The chatbot startup that has the Fortune 500 listening

Fortune 500 companies are tapping the digital design expertise of startup Conversable for virtual digital assistant software to help consumers find information and complete transactions.

The chatbot startup that has the Fortune 500 listening
Thinkstock

Become An Insider

Sign up now and get FREE access to hundreds of Insider articles, guides, reviews, interviews, blogs, and other premium content. Learn more.

Chatbots are fast becoming a go-to technology for digital transformations. Industries ranging from airlines to fast-food-chains and financial services are redefining services with help from chatbots, which automate service-related tasks by approximating human speech. And it's a win-win strategy, as chatbots free up employees to pursue higher-value functions and enable consumers to help themselves to relevant information, Q&A style.

But not every company is using virtual digital assistants (VDAs) yet. For many, the technical implementation remains an important question. Building a bot in-house often isn't an option because every business is unique, so there are no ready-made templates to follow. Moreover, talent is scarce. Few companies can hire the requisite natural language processing and machine learning technologies that endow the software with human qualities.

That challenge has created a gap that Conversable, a startup out of Austin, Texas, is working feverishly to fill. Founded by CEO Ben Lamm and Chief Product Officer Andrew Busey, Conversable creates the conversational messaging middleware that helps companies build chatbots — or as Lamm calls it, the "glue" and "brains" that enable chatbots to retrieve information from the databases that house it. "We think of the bot as the delivery mechanism between the consumer and our back-end engine," Lamm tells CIO.com.

[ Find out what makes a great chatbot (hint: laser focus on customers). | Get an inside look at 13 real-world digital transformations at today's leading organizations and find out why companies struggle to cultivate digital strategies. | Get weekly insights by signing up for our CIO Leader newsletter. ]

Chatbot market heating up

Conversable is playing in a small though potentially lucrative market. Google, Facebook and several other Silicon Valley powers view VDAs as crucial to their businesses. Microsoft, despite a disastrous foray into chatbots that devolved into racism, is soldiering on with bot-building cloud services, like Azure Bot Services. Other startups, including Converse.AI and Assist, are vying for a piece of the chatbot pie. Market researcher Tractica forecasts that unique active consumer VDA users will grow from 390 million in 2015 to 1.8 billion worldwide by the end of 2021. During the same period, unique active enterprise VDA users will rise from 155 million in 2015 to 843 million by 2021. Clearly, there is money to be made here.

To continue reading this article register now

SUBSCRIBE! Get the best of CIO delivered to your email inbox.