American Express announced today that it has acquired Mezi, the AI-based virtual travel assistant, for an undisclosed amount. After the deal closes, Mezi will become a wholly-owned subsidiary of American Express. Its technology is already powering AskAmex, a personal concierge app for cardholders that launched its pilot program last year.
Mezi users send requests for flights, hotels and restaurant reservations through the app’s SMS-like interface. Mezi then makes suggestions and, once it figures out what users want to do, forwards requests to human assistants to finalize bookings. Founded in 2015 as a personal shopping chatbot, Mezi builds its own deep learning and natural language processing systems instead of using services by IBM Watson and other providers. Its co-founders, CEO Swapnil Shinde and his twin brother, CTO Snehal Shinde, previously launched Indian streaming music service Dhingana, which was acquired by Rdio in 2014.
After selling Dhingana, the Shinde siblings created Mezi with the idea that while people might like to shop for fun, they rarely enjoy tracking down out-of-stock items, researching large appliances or making hotel and restaurant reservations, and would prefer to have a chatbot take over those tasks for them. The travel category turned out to be the most successful and in November 2016 Mezi pivoted to focus solely on flights, hotels and restaurant bookings. In addition to its iOS and Android app, Mezi also offered a white-label “travel-as-a-service” solution for travel agents.
In a press statement, American Express Digital Labs vice president Phil Norman said “With messaging emerging as the channel of choice for many, and the demand for unique experiences increasing, we believe the combination of Mezi’s capabilities with our global network of expert travel counselors creates a differentiated, high-touch service experience for our card members.”
According to Crunchbase, Mezi raised a total of $11.8 million, including a $9 million Series A announced in July 2016 that was led by American Express Ventures, the company’s investment arm.