Success Stories Batch #1

Last week, we had our 4 chatbot teams pitch in front of 100+ VCs and business angels. Why? Because we believe in the team members, their concept and their business spirit. As proud (bot) parents usually do, we also want to show off our kids. That’s why we decided to share the success stories of our 4 amazing teams with you. They started off with a prototype – after 6 months, things look a bit different:

 

Toni

 

The idea behind Toni arose last year for the European Football Championship 2016 when Klemens built the first prototype. During ELEVATE, the team decided to expand the business model to Toni.ai – a platform for white-label sports chatbots. This also caught the attention of LAOLA1.at – Austria’s biggest sports portal. After some meetings, Toni.ai was able to happily announce their new partnership! Toni.ai now powers the new LAOLA1.at chatbot, which has an impressive 30% retention rate after two weeks, with the average user opening ten articles per day. Toni.ai was further able to attract LAOLA1.at and Sportradar as content partner, therewith gaining access to massive amounts of highly relevant sports data. After successfully launching their proof of concept, they are eager to work with sports clubs as B2B customers.

 

IconicBot

 

IconicBot is a chatbot that bridges the gap between celebrity icons and their fans. Vishakha and Sandesh flew in all the way from India to participate in the ELEVATE meetups. They started off building their first chatbot for Vishakha herself as she is a famous actress and film producer in India with a fanbase of more than 1 Million users. After a successful launch, IconicBot already was able to win their first paying customer – Sri Thenandal Studios Ltd, a big film production company in India. IconicBot designed an AI-based chatbot to promote ‚Mersal’, which is considered one of the most-awaited films of 2017 in India. Combined with their two independent celebrity bots, IconicBot gained access to more than 9 Million Facebook users. Their bots processed already almost 1.7 Million messages. Vishakha was also accepted to the ‚She Leads Tech’ Initiative of Facebook and FB start, which further increases their network of business partners. Their next steps are to reach out to more celebrities and the big film & media houses.

 

Selly

 

Selly sells the stuff you no longer need. Despite being only 20 years old, Viktor and Vincent know how to do business. Besides ELEVATE, they were accepted for the LMU Lab, an incubator program in Munich that counts success cases such as Foodora and Flixbus as their alumni. Viktor and Vincent launched their bot Selly during the Demo Day. They used Viral Loops to already create a waiting list for interested people until their bot was ready to take orders. Users were able to move up the waiting list for each friend they invited. People were so eager to use Selly that over 25% of people shared it with their friends and the waiting list was filled with more than 230 potential orders after 3 weeks. They now focus on converting these numbers to orders and are currently in talks with several investors.

 

Jingle

 

Jingle, now consisting of Luke, Greg and Kevin, made it their goal to re-invent local shopping. The company came to life in August 2016 and as with most start-ups, Jingle had its ups and downs. However, through participating in incubation programs such as the WKO rocket science academy and as a team at the INiTS start-up camp, Jingle showed continuous progress. During their time at ELEVATE, Luke and Greg found their perfect fit with Kevin and hired him as CTO. At the Demo Day, they were able to convince the crowd and were awarded the ‘community award’ for the best pitch. This further encouraged talks with potential investors & partners. Luke, Greg & Kevin also received an invitation to share their knowledge and hold a keynote for the Handelsverband Österreich. Many people and retailers have expressed their interest in working with Jingle, which will be their main focus point for the upcoming weeks.

 

So what do you think? It's a pretty great bot family we've been growing those past 6 months, right? We could not be prouder and cannot wait to see what their future holds! And now: on to Batch #2 - let's see what the next 6 months will bring!


Demo Day Batch #1 Recap

After 6 months of coding, business workshops and pitch training – the day had finally come. On September 8th we opened our doors to invite a selected crowd of VCs and business angels to the Arcotel Donauzentrum. The new tech hotel of the Arcotel group was the perfect match for a Chatbot Demo Day.

Investors Master Class

The day kicked off with an exiting keynote from Kaj Hagros – seed investor and CEO at Pivot5. Kaj founded 8 companies, served 30 boards and had several successful exits. He flew in from Helsinki to talk about his angel experiences and chatbot investments in Finland. As investor, the most important investment criteria for him is:

He argued that many teams are so excited about their concept, that they fail to see the importance of a smart go-to-market strategy. Also, he pointed out, investors should only invest in domains that they fully understand.

‘There used to be an app for everything. Now there is a bot for everything.’

Kaj talked about the many use cases for chatbots: from equity research to AI-based health assistance. However, he highly emphasised that a bot itself, is not the business itself – it is a way of reaching and engaging with your target audience.

