Adding intelligence to landline phones might sound like a nearly Sisyphean task, but there’s plenty of incentive to pursue a solution. Almost 43 percent of U.S. households still pay for telephone service over copper wire, according to the most recent U.S. Center for Disease Control National Health Information Survey. And on the enterprise side of the equation, more than 200 million U.S. companies have landline-based business numbers.
For those and other folks stubbornly clinging to a wired telephone, there’s NumberAI, a self-styled smart messaging provider. The Oakland, California-based startup — which was founded by the team behind Location Labs, a location-based services company acquired by AVG for $220 million in 2014 — offers a service that automatically routes texts intended for business numbers to a cloud-hosted inbox, where they can be responded to via an app from a PC, phone, or tablet. After raising $1.6 million in seed funding two years ago and signing up customers like Homeroom, the Trappist, and Concord CrossFit, NumberAI today announced it has secured $10.5 million in a Series A funding round led by Costanoa Ventures, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, and Google’s AI-focused Gradient Ventures fund.
NumberAI CEO Tasso Roumeliotis, who cofounded the company with Joel Grossman and Andy Ruff in 2017, said the fresh capital will be used to grow the product and engineering teams and “deploy across multiple channels.” As part of the round, Mark Selcow and Andreas Stavropoulos, partners at Costanoa and Draper Fisher Jurvetson, respectively, will join the board of directors.
“We are excited to build on our successful decade-long relationship with Draper Fisher Jurvetson. Costanoa is the premier operational value-added VC and also has great experience in our focus on Main Street businesses,” he said. “And Gradient Ventures, with its investment thesis on AI and links to Google, is a perfect complement to our vision.”
Intelligently directing texts isn’t all that novel — firms like Zipwhip, which recently raised $51.5 million, have done that for years — but NumberAI’s Numa platform is a tad more capable than most. It’s capable of autonomously responding to frequently asked questions about hours of operation and location, as well as taking food orders and directing incoming leads. Furthermore, Numa “learns” from watching employee-customer interactions — for instance, proactively asking “Halloween is coming up. Are your hours changing?” so it can adjust its automatic answers — and it spots trends like “Customers keep asking if we carry fidget spinners.”
Numa also integrates with a growing number of payments, loyalty, scheduling, and point-of-sales systems and services. Texters optionally have associated profiles customized to a vertical; a restaurant, for example, can see how often a given customer spends money on average in a week or annually, and whether they’re eligible for a discount.
This is all in service of the estimated 89 percent of consumers who prefer text messaging businesses to calling or emailing, NumberAI says — in fact, customers send nearly 55 billion texts to landline phones every year. And that’s not to mention the 79 percent of corporations who believe their customers want SMS support.
“NumberAI is solving one of the most important problems in commerce,” added Mark Selcow, partner at Costanoa Ventures. “Calling a business is a poor experience and we believe that NumberAI’s product solves this in an elegant way.”