Botpress, a Montreal-based early stage startup, wants to make it easier for developers to build conversational-based apps, meaning humans interact with the app by speaking instead of typing, clicking or tapping. Today it announced an $8 million Series A from Decibel and Inovia Capital.
“We’re trying to bring human-level digital assistance to the masses, and we do that by giving developers the tools they need to build conversational AI applications, so essentially conversational AI. […] It’s a new way to build and consume software by using human language as a user interface instead of using traditional graphical user interfaces,” Botpress founder and CEO Sylvain Perron told me.
The company has created an open source toolkit to help developers remove some of the complexity associated with creating these applications. “Developers choose us because we provide the right tools to build conversational AI without changing the normal workflow of building software,” Perron explained.
Several years ago, Perron was trying to create a bot application and he just couldn’t find any good guidance to help him, so he decided to build a solution. He released the first version of that tool in 2017 and today he has more than 100,000 developers using the open source tool kit worldwide including a bunch of Fortune 500 companies.
Jon Sakoda who is leading the investment at Decibel says that the company is turning some of that enterprise interest into a business supporting those companies. “Today, we do have a commercial open source offering, which a lot of companies already pay for, but as I think you’ve seen in this current wave of successful open source companies, there’s always a lot of demand for a cloud product. And I think that this financing clearly allows Botpress to invest in building a turnkey cloud offering,” Sakoda says.
He says that what impresses him about Botpress is that developers can build a bot in less than an hour on a laptop, but having a cloud product will remove one more layer of complexity around deploying and scaling the bot in production.
The company, which has offices in Montreal and Quebec City (when they actually go to the office again), currently has 25 employees. The plan is to triple the team size over the next year as they put the investment to work. As they do this, Perron says that diversity and inclusion is a key goal in hiring.
“In our discussions, we want to make sure that we are a very inclusive company as we scale, especially scaling at this pace it’s very easy to […] fall into non inclusive ways, so that’s very top of mind for us, and we’re putting significant effort into making sure that we’re doing this right,” he said.
The company has been remote from its early days, and had just opened an office in Quebec City when the pandemic hit so they haven’t had much opportunity to use it. He expects to have a hybrid approach when they are allowed back in the office, but it will be up to employees whether they come in or not.