The potential of chatbots

The keynote was followed by a panel discussion by:

Kaj Hagros – CEO at Pivot5

Wolfgang Bosch – Business Development Executive at IBM Watson

Natalie Korotaeva – Facebook Developer Circle Vienna Lead

Marc Isop – Chief Revenue Officer at Onlim

 

The discussion gave interesting insights into the potential of bots in the corporate and startup environment. Furthermore, the panellists discussed the role of women in the chatbot community and whether the majority of bot personalities is male or female. All speakers agreed that there are many use cases for bots, but that ‘building a bot company’ should not be the ultimate business goal – a chatbot makes sense if it is the best way to reach the consumer.

Pitch your bot

After a short coffee and networking break, it was finally time for our teams to step on stage. Our 4 chatbot companies had to face a though jury:

Selma Prodanovic – founder and CEO of 1MillionStartups

Nina Wöss – Principal at Speedinvest

Kaj Hagros – CEO at Pivot5

The jury had some tough but fair questions for the teams, and pointed out that all pitches were extremely well done and interesting.

 

After the last pitch, the vistors and people watching the livestream were asked to vote for their favorite pitch. Team Jingle collected the most votes and therefore received a hotel voucher from Arcotel Donauzentrum.

After that, the official part of the Demo Day was over. Food and drinks were served and TheVentury invited everyone to a fun afterparty in the first district.

We think that the demo day was a huge success. We received amazing feedback from visitors, our jury and the teams. We are extremely happy to release 4 market-ready bots to the world and we are keen to see them live their full potential! We will further support them and their way and will integrate them in the Elevate Alumni Group – they will always be important members of the ELEVATE family!

You couldn’t make it to the Demo Day? No worries, you can watch the livestream:

Check out our livestream

We also want to thank our partners for making this event happen:


Meet the teams: Iconic

Our next team has travelled far to take part at Elevate – Sandesh and Vishakha from Team IconicBot fly in from India for our monthly meetups! Vishakha is a well-known actor and film producer and Sandesh is a former IBM’ler who is responsible for the tech at IconicBot.

 

Please give us a short description of your chatbot:

We bring fans and their icons together. We use Artificial Intelligence technology to help influencers reach their true fans effectively & in no time!

Why should someone use your chatbot / What is the problem that you are solving?

Celebrities have many fans and it is impossible for them to talk to every single one in person. This is where IconicBot steps in – it bridges the gap between fans and icons. The celebrity chatbot allows daily engagement with each individual fan and the icons benefit from higher fan engagement and a way to monetize their inbox through potential brand partnerships.

How did you guys meet?

We met 3 years ago and founded two start-ups together, which are currently hibernated. Vishakha has almost 10 years of experience in the entertainment industry and I have more than 8 years of technical experience. We, as a team, perfectly complement each other and therefore decided to build a bot for the entertainment industry.

Why did you choose Elevate?

Elevate chose us. (laughs)

We are from India, which is already a huge market, but we also thought of extending IconicBot to the European market. Therefore, it is a great experience to work with different teams who have a completely different culture. Elevate is the first program that accelerates bots and is situated in Europe – so that was a perfect fit!

What are your expectations for the program?

In the first step, we want to deploy the bot for two major celebrities and want to target big product houses in the music industry.

When and how was your first experience with a chatbot?

It was not really a chatbot – my first experience was with the AI assistant Siri. In India we have a completely different fluency when we talk, and I did not really like the experience of talking to Siri.

Fans who would use our bot speak more than 18 other languages. We are therefore using NLP but sort of a bot-hybrid to create a unique user experience. With that we can assure that the user likes to chat with the bot and does not perceive it as being dumb.

What would you recommend to applicants interested in ELEVATE batch #2?

You should definitely come here! The people at TheVentury are really nice and they have amazing technological knowledge. There are so many coaches to guide you and tech applications they can provide you with to which is a great help to build your startup. And, Europe is just great!

Do you have any advice for peers interested in building a chatbot?

Every customer only has 15 apps and the app-installation numbers have decreased. People do not engage that much with apps anymore, so penetrating the user base with an app will be quite tough. Messengers are the next big thing! People use messenger more than social media. You have to build something where you meet the consumer – a bot is ideal for that!


Meet the teams: Jingle

New week. New team. Meet Team Jingle

Greg, Luke and Kevin are the founders of Jingle. Greg loves working on marketing and sales strategies and Luke is responsible for operations and management. Together with their ‘techie’ Kevin they make a great team which drives to excel and have fun at the same time.

