Sep
19
2018
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Fresh out of Y Combinator, Leena AI scores $2M seed round

Leena AI, a recent Y Combinator graduate focusing on HR chatbots to help employees answer questions like how much vacation time they have left, announced a $2 million seed round today from a variety of investors including Elad Gil and Snapdeal co-founders Kunal Bahl and Rohit Bansal.

Company co-founder and CEO Adit Jain says the seed money is about scaling the company and gaining customers. They hope to have 50 enterprise customers within the next 12-18 months. They currently have 16.

We wrote about the company in June when it was part of the Y Combinator Summer 2018 class. At the time Jain explained that they began in 2015 in India as a company called Chatteron. The original idea was to help others build chatbots, but like many startups, they realized there was a need not being addressed, in this case around HR, and they started Leena AI last year to focus specifically on that.

As they delved deeper into the HR problem, they found most employees had trouble getting answers to basic questions like how much vacation time they had or how to get a new baby on their health insurance. This forced a call to a help desk when the information was available online, but not always easy to find.

Jain pointed out that most HR policies are defined in policy documents, but employees don’t always know where they are. They felt a chatbot would be a good way to solve this problem and save a lot of time searching or calling for answers that should be easily found. What’s more, they learned that the vast majority of questions are fairly common and therefore easier for a system to learn.

Employees can access the Leena chatbot in Slack, Workplace by Facebook, Outlook, Skype for Business, Microsoft Teams and Cisco Spark. They also offer Web and mobile access to their service independent of these other tools.

Photo: Leena AI

What’s more, since most companies use a common set of backend HR systems like those from Oracle, SAP and NetSuite (also owned by Oracle), they have been able to build a set of standard integrators that are available out of the box with their solution.

The customer provides Leena with a handbook or a set of policy documents and they put their machine learning to work on that. Jain says, armed with this information, they can convert these documents into a structured set of questions and answers and feed that to the chatbot. They apply Natural Language Processing (NLP) to understand the question being asked and provide the correct answer.

They see room to move beyond HR and expand into other departments such as IT, finance and vendor procurement that could also take advantage of bots to answer a set of common questions. For now, as a recent YC graduate, they have their first bit of significant funding and they will concentrate on building HR chatbots and see where that takes them.

Jun
29
2018
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Leena AI builds HR chatbots to answer policy questions automatically

Say you have a job with a large company and you want to know how much vacation time you have left, or how to add your new baby to your healthcare. This usually involves emailing or calling HR and waiting for an answer, or it could even involve crossing multiple systems to get what you need.

Leena AI, a member of the Y Combinator Summer 2018 class, wants to change that by building HR bots to answer questions for employees instantly.

The bots can be integrated into Slack or Workplace by Facebook and they are built and trained using information in policy documents and by pulling data from various back-end systems like Oracle and SAP.

Adit Jain, co-founder at Leena AI, says the company has its roots in another startup called Chatteron, which the founders started after they got out of college in India in 2015. That product helped people build their own chatbots. Jain says along the way, they discovered while doing their market research a particularly strong need in HR. They started Leena AI last year to address that specific requirement.

Jain says when building bots, the team learned through its experience with Chatteron that it’s better to concentrate on a single subject because the underlying machine learning model gets better the more it’s used. “Once you create a bot, for it to really add value and be [extremely] accurate, and for it to really go deep, it takes a lot of time and effort and that can only happen through verticalization,” Jain explained.

Photo: Leena AI

What’s more, as the founders have become more knowledgeable about the needs of HR, they have learned that 80 percent of the questions cover similar topics, like vacation, sick time and expense reporting. They have also seen companies using similar back-end systems, so they can now build standard integrators for common applications like SAP, Oracle and NetSuite.

Of course, even though people may ask similar questions, the company may have unique terminology or people may ask the question in an unusual way. Jain says that’s where the natural language processing (NLP) comes in. The system can learn these variations over time as they build a larger database of possible queries.

The company just launched in 2017 and already has a dozen paying customers. They hope to double that number in just 60 days. Jain believes being part of Y Combinator should help in that regard. The partners are helping the team refine its pitch and making introductions to companies that could make use of this tool.

Their ultimate goal is nothing less than to be ubiquitous, to help bridge multiple legacy systems to provide answers seamlessly for employees to all their questions. If they can achieve that, they should be a successful company.

May
09
2018
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ServiceNow chatbot builder helps automate common service requests

When it comes to making requests inside a company for new equipment or to learn about HR policies, it can be a frustrating experience for both sides of the equation. HR and IT are probably tired of answering the same questions. Employees are tired of calling a help desk for routine inquiries and waiting for answers. ServiceNow’s new bot-building technology is designed to alleviate that problem by providing a way to create an automated bot-driven process for routine requests.

The company claims that you can build these bots to provide end-to-end service. Meaning if you tell the bot you need a new phone, it can pull your records, understand what you currently have and order a new one all in the same interaction — and all within a common messaging interface such as Slack or Microsoft Teams.

