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Symbl.ai, the Seattle-based company that provides APIs to developers to build apps capable of understanding natural human conversations, has raised a $17 million series A funding.
Symbl.ai says its APIs unlock machine learning algorithms from a variety of industry partners and sources. The company helps developers ingest conversation data from text, voice, email, chat, video, and social, and provides understanding and context around the language, without the need for upfront training data, wake words, or custom classifiers.
VentureBeat connected with cofounder and CEO Surbhi Rathore for a broader perspective on what this funding means for Symbl.ai and the emerging industry that research firm Gartner has called communication platform-as-a-service (CPaaS).
Conversational intelligence APIs
While a ton of vendors have jumped in to serve developers with APIs for conversational AI, Symbl.ai says it seeks to differentiate itself by providing an end-to-end conversation analytics platform.
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Rathore told VentureBeat, “There are other API-first products that provide NLP services, custom classifiers, speech recognition — all of which are parts of the wider conversation intelligence capabilities. Symbl.ai stitches these pieces and more with connected context without dependency on huge data sets and machine learning knowledge.”
Many conversational AI vendors focus on specific industries. In the sales industry, for example, companies like Gong.io and Chorus.ai are gaining momentum. But more end-user customers are seeking to build conversational AI experiences across various functional areas, including webinars, customer experience, team collaboration, and more.
Symbl.ai says it enables businesses to compete with these brands and build differentiated, AI-driven experiences in their products cost-effectively and with a shorter time from lab to market. Symbl.ai’s offerings include Transcription Plus, Conversation Analytics, Conversation Topics, Contextual Insights, Customer Tracker, and Summarization.
Turning conversation into data
Recent projections from Mordor Intelligence show that the CPaaS industry will grow from $4.54 billion in 2020 to $26.03 billion by 2026 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 34.3%. Up from 20% in 2020, 90% of global enterprises are expected to leverage API-enabled CPaaS offerings as a strategic IT skillset to bolster their digital competitiveness by 2023. These figures offer critical insight into today’s unanticipated adoption rate of digital communications. However, even with this recent growth, Symbl.ai claims the current solutions do not enable businesses to unlock the potential of communication content and analyze conversation data at scale.
“Businesses are looking to differentiate beyond ‘just’ enabling communication so as to meet their customer expectations,” the company’s press release stated. The company says it will continue to ease developers’ access to communication data and help product managers to iterate early on the new user experiences for their product — eliminating the need for building ML models from the ground up.
“We are bullish on empowering builders with the right toolkit to unlock the value in conversation data across all digital channels. Conversations are by far the most unused data source, and there is so much potential in this data. Tools need to ease the pain point of capturing, managing, understanding, and acting on this data — and that’s exactly what we are focused on. With this financing, we will further speed up our product roadmap to scale awareness, adoption, and growth of conversation intelligence-driven experiences for developers,” Rathore said.
Speaking on what this means for the CPaaS industry, she added, “CPaaS platforms must enable developers to get access to the raw streams easily — so that experiences built go beyond just enabling voice and video. Symbl.ai is excited to partner with leading CPaaS platforms to collectively enable their adopters to extend communication experiences and use machine learning to understand the content of that communication, take actions on it, and learn from the best via plug and play APIs.”
Building the technology
Symbl.ai says a major trend in the industry is transcription, as it has become a mainstream use case for live captioning. “This is critical for products to build [an] accessible and inclusive experience — voice analytics that were primarily restricted to the contact center industry are finding ways into other verticals like recruitment, edtech, marketing, and more. Products and businesses are starting to leverage insights from text, chat, email, calls, [and] video from customers’ interactions to personalize user experience,” Rathore said.
“The trend of digital conversations, which has increased over the past year, is here to stay. Surbhi, [CTO] Toshish [Jawale], and their team have built a special engine to deliver this data in a developer-friendly way, and we are excited to partner with them in their next leg of growth,” said Ray Lane, managing partner at Great Point Ventures.
According to Rathore, “Traditional NLP and NLU techniques fall short on conversations.” Symbl.ai’s technology combines several deep learning and machine learning models to convert unstructured conversations from raw speech or text into a structured format that can be programmatically accessed and leveraged to build intelligent experiences in applications in a plug-and-play manner.
“Our system contains more than 50 different models built in-house working together to solve three layers of problems. The first layer models the foundational characteristics of conversations, language, and speech, leveraging various existing languages and speech modeling techniques. The second layer is for contextual correlation modeling between different concepts and their relationships. The third layer performs reasoning tasks to draw conclusions or eliminate the improbabilities. These layers are specifically required for understanding human conversations, enabling our system to model several dimensions of human conversation that help us to draw inferences and conclusions for actionable insights, irrespective of the domain of conversation,” Rathore said.
This investment round was led by Great Point Ventures, with additional participation from Gutbrain Ventures, PBJ Capital, Crosscut Ventures, and Flying Fish Ventures.
Rathore said this additional capital is expected to accelerate the development of its end-to-end conversational intelligence platform, foster team expansion at the company, and meet the growing demand for the technology.
The company says its customers include Rev.ai, Airmeet, Intermedia, Remo, SpectrumVoip, Intuit, Bandwidth, and Hubilo. “Symbl.ai enables developers to not spend months but just days to integrate, saving time and money with the most accurate and scalable conversation intelligence stack,” the press release stated.
Against the backdrop of this funding, Lane of Great Point Ventures will join Symbl.ai’s board of directors. The round will also go toward recruiting top talent.
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