In news that is sure to lift the spirits of Austria’s local but burgeoning startup ecosystem, ChatGrape, the enterprise and team messaging app that pitches itself as a more ‘intelligent’ Slack or HipChat, has scored $1.3 million in a new ‘bridge’ round of funding.
The investment, which comes in the form of Convertible Notes, is being led by U.S.-based Betaworks after venture partner (and head of new product development at Facebook) Josh Miller met with the startup in Vienna in December. He obviously liked what he saw — specifically, I’m told, the team’s long-term vision to put AI at the heart of the ‘chat box’ — and decided to make ChatGrape Betaworks’ first investment in Austria.
Others joining the round include a group of seven ‘top tier’ angel investors from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, including Julian Zehetmayr (who has just done one of the youngest company exits in Austria after selling Mobfox to Matomy for $17.6m), Ingo Weber (CEO of Germany’s FAS), and AC&Friends (a Vienna-based angel fund), to name just a few.
In addition, a second part of the funding comes from The Austrian Research Promotion Agency (FFG), the national funding institution for applied research and development in Austria.
All in all, it brings ChatGrape’s funding to date to just shy of $2 million (based on today’s Euro to U.S. Dollar exchange rates), after the startup previously raised €440,000 from various unnamed angel investors and from FFG.
ChatGrape co-founder and COO Leo Fasbender tells me the new funding will be used to grow the company’s engineering team based in Vienna, with a key focus on mobile applications and experts in the fields of artificial intelligence and language processing, along with “intensifying” ChatGrape’s collaboration with the ÖFAI, The Austrian Research Institute for Artificial Intelligence.
“Furthermore, we’ll use it to increase our traction and cater to the growing demand and waiting list of our Beta users (some 1,800 companies are waiting to get in),” he adds.
Equally important, says Fasbender, the startup is putting additional resources into the task of releasing its “Index API” this March. This will make it easier for companies wanting to integrate their data into ChatGrape. Or in Fasbender’s own words:
The ChatGrape Index API will set a new standard to share and exchange information and data between cloud services and communication providers. The IndexAPI will allow other services to integrate their data into the ChatGrape Autocomplete, but it can also be used independently of ChatGrape to exchange data between cloud tools and other chat services in a deeper and more integrated way than is previously possible with existing APIs. For this, we’re teaming up with a growing number of SaaS companies of all sizes who’ll implement and promote the IndexAPI.
This, of course, fits into ChatGrape’s overall vision to make team chat software more proactive and time-saving with regards to looking up, referencing and interacting with data hosted elsewhere, such as a document, calendar entry, or code repository update.
But the bigger vision is to go a lot further than better indexing and ‘autocomplete’, by employing AI to enable ChatGrape to detect and trigger workflows automatically, based on Natural Language Processing (NLP), such as the ability to recognise dates, questions, assignments and to-dos.
So, for example, an extremely quick poll could be created by typing “@Marketing Team, should we do this new banner in green or blue?”. Or a task could be assigned by typing “@Peter, I need you to get the new homepage done by Tuesday 5pm!”, triggering the task and timestamp to be added to Wunderlist or another to-do app.
As I noted in my previous coverage of ChatGrape, this should speed things up once again, and — presuming the system is able to filter out false positives and nail the required User Interface — could make the likes of Slack et al. look long in the tooth almost overnight. All of which would be quite an achievement for a (still) moderately funded startup hailing from Europe, albeit one that is now backed by Betaworks.