It also works for customer service transactions to process routine customer inquiries without having to route them to a CSR to answer typical questions.

The new chatbot building tool called Virtual Agent, has been built into the ServiceNow Now platform and provides a way for developers to build conversational interfaces easily, says CJ Desai, chief product officer at ServiceNow. “[The Virtual Agent] enables our customers to develop a wide range of intelligent service conversations from a quick question to an entire business action through the messaging platform of their choice,” Desai said in a statement.

The announcement is part of a broader AI initiative on the part of ServiceNow, which purchased Parlo, a chatbot startup, just last week for an undisclosed amount of cash. The acquisition should help give ServiceNow more AI engineering talent and help them beef up their natural language processing (NLP) to further refine and improve their chatbot products moving forward, as the Parlo team and technology get incorporated into the ServiceNow platform.

The company claims that using these chatbots, customers can reduce call volume to help desks and customer service by 15-20 percent, using the standard argument that it should free humans to handle more difficult inquiries.

The company joins a slew of other platform players including Salesforce, IBM, Oracle, AWS, and others who are incorporating chatbot building technology into their platforms.

Apr
17
2018
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Google Cloud releases Dialogflow Enterprise Edition for building chat apps

Building conversational interfaces is a hot new area for developers. Chatbots can be a way to reduce friction in websites and apps and to give customers quick answers to commonly asked questions in a conversational framework. Today, Google announced it was making Dialogflow Enterprise Edition generally available. It had previously been in beta.

This technology came to them via the API.AI acquisition in 2016. Google wisely decided to change the name of the tool along the way, giving it a moniker that more closely matched what it actually does. The company reports that hundreds of thousands of developers are using the tool already to build conversational interfaces.

This isn’t just an all-Google tool, though. It works across voice interface platforms, including Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa and Facebook Messenger, giving developers a tool to develop their chat apps once and use them across several devices without having to change the underlying code in a significant way.

What’s more, with today’s release the company is providing increased functionality and making it easier to transition to the enterprise edition at the same time.

“Starting today, you can combine batch operations that would have required multiple API calls into a single API call, reducing lines of code and shortening development time. Dialogflow API V2 is also now the default for all new agents, integrating with Google Cloud Speech-to-Text, enabling agent management via API, supporting gRPC, and providing an easy transition to Enterprise Edition with no code migration,” Dan Aharon, Google’s product manager for Cloud AI, wrote in a company blog post announcing the tool.

The company showed off a few new customers using Dialogflow to build chat interfaces for their customers, including KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Domino’s and Ticketmaster.

The new tool, which is available today, supports more than 30 languages and as a generally available enterprise product comes with a support package and service level agreement (SLA).

Dec
13
2017
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Microsoft makes Azure Bot Service generally available for developers

 Microsoft introduced the Azure Bot Framework more than two years ago and companies have been building chatbots for a variety of scenarios ever since. Today, the company made generally available the Microsoft Azure Bot Service and Microsoft Cognitive Language Understanding service (known as LUIS). Read More

Nov
16
2017
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Google launches a paid enterprise edition of its Dialogflow chatbot builder

 Google today announced the beta launch of its enterprise edition of Dialogflow, its tool for building chatbots and other conversational applications. In addition, Dialogflow (both in its free and enterprise version) is now getting built-in support for speech recognition, something that developers previously had to source through the Google Cloud Speech API or similar services. Unsurprisingly,… Read More

Aug
01
2017
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LogMeIn acquires chatbot and AI startup Nanorep for up to $50M

 LogMeIn, the company that provides authentication and other connectivity solutions for those who connect remotely to networks and services, has made another acquisition to expand the products it offers to customers, specifically in its new Bold360 CRM platform, launched in June. The company has picked up Nanorep, a startup out of Israel that develops chatbots and other AI-based tools to… Read More

Jul
20
2017
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Freshdesk owner Freshworks acquires Joe Hukum as it plans a move into chatbots

 After raising $55 million last year to build its business beyond its existing help desk services, today Freshworks (the parent company of Freshdesk) has made an acquisition to help it fill out that strategy. The company has acquired Joe Hukum, a startup out of India that offers a platform for businesses to build their own chatbots. I’ve asked, but the companies are not revealing any terms… Read More

Feb
28
2017
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Pypestream raises $15M for its customer messaging platform

Pypestream Pypestream is announcing that it has raised $15 million in Series A funding. When the startup launched more than a year ago, founder and CEO Richard Smullen was pitching text messaging as the best way for customers to communicate with businesses — specifically, through the Pypestream app, where businesses can create their own accounts with a variety of different “pypes”… Read More

Sep
22
2016
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LinkedIn doubles down on education with LinkedIn Learning, updates desktop site

screen-shot-2016-09-22-at-17-49-43 LinkedIn, the social network for the working world that now has some 450 million members and is in the process of being acquired by Microsoft for $26.2 billion, today took the wraps off its newest efforts to expand its site beyond job hunting and recruitment, its two business mainstays. The company has launched a new site called LinkedIn Learning, an ambitious e-learning portal tailored… Read More

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