 

Please give us a short description of your Chabot:

Jingle is a personal shopping assistant that helps you find local products in your proximity. Our service helps customers find specific products in their area, and furthermore include helpful information such as price and the availability in store. Thereby, we support customers as well as local retailers –  we do not only find the concrete product but also bring customers back into local stores.

Why should someone use your Chatbot / What is the problem that you are solving?

The particular problems we are facing can be split into a customer and retailer part.
The customers on the one hand tackle the problem of not finding wanted products in their proximity and thereby often transitioning to online shops. Just think of the last time you wanted to buy something really fast. Did you know exactly which store to go to? Probably not, right?

On the other hand, retailers try to get more customers into their physical shops but often fail at effective marketing – especially in the era of the internet. Our service solves the customer related problem by providing all the needed information at one place and thereby simultaneously solving  the retailers’ problem by bringing customers back into local stores.

How did you guys meet?

Greg and Luke met at the university where they shared similar interests –  especially entrepreneurship. Having formulated the business model over the course of last year, we decided that it was time to find the perfect technical addition to the team. After searching for quite some time, Kevin our new Co-Founder and CTO was recommended to us through our network. And we are super happy that he joined us on our path to promote local retailers.

Why did you choose Elevate?

After a lot of brainstorming, research and validation processes we decided to solely focus on a chatbot as we love the idea of a conversational interface – the ultimate interface. We heard about Elevate being THE go-to accelerator program specialized on building exactly that. The timing could not have been better for us and after the first initial meetings, we knew Elevate was the right fit! We are very happy and proud to be part of the bot family here.

What are your expectations for the program?

Together with the chatbot gurus from Elevate we want to finish developing our MVP until the end of the program while also diving further into the chatbot community.
In the long run, of course, our goal is to create a bot that users love and use frequently!

When and how was your first experience with a Chatbot?

It was definitely NOT love at first sight. The chatbot hype in Vienna started about a year and a half ago. I was working for a start-up back then and religiously read the Buzzfeed news every evening.

One particular night I saw a post about a well-known American news company that had just deployed a bot. The bot would send me tailored news every day and claimed to learn about my interests with time. I HAD to try it. Plot twist – I absolutely hated it. It was completely unclear to me how such a large company could release such  nonsense, believing they where actually creating something valuable. So my first impression – not good.

However, this experience lead to lots of research on NLP and AI technology. By the day my interest in chatbots started to grow up to the point where I got hooked and wanted to build my own.

What would you recommend to applicants interested in ELEVATE batch #2?

If you are a early stage start-up and you are looking forward to building a chatbot– Elevate is definitely the right program for you. It’s a great team, everyone is highly motivated, and it’s fun – exactly how it should be. Don’t hesitate to apply and find out yourself!  

Do you have any advice for peers interested in building a Chatbot?

It should work. It should be easy to understand. And it should be fun – if you are going to build a chatbot without a character/personality, you are probably better off without a conversational interface.

Want to know more about Team Jingle? Visit them on Facebook or check out their homepage!


Meet the teams: Toni

The second team we would like you to meet is Team Toni! Klemens is founder and main developer of Toni! He, Kathi who is responsible for UX and marketing (and is not on the picture ) , and Scott, their mentor, make up Team Toni at the moment.

Please give us a short description of your chatbot:

Toni is a personal football buddy on Facebook Messenger. He gives you information on all the scores, the latest results, upcoming games and news on soccer. He can provide you with real-time information or round-ups of past games. With Toni.ai we are going to redefine fan engagement by creating virtual buddies that sports fans can engage with on the popular messaging platforms. This is not just limited to football.

Why should someone use your chatbot / What is the problem that you are solving?

The thing about football information is, that it requires a lot of time to get all the information you want and often it is not personalized. With Toni we offer you your personal assistant that gives you the information you are searching for directly in the channel you already know and use – Facebook Messenger. You don’t need to install an App or log-in at a website. For leagues, clubs, and players we’ll provide a platform for increasing fan engagement and interact with fans on a personal level.

How did you guys meet?

The idea behind Toni arose last year for the European Football Championship 2016 where we built the first prototype. We already gained a lot of users and media coverage there. This was the beginning of the project, and now we are developing Toni further to be a general football chatbot and Toni.ai as a fan engagement platform for sports leagues, clubs, and athletes. This is also where the other teammates entered. I wanted to also include more of the business and UX side into Team Toni and therefore expanded the team.

Why did you choose Elevate?

