The bots are coming, and Quang Hoang knows it — so much so that he’s willing to bet his entire company on it. So what once started out as an app like Expensify is now Birdly, a Slack bot that makes it easier to call up customer data directly within Slack from sources like Salesforce and Zendesk.
“It was really difficult for companies to adopt [the app] because you had to relegate to another mobile app, another password to remember, another process,” Hoang said. “The second problem we had was for the manager and CFO, it was another tool to deploy, and just doing it on top of Slack is much easier because you just need two minutes and everyone can use it.”
Slack administrators log in to their accounts that they want to link to Birdly, like Stripe, Zendesk or Salesforce, and then anyone can use the bot to call up information from that account. They request info from the bot, which then returns it in-line in Slack, with an option to jump to those various services for more information.
There can be a lot of advantages to this. Instead of having to work through various applications to collaborate on accounts, they can simply be done in a Slack channel. And Slack’s obviously become a popular platform for collaboration, with the company last saying it has 2 million daily active users and 570,000 paid seats.
It’s not all that surprising a company like Birdly has emerged. There’s been a huge amount of interest in chat bots, whether on Slack or even Facebook Messenger. It’s part of a larger trend toward more conversational user interfaces, where users are requesting data in the form of natural language instead of the keyword searches that Google has effectively trained us to do.
Birdly is inevitably going to face a lot of competition. Slack has launched an app directory and is investing in services that make Slack a core part of their process. A first-mover advantage will help, but it’s easy to see a lot of other services integrating Slack into their core processes themselves, or other copycat bots emerging on the Slack platform. And, of course, it’s reliant on Slack — but that’s the risk of taking a bet on any platform.
Already, Hoang says he’s seen potential competition popping up in the space he’s working in — synchronizing data and putting it together within Slack — like a new service called Flow XO. Birdly’s play is that it’s going to be focused on natural language instead of a command-line interface, which will, in theory, make it easier to use despite the existence of other Slack bots that can bring together the same kind of data into a Slack channel.
“What we want to build is a bot you invite, you talk to it in natural language, you don’t need to build complex tools,” he said. “You don’t need to do rigid workflows, we want it to be a new assistant. That’s the main difference.”
For now, Birdly is free while it figures out what it wants to be exactly and collects information from potential customers. Birdly is part of Y Combinator’s winter 2016 class.