Interview with Yoav Barel, CEO of Chatbot Summit

Yoav, please tell us about your background? What have you done so far?

I am a tech entrepreneur and have been working in tech over 17 years. It has been an honor to take part in the last several digital revolutions: mobile java, apps and now, bots. I love it. My work lets me create the best digital lifestyle experiences.

Over the years, I formed and led a group at Sun Microsystems, which developed and deployed mobile applications with leading Telco’s including Vodafone, DoCoMo, and Orange. At Oracle, I led a great team that put the first Telco App Store on Android, and we were the first to deploy it in the US with Verizon Wireless.

As Head of Mobile Products and Strategy at LivePerson, I was part of the spearhead team creating the first Enterprise App-Messaging product for customer service and and launching it with T-Mobile in the US. During the development of that product, it hit me that conversational experience is going to be the next digital revolution. We called them back then “Conversational Service Apps”. They are now called Chatbots.

What fascinated you about chatbots?

This is a new paradigm shift in consumer experience--the kind of disruption that happens once in a decade that affects the daily lives of billions of consumers.

Chatbots mark an advancement in digital lifestyle. Apps have done well (what they needed to do), and now it is time for the next level up. That is where the Bots come in.

Dialogue is the preferred way for us to communicate with each other and it is the first time in computational history that machines can actually understand natural language and start to create a dialogue-like experience--this is really the key part of what makes the Chatbot such a revolutionary new technology

What were your original plans with chatbots?

I left my position as head of mobile products and strategy at LivePerson thinking about venturing into the world of chatbots, but I didn’t really know what I was going to do. I have been working in technologies for 15+ years. I thought I would go in the direction of a tech startup, but I noticed a gap in the market: we did not have a place in Israel for the chatbot community to connect.The first event I created was Chatbots World Tel Aviv and the update was nothing short of amazing.

We had over 200 people attend the first meetups, which all happened around Tel Aviv. I knew I needed something larger to hold, and grow, the exploding interest and momentum of the bot revolution. So, I decided to create the Chatbot Summit.

Chatbot enthusiast folks came on board quickly and we created the first summit from A-Z in less than 3 months.

We got over 1,000 people to participate, from early stage startup founders to industry brands such as IBM, Oracle, Cisco, LivePerson, Deloitte, and many more. We had many international participants from all over the world - the US, Canada, Europe, and the far east.

The next Chatbot Summit will be in Berlin. Why Berlin?

I wanted to expand Chatbot Summit to Europe, where it would be easier to bring decision makers from big brands (who are a key part in driving this revolution forward) together with new tech, corporate tech, other brands, freelancers, developers, and startups. I knew they all needed a powerful forum for collaboration and business growth and development, and I knew we could provide that by launching a second Chatbot Summit, seeing the success I had in Tel Aviv.

Panel at the Chatbot Summit in Tel Aviv 2016 (Credit: Chatbot Summit)

At that time, I got a call from head of LivePerson EMEA, Michael Bommer, who said he thought it would be a perfect opportunity to bring Chatbot Summit to Berlin as soon as possible! With the headwind from him, the thriving startup ecosystem, and a great city to experience, it was clear - Berin was going to be the next destination!

Bringing in the top brands in Germany was not easy, to say the least. The German culture, especially with its top brands, is quite reserved and it is hard to move fast. But, after putting the right team together (a combination of top people in the WHICH tech? industry, amongst them, the former Attache of Israel in Berlin), we were able to bring in the top German brands as sponsors. Two of the first joiners were Deutsche Bank and Berlin Partners. We also were successful in bringing other major brands on board such as SAP, Deloitte Germany, Amazon Germany, and great speakers from Deutsche Post, Zalando, Deutsche Telekom, Lufthansa, Vodafone, ThomasCook, Nestle, Google, and many others in the technology sector.

What’s the difference between the chatbot ecosystem in Israel and Germany? What about the adoption of the technology?

