Todasco is a visiting fellow at San Diego State University’s James Silberrad Brown Center for Artificial Intelligence. He is originally from San Francisco.
Since the launch of ChatGPT approximately one year ago, artificial intelligence interest has skyrocketed. Google searches for AI have tripled. Nvidia, which makes much of the hardware powering the AI revolution, has become the world’s sixth-most valuable company. OpenAI has gone from a “nonprofit“ company to one valued at over $90 billion. The perception for much of Wall Street and Silicon Valley is that the tech giants are the ones who will benefit the most from AI. While, without a doubt, there are huge benefits already accruing to the largest players, I believe we are at the cusp of a revolution that will disproportionately benefit small businesses. That’s right, the one with the most to gain from AI growth isn’t Microsoft or Google; it’s the doughnut shop down the street.
We often assume that the entrenched incumbents will become the ultimate winners of a transformative change. Take, for instance, the rise of the internet during the late 20th century. Conventional wisdom of that era held that established retail giants would inevitably dominate the nascent digital marketplace. In a 1997 interview on “60 Minutes,” Bob Simon was skeptical that Amazon should be worth more than Sears. Sears filed for bankruptcy in 2018, and Amazon is worth over $1 trillion today. It’s not to say that some incumbents don’t thrive. For a company like Amazon, its growth has been fueled by small businesses using its Amazon Web Services web hosting services and selling in their marketplaces. Further, 60 percent of sales on Amazon are by independent companies, most of which are small and medium-sized businesses.
Until a few years ago, only the largest companies had access to AI tools. You needed highly specialized machine learning engineers making over $500,000 each developing the code and models. Today, you can access the world’s most powerful AI models for free with just an internet connection. Yes, the most advanced AI systems are available for you now with little or no cost and zero coding abilities necessary. OpenAI’s ChatGPT or Anthropic’s Claude can ace the bar exam or perform a host of other headline-grabbing accomplishments. But more importantly, it can act like your business partner. It can answer your questions and assist in research like no tool before it could. It can also ask you questions and help you see the blind spots in your business. These AI models can help you grow your business 24/7.
But how can they work for your business? Consider a small Mexican restaurant in Old Town that seeks to expand its culinary offerings. The restaurant can receive AI-generated feedback by uploading photos of its dishes to ChatGPT’s GPT4. The AI can provide suggestions to enhance visual appeal, reduce costs, improve nutrition, or develop complementary food and drink pairings. Google’s Bard can search for customer reviews on websites and help you create a plan to improve your service. If you’re expanding your business, Claude can quickly read a 100-page leasing contract and identify nonstandard terms. In all of these scenarios, the AI acts as an assistant. It is there to serve you.
AI cannot run your business on its own. We are far away from that future. It is a tool to help a business owner think through a problem or offload the work that the owner has been putting off. AI programs are powerful assistants.
If you’re reading this and are frozen, worried that you have never used these tools, that’s OK. Tools like ChatGPT can be intimidating at first because the possibilities you can type into its box are infinite. Back in the early 2000s, using Google was a skill that job seekers would put on their resumes. How have we all become expert Google users since then? We used the product. We need to do the same with AI tools.
If you’ve never done it before, your first step is to go to ChatGPT, Claude or Bard, set up an account (all are free to use), and begin using the tool. Ask it questions. You can even say, “I’m a small-business owner in San Diego. I’ve never used you before. How can you help me?” Just start the conversation with these tools. Spend 20-30 minutes a day doing it. Have it help you with your business. Heck, have it help you trip plan or create some recipes. But ultimately, be curious, play and explore.
As AI becomes more important, those who use it to their advantage will have a competitive edge. Whether you are a current or aspiring entrepreneur, the time to embrace the technology is now.