college. And ever since I really got involved in marketing, ecommerce brands, higher AOV (average order value) price point. I'm very into not only the digital marketing part of it, but also in how finance and the unit economics of it all works within the marketing role. So I do a lot of numbers for our clients. A little bit different than traditional agencies, we really get involved in that side of the business.

One thing that I've been really involved in lately is creating these contribution margin reports for clients. Traditionally on the growth side of marketing, the main KPI is ROAS (return on ad spend). It's a good indicator of efficiency on the front end, but it doesn't really tell you anything on the back end of how the business is doing. It tends to be an easy way for agencies to hide behind a nice KPI and not really put their neck [on the line] of is it working or not. So a little bit of the model that we're proposing is to look at contribution margin. How can we ensure that our work is actually contributing to the actual profitable growth of a business itself, and at the end change the life of their founders and the people that work within those organizations.

You said that when you were in college you founded your own clothing company, is that right?

Correct. I actually still run that on the side. It's cool because a lot of things that I've learned in my company and strategies that I've been able to test through the years—I bring those to clients. For example, the idea of this contribution margin, maybe it is dear to my heart because I see how ROAS on the front end tells one story, but is the business actually growing? And are people that work within your organization actually feeling the impact of third-party organizations [like Part and Sum] that come and help? I think that’s a lot of where this comes from: How can we really get in and not only say we’re helping, but make a difference within these people’s lives.

How does it feel to be like an entrepreneur and founder in one part of your life, but then working for a company that works for other organizations? Do you feel a push and pull there?

The challenging part, honestly, is time. We all have the same amount of time allocated, so that is the main struggle. But I've been doing it for so many years now that it's just how my life is. And I've learned to handle both. But honestly, I think there are way more pros than cons in the sense that I understand what it means to put your own money on the line. I think because of that, I really enjoy talking to founders directly. There's a lot of empathy that comes through managing their accounts. And that's why I like to get super involved in the financial forecasting side of their businesses as well. Because with my experience now running many businesses within the agency world and consulting world, I think I can bring a lot to the table. I love it. It's kind of a Hannah Montana situation because I get to live the best of both worlds. 

It's kind of a Hannah Montana situation because I get to live the best of both worlds. 

What was your first encounter with AI?

I actually studied computer science in school, so I've always been very tech-y. I love getting my hands dirty whenever there's something new. I'm a nerd in that sense. So when ChatGPT was coming out, I signed up for the betas. And of course in school we’d heard about it. It was so far fetched at the time, though, the thought that everyone was going to have access to stuff like this? But I really dove in when it was ChatGPT2, I think. That was the first holy crap moment.

How do you use AI in your work life?

It's not even that I want to use AI. It's just that I always have to try to find ways to do things simply, a little bit easier for myself. But the main [way I use it], how it started and how I still use it somewhat constantly is as a thought partner. It’s just such a good way to bounce off ideas. I view it as coaching, in the sense that at the end, you’re getting your answers, but it’s like you’re talking to yourself—just in a little bit less of a weird way. 

Whenever I want to start a new project or I’m thinking about a specific idea for a client, a new approach or something, [ChatGPT] helps me bounce around ideas. And I always ask ChatGPT to ask me questions as well. 

Also, for example, for all the financial models and forecasting and stuff like that I do, I use it in a copiloting manner, in the sense that there are really complex formulas that go into [this work]. You could build these excels and these models without [AI], the speed that you're able to do things at with such tools, it’s exponentially [faster]. I've been able to tackle way more complex projects at once, and build tools that have been really useful for our clients, which is exciting.

The idea of having ChatGPT ask you questions is really interesting. What other tips do you have for people using AI at work?

Yeah I always end my prompts with, Now ask me questions that will help you better understand what I'm trying to accomplish. And it typically throws over like ten questions for it to get better context. And I think that's the real key. Another one of the super kind of weird hacky things that I found [helpful] is that because I work in this consulting, client-facing world, using the spoken version of ChartGPT has helped me formulate questions on the fly. It's been a way to practice formulating ideas. When you type something, it's really easy to delete stuff and move things around. You can take a lot more time crafting an idea, but when you're talking to the thing, if you start rambling or mumbling or whatever, it gets lost. So I do think that intrinsically, that has been a really cool tool to help me in my day to day work. 

My sense of Part and Sum is that creativity is a major value in your work. How do you see AI fitting into that? Like, can AI be creative, or is it fostering your creativity? How does that work?

There are so many different perspectives and takes within our group about how to use AI. How does it fit to our day to day, in society as well as in work? To me, [AI] is similar to a knife. A knife can be a tool to spread butter, or you can kill a person with it. It has such a big spectrum of positives and negatives. But at the end of the day, a knife is just a tool. And AI is just a tool. It’s a great way to amplify your capabilities, it’s a super cool tool to help us be more creative, because it helps us uncover questions that we haven’t really thought about. 

But there is a key point: I don’t use it to search for answers, but to search for questions. I think that is a difference. When people use it like Google, where you type a question hoping for an answer? I don’t know if that’s the best way to utilize it. 

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A occasional newsletter showcasing the latest conversations with leaders, builders, and operators who use generative AI to power their work.

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A occasional newsletter showcasing the latest conversations with leaders, builders, and operators who use generative AI to power their work.

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A occasional newsletter showcasing the latest conversations with leaders, builders, and operators who use generative AI to power their work.