Restaurant Voice AI Startup Kea Raises $10M
Restaurant voice AI service startup Kea has closed a $10 million funding round led by Marbruck. The startup offers an artificial intelligence platform capable of handling standard restaurant phone calls, backed up by human operators to limit frustration with AI limitations.
When someone calls a restaurant contracted with Kea, the automated voice assistant will pick up and engage with the customer to handle a standard order with the usual variations in language. As an example, Kea points to people calling a pizza restaurant with a custom order based on items listed on the menu. What makes Kea perform better than any other AI platform is the specificity of its focus. Because the AI is zeroed in on restaurants and food, it doesn’t have to account for the entire breadth of human language, keeping the model smaller and more efficient. To avoid problems, Kea also includes immediate transfers to a human operator upon request. Kea claims the AI saves 10 hours of labor a week on average and has led to people increasing their order size by an average of 23%. The company has already set up operations in more than 250 restaurants, including a good many pizza chains. The new capital is being funneled to expanding the startup’s footprint to 37 states and more than 1,000 restaurants by the end of next year.
“After creating the first on-demand food delivery company, Fluc, exiting to Google Shopping, and leading other startups that focused on addressing labor shortages, I decided to dedicate my career to saving the restaurant industry,” Kea CEO Adam Ahmad said in a statement. “It wasn’t until I took over 400 phone orders for one of the largest buffalo wing franchises in America that I realized the current ordering system was broken and kea was the solution.”
A growing number of restaurants have been exploring ways of using a voice AI to handle customer interactions. Drive-thrus, in particular, have jumped on the idea. Mastercard and SoundHound recently started a project to have a voice assistant take drive-thru orders and process payments, starting with White Castle and Sonic. There’s also Colorado-based Valyant AI, which has incorporated its own voice assistant into Denver’s Good Times Burgers & Frozen Custard last year. The biggest name in drive-thrus, McDonald’s, even acquired voice tech startup Apprente specifically to help develop voice assistant-powered drive-thrus like the ones it started testing in Illinois. The ongoing COVID-19 health crisis has also served to boost interest in the concept due to limited in-person restaurant attendance. That’s why digital agency RAIN built a chatbot that makes it easier for small businesses to offer curbside service to customers earlier this year named Curbie. The chatbot, connects customers to businesses after they place an order arranging the pick-up without a human being involved at all. More direct competition for Kea might be ConverseNow, which raised $3.25 million of its own in May. The Austin-based startup provides a voice AI platform for fast-food restaurants to automate contactless interactions.