French teenager Mathis André had been tinkering around building websites when he dropped out of school at the age of 16 before eventually becoming interested in bots, the software which has exhibited a lot of promise in areas like customer service and e-commerce.
André, who is now 17 and living in Brussels, is the co-founder of Faqbot, which is developing chatbots that are trying to get rid of traditional 'frequently asked questions' (FAQ) pages.
“We take an existing FAQ on the website, and then we import and create a conversational agent from the FAQ,” said André.
“FAQs are very long to read, so we tried to provide the answers to questions of the FAQ in a chatbot, but it’s very hard work because we need to be accurate and machine learning is not very good at the moment [for this problem].”
Chatbots were the flavour of the month a few years ago, with startups touting the benefits that the software will have on functions like customer service. While on the surface some of that buzz has died down, the market is still tipped to grow over the next five years, according to research firm ReportLinker. Investment in chatbot-related startups remains steady as well. UK fintech startup Cleo, a chatbot for helping to manage your finances, raised £2 million in July and French payments giant Ingenico recently backed e-commerce chatbot startup JoinedApp.
As a result, the market for chatbots is regularly changing and so Faqbot is a constantly evolving its software because FAQs are only so good. If a user asks a question that the FAQ is unfamiliar with, it will create a ticket, add it to a database to generate answers for the future.
It’s an extremely simple yet effective idea and André has plans for Faqbot far beyond this but it took some trial and error just to get this far.
André first toyed with chatbots after he met his Faqbot cofounder Denny Wong at a TedX conference a few years ago. The two first started developing a bot for a website builder.
“This project failed, sadly, but it was my first experience with the chatbot world,” he said.
The spark from this idea led him to creating a bot in September 2016 for Tablebooker, a restaurant table booking app that was acquired by Resto Group. The bot integrated with Facebook Messenger and allowed users to book a restaurant table or ask a customer service question via the Tablebooker API in real time.
“After this chatbot was created I said I want to solve a real problem and start my own chatbot company,” he said. “I talked with a big company to sell them a chatbot in December last year.”
While this big company, that André could not name, never moved on his offer, the 17-year-old decided to develop his own bot from scratch, creating the company that would become Faqbot.
He and Wong spent three months building an MVP for Faqbot. The bare-bones version of the product was first only available offline, but the nascent company managed to sell the software to about ten companies to get some cash in.
“We needed to make some cash before raising money so we prospected some companies and sold about 10 chatbots.”
The early months of the Faqbot journey have informed the young entrepreneur on how best to evolve his original idea to keep up with ever-changing use cases.
Now André is developing version two of the bot that will be fully online and is playing around with different features. Visadesk, a division of Belgian delivery business ASX-IBECO, which provides visa application services, is deploying Faqbot for answering questions about visa applications and documentation.
E-commerce is another major use case for technology, allowing users to follow up on queries with a purchase in a single chat. Several big-name brands have been developing e-commerce bots for apps like Facebook Messenger and Kik.
Faqbot is catching up too, by developing a feature for carrying out sales through its bot. It has already deployed the first use of this bot feature with Belgian app maker Formyfit.
The startup has raised some money so far – €125,000, a small amount in the bigger picture – and André claims the startup has no immediate plans to raise a seed round but admits that this will likely happen eventually. For now, the teen entrepreneur is focused on refining the product.