TechXpo Pitchfest winner 2019
Four tech start-ups recently took part in RCSA’s first TechXpo Pitchfest. Start-up companies with new solutions for the recruitment space had five minutes to pitch their concept to the packed room in the hope of being named the best new solution at the RCSA TechXpo and scoring a spot at this year’s RCSA conference. Attendees voted on the day and Raj Soni, founder of smartAI, was named the winner at the Australian awards. The Brief sat down with Raj recently to learn about his winning platform.
What prompted you to develop smartAI and why?
After a number of years of working in the recruitment industry and more specifically while providing HR Technology solutions, it was obvious that there were three glaring problems
The experience for both candidates and recruiters was poor and getting worse.
Friction created while exchanging information between parties during the recruitment process was excessive and the increase in HR platforms used only exacerbated this.
The vast majority of manual admin tasks performed during volume recruitment needed to be automated.
In addition to this, I could see the convergence of three key technical factors that became the kernel for our smartAI platform, what we like to call the three A’s – AI, Automation and APIs
Conversational AI really started to hit its straps with Natural Language Understanding (NLU) and Machine Learning
Automation and the adoption of RPA frameworks
Deep API integrations combined with the proliferation of SaaS HR platforms
Tell us a bit about you, what is your background?
Migrated to Australia in 1999 from India
Masters in IT from Monash University
Worked with FastTrack, a recruitment end-to-end solution provider for over 17 years and developed tech for every aspect of recruitment (front and back office).
Left FastTrack about three years ago and started my own consulting business building tech for the HR and recruitment industry.
With the emergence of AI, I saw an opportunity that would allow us to build a platform that would solve lot of problems that I had seen over the period
smartAI was born
For people who missed seeing you at Pitchfest, tell me what your platform does?
smartAI creates engaging chatbots for the HR and recruitment industry. More specifically, we use our conversational AI platform to create chatbots that are deeply integrated into an organisations existing HR tech stack. We then automate and augment their current HR workflow processes with conversation – essentially, we create a scalable virtual HR team, that’s able to ‘chat’ to a candidate on multiple channels and walk them through the company’s HR life cycle.
For example, we provide an interview bot that could help with initial screening in volume recruitment. We provide an admin bot that takes away day to day mundane task of our human workforce and let them concentrate on more value added task.
When did you first go to market?
We first went live with our MVP in April 2018
How does it feel to win RCSA’s Pitchfest 2019?
We were very humbled to win as we were up against some stiff competition. Some of the competitors already have a strong international presence and a proven solution so we were a bit surprised by our success. However, it was very reassuring to know that we are on right track.
What does this win mean for you and the company?
The win simply reinforces that the market also feels that we are on the right path and are excited about our solution. Validation is always necessary in any platform development, it keeps you in check and lets you know if you need to pivot or not. Off the back of our win, we’ve already had a large number of enquiries so this will ensure ongoing financial stability which will enable further development, having said that, we have just completed our series A funding round so we are strong in this regard.
What RCSA members are already working with your platform?
We are really pleased to be working with some of the industries more progressive recruitment agencies that can see the value in partnering with us.
Why do you feel your platform is so relevant for the sector?
The recruitment process and its relevant workflow processes are generally ‘high touch’ involving multiple platforms with human interaction required to pull it all together. Chatbots can now augment a HR team and replace a lot of that human interaction in a way that is far more appealing to the user. Available anywhere, anytime 24/7.
Chatbots, underpinned by conversation AI are the natural evolution of digital communication with voice, which is just around the corner being the obvious conclusion. We used to have to learn how to converse with computers in their language, now they have learnt ours.
So, if we now place that conversation layer (chatbot) on top a HR tech stack, we have a scalable virtual HR team.
Let’s talk data and stats, how much time does this save a firm looking after volume recruitment?
Generally, it depends on what modules the organisation has adopted and what their current recruitment processes are, but we are finding that 50% plus savings are the norm.
What industries ideally suit your platform and what industries do you hope to break into with future plans?
We are planning to remain in the HR vertical market, servicing both the recruitment and HR industry so we can capitalise on the learnings and frameworks we have developed. Geographical expansion would be the next obvious move.
What are your future plans for smartAI?
We are very fortunate to have Peter Stackpole join us as co-founder and CEO. Peter has a very unique employment history having been in the recruitment industry, built and sold his own HR tech platforms and was more recently the COO and an investor in the conversational AI platform that IBM bought to spearhead Watson. Not a bad fit for smartAI I’d say!
Peter will focus on the commercialisation of the platform which is really its second phase of development.
We have some exciting projects in the wings with two key industry leaders which will enable us to continue to develop the platform in line with our roadmap so that’s very exciting. And, there are always more platforms to integrate with so we have a very full 2019 but there is always room for more!
And lastly, as a start-up, what lessons have you learnt along the way?
Work with industry experts
Listen first and then act.
Always think of the end user experience.
Build a team of likeminded people who share your passion, vision and mission
And finally, make sure you are sufficiently funded, chasing money can be an absolute time waster and a huge distraction.
What would you do differently if you had your time again?
I wouldn’t do anything differently other than I should have started earlier.