Generally speaking, you will find more deep tech startups in Israel, whereas in Berlin you will find more platforms launching with major brands. That said, you can find good examples of both types of innovation happening in each country.

What do you think are the main challenges of chatbots?

Consumer adoption is always a challenge. Creating the right experience for the consumer is the most difficult part. The question is, how do you show a chatbot to a customer in such a way to make them realize they never need an app again?

Until AI becomes better, we must create chatbots that are highly specific (attuned to human needs) and also backed up by a human touch when needed. The human touch piece is interesting because AI technology alone cannot yet create the perfect dialogue with us-- and I am not sure it will ever will.

Looking down the line - chatbots might have a mind of their own, but that is a longer-term strategy/vision, like what happened with Tay from Microsoft. But I do not think we should create general AIs that are unsupervised. We are not there yet. This is why companies like LivePerson must play a key role in the bot revolution.

What do you think about chatbot technology and UX for conversational user interfaces?

Dialogues using Natural Language are the ideal experiences for us as humans. This is how we interact with each other - via conversation. If the NLP / AI technology existed 20 years ago, this is how we would have had UX designed. We now have an opportunity, as an industry, to create the best user experience possible, and we are only at the beginning. The industry piece of the bot revolution is really important--it starts from tech, but the developments we are making in interface and human-digital communication will impact nearly all industries and sectors, worldwide. If, until now, our job as consumers was to try and understand how UX was designed, then we have reached a point where chatbots will need to understand what we are trying to say.

This is the time for me to call out all the content writers out there and let them know they have the chance to become the UX expert of tomorrow. If yesterday graphic designers had that edge - tomorrow, it is the writers.

What do you think are the most interesting use cases for chatbots?

You name it. Expect high intensive games. The way I see the market, Chatbots will replace 95% of all apps within the next 5 years--if there is one take-away for readers to know about the Bot revolution from our interview, this is it! I was one of the pioneers of the App revolution and was convinced billions of people were going to use them every day. It happened, but now apps need to clear the way for a new and better paradigm in consumer experience.

Bots are going to behave the best--better than apps--so they can play the role of a concierge - someone who will know the consumer intimately over time and will become an expert in the market she is serving. This combination would create the ultimate experience if done right.

What do you think about the development and growth of the chatbot market globally?

First off, it is the largest companies in the world who are investing heavily in bots - acquisitions, NLP technologies, development frameworks, machine learning clouds, messaging products, voice assistants and much more.

They are providing major tailwind in making this revolution happen bigger and better. I like to coin this group of companies “MAGAF,” which stands for Microsoft, Apple, Google, Amazon, and Facebook. You have major Enterprise IT Software companies, including IBM, SAP, Oracle, and SalesForce who are also making big plays in this direction.

In terms of growth, the chatbot ecosystem is growing faster than the app ecosystem and that pace will exceed. We are already seeing interesting M&A plays in this field. We have over 100,000 chatbots on facebook messenger one year into the revolution, which is amazing!

We are seeing all these major brands invest in chatbots, but this is only the beginning. There will be a major shift in brand investment from apps to chatbots--this is going to happen much sooner than people expect. There are already many RFPs out there…

What role will chatbots play in the future?

Chatbots are going to rule our everyday digital lifestyle. From ordering your starbucks, finding the perfect pair of shoes, ordering an uber, booking flights on lufthansa, or simply voting on ‘who wore it better.’

A major area is customer service. Chatbots are going to disrupt customer service hugely--I think it is safe to expect at least 50% of all customer service inquiries will come through chatbots within the next 3 years. This will have enormous impact on the cost of running customer service call centers--reducing it by half. At an average of about €5 per call and hundreds of billions of customer service calls made every year - this industry alone is a multi-billion dollar industry.

Moreover, when done right, it will significantly reduce hold-wait times for customers who actually need to speak with a skilled customer service agent immediately while providing customer with their channel of choice of how to communicate.

What are your recommendations for entrepreneurs and corporates in Germany?

