Matrix Partners’ latest bet is a botmaker riding on an 800-pound gorilla called Slack
Over 9 million people actively talk work and collaborate via Slack in a week. Over 2 million of them are paid users. This team communication tool took less than four years to grow from an internal app at a small tech company to an 800-pound gorilla valued at well over US$5 billion, clocking annual recurring revenue of US$200 million as it made work communication seem easy and fun.
Riding on this poster boy is botmaker Anaek – the latest investment in India by Matrix Partners – which believes that the folks on Slack can be happier and more productive if freed from low-value tasks.
Anaek has Slackbots that automate attendance tracking, expense filing, and other office management tasks.
For example, if you tell Anaek’s AttendanceBot: “I am on leave tomorrow,” the bot will instantly compute the date, send a message to your manager to approve the leave request, and update the attendance register after deducting a day’s off from your quota of annual leave. You can also ask the bot simple questions like: “Is Sharon on leave tomorrow?” – so you don’t have to bother your colleague with work requests on their off day. The bot can automatically sync your leave application with your company’s leave calendar on Google – that is, if it uses Google Calendar. You can also tell the bot to set up your out-of-office messages.
These are some of the tasks that the bot does. Anaek has been customizing it with additional features for its larger clients which have had specific requirements. For example, a large company in California wanted AttendanceBot to make daily announcements about who’s on leave that day to help the team plan their workday better.
Anaek’s AttendanceBot is featured as one of the “Brilliant Bots” on the homepage of the Slack App Directory – which is how a large chunk of its users discovered the product, co-founder Kanav Abrol tells Tech in Asia.
Vote of confidence
Slack had around 2 million daily users and 570,000 paying customers in December 2015 when it launched its App Directory with 150 integrations, including Twitter, Google Drive, Dropbox, and so on, that can be installed on a team’s Slack. It also released a suite of APIs, including open-source framework BotKit, to make it easier for others to build new apps and chatbots on top of Slack.
A cherry on top was an US$80 million fund to back developers and small companies building apps for Slack. “The more apps we get people to install [within Slack], the more likely they are to keep using Slack,” said Stewart Butterfield, Slack’s founder and CEO, outlining the company’s strategy.
Those moves spawned over a thousand Slack apps and bots across diverse categories from analytics to travel, social, and fun. So even for a specific task like leave tracking, there are scores of apps like TimeBot, Timetastic, LeaveBot, and so on. That does not unnerve Anaek’s Abrol. “Building a basic bot is not difficult. Just like how it’s quite easy today to build an Android app. The challenge is how do you build a bot that is better than the basic bot,” he says.
He points out that all three of Anaek’s paid products – AttendanceBot, ExpenseTron, and OfficeAmp – have been featured by Slack on the home page of its directory. “Each of them is in the top 10 under its respective category,” Abrol says, adding that being featured by Slack saves a lot of their cost of customer acquisition.
That’s how Anaek could afford to price their products aggressively.
- AttendanceBot has plans starting at a base price of US$19 per month and US$1 per user per month and goes up to US$49 base price and US$5 per user per month.
- ExpenseTron plans start at a base price of US$29 and US$1 per user per month.
- OfficeAmp is priced at a base price of US$19 per month and US$1 per user per month.
All users get a 14-day free trial before starting paid plans.
“We don’t want to be a cheap version of a product. We are not in cost arbitrage play,” Abrol says, while admitting at the same time that similar products are priced higher. Anaek has around 200 paying clients and several thousands who are trying out its Slackbots, he adds without naming any.
“We know we are underpricing the product but that is by design. I would rather get good customer feedback rather than focus on revenue at the stage we are at.” He says that’s why Anaek chose to raise seed funding. “So that we can continue to be aggressively priced in the short term. We will eventually price it higher. We want to get there as quickly as possible.”
Anaek and its backers are not disclosing the amount funding raised.
Cutting work about work
Abrol founded Anaek with Ujjwal Grover in February 2017, well after they built the first version of AttendanceBot, launched it, and got a few hundreds of real users for the product. Abrol and Grover had met in 2012 while working at SlideShare.
They worked together again later at Indian grocery delivery app PepperTap. Their brush with the problems that Anaek is attempting to solve came during their managerial stint there. Abrol was in charge of product and design while Grover headed engineering there.
PepperTap ran its teams on Slack. But far too often, there were several small tasks that nobody really enjoyed doing. For example, you need half-a-day’s off. Or you need to book a flight, or the restroom is running out of toilet paper. “I had to often manually collate the leave requests from my team from across email, WhatsApp, and text messages and then submit those in our official HR tool. So, the tools in fact added more work. We hated the idea of doing work about work,” Abrol says.
“How do you improve people’s productivity by enabling software to do all of these mundane tasks? Can you do that with instant messaging as the go-to-market strategy?” These were the questions that triggered Abrol and Grover to start building Anaek’s Slackbots after PepperTap shut down in April 2016. Slack’s app store was just five months old then.
Anaek also has a bot for employee engagement, Pep. That’s being tested out with a few select users.
Just like how Slack’s exponential growth has lured several giants to its field – Microsoft with its Teams platform and Google with its Hangouts Chat, to name a few – each of Anaek’s products have legacy software rivals to fight – from Zoho to Intuit, Concur, and even innocuous email that people worldwide have gotten used to.
The enterprise software space is about function over form, Abrol says. So the constraint Anaek works with is to keep the interface conversational yet effective. “You are doing real business processes. Just because you are doing it using a bot does not mean you can goof up occasionally,” he says.
That’s where Anaek’s edge lies as well, according to its backers. “Instant messaging has permeated workplace communication across markets, paving the way for seamless employee interactions,” Tarun Davda, managing director of Matrix Partners India, says.
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