Moonbeam on using AI to automate the writing process

Moonbeam is an AI writing assistant that helps users compose essays, stories, articles, blogs, and other long-form content. Launched in July 2022, its Luna technology enables tens of thousands of writers to create cohesive, structured, and well-written output in less time.

We spoke with John Shahawy, Moonbeam’s founder, about AI’s emergence, building a business on an assistive writing platform, and the future of writing as we know it.

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What drew you to working in AI?

Before Moonbeam, I was developing software for Trenchant Analytics, which builds technology for USSOCOM, the special operations command of the US military. The organization was looking for a faster way to write contracts, so I began experimenting with OpenAI’s GPT-3, the predecessor to ChatGPT.

At the time, the process of developing contracts was convoluted. The reviewers involved a program manager, contracting officer, and an end user all of whose approval was required to issue the document. GPT-3 enabled us to identify and obtain crucial information, accelerating approvals and reducing unnecessary communication.

When I saw the impact of AI on these contracts, that’s when I thought, what if I could apply this to writing broadly?

Was there a situation that sparked the idea for Moonbeam?

The concept for Moonbeam originated when I was reviewing my blog and realized I’d only published three posts since 2019. I’d learned a lot about software development and wanted to share more about it publicly, but without the grunt work of publishing thousands of words.

My exposure to GPT-3 helped me realize I could use AI to create a more efficient writing process. I launched the first version of Moonbeam on July 15, 2022 after one week of developing a prototype. I had no idea if anyone would use it or not, but it didn’t really matter because of how useful it was to me. Here and there, a few users came onboard, but it wasn’t until September that Moonbeam made real traction. Ethan Mollick tweeted about it, and the rest is history.

How would you describe Moonbeam's typical user?

Someone who is a subject-matter expert and has valuable insights to share. Users just need a title and an overview of what they want to publish, and Moonbeam’s AI generates an outline for them. From there, they can edit the final piece and quickly land a full-fledged article. With our help, a quick outline can turn into in-depth content that everyone can use immediately.

Can you share specific examples of Moonbeam users?

Professors are among the largest groups that use Moonbeam. Ethan Mollick, a Wharton professor, tweeted that Moonbeam would change the way students write papers forever. The tweet was retweeted thousands of times leading to dozens of signups per second. Many were professors and researchers using Moonbeam to create lesson plans. They shared how the worst part of their jobs is how slow it is to write up their meticulous research. AI is saving them tons of time by having our program synthesize all of their hard work.

Another big user group is students. They’re using Moonbeam to write discussion posts and college essays. These students are technologically savvy and they’re moving toward AI in their studies, not away from it. They can put in five different perspectives and get robust ideas that they can debate with others.

How would a user get started with Moonbeam?

After signing up, they go straight into the app. They generate a new document or use the Moonbeam Wizard tool with 20 different templates for blog posts, essays, lesson plans, or case studies. Entering a title and their thesis prompts Moonbeam to generate an outline for them.

It’s incredibly easy to edit if the content is going in a direction they don’t like. Users can edit the outline, hit “next,” and then new concepts will appear under each part of the outline. They can continue editing, and once it’s in a solid place, manually add updates. It's a good process to create a solid first draft that users can start editing immediately to generate a second and final output much faster.

Is there a specific feature of Moonbeam that you're most proud of?

There’s one feature I consider to be the “aha moment” in Moonbeam. When you're editing a document, you can highlight a set of words and a magic wand icon will pop up. Clicking it will turn the highlighted section into a whole paragraph. For example, I can highlight a bullet point that says, “The story of War and Peace” or “Why payments are important,” and it will become a whole paragraph that makes sense contextually.

What do you think is next for the AI industry?

AI is going to be in every app. It will soon be table stakes to have AI, whether it's generative or just something that makes connections more flexible. AI is a toddler right now. When it grows up and moves into adulthood, we’re all going to be spending a lot of time with it. I think that point is coming very soon for multiple industries. That’s one reason I also built Rogue, which operates on Moonbeam’s platform, as another tool to help customers respond to government RFP bids more easily.

Many companies and creators are open-sourcing their progress, like Google recently with FLAN-T5. Many more people can build off of it and use these tools, rather than keeping it all behind a closed gate. It’s really cool because everyone can access insights, especially small, scrappy teams that are building programs and competing against billion-dollar companies.

Can you talk about how Moonbeam uses Stripe?

I’d heard of Stripe in 2017, and its focus on improving financial infrastructure for the internet was pretty compelling. There were so many times where I saw how slow it was for the financial system to operate online, so hearing about Stripe’s approach was very cool.

Stripe helps Moonbeam manage subscriptions, one-time payments, cancellations, billing, and more. We’re using Checkout, Billing, and Tax products from Stripe. And when it comes to payments, Stripe is helping Moonbeam in every way it can.

Stripe Atlas is also awesome. It made incorporating a business super easy, and I didn’t have to worry about anything. The process of sending in documents was incredibly straightforward, as were the templates that I needed to create legal documents for Moonbeam’s LLC.

What do you like about using Stripe?

Stripe has really good documentation. It’s incredibly easy to use, and equally easy to receive answers to any questions. That’s really important for me because I need a payments partner that’s consistent, reliable, and able to move quickly. To everyone at Stripe, keep up the good work. I really appreciate you guys. I don't know if I could’ve started Moonbeam as fast as I did without having Stripe around.

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