Jesse Hull, co-founder and CTO of Dashbot, sees the current excitement about bots just another iPhone moment. According to his partner and co-founder Arte Merritt, Hull has joked about how his two-year-old can effortlessly talk with Amazon Echo’s Alexa — an adoption curve that has been so fast and natural that Hull envisions a time when little kids will call iPhones and iPads their best playmates.
The development of bots has accelerated wildly in the past six months, with a burgeoning range of chatbots serving a wide variety of functions sprouting throughout Silicon Valley. At this year’s MobileBeat 2016, companies presented everything from travel booking bots to personal finance bots and bots that streamline workflow communications. As GeekSquad co-founder Robert Stephens, an invested bot enthusiast, pointed out onstage at MobileBeat 2016, not since the onset of Web 1.0 back in the 90s has there been such a fast-paced land grab around a new technology.
Dashbot, however, is not one of the bot producers scrambling to dominate a vertical market segment. Rather, it created a powerful set of analytics to help developers track and optimize their bots and AI assistants.
For Dashbot CEO Arte Merritt, Hull’s long-time MIT pal who co-founded the company, the exploding bot industry is in deep need of an analytics tool to do for bots what Google Analytics has done for websites for years. He believes that different interfaces require different analytical platforms, and that existing tools that were designed for websites or apps simply can’t capture the full dynamics of how bots interact with users.
In addition to analyzing standard metrics such as sessions and retention (new users vs. return users), Dashbot digs deep into conversations to provide insights such as sentiment analysis to shed greater light on how engaged users are with AI assistants. The Dashbot platform also provides full transcripts of conversation threads, as well as a “message funnel” reporting function that maps out user activity flows, to help developers understand where bots fall short and how to optimize AI systems to respond to users’ needs more effectively.
According to Merritt, what distinguishes his company from competitors is that Dashbot provides not only analytics but also tools tailored to help clients take action in response to data gleaned from the platform. Developers can manage customized push notifications for different user segments based on usage metrics and activity levels.
For example, if the system detects that user A has not come back for a given period of time, a push notification message with exclusive discount details will automatically be sent to re-engage the user.
At MobileBeat 2016, Dashbot unveiled a new feature called “Live Human Interjection” that allows bot publishers to fix a bot-botched conversation before it goes south. If the analytics show that a user stopped responding to a question for an unusual amount of time, a human support person will get prompted to see what went wrong and correct any miscommunication. This function makes sure that, while developers continue working to make AI smarter, bot publishers can minimize any damage that an errant bot can do to customer relationships.
Launched six weeks ago, Dashbot said it has about 130 customers, ranging from startups to large enterprises. The company is working out its monetization strategy and currently fundraising for the $1.5 million seed money it needs to attract enterprise clients that have deep enough pockets to pay for premium analytics services.
All three of Dashbot’s co-founders — CEO Arte Merritt, CTO Jesse Hull, and CPO Dennis Yang — have previously built successful startups. Merritt, for instance, founded the mobile analytics platform Motally, which he led through its successful acquisition by Nokia; Hull co-founded MesmoTV, a Facebook game portal that was later acquired by GSN (Game Show Network); and Yang co-founded Bureau of Trade, an online marketplace for men that was sold to eBay in 2013. The experience they’ve had launching and scaling startups from the ground up will definitely help the team navigate the path forward.