Because it’s awesome! The guys are really motivated and we have the feeling that they can really support us and push Toni to a highly successful level! ELEVATE was the perfect fit for us. We had our first MVP and were thinking about how to market it and how we are going to build a business around it – and this is exactly where ELEVATE stepped in to support us.

What are your expectations for the program?

We really hope to have the big players of the soccer industry engaged in Toni – the big clubs or betting companies! And we want to give Toni a unique personality and attract as much users as possible!

When and how was your first experience with a chatbot?

My first experience was a news bot. It was very nice to get information, but it was not really personal. That’s something we want to do better with Toni – we really want to personalize the content. The user should feel welcome and see Toni as a friend.

What would you recommend to applicants interested in ELEVATE batch #2?

Do it! If you think about applying – just apply! Have fresh ideas, find a good team and then you will get support from TheVentury and it will give your product a push.

Do you have any advice for peers interested in building a chatbot?

The chatbot scene is changing very fast. You can now create bots without needing any coding skills. If you are living in Vienna, there is a lot going on: there are monthly meetups in the bot scene, there are hackathons and so on.

And if you want to talk about bots, just get in touch with us!

 

Want to know more about Team Toni? Visit them on Facebook or check out their homepage!


Meet the teams: Selly

The first team we would like to introduce you to is our dynamic duo Viktor and Vincent from Team Selly. Vincent is responsible for product and technology development and Viktor enjoys working out the financials, operations and marketing.

Please give us a short description of your chatbot:

We want to make selling the stuff you don’t need straightforward and time efficient. With Selly, we will be the one-stop solution for everything you want to sell or get rid of by combining all existing solutions under one simple-to-use interface – a chatbot.

Why should someone use your chatbot / What is the problem that you are solving?

Selling your stuff is time-consuming and frustrating. And if you are lazy like us, you either have your stuff lying around at home or, eventually, you throw it out – which sucks. With Selly, you simply take a picture of the item you want to sell, get a price, accept it, the item gets picked up and you get your money!

How did you guys meet?

We met at the age of 11 and became friends on a school project. We have been creating stuff ever since – we started with T-shirt shops and created apps and games together.

Why did you choose ELEVATE?


For us, ELEVATE is really valuable because they help us with our execution. We are only a two-men team and not that experienced in building bots. Therefore, having experienced growth marketers and developers on our side is exactly what we need.

When and how was your first experience with a chatbot?

My first experience with a chatbot was with HiPoncho, the weather cat. At first, I was skeptical, but I still use it to this day and it’s actually very helpful – we want to achieve the same experience for Selly!

What would you recommend to applicants interested in ELEVATE batch #2?

Ask questions as much as possible – the guys from TheVentury will definitely appreciate that and give advice!

Do you have any advice for peers interested in building a chatbot?

Don’t build a chatbot for the sake of building it! Ignore the buzz around it and look at your options, and see if it’s a great fit with your product and target group – and only then go for it.

 

Want to know more about Team Selly? Visit them on Facebook or check out their homepage!


How we built the Austrian Airlines Chatbot

Austrian Airlines ChatbotThe idea to the Austrian Airlines Chatbot was born right after the announcement of Facebook opening up their Messenger API. To us it was crystal clear from the beginning: this is going to be huge! And because we already realized a rather big innovation project with Austrian Airlines (see flymeto.austrian.com) we approached their social media agency ambuzzador to partner with us once again to bring this innovation to Austrian.

Said and done. Austrian Airlines were very quick in realizing the huge potential and allowed us to start the project.

What should we do? Where to start?

There were some major decision to make in conceptualizing the Chatbot. First, there was the question which functionality we should provide. What is the scope of the bot? We quickly identified that a minimal viable bot (MVB) for an airline should:

  • be able to search for flights
  • provide excellent answers to the top 5 customer support questions
  • be able to handle other questions reasonably well
  • do small talk on a basic level

Keep in mind that this was the MVB specification. It was clear from the start onwards, that we wouldn't be able to handle 100% of the requests successfully. So we needed an additional option:

  • If the bot fails, hand the conversation over to a human agent for further processing

This system differs entirely from the setup that KLM is currently believed to operate on, which is: Let an AI make a suggestion and a human sign off on the message. While it is obvious that their system (for now) is more precise - because a human is still in the loop - the future potential makes our approach more powerful. Only in a solution like this one can fully materialize the potential of an AI, but keep the human capacities for edge cases and complicated requests.

Hello, who is speaking?

Now that we knew what to speak about, the next question was: who is speaking?

