AI Rudder’s $50 million Series B from Sequoia, Tiger

  • AI Rudder offers AI voice assistants with the aim of replacing or complementing human call agents.
  • The Singapore-based startup said the technology can support Southeast Asia’s digital economic boom.
  • Here’s an exclusive look at the deck he used to raise funds for Tiger Global, Coatue, and Sequoia.

Singapore-based startup AI Rudder has raised a $50 million Series B funding round with the aim of supplementing human customer service agents with AI-powered assistants.

Founded in 2019, AI Rudder’s artificial intelligence technology aims to process and understand human language, known as natural language processing. Its software is aimed at call centers and can be used to automate the handling of certain types of customer requests, co-founder Kun Wu told Insider.

The digital economy of Southeast Asia is booming. It is expected to be worth $1 trillion by 2030, up from just $174 billion last year, according to a November report from Google, Bain and Singapore’s Temasek Holdings. Some 60 million new users adopted digital services during the pandemic, bringing the total number of internet users in the region to 440 million, the report added.

At the same time, the lockdowns emptied call centers, the MIT Technology Review reported.

All of this means that businesses, including online retailers, may be ill-equipped to handle the flood of customer requests, Wu said.

“Many of these emerging businesses have a very large customer base to serve, and the traditional call center model couldn’t handle such a large customer base,” he said.

Wu said he met co-founder Teng Ren while working at New York-listed Chinese mobile internet company CooTek, where he worked for nearly a decade.

Seeing an opportunity in speech and language processing, they decided to explore creating an AI startup selling software as a service, Wu said.

Wu and Ren were attracted by Southeast Asia’s large consumer population and wide variety of languages, and visited Indonesia in mid-2019 to better understand the market, Wu said.

For a week, the co-founders saw users flock to platforms like Shopee, Tokopedia, Traveloka, GoJek and Grab for their food delivery, online retail and ride-sharing services, Wu said. Entrepreneurs also saw how the large number of accents and dialects in Indonesia could make it difficult for these companies to provide the same level of service to their customers, he added.

Wu and Ren then began working on a software prototype that could talk to consumers “like a live agent in a call center,” Wu said. The pair received $1 million in seed money in early 2020. Ren would become the CEO of AI Rudder, while Wu would become CEO.

The startup says it has about 160 employees, supports more than 15 languages ​​and has more than 200 customers, Wu said. Most of its clients are financial institutions, with others in online retail, logistics and marketing, he added.

AI Rudder closed its $50 million Series B round in March. In addition to the major investors, other new entrants included Cathay Innovation, First Plus and VenturesLab. Existing investors Sequoia Capital India and Huashan Capital also participated.

The startup plans to improve the technologies underpinning its software and add more languages ​​to its database, Wu said. The funds will also support the company’s expansion in Asia Pacific, with future plans to enter Europe and North America, he added.

The company will also focus on engineering to be able to introduce its algorithm on new platforms. AI Rudder currently runs its chat bots on phone calls, websites and other social media sites, Wu said. Adding new channels like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger should give customers more options where they can communicate with customers, she said.

One stakeholder AI Rudder might have to win over is the live agents themselves. They long feared their jobs would be replaced entirely by artificial intelligence, with a New York-based venture capital firm saying automation could make half of outsourced call center jobs disappear, according to a report. from Bloomberg 2017.

It doesn’t need to be a zero-sum game, as companies can assign artificial intelligence and chatbots to more mundane tasks in call centers, leaving live agents with more meaningful work, Wu said.

Take a look below at the pitch deck AI Rudder used to raise $50 million for its AI-powered voice assistant algorithm:

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