Whether we are talking about seamless interaction with customers and prospects or giving employees fast, efficient access to internal company information, bots are going to transform our way of working. A number startups that graduated from Y Combinator’s first programme of the year are showing the way forward in this field.

Y Combinator: Bot revolution now underway

Some of the announcements made during the recent F8 – Facebook’s conference for developers and entrepreneurs who build products and services around the website – served to underscore an already well-entrenched trend. Conversational robots – known as Chatbots – have already established themselves as useful marketing tools for companies. They make it easy to create personalised interaction between brands and web or mobile users and can also help staff to work more efficiently. These robots use artificial intelligence (AI) software to talk to a company’s customers inside a messaging app. Depending on the specific functionality added by the software developers, bots may also provide content, record payments or process customer files; in short they are able to transform themselves into genuine virtual personal assistants, whether the user happens to be a customer or an employee of the firm in question.

In the second half of 2015 messaging apps overtook social networks in terms of the number of active users. This striking statistic is now prompting brands to adapt their marketing strategies to current consumer behaviour in this field. This is where chatbots have a key role to play.

Les bots plus forts que les applis ?

Messaging apps have now overtaken social networks in terms of the number of active users (Source: BI Intelligence)

Chatfuel: already bots for Forbes and TechCrunch

California-based Chatfuel enables brands to create bots easily so as to engage more effectively with their audiences. The startup’s value proposition is based on the ease with which you can develop a bot: you need neither a server nor specific programming skills to create a bot on Chatfuel. Moreover, a bot created on Chatfuel can be integrated into all messaging applications; there is no need to develop several versions of the bot as you would have to when developing an app for different operating systems – iOS versus Android, for instance.

A telling statistic: people in the US install an average of zero apps per month – i.e. they go for many months without downloading any new app – and the average smartphone user spends 84% of his/her time on the device browsing on just five apps. Moreover, at least one of the five is a messaging app. This trend is a godsend for Chatfuel, which has already posted some impressive figures: since the company launched in July 2015, more than130,000 bots have been created via its platform – including for leading business magazine Forbes and tech innovation news site TechCrunch – and around one million users interact with them on a daily basis.

Prompt: the Twilio for messaging apps

Prompt, also based in California, sees itself as the Twilio of mobile messaging. PaaS (Cloud communications) company Twilio provides Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to enable apps to communicate automatically with their users via SMS. In fact, when you order an Uber taxi or book a table at a restaurant via OpenTable and your order or booking is confirmed by SMS, a Twilio API is ultimately behind your confirmation. What Prompt does is to make what Twilio offers via SMS feasible on all messaging apps, and even takes the idea a step further.

Using Prompt’s software development kit a company can build its own chatbot within 15 minutes with just 15 lines of code! It then takes only one click to deploy it on all existing messaging apps. The startup’s platform provides developers with all the tools they need to integrate authentication, payments and data analysis functionality. “In a post-app world, Prompt is aiming to build a universal chatbot platform,” explains Prompt CEO Tom Hadfield.

Les bots en phase de remplacer les applications ? (Source : Chatfuel)

Are bots on the way to replacing apps? (Source: Chatfuel)

msg.ai: AI for conversational retail

Having earned his stripes on the IBM Watson and Google AI teams, msg.ai CEO Puneet Mehta went on to develop artificial intelligence software which uses deep learning to provide companies with a customer relationship service composed of smart autonomous bots. The AI software developed by msg.ai is able not only to reply to customers’ questions but also to sell products directly to online users. Msg.ai already boasts a number of global brands among its clientele, including P&G, BMW and Sony. Thus questions from BMW customers which used to be sent to the dealerships are now being processed by msg.ai bots. Where deemed necessary, however, an AI-run conversation can be automatically escalated to a human interlocutor. This innovative solution, which is attracting a stream of major clients, means that msg.ai is already posting monthly earnings of $200,000. Puneet Mehta illustrates the success of his AI software with a telling statistic: Sony Corporation has replaced 70 human operators with a single msg.ai bot! The msg.ai solution is clearly achieving substantial savings for client companies. However, it does raise once again the old question as to whether there will be a place for human beings in tomorrow’s companies.

Birdly pitch at the NUMA Sprint season 6 Demo Day

Birdly: a CRM tool integrated into Slack

Co-founded by three French engineers, Paris-based Birdly has the potential to make dreams come true for the members of Generation Y – at least as far as immediacy is concerned. Long searches in Salesforce to find a customer’s contact details are now a thing of the past. All you have to do is ask the Slack bot to find the information for you, in the same way as you would make a request to one of your colleagues. At the moment Birdly is equipped to screen data from three software providers: Salesforce, Stripe and Intercom. This is in itself interesting when you think that companies today spend billions of dollars on SaaS where the data frequently overlaps. Since it joined the Y Combinator programme, the French startup – which has already been through the NUMA Sprint Season 6 programme in Paris – has brought on board 900 client companies and the number is rising fast, with over 20% growth per week. Reveals Birdly co-founder and CEO Quang Hoang: “After Slack, we’re targeting other messaging platforms such as Facebook at Work, Gmail and SMS”.

By Lucie Jan and Pauline Canteneur