Toronto-based Zoom.ai has just raised a $2.1 million seed round for its automated assistant.
The round included participation from Extreme Venture Partners, BetaWorks, MaRS IaF, BDC, and the Golden Triangle Angel Network.
“They can’t just throw Microsoft Exchange out, so they’re putting us on top and we’re the UI.”
Zoom.ai’s chatbot is targeted to enterprise, and automates menial tasks like meeting scheduling, flight searches, internal document searches, and reminders. A growing part of the business is also its information retrieval capabilities; Zoom.ai can build an internal FAQ with common questions posed to HR and IT staff, and generate documents like NDAs based on templates.
The company plans to use the funding for growth, and double down on the enterprise side of its product; while some features of the platform are open to individuals, the company has been working on building its enterprise capabilities over the last year. Currently, Zoom.ai has 60,000 individual users, and almost 20 enterprise customers.
“There’s lots of activity happening in the AI assistant space in general, but people are looking for something that does something more than just scheduling. So Zoom.AI was perfect,” Imran Khan, co-founder and partner at Extreme Venture Partners, explained when asked why he invested in the company.
The idea for Zoom.ai arose after founder and CEO Roy Pereira’s last startup, Shiny Ads, was acquired by Rubicon Project in 2014. Pereira wanted to find a way to be more productive while at Rubicon, and eventually left to found Zoom.ai in March 2016.
“We’re trying to get to that 20 percent of low-value tasks that people have to do, and our guidance is basically this virtual executive admin that we’d all want,” said Pereira. However, he insists that Zoom.ai’s assistant shouldn’t be categorized among most popular chatbots, which often serve a singular purpose and answer basic lines of questioning.
“A chatbot in its early incarnation, to me, feels raw. It feels immature, what we’ve seen in the industry. We’re not that. We are a full-blown enterprise shop,” Pereira said.
Besides improving productivity, Pereira suggests that Zoom.ai’s assistant also helps with attracting “younger” talent turned off from working at an enterprise bloated with legacy systems designed for individual tasks. He likens it to the rise of mobile, which also resulted in a proliferation of apps designed for one function requiring separate logins.
“Their tech stack is old and a lot of their processes are old, and they realize that they have to solve those two things, processes and tech stack — and they know that everyone’s on chat,” said Pereira. “They can’t just throw everything out. They can’t just throw Microsoft Exchange out, so they’re putting us on top and we’re the UI.”
The startup was part of New York-based Betaworks’ BotCamp last year, and received $200,000 in seed funding. “Aside from being very impressed with Roy as a repeat entrepreneur and the founding team around him, what really set Zoom.ai apart was the way it set out from day one to solve an acute pain point for a large and growing segment of the workforce in a seamless and platform agnostic manner,” said Patrick Montague, VP at Betaworks.
Zoom.ai is plugged into all of an enterprise’s data sources, and Pereira says its machine learning algorithm can “read between the lines” of what users actually mean when they type, since most people aren’t precise over text. He stresses the importance of building up a strong team in Toronto, a city getting a lot of attention — both from the government at home, and companies abroad — for its strong AI and machine learning talent.
“We want to be like the Salesforce of our generation,” said Pereira. “Salesforce started with a new UI, the browser back in 2000 — they were like, ‘stop installing on a CD-Rom.’ We’re saying the same thing, stop installing another app, don’t give another app to your employees with another login with another UI. Chat is a singular UI that we all understand; there’s no training involved. So we want to be that next UI within the enterprise.”