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Have you ever called a salon to book an appointment but your call was not answered or you wanted to reschedule your appointment and the salon was closed? On the other hand, if you are a small business owner, catering to the needs of the customers 24/7, you are under enormous pressure to maintain a well trained and motivated frontdesk staff.

Now imagine that you had a robot that tirelessly answers customers calls with a humanlike ability and is available 24/7. Frontdesk’s conversation bot, Sasha, promises to exactly provide such a magical service to small business owners and enable them to compete with large corporates like luxury hotels, privilege banks etc on customer experience.

We came across Frontdesk during our research of AI Assistant startups and reached out to Srivatsan Laxman (CEO and Founder of Vidhurama Inc.). We met Srivatsan six months back perhaps at the most inopportune time - he had just come back from the US and was in midst of shifting lock, stock and barrel to the Valley with his family. Frontdesk had just raised a small bridge from internal investors. We immediately liked the space and the product that Srivatsan was building. Our discussions picked up pace and eventually it resulted in us leading a 2M USD round in the company.

Virtual Receptionist for small businesses like Salons, wellness centres, dentists etc has long existed as an IVR product. However, IVR does not work for small businesses which see high customer turnover and needs instant response. Some services do exist wherein you could outsource your frontdesk staff to an offshore centre. However, these are expensive for small businesses. It is a perfect use case for Artificial Intelligence.

Here's how Frontdesk works - A customer calls the Salon on the business number. Frontdesk, which is integrated with the number, picks the call and responds to the customer via text. The deep learning based AI engine then takes over and answers the customer questions in real time with human-like intelligence and knowledge. The engine also integrates with the existing appointment scheduling software that the business is using to enable resolution of simple queries like appointment booking, rescheduling of appointments, feature list, pricing, address etc.

The team behind the magic is Srivatsan, Supriya and their team of world-class NLP specialists. Srivatsan is a PhD from IISc Bangalore, with a long stint in Microsoft Research specialising in Machine Learning, Data Mining and NLP.

Missed calls do not just lead to poor customer experience but most importantly for these small businesses, it leads to missed business opportunities. British Telecom estimates that SMEs in the UK lose USD 200 Mn in revenues due to unanswered calls. The business loss in the US due to missed calls could be a lot higher - USD 3-4 Bn according to some estimates. Small Services businesses still rely on phone calls and will continue to do so in the near future. 80% of all business communications for these establishments are on the phone call. More importantly, customers prefer not to speak for long during these calls.

As per salon today, there are 230,000+ salons and 100,000+ wellness centres in the US alone. American Dental Association estimates at least 150,000+ dental clinics in the US. The need for a virtual receptionist is acute and the market for such services is huge. Presently, Frontdesk targets primarily the US market and has already signed up with 200+ customers who are using it on a regular basis. Customers are immediately seeing a 15%-20% jump in revenues and the leads are being actively tracked. We spoke to a few customers and they were very excited that their customer calls were attended even during non-business hours. We see Frontdesk as an extension of an AI assistant market that includes Google’s Duplex,, Fancy Hands, amongst others. The next phase of growth in this market will focus on vertically trained assistants that are able to solve specific business problems and this is where Frontdesk excels.

We are also excited to partner with eminent angel investors like Ashish Gupta (ex Helion) and institutional investors like Sandeep Sadhana (Bluepointe Capital), Rajan Raghavan (the Fabric), and Vishesh Rajaram (Speciale Invest). We look forward to working with Srivatsan and team to build a world-class conversational AI company.

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