As huge tech companies from Microsoft to Facebook are heralding chat bots as the next big thing, an independent AI (artificial intelligence) company that has been quietly working on its own human-like bot for the past two years has just raised a $23 million round of funding in order to take them on.
x.ai is the company behind Amy Ingram, a virtual PA designed to schedule meetings for busy executives by taking away the long email trail that usually goes with getting time in the calendar.
To use Amy Ingram, users just need to link their calendars and then CC [email protected] into their next email conversation about setting up a meeting. Amy then takes over, chatting to their contact like a real PA to organise the best time, date, and location. The next thing the user receives is a calendar invite.
x.ai claims some recipients of Amy’s emails in the beta testing of the product have found her to be so realistic, they have even sent flowers and chocolates to what they assumed was her office.
Amy Ingram will launch out of beta in late summer and will have a similar pricing strategy to other business platforms such as Dropbox and Slack — there will be an entry-level free version, but users and entire enterprises can opt to upgrade to professional and business editions, with the paid-for tier expected to start at around $10 per month.
The virtual PA will be channel agnostic, working not just across email, but other messaging services such as SMS, slack, or social networks. Amy is also language agnostic — she wasn’t built just to understand English, she was built to understand “the language of meetings” so you could potentially send a meeting request to a colleague in Denmark, who chats to Amy in Danish, copies in a contact in China who speaks to Amy in Mandarin, and then you receive the calendar invite back in English.
x.ai wants to create a monopoly so Google can’t just take the same idea and release an Amy Ingram for free
Speaking to Business Insider, x.ai CEO Dennis Mortensen said the company raised more capital in order to accelerate its first-mover advantage in the space.
Mortensen explained the question he was asked most by investors when pitching the company was: What do you do when Google releases a virtual PA product for free?
His response is that whoever creates the best virtual PA first will own the market. If there are 10 virtual PAs available and executives unwittingly keep just making them talk to each other, they won’t be optimised to work to their full potential.
Mortensen — a long-time data analytics entrepreneur who sold his company Visual Revenue to Outbrain, was the COO of Indextools when it sold to Yahoo, and sold his other company Canvas Interactive to TJ Group — cofounded x.ai in 2014.
He described x.ai back then as a “bunch of propellerheads” that “sat in a basement” with $2 million of funding from investors who wanted the team to research whether a product like Amy Ingram could even work in the real world or not. Over that time, x.ai has managed to pull in reams of data and train Amy to converse like a real human.
Mortensen said x.ai “jumped in the pool early” before other tech companies were really paying attention to the space and now Amy has already moved out of her “toddler” phase into her “teenage years.”
Mortensen said: “We are racing toward this inflection point to create a monopoly. It’s just like: Google can easily create a social network, but it’s too late. Whoever gets there first, wins. And that’s why we raised more capital. I think we will get there first and I think we will own it.”
x.ai currently has 65 staff, which consists of a data science team, a back-end engineering team, and other roles including “AI trainers” and data annotators. The company plans to use the new investment to create an acquisition team and an enterprise sales team, Mortensen said.
x.ai’s Series B round brings the company’s total funding to date to $33.3 million. The latest round of financing was led by Two Sigma Ventures. DCM Ventures, Work-Bench Ventures, Crunchfund, Pritzker Group Venture Capital, IA Ventures, Lerer Hippeau Ventures, Firstmark Capital and Softbank Capital / SBNY also participated.