Vernacular.ai is a startup founded in Bangalore by Sourabh Gupta and Akshay Deshraj. With a sight to become a global voice AI company, the innovative AI-first SaaS startup raised $5.1 million in a series A funding round. This Indian startup is all geared up to expand into Southeast Asia and the US, and use the funding towards R&D to further enhance its proprietary AI-based voice automation platform.
In an exclusive interview with MediaCatalyst, Sourabh Gupta, Co-founder and CEO, Vernacular.ai dwells on the journey of the AI-first SaaS startup, its innovative products, how it is simplifying customer conversations for a post-pandemic world, the company’s strategy and expansion plans. Excerpts:
How did the journey of Vernacular.ai start?
The journey of Vernacular.ai began in freshman year of IITR, where we (Sourabh Gupta and Akshay Deshraj) got to know each other through a common campus group dedicated to promoting the culture of entrepreneurship. We coincidently both didn’t opt for a campus placement and ended up in Bangalore in June 2016 as entrepreneurs-in-residence at Kstart. It was then that we started to experiment with the idea of serving the masses and helping businesses engage better with “multi-lingual customers”, something we thought was an unsolved problem.
India is a diverse and multi-lingual country with a unique barrier of language that exists between enterprises and their customers. Whether a bank, a delivery service, a telecom provider or even a niche F&B provider, the challenge is common to them all. India has more than 1.3 billion people and only about 150 million of them can understand English. That leaves more than 1.1 billion people to whom the internet is largely inaccessible. This was a problem we were determined to solve.
With a young, entrepreneurial and energetic team who were looking to disrupt the voice domain and build a truly unique product, using new technologies that would impact people’s everyday life, and at the same time help enterprises have more meaningful interactions with their customers, we were able to take our idea to the next level. We were fortunate to put together a team that has extensive experience in the AI and automation space, and we believe that our product has solved a very critical need of the enterprise of redefining customer engagement using AI. Currently, we have deployed our product – VIVA – with customers across sectors and feel encouraged by the tremendous value that we are able to bring to our customers’ businesses every day.
Congratulations on receiving a Series A funding of $5.1 million. How do you plan to utilize it?
We had raised $5.1 million in a Series A funding round, led by Kalaari Capital and Exfinity Ventures, with participation from Angelist syndicate led by Aaryaman Vir Shah from Prophetic Ventures and LetsVenture syndicate led by Sense AI. We are planning to expand to new markets, with our next phase of growth into South-East Asia and the USA. We will also continue to invest in R&D to enhance our proprietary AI-based voice automation platform. We are also working on improving our multilingual AI platform to add more languages, including Southeast Asian languages, US English and building more speech attributes into the system.
How has the pandemic affected your business and what has been your combating strategy?
With measures kept in place like physical distancing, work from home, and contactless interactions that have become the new norm, automation and digitization have never been more in focus. We are seeing a pronounced increase in demand and new logos, both in India and overseas. With the current scenario and customer-contact center operations experiencing a prolonged disruption, enterprises have been seeing a surge in customer support queries that have created a kind of rush to adopt a product like VIVA. They have been able to reduce their dependence on human-to-human interactions, letting automation grow significantly across their contact center operations, reducing the average call handling time, and helping support their bottom lines, accruing very quick measurable results.
There are two innovative products that Vernacular.ai provides – VIVA and VASR. Do both products complement each other? Can you throw some light on these?
VIVA is our AI-based voice automation platform that helps automate 80 percent of calls handled by a call center and reduces agents’ average call handling time by 30 percent. We have clients across sectors like banking and financial sectors, food and beverage, and travel and tourism already seeing huge benefits from switching to the platform. VIVA uses innovative natural language understanding and speech recognition technology, which supports around 10 Indian languages and enables hyper-personalization of customer calls with its ability to understand the various characteristics of the speaker like accent, speech rate, age, gender, region, even dialect.
VIVA is built on top of VASR (Vernacular Automated Speech Recognition) which enables enterprises to convert audio to text by applying neural network models in an easy-to-use API. This API can recognize over 160 dialects in ten different languages to support the enterprise user base. Both products complement each other.
How will the Vernacular.ai revolutionary products enhance and transform customer experience through intelligent voice conversations?
Our product VIVA enables customer contact centers to automate speech and boost efficiencies while at the same time make customers feel comfortable while interacting with the system. VIVA is able to understand the customer’s context and intent, which helps enterprises, stay customer-centric and exercise empathy and sensitivity in their message. This becomes a game changer as you increase stickiness with the customers and reduce the average duration of the call resulting in much better customer interaction and capacity to resolve inbound queries quickly. As we expand to South-East Asia, what we are seeing is that there is no other product like VIVA, and customers recognize this too. Another very interesting use-case is in enterprises that cater to the needs of less tech-savvy customers – who find chat-bots antagonizing, by connecting them with machines and applications to resolve their problems. At the same time, voice AI helps companies in cost-effectiveness and better control cash-flow challenges.
What are your expansion plans?
We are setting our sights to become a global voice AI company and seeing great traction in markets like Southeast Asia and the U.S.A. Our expansion into these new markets will be the first of many. The strategies that we have already deployed, operating in a diverse market like India will help us in this endeavor, and propel our product adoption in newer markets. By the end of the financial year, we are expecting that 20% of our revenue will come from outside India.
Our expansion plans also include investing in R&D and that means enhancing our multilingual AI platform to add more languages and build more speech attributes in the system. We are growing aggressively in India too, like launching new updates and products, and our team – we doubled our team size in just this last quarter and continue to hire. This was the best quarter that we have seen, since we began business.