“For solving your problems, please press one.” Obsolete automatic voice attendants are gradually becoming a thing of the past, even in our country. They are being replaced by assistants built on artificial intelligence thanks to a young Czech-Slovak startup named Born Digital. Not only with operators or banks, but also with personnel officers, or even fire fighters. Company director Tomáš Malovec and co-owner Zenon Sliwka describe how they want to turn their business into a global player within the next two years.
Discussions regarding artificial intelligence replacing call centre operators have been going on for years. The question is - is it really working already?
TM: Approximately two years ago, the technology reached a level where it started to be applicable commercially, even in languages like Czech and Slovak. In English, it was naturally possible much earlier. I think the numbers explain it best - we have our virtual assistants implemented in real contact centres, where they have already carried out 2.5million calls with customers.
There are certainly lots of options in using this technology. How did you decide what to focus on and where the core of your business shall be?
TM: This actually came along naturally, to a certain extent. The original thought came into existence at Good AI Company owned by Marek Rosa, which specializes in developing artificial intelligence in general, working primarily in research. Coincidentally, the first chatbot was created there a few years ago, and it was very well applicable for Czech and Slovak languages in the commercial sphere. The market manifested huge demand for such a product, but Good AI Company wanted to continue specializing in research. That was why we decided to start a spin-off to respond to the demand from large companies, and so Good AI Digital Company was established. This company was later rebranded to Born Digital. I spent the past few years dealing with the digital transformation of contact centres, where I searched for similar technology myself, but it was not available. Therefore, we linked research on one side with business on the other side, which resulted in a well-started product.
Does Born Digital currently operate independently?
TM: We originally wanted to have a company together, but in the end, I bought the company and became a 100% owner. Marek Rosa is focused on his goal in the area of research, and pursues it, so he didn’t want to divide his attention. After some time, Zenon Sliwka joined me, and he now owns a share of approximately one third.
What are your target markets?
TM: The technology is universal; yet we started with the Czech Republic and Slovakia. We wanted to test if we could handle a rather difficult language. Similar products already existed in English, but they did not support local languages. We spent a long time developing a line of modules working specifically with the Czech and Slovak languages, so that regular algorithms could handle it eventually. Moreover, we know the local market, and we have well-developed relationships here.
ZS: During the first year, we mostly wanted to verify the concept and technology, which we succeeded in. Now, we have English, German and Polish working perfectly, and we’re working on Russian and Portuguese. It takes us two to three weeks to add one language. We are in pursuit of markets which we find attractive, or were spond to a particular demand, like in the case of a customer from Portugal.
Does that mean you had customers from the very beginning?
ZS: We founded the company in 2019, which means there are only two accounting periods behind us. Nevertheless, both years were profitable for us, which is rather untraditional for startups. And all that without any external investments.
How did your team grow throughout that time?
ZS: Not long ago there were 15 of us, and now there are 10 more. It’s changing very quickly and we continue to expand our team.
You have recently announced the first investment. What made you decide for that?
TM: Although we are making a profit, we find ourselves at a cross roads. We can either take the path of natural growth, which is slower but safer, or opt for accelerated growth, markedly faster, investing all in development, which means no profit for a time. We decided to take the second path, because the window of opportunity opens very rarely and only for a short time.
ZS: At present, we see a huge opportunity in the local and worldwide markets. Over the next two years, decisions will be made as to who shall be a local player, and who shall be a global one. We find the possibility of reaching the global market to be enticing, even with respect to the risk that we might not succeed.
Why did you decide to go with J&T Ventures?
TM: We talked to a number of funds. There are people behind J&T Ventures who we get along with really well, and the communication is very professional. Moreover, they are very knowledge able in how to get a startup to global markets and set the investment roadmap. The thing is that the first investment is usually just one out of four or five, before the startup reaches the necessary stage. With J&T Ventures we have a clear vision on to how to make our plans a reality.
Where will you direct the money?
ZS: In to two key areas. One is represented by business development to help us reach other markets - West Europe, the United States, but also the East. Our aim is to build branches on markets where we succeed in acquiring job orders, in order to ensure our physical presence there. Ideally, in Germany, Great Britain, and the USA. Another part is in the building of a global, scalable product. Anybody in the world will be able to create a voice assistant on their own, without our help, based on the examples and simple modifications. So, for example, a pizzeria owner in Australia visits our website, submits his phone number, selects the template for a pizza order, loads his products, adds a credit card, and in the end, he has a functional assistant capable of handling any number of orders.
How can you make people trust the virtual assistants, without insisting on a connection with alive operator?
TM: Besides trying to make the experience as natural and pleasant as possible, we always try to make sure that the assistants offer something extra to customers, compared to humans, that they have some advantages. Apart from the obvious ones, i.e. that you can reach them 24/7 regardless of how many other people are calling at the moment, there is, for example, the situation when a customer forgets his payment card PIN. A human operator can not tell them that, because there is a risk of abuse, but artificial intelligence can, following the proper authentication.
Are there any projects close to your heart, projects you are passionate about that you are working on at the moment?
TM: I personally like the project we are currently preparing for fire fighters the most. Because in this case, it is not only about improving customer experience or about saving money for someone, but there is a social impact as well. Even though we won’t be getting any richer with that. If the fire fighting squad’s call centre is overloaded, a virtual assistant is capable of handling an unlimited number of reports, pairing duplicities automatically, verifying the given addresses within seconds, and helping to localize the fire by asking additional questions. Voicebot technologies are on a very good level currently, but in this case, we have to take it a level higher and minimize the error rate, because there are lives at stake.