I believe any and all entrepreneurs today must know what chatbots are and what they do, even if they are not launching a bot company. Imagine you are an entrepreneur--the year is 2008 and you do not know about apps. That would be a huge mistake! Not everyone needs to develop a chabot, but I can tell you when startups come to me for advice and I see them invest in an app not a bot, I know they are making the wrong decision that will cost them (and not so far) down the line. (Creating an MVP with a chatbot, by the way, is much easier than with an app, but this is a separate discussion.)

If you are a chatbot entrepreneur, I believe you are riding the right wave :-). My advice is make sure you know exactly where you fit into the ecosystem and keep asking yourself, what is my unique value proposition to the market? Is it: I am doing the same as many but better than some, and I will gain my market share? Or, is there something I am that is doing totally disruptive and will create non-linear advancement for the market?

As for corporates, I think the big brands have a once-in-a-decade opportunity to lead with this market disruption. Industries are going to be turned upside down, like what happened with Uber, for example. I am pretty sure the next Zalando will start as a chatbot, I am just not sure which one it would be :-).

As far as, “If I am a corporate, where I would start?” the most important thing is ‘just do it’ and start. At the corporate level, the most important way to work on bots is top down: Start with a target market more likely to adopt messaging - in most cases, this would be the millennial generation.

Choose a small target group that has a specific problem, or a way of doing something you can make easier or better for them. Choose the most minimal use case possible that would address a large enough consumer group.

Bring together the right stakeholders from different departments and make sure you get an ‘A-Team’ on the job to get it done quickly-- use the Build-Measure-Learn approach and continue improving from there.

The technology and vendor selection is critical for the success of this project and time should be spent selecting the right ones.

And what about yourself personally? What are you plans next?

Most of my time I dedicate to working with the team on Chatbot Summit Berlin which is less than two weeks away.

I recently founded Sunrize, with a mission to help leading brands create better digital experiences for their customers, mainly focused on Conversational AI experiences.

I also advise to leading startups who are part of the bot revolution when time permits.

As far as what’s next - that a really good question, I have several direction in mind for Sunrize and I’m also building a team for the next Chatbot Summits. November 2017 in Tel Aviv and March 2018 in Asia / Shanghai.

Is there anything else you want to tell the readers?

Actually, there is! Looking into the web analysis on our website, coming from Crisp, I noticed that your readers are the highest in terms of pageviews and time on page! As such, I would like to offer your readers 50% off all tickets for the Chatbot Summit in Berlin for the first 50 buyers! They just need to visit the following Link and use "CRISPBOT" in the checkout process. I hope this will bring even more chatbot enthusiasts to the summit! 

Mehr zu den Themen AI Chatbot Summit Chatbot-Architektur Chatbot-Plattform Chatbots Conversational AI KI künstliche Intelligenz

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Über den Autor:

Senior Analyst

Moritz StrubeMoritz Strube ist Senior Analyst bei Crisp Research. Er ist ein erfahrener Technology Manager und Business Developer. Zuletzt arbeitete er als CTO der Polyas GmbH in Berlin und Kassel. Er war dort verantwortlich für die Entwicklung einer Saas-Onlinewahlsoftware und für die Forschungsaktivitäten im Bereich kryptographiebasierter, sicherer Onlinewahlsysteme. Davor war er in verschiedenen leitenden Rollen und als Berater in der IT, sowie in der Finanz-, Energie- und Dienstleistungsindustrie, tätig.
Moritz Strube verfügt über 20 Jahre Berufserfahrung mit technischen, wissenschaftlichen und betriebswirtschaftlichen Aufgabenstellungen, was ihn in die Lage versetzt, mit unterschiedlichen Zielgruppen zu kommunizieren und zwischen diesen Wissen zu vermitteln. Er hat Abschlüsse als BSc Mathematik, Diplom-Volkswirt und Diplom-Kaufmann. Seine aktuellen Research- und Beratungsschwerpunkte sind Blockchain, Chatbots, Artificial Intelligence, Deep Learning, Machine Learning, Data Science und Internet of Things.