- AI Rudder offers AI voice assistants with the aim of replacing or supplementing human call agents.
- The Singapore-based startup said the technology can support Southeast Asia’s digital economic boom.
- Here’s an exclusive look at the deck it used to raise funds from Tiger Global, Coatue, and Sequoia.
Singapore-based startup AI Rudder has raised a $50 million Series B funding round with the aim of supplementing human customer service agents with artificial intelligence-powered assistants.
Founded in 2019, AI Rudder’s AI tech aims to process and understand the human language, known as natural language processing. Its software is aimed at call centers can use to automate handling of certain types of customer requests, cofounder Kun Wu told Insider.
Southeast Asia’s digital economy is booming. It’s expected to be worth $1 trillion by 2030, up from only $174 billion last year, according to a November report by Google, Bain, and Singapore’s Temasek Holdings. Some 60 million new users adopted digital services during the pandemic, bringing the total number of internet users in the region to 440 million, the report added.
At the same time, lockdowns empitied out call centers, MIT Technology Review reported.
All this means that firms, including online retailers, may be ill-equipped to handle the deluge of customer requests, said Wu.
“A lot of such emerging businesses have a very large customer base to serve, and the traditional model of call centers would not be able to cope with such a large customer base,” he said.
Wu said he met cofounder Teng Ren while working at New York-listed Chinese mobile internet company CooTek, where he worked for almost a decade.
Seeing an opportunity in voice and language processing, they decided to explore setting up an artificial intelligence startup that sells software as a service, said Wu.
Wu and Ren were attracted by Southeast Asia’s big consumer population and the wide variety of languages, and visited Indonesia in mid 2019 to understand the market better, Wu said.
Over a week, the cofounders saw how users flocked to the platforms like Shopee, Tokopedia, Traveloka, GoJek, and Grab for their food delivery, online retail, and ride-hailing services, said Wu. The entrepreneurs also saw how the myriad of accents and dialects in Indonesia could make it hard for these companies to provide the same level of service to their customers, he added.
Wu and Ren then started working on a prototype software that could speak to consumers “just like a live agent in a call center,” said Wu. The pair received $1 million as seed funding at the beginning of 2020. Ren would then become AI Rudder’s CEO, while Wu became managing director.
The startup says it has around 160 employees, supports more than 15 languages, and has more than 200 clients, said Wu. Most of its clients are financial institutions, with others in online retail, logistics, and marketing, I added.
AI Rudder closed its $50 million Series B round in March. Aside from the lead investors, other new participants included Cathay Innovation, First Plus and VenturesLab. Existing investors Sequoia Capital India and Huashan Capital also took part.
The startup plans to enhance the technologies that underpin its software, and add more languages to its database, said Wu. Funds will also support the company’s expansion into Asia Pacific, with future plans to enter Europe and North America, I added.
The company will also focus on engineering so that it can introduce its algorithm to new platforms. Currently, AI Rudder runs its chat bots on telephone calls, websites, and other social media sites, said Wu. Adding new channels such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger should offer clients more options in which they can communicate with clients, he said.
One stakeholder that AI Rudder might have to win over are the live agents themselves. They’ve long been fearful of their jobs being entirely replaced by artificial intelligence, with a New York-based venture capital firm saying automation could cause half of the outsourced call center jobs to disappear, according to a 2017 Bloomberg report.
It needs not to be a zero-sum game, as companies can assign artificial intelligence and chatbots more mundane tasks at call centers, leaving live agents with more meaningful work, Wu said.
Check out below the pitch deck that AI Rudder used to raise $50 million for its AI-powered voice assistant algorithm: