Barcelona-based Hubtype has raised a €1 million (~$1.1M) seed round led by Madrid-based early stage VC firm, K Fund. The team last raised when the business was founded, back in February 2016, when they took in €235,000 in a mix of public and angel funding.
Hubtype targets enterprises and developers with customer service focused tools to help build and scale what it describes as “conversational messaging experiences” — aka messaging interfaces that go beyond more basic chatbot-style offerings to support richer interactions and ‘smart’ automation, such as knowing when to hand off to a human agent.
“We know very well that chatbots aren’t enough on their own, as we’ve been building bots for three years. To provide effective and meaningful interactions, companies need to go beyond bots and provide conversational experiences: Micro-apps within the messaging channels that everyone uses daily,” say co-founders, Eric Marcos and Marc Caballé, explaining the wider context around the space as they see it.
“Conversational experiences take the best of chat (conversational user interfaces) and combine elements of graphical user interfaces like websites, apps, etc. Effective ones aggregate AI, decision trees, webviews, human agent hand-off and more. Furthermore, enterprise companies need integration with other APIs and systems, from back-end inventory and order tracking to booking engines, analytics, NLP services and more.”
They argue that orchestrating all these different elements can be “extremely difficult and time-consuming” for businesses lacking a dedicated tech team to handle building and maintaining smooth chat-based customer interactions.
That’s where Hubtype sees an opportunity to elbow in, starting with a b2b focus but aiming to tilt fully at developers over the long term.
Hubtype’s opensource framework for building conversational apps, called Botonic, is based on React.js. Using this it claims a single developer can build, deploy and scale conversational apps across multiple messaging channels (including webchat) — doing away with the need for a full dev team to build and maintain everything.
The team’s goal is to become “the reference platform” for developers to create conversational apps using React.js. Some of the seed funding is therefore pegged for building out Hubtype’s developer relationship program, as well as ploughing into product development and scaling the sales team.
“We’re currently a b2b company and our target customers are enterprise-level companies mainly in banking, insurance and e-commerce/retail,” the co-founders note, adding: “Eight out of more than 20 customers are in the Forbes Global 2000 List, with some ranking in the top 20 such as Volkswagen, Inditex, HP, and Bankia.”
“With this funding round we’re investing in further developments of our framework, including AI capabilities which will allow clients to train their chatbot in one language and roll out automatically in about 100 languages. We’ll also be building our developer relationship program and scaling our sales team,” adds Caballé in a statement.
Hubtype tells us it expects to reach 100 customers this year — though they’re not disclosing exact customer numbers yet.
“We have a strong presence in the Spanish enterprise ecosystem and within international brands that operate in Europe. We provide our service globally but we’re currently focused on the EU and testing some emerging markets where WhatsApp is prevalent, as we are one of the few official solution providers for the platform globally,” the co-founders add.
Asked about the competitive landscape, Hubtype names Accel-backed Rasa as an “AI centric” bot-builder framework rival with a similar “bottom up” focus on marshalling developers to build adoption.
Another competitor the co-founders point to is Botpress, saying it has a somewhat similar approach while flagging a different business model (focused on “consulting/services centric”).
Microsoft Bot Framework and Dialogflow are two other rival frameworks they name — but again the suggestion is both are AI centric, rather than supporting a richer mix of conversational components.
“The difference between us and our closest competition is that we have a very clear niche (React developers) and we are pioneers in advocating for conversational apps (text+GUI and using NLP and AI as elements) rather than AI or NLP-centric experiences. Most of our competitors are focused on AI and NLP,” they add.
“Our tools focus on building applications that sit at the intersection between text-based and graphic interfaces. We take into account NLP, AI, interactive messages, webviews, managing context, human handoffs and multichannel integrations. Additionally, we aggregate more messaging channels than all or most competitors.”
Commenting on the seed raise in a statement, Jaime Novoa, associate at K Fund, added: “The chatbot industry has undergone a major transformation from text to conversational apps, and Hubtype is leading enterprise companies to build the best customer experiences in a scalable way by using automation. Companies must move from traditional phone and email communication and into a new era of multichannel conversational messaging. Hubtype is an important addition to our investment portfolio, and timing is key.”