There are two main strategies here:
a) You create an avatar, and let that avatar speak
b) The brand speaks for itself
Both have their advantages and disadvantages and I leave that to another discussion, but in the end we opted for B with Austrian Airlines: the myAustrian Messenger Service was born. Interesting side note: The decision was made not to use the word bot in the name, because Austrian Airlines users aren’t accustomed to this term yet.

Ok great, but how do we speak?

So now that we clarified what to speak about and who is speaking, we arrived at the question: How do we speak?
Most companies have a set of rules for their Corporate Design - but now we are talking text. So you need a "non-visual branding guideline", which, in most cases, exceeds the guidelines in a Corporate Design handbook. And that is exactly where our partner ambuzzador comes in. They provided the domain specific knowledge for Austrian Airlines, which includes standard greetings like "Servus" or certain ways to communicate. This domain knowledge is always an important part of the personality of the bot. Because only the personality makes the experience something unique and hopefully outstanding.

MVC ≠ Bot

After clarifying all the personality and soft parts, we finally had the go for the hard parts - building the bot.
But soon we realized that we had a major problem: A classic MVC (Model View Controller) structure of software projects doesn't work!
What is your controller? - You only have 1 view (the Messenger API so to say). It was really hard for us to press the structure of a bot into this excellent model of building software. So at some point we gave up and did what every developer does: Rethink everything!
What we came up with is, IMHO, a clever system to structure big bot architecture: a lifecycle model.
Only in a lifecycle model I have the possibility to hand over messages from different packages to another to facilitate a structured processing of the input to the output.
The Austrian Airlines Bot therefore has 4 lifecycle modules:

  • Enhance
  • Understand
  • Knowledge
  • Decide

austrian-bot-lifecycle

Enhance

In this first model we aim to correct and “enhance” - duh - the user message. We convert payloads to objects, emojis to a readable format etc. This is also where you correct spelling and grammar mistakes, or add additional context information for the next module.

Understand

In the “understand” module we try to understand the user intent and extract entities we are working with. This is mainly done by the NLP/AI service api.ai, which was recently aquired by Google. We decided to go with api.ai because back then, when we did our market analysis, they were the ones we felt most comfortable with concerning the quality of their modeling (though they are expensive). In addition to this external service we had to work around a couple of glitches and specialties of the platform to correct and further customize the results with our own little NLP engine. This was necessary since a general AI/NLP provider can't handle all the cases we wanted.
Here is also the point in the software where we try to generate a first answer to the user.

Knowledge

In this module we aim to improve the result from the previous section even further - either by finding better answers in the knowledge base of Austrian or by simply enhancing the output by e.g. quick replies that are fed from the long term memory. The latter is especially powerful since it drastically increases customer satisfaction and speed. In this module we work a lot with different IBM Watson APIs (which are extremely powerful, #fanboy). Here we also decide whether the content should be enhanced with a web view (e.g. a date picker in a web view) or not.

Decide

Now that we have finished the lifecycle, it is time to decide. This module now looks at the different answers that the previous modules produced and tries to decide what the best way to present the information in the messenger platform is. Is it a carousel?, An image? Just an emoji? Or is text just fine?
What you see in your message window is the outcome of this decision.

We failed - happens - how do we recover?

As mentioned in the beginning, it was clear that the bot wouldn't be able handle 100% of all use cases. So it was important to define an exit case that would hand over to the excellent support staff of Austrian Airlines. This in turn creates a few problems with the bot dynamic. Since the bot would automatically answer to every message, we had to "silence" it in these situations. This, and waking it up again, are some of the finer processes that are crucial to ensure a good customer experience overall.

 

SUMMARY

Overall, we were really happy with the results of this short 3-month innovation sprint with Austrian Airlines and are incredibly excited about what’s to come. We recognize that the bot performance we deliver at the moment is not yet were we want it to be - but that is how innovation and early prototyping works. We are constantly improving the setup and the confidence the system produces and are currently seeing more than 1.5k messages daily.

 

Side Note: Vienna the City of Bots

One amazing side note here: Vienna's Bot Community. We are very proud to be located right at the center of bot activity in Europe. The City of Vienna was voted the most livable city in the world 8 consecutive times and now we are proud to say that we - as a community of bot developers, designers, writers and product owners - are the capital of bots in Europe too. Our monthly meetup is probably the biggest meetup in Europe and events like the ChatBotConf clearly establish our position. We (TheVentury) are excited to also launch Europe's first chatbot centered accelerator in Vienna. We hope to further foster sustainable growth for this technology in Vienna, the City of Bots and are inviting everyone to apply to our first batch that starts Feb 2017.

 

Bots regards,
Jakob from TheVentury