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Guestfriend automates chatbot creation for restaurants

While chatbots might sound like an interesting experiment for restaurants and other small businesses, they probably can’t devote much time or money to building them. So a startup called Guestfriend is planning to make the process as fast and easy as possible.

The company has raised $5 million in seed funding from Primary Venture Partners, Techstars Ventures and betaworks. It’s led by Bo Peabody, a venture partner and entrepreneur in residence at Greycroft who also co-owns the Mezze Restaurant Group. Peabody compared the current moment to the year 2000, when “every small business woke up and said, ‘I need a website.’”

“That moment is coming for chatbots,” he predicted.

But rather than asking a restaurant owner or employee to go online and design the conversational flow of a chatbot themselves, Guestfriend can automatically create a chatbot based on information that’s already online — hours, menu, support for dietary restrictions and so on. In that sense, Peabody said, “It’s really just a website that you talk to.”

“The ah-ha moment was when I realized that building a bot for my restaurant was virtually impossible to do as a one-off, but all of the answers to almost any question are available online, mostly in structured APIs,” he said.

GuestFriend

Peabody suggested that the real challenge was building natural language technology that could support the range of questions that someone might ask — for example, all the different ways that people might ask about the dress code. That’s one reason why it was important to target a specific industry, though he eventually plans to expand into home services, retail, spas/salons/exercise and hotels. (“It’s really the Yelp verticals.”)

Guestfriend chatbots work across platforms, including SMS, Facebook, Twitter and Google search results (via Google My Business), with plans to support speech platforms like Amazon Alexa and Google Home.

The company is actually building these chatbots without waiting for restaurants to sign up. (You can try them out on the Guestfriend website.) The idea is that publishers with restaurant listings can also incorporate them as a new way to interact with their sites.

At the same time, restaurants can come in and claim their chatbots, which will be updated accordingly everywhere that they’re available. The restaurant can then be as hands-on or as hands-off as they want.

I brought up the fact that I often visit restaurants’ Facebook Pages in the hopes of answering more timely questions, like whether or not a restaurant is staying open despite bad weather or a holiday. Peabody suggested that as with social media or a website, the up-to-dateness of the information will depend on the restaurant — some of them might want to update every day with things like daily specials. For others, a completely automated approach might be the most appealing.

Resy rolls out a new suite of tools for restaurants

Resy launched in the summer of 2014 with a simple premise: If you want a premium reservation at a restaurant on short notice, you should be able to pay for it. Four years and 160 markets later, Resy has changed a lot since then.

But today, the company is about to change things up even more.

This morning, Resy has announced a brand new suite of tools for restaurants, including a new inventory management system called ResyFly.

As it stands now, restaurants have two options when it comes to inventory management for their reservations. They can choose a slot system, where diners are seated at 6pm, 8pm and 10pm, or they can opt for a flex system, where they take reservations as they’re called in and build the night’s reservations based off what comes in first.

Unfortunately, most restaurants have to choose between these two systems, as there are no inventory management systems that offer the ability to do both, according to Resy.

ResyFly uses Resy’s troves of data to determine the best way for restaurants to eliminate gaps in their inventory throughout a given night, taking into account things like date, time, weather and even the average time spent eating at a given restaurant. The tool gives restaurants the ability to schedule different floor plans, reservation grids and hours of operation for special days like Valentine’s Day.

Alongside ResyFly, the company is also introducing Business Intelligence, a window into important information like KPIs, revenue and ratings with third-party information from platforms like Foursquare layered in and integrated with POS software providers to offer real-time revenue reporting.

But sometimes you want direct feedback from the customer. To that end, Resy is launching Resy Surveys, which gives a restaurant the opportunity to send a custom survey to customers about their experience. Resy is also integrating with Upserve, giving Resy’s restaurant partners insights into their guests’ preferences and favorite dishes, as well as info on dining companions, frequency of bookings and historical spend.

And while Resy is focused on refining the product, the company is also focused on growth. That’s why Resy has announced the launch of Resy Global Service, which lets Resy distribute inventory to partners like Airbnb. (It’s worth noting that Airbnb led Resy’s $13 million funding round in 2017.)

