With the recent boom of AI companies popping up around Canada and abroad, a large portion of those startups will soon have to find new ways to expand their product offerings in order to scale and transition to enterprise organizations.
That kind of growth is easier said than done. Relying on a single machine learning integration or AI platform can only get a company so far, so the next option is to find new and partners and methods of delivery. That has been Zoom.ai‘s game plan, especially since raising a $3.1 million extension to their seed round 10 months ago.
The Toronto-based AI startup released two new product updates last week: one is a plugin for Microsoft Outlook, and the other an extension for Google Chrome. As a chatbot company with integrations already functional inside applications like Slack and Teams, this might not seem like huge news for Zoom.ai, but it’s an indicator of where this young company is heading.
“I think this is huge,” says Roy Pereira, founder and CEO of Zoom.ai. “It’s the first time this company has expanded what our user interface is. It has been chat all along, but this is different. I know it’s the same backend, same functionality, same product, but it really expands what Zoom is.”
What Pereira is referring to is that these new updates all run on the same AI platform. What’s new is how these updates will be accessed.
“It’s not just a chat player—we’re really an enterprise software company, and that’s what we’re pushing here,” says Pereira.
Zoom.ai’s chat bot currently mitigates a number of mostly menial tasks for its users, such as scheduling meetings, discovering more information about a particular client/employee, and even onboarding procedures. The vast majority of new users with these new email extensions and plugins will use Zoom.ai the same way existing users do—to schedule meetings. But the big change is accessing those capabilities.
“It’s really about Zoom.ai in your inbox,” explains Pereira. “If you look at our history, we’ve been a chat-first AI assistant. We still believe chat is a great interface, and it’s the top interface in most companies, but not all of them. Email is still the center of a lot of employees day, so we decided to go where they are and reach all users.”
The Microsoft Outlook plugin was created specifically for the app itself, as Zoom.ai already had existing integrations with the entire Office suite. This move is the first time the company has built their platform into the frontend of an app, which means it is one of the fastest ways a user can begin to utilize Zoom.ai’s benefits.
The inbox plugin is context-aware, so if a user is looking at a particular email from someone, it can offer several options to seamlessly and intelligently interact with them—press a single button and it can schedule a meeting. Within a few months, Zoom.ai will even be able to automatically book a room.
These new updates illustrate how closely Zoom.ai has been working with Microsoft over the last two years. With deep integrations in SharePoint, Office, Calendar, and more, Pereira and his team have travelled to both Microsoft’s headquarters in Seattle as well as their Canadian HQ in Mississauga several times. Pereira is looking forward to the Microsoft team moving their Canadian HQ downtown and just down the road from them, as it will open even more opportunities for the two.
“Our goals are to help our mutual customers be more productive, obviously,” says Pereira. “We’re helping Microsoft do that by adding intelligent automation into their suite of products. We add a lot more functionality to their product portfolio, and of course, the intelligence is a key differentiator there.”
With that funding round in April 2018, Zoom.ai has been able to grow their team to 17 and hire with a focus in sales and marketing. The startup is now able to engage mid-market clients in addition to the large enterprises they normally work with, and now they can also begin to work with a lot of the international companies that have been reaching out to them.
Pereira sees Zoom.ai’s market as a massive space to grow in over the next few years, as a large amount of companies are beginning to migrate to cloud infrastructures but have not brought out or fully utilized chat applications. In the first iterations of chat bots, they were used largely for external customer support. Now companies are realizing internal employee uses cases for chatbots.
It helps that Zoom.ai has been able to nail the conversational tone that employees use on an everyday basis. The startup hovered around a 60 per cent success rate for their natural language processing engine when they started—it is now well over 90 per cent.
“I think the issue is about conversation,” Pereira says. “These systems have to understand conversations, and engage with humans like how other humans communicate. It’s being flushed out, but it’s not quite there yet.”
As Zoom.ai begins to roll out more partners, they will begin to more closely resemble the enterprise software company Pereira knows they can be. The company will begin to look towards raising money for a new funding round towards the end of 2019, and in the meantime, continue to find new ways to make their virtual assistant seamless integrate with every tool an employee uses to stay productive.