GoButler, the messaging-based digital personal assistant that combines AI with human assistants to let you request anything on-demand, has exited the German market, where the startup first launched after being founded by ex-Rocket Internet employees.
Since then the company has relocated to New York and expanded to the U.S., so in a way the move makes a certain amount of sense, even if it was unexpected.
More surprising, too, is that two of GoButler’s three founders have left the company, as first reported by Gründerszene (in German). Maximilian Deilmann and Jens Urbaniak will remain shareholders in the startup, however, and will also continue to advise the company.
In a statement confirming the “pausing” of German operations, Navid Hadzaad, CEO and Founder of GoButler, says: “In the coming months, GoButler’s attention will be shifting 100% to focus on the U.S. market, investing all resources into building and advancing our product and technology. In doing so, we have decided to pause operations in Germany to focus and invest in the U.S. market for 2016.”
He also confirmed that the startup is saying “goodbye” to co-founders Deilmann and Urbaniak, who he says will be taking the year off from GoButler to explore new opportunities. “We are very proud of what we have built and achieved together, and I thank Max and Jens for their outstanding work,” he adds.
I also understand that the two essentially ran operations in Germany/Europe so their departure might be seen purely as a consequence of the strategic decision to focus on the U.S., at least for the foreseeable future.
Whilst it would also be easy to view GoButler’s German withdrawal as a slimming down in operations, my understanding is that this isn’t the case.
Rather, with a growing U.S.-based tech and product team that has seen it make a number of impressive key hires from Silicon Valley, and with large American cities like New York presenting a much larger market and one that is already becoming accustomed to the on-demand economy, this is part of a broader strategy.
The company is working hard to develop the NLP/AI side of its offering so that it can automate more requests and/or hand them over to humans in a much more structured way. Recent hires include folk from Apple, Yahoo!, Zendesk and Google.
One hire in particular that stands out in this regard is Mohammed Abdoolcarim who is GoButler’s Senior Product Manager, Platforms, and previously worked on Siri and Google Desktop.
Focusing on the U.S. is perhaps also a recognition of the likes of Facebook entering the digital messaging-driven assistant game with its product ‘M’. The other two most direct competitors are Magic, which appears to be pivoting slightly with a more premium service, and Operator.
It’s also worth noting that GoButler’s most recent investors are U.S.-based, with its $8 million Series A round led by General Catalyst Partners. So, again, the plan was always to bed down across the pond.
(And just today the startup announced that Jared Leto, the American actor, singer, songwriter, and director became an investor.)
With that said, the change in strategy is just about as un-Rocket Internet as it gets. The German ‘startup factory’ and e-commerce behemoth typically copies proven business models and expands rapidly anywhere but the U.S. — kinda ironic given Hadzaad and his co-founders started GoButler whilst still Rocket employees and at first appeared to be doing just that.