Finally, Resy is working on a new membership loyalty program called Resy Select, which will launch at the end of the month. Resy Select is an invite-only program that gives restaurants insights into Resy’s hungriest users, and gives those users benefits such as exclusive booking windows, priority waitlist, early access tickets to events and other exclusive experiences like meeting the chef or touring the kitchen.

Resy books more than 1 million reservations on the platform each week. The company no longer charges users for reservations, but rather charges restaurants by feature, instead of cover, with three tiers ranging from $189/month to $899/month. That said, the company is not yet self-serve on the restaurant side, but founder and CEO Ben Leventhal said the team is thinking about introducing it in the future.

“The key challenge and key opportunity is to do everything we can to make the right choices about what we build and the order we build it in,” said Leventhal. “Our goal is to stay focused on restaurants, as a significant amount of the tech we build is built in conjunction with our restaurant partners.”

Drift raises $60 million to be an Amazon for businesses

When you’re raising venture capital, it helps if you’ve had “exits.” In other words, if your company has been acquired or you’ve taken one public, investors are more inclined to take a bet on anything you do.

Boston -based serial entrepreneur David Cancel has sold not just one, but four companies.  And after a few years running product for HubSpot, he’s in the midst of building number five.

That startup, Drift, managed to raise $47 million in its first three years. Now it’s announcing another $60 million led by Sequoia Capital, with participation from existing investors CRV and General Catalyst. The valuation is undisclosed.

So what is Drift? It’s “changing the way businesses buy from businesses,” said Cancel. He wants to eventually build an alternative to Amazon to make it easier for companies to make large orders.

Currently, Drift subscribers can use chatbots to help turn web visits into sales. It has 100,000 clients including Zenefits, MongoDB, Zuora and AdRoll.

Drift “turns those conversations into customers,” Cancel explained. He said that technology is comparable to what is commonly used for customer service. It’s the “same messaging that was used for support, but used in the sales context.”

In the long-run, Cancel says he hopes Drift will expand its offerings to compete with Salesforce.

The company wouldn’t disclose revenue, but says it is ten times better compared to whatever it was in the past year. And it’s on track to grow another five times this year. This, of course, means little without hard numbers.

Yet we’re told that the new round means that Drift will have $90 million in the bank. It plans to use some of the funding to make acquisitions in voice and video technology. Drift also plans to expand its teams in both Boston and San Francisco, with new offices for both. The company presently has 130 employees.

 

Node snags two top AI researchers to advance AI-fueled search tool

Node, an AI-driven search tool designed to surface the information that matters most to you, announced today that it was bringing on a couple of AI research heavy hitters. It also announced $5 million in additional funding.

For starters, the company hired Louis Monier, one of the founders of early internet search engine, Alta Vista, and most recently the Head of the AI Lab at Airbnb. Monier will join the startup as Chief Scientist.

The company also brought on Jeffrey Johnson as Chief Technology Officer in January. Johnson has almost 20 years of executive experience and has has over three decades of experience working on large-scale artificial intelligence systems, according to the company.

The new money comes from Recruit Strategic Partners (RSP), WndrCo, David Brewer of Aragon Capital (former founder of search engine Inktomi), Linnea Roberts of GingerBread Capital, Falmouth Ventures, and Marc Weiss of Open Field Capital.

Node CEO Falon Fatemi says the new talent isn’t simply for show. The company has brought them onboard to help advance its AI-powered discovery engine, which according to Fatemi, helps surface the relevant people you should be partnering with today.

“Fundamentally what we are talking about when we say we are ushering next generation search is an AI brain that understands the interconnections [between people and things] and surfaces personalized recommendations,” she said.

She says the use case of connecting people you should know is just a starting point for the search engine, but one that’s generated $200 million in revenue. Over time, they want to expand beyond that and use the technology to help discover other relevant data inside an organization and on the web. The two new hires should help.

“We think with this next generation release that’s coming, we will be expanding to allow any organization to leverage Node. [The technology] can be applied in any context in a company,” she said. “It’s a new way of [taking advantage of] AI, and it’s becoming a reality. Leaving opportunities to ad hoc chance is no longer acceptable and we have a great opportunity to be that platform, giving recommendations and helping find opportunities,” Fatemi explained.

The company was founded in 2014 and has raised more than $21 million.