BY Walter Hayward 3 MINUTE READ

Using cutting edge tech like Artificial Intelligence and machine learning, FinChatBot provides smart solutions to customer service. Instead of lengthy calls or a boring tête-à-tête, this startup puts chatbots as the first point of contact. With the aim of becoming the AI industry leader of the African continent and beyond, FinChatBot has astrong focus on data science and integrating the power of AI and machine learning into smart chatbots. Co-founder and CEO Antoine Paillusseauplans to grow the business exponentially, both across industries and international borders within the next five years.

Tell us more about your background. What led you to where you are today?

After completing my Master’s Degree in Entrepreneurship from EDC Paris Business School, I moved from France to South Africa to co-found TimeOne South Africa, an award-winning online marketing agency based in Cape Town. As a seasoned entrepreneur with experience in Business Strategy, Sales Management and Venture Building across both Africa and Europe, in 2016, I decided to take on more of a board advisory role in TimeOne and subsequently co-founded Far Ventures with Romain Diaz. Far Ventures is a startup incubator which fosters tech entrepreneurship in Africa by founding and growing startups that can positively impact people’s lives through technology. 

Far Ventures specialises in creating startups from scratch. We fund the first round of seed capital, recruit talented entrepreneurs to scale the business and prepare the business for its first external fundraising round. It was through Far Ventures that Romain and I co-founded and incubated Jumpin Rides, FinChatBot and accelerated Yethu. We are committed to enabling entrepreneurial talent in Africa; each venture is unique in its own right and we believe they all add significant value to South Africa. 

I took a special interest in FinChatBot, a technology solution that enables financial clients to connect with and add immediate value to its’ customers and took on the role of CEO to guide and build the business in South Africa and beyond. In just two years, FinChatBot has raised R8 million in external funding and acquired 15 top clients in the financial services industry. I am passionate about creating innovative solutions and constantly conceptualising new ways to improve FinChatBot’s offering. We currently have a team of 10 people, consisting of dynamic, highly skilled and talented developers and entrepreneurs from South Africa and Europe with experience in the South African financial industry.  

Do you think more South African businesses should integrate AI into their daily practices? 

Although AI is an extremely powerful technology that revolutionises the way we do business, we feel it is important to point out that it is still fairly new in South Africa and we are careful not to oversell the technology too soon. There is still a large gap in terms of education and policy requirements that South African businesses need to take note of before diving into how they can use AI. 

Artificial Intelligence consists of many different facets, each with unique applications. Some of the AI technologies we are looking at to improve client-facing processes via our chatbots include machine leaning, image and speech recognition, natural language processing, cyber defence, emotional recognition, biometrics, and deep learning. Technological developments happen fast, and we need to ensure we stay up-to-date and informed about their pros and cons along the way. 

How did the idea for FinChatBot come to fruition? 

We recognised that call centres are becoming increasingly inefficient, saturated and expensive, often not delivering the intended results of conversion and customer satisfaction. Following a three-month market study with a team at Far Ventures, we dedicated FinChatBot to the goal of bringing people closer to financial services with an interactive and fun experience, while enabling financial service providers to enhance customer experience and maximise business performance by saving time and money.

We bootstrapped the company for the first nine months and raised a first seed funding round of R1.6 million in November 2016 from a local business angel investor, followed by a second seed funding round of R7 million in November 2018 from Kalon Venture Partners & Mauritius-based Compass Venture Capital. 

What is the formula for successfully monetising AI software? 

Each formula is different. There definitely isn’t a one-size fits all approach for all businesses looking to monetise AI software. Our approach is based on a shared-risk model, where we enable clients the ability to integrate superior chatbot technology into their business in a relatively low-cost way and we generate income based on a percentage of commission that are closed via the chatbot. 

Our formula for success is based on establishing a long-time relationship with clients. Once we develop and launch the chatbot for their business, we go into a manage and sustain phase, whereby we monitor performance of the chatbot and consistently work to improve its performance to help our clients reach their strategic objectives.

That being said, each client is different, and the shared-risk model might not be suited to their specific needs. We work closely with our clients to understand their strategic goals and objectives and develop a payment model accordingly. 

Read more in the May 2019 issue of Fast Company SA