Niki.ai is an artificial intelligence firm founded by four friends from IIT Kharagpur- Sachin Jaiswal, Nitin Babel, Shishir Modi and Keshav Prawasi. The startup is bringing conversational commerce to a wide range of services like travel, recharge, utility bill payments and food ordering.
Founded in March 2015 and funded by industry heavyweights like Ratan Tata and Ronnie Screwvala, the startup has witnessed blistering growth.
In an interview with ETCIO.COM, Sachin Jaiswal, CEO, Niki.ai explains how Niki offers a better customer experience and the ways in which companies can leverage it to enable conversational commerce.
I thought we could begin with a little bit of history for our readers who may not know Niki.ai. Could you tell us how you and your co-founders came up with the idea for Niki.ai? What was the rationale behind the startup and what did you set out to do?
Niki.ai is a Bangalore -based startup that uses AI to provide conversational commerce across a wide range categories that include utility bills (with100+ operators), recharges, travel services such as cabs, buses and hotel bookings, entertainment services like events and movie ticket bookings, food ordering and home services.
From a user standpoint, we saw that there were different use cases that we could address. Buying and selling of a product of service were one such use case and we thought that we could do a good job of it. So in 2015, we started with this particular use case of selling a recharge plan to the user. And we spent roughly six months in building a conversational engine for the recharge plan. Once it received a favourable response we started multiplying our services. We realized that we could do a better job of addressing user queries.
We founded the company because we realized that most of the web and app interfaces though they were good they were not the most natural form of consuming a product or service. We thought we could build an engine to drive one- to- one sale at scale.
Typically, there are a lot of elements to a sales process. One of the important elements is personalization. If the sales process is personalized the probability of conversion is also higher and customer delight is enhanced.
So in May 2015, we started with the use case of selling a recharge plan to the user. We spent roughly six months in building a conversational engine for the recharge plan. The product had initially been in beta for seven months, and the team has focussed on building and enhancing the product while working closely with a limited set of beta users. At that stage, users could book and pay for cabs and perform mobile recharges through the chat interface.
Now, of course, we have added a lot more categories, with much more in the pipeline. As a product, we have gone beyond search having built a dialogue manager, which remembers the context of the conversation to engage in a dialogue with the users and helps them get things done. It eliminates the need for several other e-commerce apps to be downloaded on the phone.
I want to drill into the value proposition that Niki. ai offers its customers? What is the problem it solves?
The value proposition of Niki.ai is that we are offering our partners a fully integrated services marketplace where Niki as a chatbot that can sell you any product or service. Niki is a salesgirl that can talk to you, understand your requirements and drive one- to- one sale at scale. As a conversational commerce bot, Niki does a great job for specific use cases and almost feels like a human-human interaction. It facilitates commerce and banking transactions without getting out of the chat window.
Niki helps you cut down on the cost. It makes your brand ubiquitous because the bot is available 24×7.
Today, a bank will lose out on the opportunity to cross-sell and upsell to its customers if it doesn’t have a service marketplace. If the bank knows that a customer has money in his bank account and if he spends on a particular item like clothing or gadgets then the bank can suggest the customer what he can buy it through our integrated services marketplace.
PayTM is handling the services marketplace pretty well and that’s one of the biggest threats to the banks. With Niki, we have built the service marketplace and are offering it to the banks and e-commerce services companies. So we are able to build their marketplace and create a level playing field for banks to compete against wallet companies.
That’s a perfect segue into my next question. Are there any big customers that have committed to using your chatbot?
Absolutely. Niki has been leveraged for HDFC BankOnChat, Chat & Pay with Oxigen Wallet, Intex LFTY with leading OEM Intex, bus booking service platform Ticketgoose and home rental service provider Coho. We enable 50 million human-machine interactions on the platform.
After HDFC Bank we have partnered with a lot of banks offering the same integrated services marketplace. I can’t name them until the integration happens but suffice to say we count some of the top private sector banks.
Anyone who wants to use our conversational engine can simply integrate our SDK(Software Defined Kit). Niki now has 300,000 users.
The highest growth that we are observing is through the SDK. A lot of banks and wallet companies are adopting it. 82.5 percent of our growth is through word of mouth. 15 percent of our customers are acquired through the organic growth.
We are seeing a 35 percent month-on-month revenue growth, through our current network of about 50+ partners and 300,000 customers. We generate revenue through a channel partnership model with different service providers. We charge our customers a percentage of the transactions as the commission.
Let’s talk about the technologies that go into making Niki?
Niki is completely automated. We leverage Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning to converse with customers over a simple chat interface, and place orders on their behalf in seconds with partner businesses.
Niki understands what a user types and learns about a user’s habits over a period of time. For instance, she can identify if a request for an Airxel prepaid recharge was in fact for Airtel or Aircel by learning from previous transactions.
We leverage NLP and ML technologies on the back end to make the conversation on the front end look seamless and appear like a human-to-human interaction. Niki is able to retain context from an ongoing conversation and keep up with the conversation even in the case of small typos or short-form words.
Niki provides a plug and plays technology that can be easily integrated on different platforms including operating systems, on messaging platforms like messenger, and on the brand’s applications.
What does the roadmap look like 1-2 years down the line? What would you like to achieve with Niki?
Bots will replace apps in the next 5 years So we want to ride high on the AI wave. We want to make AI accessible to everyone. The aim is to take e-commerce to people in deeper geographies that have connectivity issues and people are loathed to download many apps due to bandwidth constraints and limited usage of the smartphone.
Niki eventually will be powered with voice capabilities and be accessible also via calls and text messages. And genie will have a high-tech Niki to compete with.
We want to become a smart marketplace for everything.
What is your advice to companies who want to build a chatbot?
A chatbot is not like a general app or web development. It requires continuous improvement. A bot that can understand everything cannot be built on day one.
Most companies do not understand that chatbots are not like conventional web and app development. Companies that want to get it first time right will continue to be disappointed with the results.
If you don’t work on it recursively, bots won’t show the expected results. You have to be patient. Companies have to understand that it is a recursive process.