Abby likes pithy, straight-to-the-point emails, while Natalie prefers detailed messages with friendly but non-essential tidbits. John prioritizes innovation and excitement over security and stability, while Kirk tends to take a more practical approach. It’s the little things that matter when it comes to communicating effectively with your coworkers—but many of us are ignorant to these subtle behavioral differences. Luckily, Crystal knows.
Crystal’s proprietary personality detection technology—developed in the Harvard Innovation Lab last year—can make assumptions about how you’ll behave, how you like to be spoken to and what your relationship will be like with any given individual based on your online presence. Where this really comes in handy, though, is with your co-workers: By giving you deep insight into their behaviors and preferences—and a Gmail tool in conjunction—Crystal aims to help you empathize, communicate and work more effectively with them.
Headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee, with employees in Boston, Crystal Project was founded by Northeastern alum and Attend.com co-founder/CTO Drew D’Agostino just last year. The foundation of the technology is natural language processing, which enables Crystal to create unique personality profiles. And the company was established with a very focused objective: to fix the communication problems that come up when two people don’t have an understanding of the differences in their personalities—particularly while emailing—thus making them more productive.
The first product is a Gmail tool, which helps users to craft messages in a more deliberate and informed way, tailoring their words to the recipient’s personality. Crystal offers a free practice account, but with an upgrade to the premium, users are granted advanced features like real-time email suggestions and corrections, relationship predictions, example email templates, and team/organizational analysis.
Naturally, I had to test the system for myself. And as it turns out, Crystal had me pegged better than most friends might. D’Agostino explained that the system analyzes an individual by first combing the Internet and aggregating all public data it can find from thousands of sources, either written about or by that person. After evaluating that information, Crystal matches them with one of 64 personality types. And the system’s confidence in that match will show in the accuracy percentage.
Journalists like me, as it turns out, are the toughest to pin down.
“One of the biggest challenges has been figuring out what is written by you that’s not necessarily relevant, or just not actually written by you at all,” he told me in a phone interview. “So we’re pretty specific in what we look for. We find that, a lot of times, journalists that have a lot of writing online actually won’t have as high of accuracy as someone with more of a normal presence, just because there’s a lot of noise.”
Unexpected use cases
Still, despite these challenges, Crystal seems to know me—and well.
By giving you deep insight into their behaviors and preferences—and a Gmail tool in conjunction—Crystal aims to help you empathize, communicate and work more effectively with them.
Instantly, it occurred to me that this information about my communication style and preferences could be particularly valuable to PR people contacting me on a daily basis. If they knew, for example, that I like having extra context and information to work with (through links and attachments), and dislike writing that’s short or cold, they might have a better shot at piquing my interest with a pitch email.
“We’ve seen a lot of interest from PR,” said D’Agostino. “That wasn’t an initial part of the plan, actually—it was just a really natural fit.”
Unsurprisingly, the majority of people are using Crystal for business development or sales purposes, according to D’Agostino, followed by recruiting and team building. But as a steady flow of feedback has poured in, D’Agostino has seen how Crystal can be applied in different ways. For example, he has observed how Crystal can be particularly useful for people who list English as their second language. Because even if they know English in a grammatical sense—a lot of times they have trouble picking up on the nuances of someone’s words—their tone.
“Crystal gives them that extra layer,” he added.
Meanwhile, AskMen.com called Crystal “dating gold dust,” detailing how it can be used to cheat on sites like OKCupid and Match.com. It makes sense, too—all the same behaviors, likes and dislikes that are useful to be aware of in a professional relationship are also relevant in a romantic context. Take me, for example: Crystal says it’s best to switch up the subject to keep things interesting in a conversation with me, and definitely don’t come across as intense. Now, isn’t that something you’d want to know before blindly sitting down over drinks?
Crystal can be particularly useful for people who list English as their second language. Because even if they know English in a grammatical sense—a lot of times they have trouble picking up on the nuances of someone’s words.
While Crystal’s first iteration may be an email tool, D’Agostino says the technology has vast potential for proving useful in other ways as well.
“Right now, it’s this one-on-one, B2B product,” he told BostInno. “That’s how a lot of people are using it. But if you think about this data—and the data that we’re kind of building a foundation around—there’s so much other value in that beyond email communications.”
Propelling D’Agostino’s plans for Crystal will be the seed round of funding, which he says the company is starting to wrap up now. From there, the three-person team will be adding about six more employees. Specifically, the startup is on the hunt for software engineers and data scientists with an interest in natural language processing, psychology models, and statistical analysis.
As the company grows, D’Agostino says it will be split between Boston and Nashville.
“I think Crystal has a lot of implications for how people work together, or even look at professional relationships,” he added. “Communication is just one piece of that. What’s also important is understanding the people you work with so that you can improve those relationships.”
Screenshots via Crystal. Headshot provided by Drew D’Agostino.