Announcing our investment in NumberAI

NumberAI’s virtual assistant services integrates into a business’s existing phone number — even if it’s a landline — to automatically respond to most frequently asked questions.

A couple of years ago, I worked on a thesis for a new software company serving small businesses. The idea was to figure out “Category 3” of tools for very small companies, believing it could turn into the next thing in SMB software. Category 1 was Quickbooks, or Xero, the accounting and bookkeeping product everybody uses. Category 2 was the domain specific tool that was a must have — point of sale for retail, time keeping for professional services firms, drawing tools for architects. Every small business had two products they were completely reliant on, but what would be the third?

I did dozens of customer calls, visited shops, and came away convinced that category 3 would be related to selling and keeping customers. By far, the desire of business owners above all others was to add business. So I studied what tech categories might help here. I looked at specialized CRM, email management, web site development and support, and couldn’t find something simple enough and horizontal enough that lots and lots of small business owners would adopt and actually use. I threw in the towel and moved to other ideas.

Boy, did I miss the obvious. When I met the founders of NumberAI and heard about their idea, I realized that it had been hiding in plain sight. The answer was the phone. All small businesses, and especially Main Street ones, rely heavily on their phone to attract, secure and keep customers. Yet, the phone is so limited, especially landline phones, which so many SMBs still use. It’s limited as a dumb comms channel — the owner has to hear it, pick it up and talk, or as a fallback, return voicemail calls that were missed, usually after the caller’s need has passed and they got what they wanted somewhere else. And, phones are limited in the content they can handle — they are pipes and the content has to come from the owner’s voice.

NumberAI has figured out that software should take over this old system and make it the clear Category 3 that every Main Street business uses. Imagine a Main Street restaurant getting calls during peak meal time, and getting every possible diner the information they need — immediately. Imagine a small retail store where all the staff are helping customers, still being able to drive more business by getting prospects answers on their products and availability, with precision. Software can do this using AI, which is trained by the store’s own staff, and drives a messaging platform that responds to all callers via SMS. Most customers would rather message than talk, and most business owners want to get them answer. These owners would also like to save money by staffing with fewer people on each shift, if they can. Now they can.

Tasso Roumeliotis, Joel Grossman and Andy Ruff of NumberAI are highly experienced entrepreneurs, company builders and product developers. When we first met them, we immediately knew they not only had the right idea, but they had the talent to make it happen. Critically, they understood that among the biggest challenges of building an SMB-focused company is go-to-market. Here, they had a powerful, channel-based approach, with a key partnership in place and a decade-long set of deep relationships with multiple phase 2 partners. It didn’t take long for us to know we wanted to be a part of the NumberAI story. We are happy and proud to be investors in NumberAI, and are excited to see the impact they will have for Main Street business owners and for customers as they grow what we are sure will be an exciting company.