Valyant AI Raises $4M to Widen Drive-Thru Voice Assistant Access
Restaurant voice assistant developer Valyant AI has raised $4 million in a seed funding round put together by previous investors. The new money comes soon after Valyant scored a deal with Checkers & Rally’s to install its Holly conversational AI system at franchisee-owned drive-thrus and presages the startup’s ambitious plans for voice AI at quick-service restaurants.
Valyant and Checkers make Holly available to franchisees as one of many digital features provided as options by the parent company. Checkers & Rally’s contract with Valyant gives the startup exclusive licensing rights for franchisees who want a voice assistant in their drive-thru, but each individual owner then sets up their own contract with Valyant. More than a dozen franchisees have already hooked up Valyant’s hardware and software combination following a Checker’s pilot last year.
Customers pulling up to a drive-thru will be able to converse with ‘Holly’ and place their order. The voice assistant acts like a more efficient human cashier, including the ability to upsell customers and make recommendations appropriate to the time and what the customer already requested. Valyant’s deep neural network is trained on customer recordings and improves with continued use. The goal is to be more efficient than human order-takers and thereby both save the restaurant money and boost sales.
“For Checker’s, the biggest thing was the speed of service and how quickly people move from pulling up to driving away,” Valyant AI CEO Rob Carpenter told Voicebot in an interview. “Each individual franchisee can include upselling and choose what they upsell and how much they upsell. Several customers are reporting their topline revenue grew by 10% or more after [installing Valyant].”
The Colorado-based Valyant started out incorporating its voice AI into Denver’s Good Times Burgers & Frozen Custard in 2019, but Carpenter said that that contract has ended and Checker’s is the only restaurant Valyant officially works with right now. Notably, Valyant’s deal was announced only a few weeks after the restaurant chain unveiled plans for hospitality AI firm Presto to embed a drive-thru voice assistant at 267 corporate-owned locations. That makes for a very defined split in how voice AI companies get contracts. On top of normal business rivalry, there’s a layer of legal drama in this case as Valyant is suing Presto and its platform developer Hi Auto, not to mention fellow restaurant voice AI startup Kea, claiming they infringed on Valyant’s patents.
Valyant’s new money builds on the $2.5 million Valyant raised at the end of 2020, bringing Valyant’s total venture funding to $9.7 million. Carpenter estimated voice AI from both Valyant and its rivals will be incorporated into as many as 500 restaurants by January, and 5,000 when 2023 ends. The hardware is a real bottleneck, as it is essential for producing the experience restaurants are looking for from voice assistants like Holly. Restaurant interest in voice AI has risen enormously, according to Carpenter, making the supply chain issues limiting hardware access a surmountable goal.
“Luckily, we had the foresight to pre-purchase 500 [hardware setups] last year and we are working on more hardware now,” Carpenter said. “I’ve personally noticed a shift in engagement from major brands starting in early 2021. Brands are putting the time, energy, and elbow grease to make voice happen for them.”
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