Expert-Trained Chatbot Startup Directly Adds $11M to Funding Round
Enterprise chatbot developer Directly has raised $11 million as a second extension to a $51 million Series B funding round. The round began with $20 million in 2018, then added another $20 million in January this year. The new investment arrives as the startup is launching a way for its clients to integrate its artificial intelligence tech into their systems.
Directly provides an AI platform for customer service chatbots trained by subject matter experts on various topics. The startup locates and connects with the relevant experts, and gathers information from them, usually in a question-and-answer format, to train the AI to be more accurate and efficient. Each chatbot is trained by anywhere from 100 to 1,000 experts depending on their needs.
Once the chatbot is trained, Directly can connect the AI to platforms like Google’s Dialogflow, Microsoft’s Bot Framework, as well as some messaging apps. When the chatbot can’t answer a question, it can even reach out to one of the training experts for a live answer. The thousands of experts used by Directly are paid for answering the questions, as well as whenever their answers are used by the AI. The experts earn $200 a week on average from the company using their insights, although the most frequently cited experts can rake in up to $5,000 a week after Directly takes its 30% cut.
The startup has also now made it easier to merge its expert network with other customer service platforms. APIs designed by Directly can hook the startup’s services to those platforms, starting with Meya, Percept.ai, and SmartAction.Interest in applying AI-powered chatbots and voice assistants to customer service is on the rise. The current COVID-19 health crisis has boosted it even more as companies look for ways to communicate with customers at a time when their human support staff may be limited, but a static document may not be enough to answer every relevant question.
The results span from Inference Solutions’ virtual agents that can answer coronavirus-related inquiries on behalf of a business to an Estonian government chatbot to handle queries from citizens as the public health situation changes. That potential for expanding Directly’s clientele is likely what drew Triangle Peak Partners and Toba Capital to join previous investors Samsung NEXT, Industry Ventures, Microsoft’s M12 Ventures, True Ventures, Costanoa Ventures and Northgate in upping Directly’s Series B funding round to $31 million, nearly half of the approximately $66 million raised by Directly overall.
“At its core, our business is about helping customer support leaders resolve customer issues with the right mix of automation and human support,” Directly CEO Mike de la Cruz said in a statement. “It’s one thing to deliver a great product today, but we’re committed to ensuring that our customers have the solutions they need over the long term. That means constantly investing in our platform and expanding our capabilities, so that we can keep up with the rapid pace of technological change and an unpredictable economic landscape. These new partnerships and this latest expansion of our recent funding round have positioned us to do just that. We’re excited to be collaborating with our new partners, and very thankful to all of our investors for their support.”