Advances in artificial intelligence and big data are being used to tackle some of the biggest problems of our modern times, but a startup out of New York called x.ai is applying the same new tech to address some of the more mundane but no less persistent issues, too. The company, which is still in closed beta, today is announcing nearly $10 million in new funding that it will use to build out Amy (or Andrew, if you prefer) Ingram, a personal assistant that you summon by way of the cc: field on an email to help you schedule a meeting with someone else.
The aim: to cut down on the to-and-fro you often have with another person once one of you suggests a get-together, and to give everyone (not just select executives) the option to rely on a personal assistant to help them manage their time better. Once you copy in the x.ai personal assistant, she (or he) picks up the thread, finds a mutually agreeable time and place, and sets up the meeting for you, using a variety of sources of information and cues you might provide to figure out where you both are, when you are free, and what you might like to do, getting more intelligent (and faster) over time.
“We are not yet another app, web service, plugin, or extension for which I still need to do half the work whenever a meeting is to be set up,” says Dennis Mortensen, the CEO and a co-founder of x.ai (other co-founders are Alex Poon, Matt Casey and Marcos Jimenez). “We are trying to fully emulate a human assistant, so you can say: ‘Amy, please setup a meeting with John end of next week.’
“I don’t want to open an app,” he continues. “I don’t want to click available times, I don’t want to send my contacts a bunch of links, I just want Amy or Andrew to do their bloody job!”
The funding takes the total raised by x.ai to date to just over $11 million and was led by FirstMark Capital, with previous investors IA Ventures and Softbank Capital, as well as Pritzker Group Venture Capital and Crunchfund*, also participating. (X.ai raised a seed round of $2.1 million in May 2014.)
It values the company at $40 million post-money — a striking amount considering that there has yet to be a commercial product launched, but less so when you consider Mortensen’s track record. He has long been an entrepreneur in the field of big data analytics, and has had a number of exits including selling Visual Revenue to Outbrain (he was the CEO and founder); Indextools to Yahoo (he was a shareholder and COO); and Canvas Interactive to TJ Group (he was founder and CEO).
Since that seed round was raised in May 2014, Mortensen says that the wait list for the product has been extensive. In fact, one of the main reasons that x.ai secured the funding was to help scale the product.
Today, there are about 10,000 meetings scheduled every month using Amy and Andrew, and the aim is to bring that up to 1,000,000 in short order. (To that end, the company is also hiring data scientists, data engineers and backend engineers.)
The allure for investors and for x.ai seems to be for Amy/Andrew to exist as a productivity tool for enterprise users. Mortensen sees the target audience as 87 million U.S. knowledge workers who need to schedule meetings, and the product, when it is offered at a price, will be priced in a way that will focus it on earning based on economies of scale. Mortensen describes the payment model as “freemium” and at a “negligible” price. “Think a good cup of coffee,” he says.
“x.ai doesn’t try to be all things to all people,” writes Matt Turck, a partner at FirstMark who has joined x.ai’s board with this investment. “It is an AI-powered personal assistant that schedules meetings for you. Nothing more, and nothing less. If, just like me when I was an employee at Oracle and Bloomberg, you need to schedule (and reschedule) dozens of meetings and calls every week without having the luxury of a personal assistant, then x.ai is for you.”
I’d suggest, however, that there is another interesting opportunity for the startup that extends beyond business people. Think here about dating apps like Tinder, event planning platforms like Eventbrite, or even social networks like Facebook. All of these start with people convening successfully in the virtual world, but you can easily see how useful it would be to have something like x.ai integrated to help you to plan how to meet up in real life, too.
*Disclosure: TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington is a partner at Crunchfund