Chatbots are a major trend in tech today. Facebook Messenger has more than 30,000 bots; Kik has 20,000 — but how many of those are actually useful?
Nobody can go through that many bots individually, but it is certain that few early players in the “chatbot rush” have taken off in a major way. Sensay, one contestant at the TechCrunch Disrupt SF Battlefield, is aiming to be that first breakout cross-platform chatbot — but, unlike most that provide services and information at a convenience via chat, its currency is people.
Founders Ariel Jalali (CEO) and Crystal Rose (CMO) told TechCrunch that the premise of the service is to connect people by sharing knowledge, information and experiences.
Sensay is available via SMS and a wide range of messaging apps — Skype Kik, Telegram, Messenger, WeChat and LINE — and the bot acts as a middleman to finding people who can offer you specific advice. That might be as diverse as finding a good Italian restaurant in the Bay Area, seeking help building a mobile app or getting a random person’s opinion on the romantic dinner plans you’re cooking up for your partner.
The service dishes out virtual coins based on the perceived quality of interactions, with the person receiving information able to “tip” their Sensay to encourage goodwill and reward quality. Users can also specify their areas of expertise and become a “Sensay” in those areas, helping others with their areas of interest and requests.
The Sensay bot is powered by AI, which Jalali said means it is always learning about both its users and their responses. That’s to say that, if there are five people ready to answer my query about sneakers, it’ll try to identify the person who is best suited to me. In instances where a quality dialogue has occurred or good advice has been dished out, the AI doesn’t can responses for reuse, but it does learn from them, he added.
Rose said the service has more than 1.5 million registered users, with around one-third active on a monthly basis and one-tenth on a daily basis. That’s impressive engagement for messaging, which, as we’ve noted before, is a challenging medium to measure.
Sensay launched in May 2015 and has raised a total of $6 million, including a $4.5 million seed in August of last year. The company isn’t looking to monetize its service right now, but Rose explained that once it reaches a “critical mass of users” it may introduce real-world currencies alongside Sensay coins.
Jalali revealed that around half of all conversations on the service include “monetizatible” content, such as discount codes or affiliate marketing, so he’s confident that the company can hook into that, in addition to other revenue streams, when it judges the time is right.