“I’m going to have to transfer you, please hold.” We have all felt the aggravation that comes when dealing with a lackluster customer service department.
With whole studies around this problem, a potential solution has arrived: chatbots.
ChatBot Interactive, a startup based in Denmark, is out to improve online communications by using this technology.
After seeing their first chatbot, ForkChoice, launch on Product Hunt, I had the opportunity to interview Silas Mortensen, CEO and co-founder of ChatBot Interactive:
How was ChatBot Interactive born?
It all started when I was attending the SXSW conference in Austin, Texas in 2017. One of the topics of the conference was chatbots and how they will impact the future of the tech industry. With so many people from different industries talking about how they had gained valuable results with using chatbots, I couldn’t help wondering why the trend hadn’t really caught on in Denmark. I later attended the IBM showroom where they showed the possibilities of their artificial intelligence machine, Watson. This was where the idea really sparkled and we began looking into combining Watson with the chatbot experience.
When I got back from the States me and my partner sat down and began looking into conversation designs and brainstorming on where we might see a market fit for our chatbots. Luckily we both come from backgrounds where we have experience with product management and web development. Thereafter it was just a matter of putting in the hours necessary.
Technologies can come and go very quickly. Do you think chatbots will have a different future?
My take on this is, is that the chatbot technology definitely has a sustainable future simply due to the amount of different ways of using chatbots. Both to fulfill tasks that will directly impact revenue and save time spent on customer relations.
The big question mark to me is if the popular platforms allow bot creators to use the full potential of chatbots. If we want to interact with users, we need to be present where the users are. An example is Facebook. The bots that exist on Facebook now are very constrained by the design guidlines of the messenger platform. This means that we have the possibility of reaching a whole lot of users, but they won’t get the best possible chatbot experience. Hopefully, this doesn’t scare them away from using a chatbot in the future.
Creating a dialogue when you’re not entirely sure how the users will interact, is very difficult and needs oversight and improvement every day. Therefore we have a responsibility as bot creators to keep looking into ways and technologies to improve the user experience. The trend right now is that if we limit the conversation the user can have to a point-and-click interaction, we have control of where the user is heading in the conversation. But by doing this we remove the whole fun and interacting experience from the chatbots. We, as bot creators, need to stay courageous when designing chatbots in the future.
I think we are no way near seeing the potential of chatbots being fulfilled yet.
Does Denmark have any unexpected advantages or disadvantages for running your startup?
In Denmark, we pride ourselves in claiming that the biggest export product we have to offer, is our brains.
Getting registered as a startup in Denmark is free and it’s possible to get your ideas validated by accomplished entrepreneurs for free in all of the bigger cities. It’s also free to get help if you need sparring or have any problems with accounting, marketing or designs.
Where we lack a bit compared to the United States is when looking for investors or environments where you can talk or exchange learnings with other startups. In the United States, it’s possible to get funded by affiliates who offer office spaces together with other startups and mentorships within areas where you might be especially challenged. Due to the big number of successful startups in the United States you also have a very developed investor culture with investors and angel investors investing with lower cuts, thereby keeping the entrepreneur-spirit alive. Often the investors in Denmark demand a bigger cut of the business.
ForkChoice just launched on ProductHunt! Did you learn anything from your launch?
We sure did, and it was amazing! When we launched on Product Hunt we got featured as one of their top trending products on their front page. We saw a huge increase in users in our chatbot from all over the world. We had users chatting with ForkChoice from over 60 countries in the first 24hrs.
Earlier we acquired some users through different forums for testing the conversational interface, but we experienced that they weren’t in the market for actually using ForkChoice to find a place to eat or drink. They often just wanted to test the limitations of the chatbot. We still needed that form of testing to make sure we had thought of the edge cases. This was very much needed especially when thinking of the experience Microsoft had with Tay.
Our key learnings must be that Product Hunt is an amazing place to launch a product. It’s a mature crowd that can be used for final optimizations and just to get your name out there. Don’t underestimate the amount of users who have their RSS feeds import products from Product Hunt.
What has been your most difficult moment with ChatBot Interactive and how did you recover?
Two scenarios spring to mind.
We decided to launch the application as a web-app for the Danish users first. We estimated that this would be a great way of validating if our hypothesis of ForkChoice having a natural place in the market. When we where code-complete we struggled to get any traction primarily due to the lack of users in Denmark. We did some marketing on forums, Facebook, and other places. But we weren’t able to see substantial improvement. This resulted in us leaving it for a month and concentrating on other projects. One weekend we sat down and discussed the future of the company and how we should take the next step. This resulted in us spending a week getting ForkChoice translated to English, integrating with dining-places from all over the world and testing the new interactions that became possible when changing the language. We quickly saw an increase in users and interactions with restaurants from all over the world.
The second scenario we encountered was when deciding which platform to use. With the limitations to bot frameworks that exist, we didn’t really feel that we were able to accomplish the ideas we had for ForkChoice. Therefore we decided to build our own framework from the beginning. This was quite an extensive process, because of the amount of logic needed when handling conversations and integrating different API’s to get locations imported. We also decided to use the web-app technology, because handling two different app platforms (iOS and Android) requires a large amount of resources, which takes away time and focus from the main product.
Lastly, do you have any words of wisdom for people that want to get involved in a tech startup?
We did spend quite a lot of time planning everything. This has proven an excellent investment because we were able to execute changes to the tech and product strategy in an easier way.
Otherwise, just get yourself there and give it a go. The startup community online is very supporting and people who have the same interests are very much willing to help and assist in any way possible. We got a lot of help with marketing from people all over the world because this is one of the points where our knowledge isn’t that extensive. Getting integrated into the startup communities online is really easy and so is rewarding exchanging thoughts and learnings with likeminded people.
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