Companies that are working with technologies that have the potential to automate processes, reduce costs and improve customer service will undoubtedly thrive in the future. Samer Tarazi and Odeh Semreen are the Co-founders of Eila, one such concept that promises to shake up customer interaction.
Eila is a chatbot that helps businesses sell their products on Facebook Messenger through chat. Intriguing? Well, that’s not it. Eila’s service is offered through a chatbot-as-a-service model, to automate sales with artificial intelligence using conversational commerce.
“Chatbots are an appealing concept simply because messaging platforms are being used massively every single day by consumers of all ages, and are taking over the mobile ecosystem. These facts simply mean that businesses will either need to serve their customers where they exist or risk losing them to a competitor that does. Moreover, employment costs are constantly rising and businesses are always struggling with talent management. At Eila, we automate certain tasks for businesses. This means our services will be able to reduce, or eventually replace, an employee and will end up saving businesses quite a bit of money. It will in fact also enable them to open more business opportunities as they will start being able to serve customers 24/7 with minimal investment,” remarks Samer Tarazi, Co-founder and CEO of Eila.
The kind of milestones that Tarazi’s team has managed to cross in only eight months of running the business speaks volumes about the potential of their concept. Eila has launched two version of the bot service and stood second in Facebook’s Bots for Messenger Challenge in the MENA and Sub-Saharan Africa region. More recently, Eila joined hands with the well-known fast-food brand Domino’s Pizza to offer a pizza pickup and delivery service using chat! Tarazi and his team have been able to automate up to 15 per cent of sales of some of his customers.
Seeing that the company is ticking all the right boxes that a one should at the start-up stage, we wonder if Tarazi and his co-founder are looking at funding.
“We have had investor interest, but we haven’t raised any money so far. We are completely bootstrapped. We undertake third party projects to bring in some cash, and we’ve used that to mainly grow the team and build our core,” he explains.
Building a dream team
Eila’s growth has been phenomenal given the nature of its offering. Even so, there are challenges that are currently stifling its tremendous potential. “Finding, hiring and keeping skilled employees, who have the right mind set to push the start-up forward, is definitely our biggest challenge,” remarks Tarazi. “Many tech companies have positioned their technical centres in Jordan and that has caused the salaries to significantly increase, making it quite challenging for start-ups/SMEs to keep up and hire. The rest of the resources that remain in the market usually lack the needed skills and professionalism to push the start-up forward. Start-ups would usually get over those hurdles by luring employees in through the culture and equity, however, in our part of the world, people don’t really seem to be interested in owning a chunk of what “could be”. Very few start-ups have grown to become truly successful, and thus it is a challenge to build the right team within our region.”
“We find young people with extremely high potential, we instantly infuse the highly agile and productive culture of start-ups within them and give them the space to learn and explore to become truly useful to the start-up. Of course, this does not apply to all people and not everyone is capable of learning and growing especially at such a young age. So, what we do is we start the search with a massive filtration process where employees need to earn an interview, for example, we create a developer treasure hunt to find our latest hire and we asked developers to solve the code to find answers that qualified them to the next round and on to the interview. Another very important decision that we’ve made is that we no longer confine ourselves to a geo-location and are open to hiring people from all over the world, and work using truly agile methodologies that help us become driven by progress rather than time,” explains Tarazi.
This strategy has helped him find quality people, who have the core skills to become a beneficial member of the team.
Taking quantum leaps ahead
Despite the inherent challenges he is facing, Tarazi continues to focus on moving forward. Speaking about his plans for the future, he says: “We already have customers in Jordan, Iraq and the UAE and are planning to expand internationally by joining a strategic accelerator that can open those doors. In terms of operational strategy, we are currently super focused on two things. First is polishing our product and making sure we provide real value to our customers every single day. Second is exploring potential markets to find our sweet spot and aim to establish our HQ in that specific market and we believe that this will start by finding the right accelerator that can help us expedite this process and open those markets rather than starting from scratch.”
Tarazi also shares that agile methodologies are strongly implemented within the day-day processes at Eila. Each member of the team sees and understands the big picture. Teams are then set on 2-week sprints and aim to achieve certain goals within those 14 days. Especially since Eila’s team works completely remotely, it has helped them stay aligned.
This team spirit combined with the speed of execution is what Tarazi believes will take his company forward.
“This is the only way we can stay on top of the competition, we focus on speed whether in polishing the product, testing marketing approaches, or even launching new features. If you’re faster than your competition, even if you make mistakes, you will eventually end up first. In the NLP field in specific, things are rapidly getting updated and modified. The entire Messenger platform is getting major features every couple of months and this means we need to keep improving, especially at this early stage, from adding a simple emoji to simplify the user’s perception of choices, to enabling customers to pay directly from within the bot. As technology and the entire ecosystem evolves, we constantly need to keep up, otherwise, we will most definitely be left behind,” he adds.
There’s absolutely no doubt that technologies such as Eila point to the future of customer interaction, and will completely revamp the sales and marketing functions within businesses. Looking to the future, Tarazi believes that the AI industry in general will boom and that more than 85 per cent of customer/business interaction will be done through some form of automated software that will save time and money.
“It is a very new market and nobody still has the real facts; exploration and an open eye is crucial at this stage. Having said that, I think whoever goes into the chatbot, and more broadly AI, market will end up being a winner as I truly believe that businesses of all sorts will find value in automation and this will grow to become one of the most major markets in the tech industry in the next five years.”