Chat bots have become hotly debated in tech: they’re the future, they’re dumb, they’re convenient, they’re annoying, and so on.
Everyone has an opinion, including prominently Facebook and Microsoft, who have declared them a big part of the future, in one way or another. The idea behind chat bots is simple: instead of maneuvering complicated menus and interfaces, you text message a “bot” like you would a customer service rep, and that bot gets stuff done for you.
Many early consumer bots for platforms like Facebook Messenger have proved a bit of a disappointment. But one place that bots have already been a success is in hot work-chat program Slack, where they mainly serve to let people easily recall bits of information without opening a new program.
Your AI work assistant
Dan Reich and Scott Britton saw the work potential of bots a year ago, when they began building Troops, a startup they envision as eventually becoming your artificial intelligence assistant for work. Troops’ first product is a Slack bot that pulls CRM data from Salesforce when you give it commands. Salespeople, accounts people, and customer success people can get the information they need without logging into the Salesforce database and filling out fields. All they have to do is type commands into Slack, which many organizations are already using all day every day to communicate.
Reich, Britton, and third co-founder Greg Ratner, are veterans of the New York tech industry with multiple $100+ million exits between them. Reich formerly co-founded Spinback, which was acquired by Buddy Media, where he stayed until Buddy Media was acquired for about $800 million by Salesforce. Britton was formerly part of SinglePlatform, a startup that was acquired by Constant Contact for $100 million. Ratner was previously Director of Technology at Deep Focus. Despite their varying backgrounds, all of them are true believers in the ability of chat bots to change the industry.
“The next app stores, so to speak, will be messaging platforms,” Britton says. But he says so far the enterprise value of bots has been undersold. That’s where Troops comes in.
And Britton and Reich are already looking for ways to expand Troops’ functionality beyond Slack.
“We’ve integrated with Google and email, and we have customer information from your CRM,” Britton says. “Imagine a world where you have an assistant helping you do your job. ‘I see you had four meetings yesterday, with Nike and Coca-Cola. It’s been 48 hours and you haven’t emailed them or followed up … And a manager could set those parameters too.”
This will help both managers and sales reps, the founders say. “Managers spend half their time playing zoo keeper and babysitter, and the rep feels like an idiot for [forgetting something and] not doing their job.” With Troops, the manager just has to put in the parameters once, and the bot does the rest.
Troops, which has been in stealth mode until now, has raised $2.6 million in a seed round of financing led by First Round Capital, including angels like Square’s Gokul Rajaram, Nat Turner and Zach Weinberg of Flatiron Health, and Seamless co-founder Jason Finger.
But what’s to stop Salesforce or Slack from boxing out the young startup with its own bot?
The founders say big companies have a thousand priorities, and that there’s always something an engineer at Salesforce could be doing that would more immediately affect revenue. They also think both Slack and Salesforce will appreciate the product.
“The more people use Troops, the more they’re using Slack and Salesforce,” Britton says. “We’re happy to build on the back of giants and just keep going.”
In the pilot, Troops tested their bot with 70-80 companies, and they are now opening it up to the public (though there is still an application process). The plan is to give the product away to consumers first, and then add a premium paid tier later.
And Slack is just the beginning for Troops. The founders say porting Troops to other work-chat programs like HipChat or Facebook’s new work product is part of the grand plan.