Schuldt is the CEO and founder of Mensajea, a company that designs chatbots that help FIs and others communicate with their customers through Facebook and WhatsApp. Mensajea was founded in Ecuador in 2016, and now has offices in Mexico, Ecuador and Peru. The Q&A has been edited to fit an article format.
What is Mensajea?
Mensajea is a platform that lets you create, manage and maintain virtual assistants (chatbots) in channels like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.
The technology helps organizations respond quickly and flexibly to customers and uses AI to continuously improve service.
When did you start Mensajea and what was your motivation in doing so?
In the middle of 2016, Facebook opened its Messenger platform and we saw an opportunity to improve communications between companies and consumers.
I had previously built a platform for personalizing SMS, used mainly by FIs and for collections. Many of those clients were interested in two-way communications, which was very expensive with SMS. At the time, WhatsApp was also exploding, and it made sense to leverage these new channels to improve corporate communications.
What has been the hardest part of building the company?
Difficulties occur daily. Perhaps the most challenging was building Mensajea’s technology 100% in-house and then launching in a market that was still very young. In the beginning, we had to explain what a chatbot was and how it worked. Today, we no longer have to explain the first part as most people are familiar with chatbots.
What has been the most exciting part?
The most exciting part is seeing our technology not only work, but work well. We have received a significant amount of recognition nationally and internationally. We won the LatAm Digital Banking Fintech Forum, the challenge in Nobis and were finalists at the Lima Fintech Forum, the Innovations Jam in Miami, and the Finnosummit of Bogotá, among others.
You took part in a startup accelerator program in Mexico. What was that experience like?
Startupbootcamp FinTech Mexico City was undoubtedly one of the best experiences we have had. Their support and direction have been critical to our growth and development.
In what verticals are you most active?
Our main market is financial services, which depending on the company could involve helping with balances, money transfer, introductions for products and services, etc.
We also work well for robo-collections, allowing financial institutions and others to automate collections, while also allowing companies to communicate with people at times when they are most likely to be free.
However, we also have customers in automotive dealerships, restaurants, human resources (internal customer service), and more.
What benefits do companies gain from using chatbots?
The most obvious benefits are in service and sales. Cost reduction is another important benefit. But in each case, benefits vary. For example, in robo-collections, customers using our virtual assistants see huge increases in commitment to pay and portfolio recovery.
Does Mensajea offer custom implementations?
All of our implementations are custom. We help our clients build chatbots and then teach them how to use our tools so that they can independently improve, update and manage them.
How important are partnerships to your growth?
For us, they are essential, since chatbots are a component of digital transformation and are part of an overall strategy. There are many companies offering comprehensive services that can use our platform and services to complement their own offerings.
Is there more interest in the technology now than when you started?
Yes, as I said, when we started, we had to explain what a chatbot was, now customers look to us on how to deploy them. The growth of our customer base, which includes several banks and even other Fintech startups is an example of this.
Do you plan to expand to other Latin American countries beyond Ecuador, Mexico and Peru?
We have clients now also in Colombia and Uruguay. We are exploring other markets as well, but we take a more strategic approach to them. We look first to find business partners who can help with advice, market-entry, and implementing our technology.
How fast did the company grow this year compared to 2018?
We grew more than twice as fast. Market demand has grown and our company was well-positioned so that customers looked to us for solutions. In addition, working with partners has accelerated our growth.
Do you expect to raise venture funding in the near future? Are you interested in hearing from investors from the US and Europe?
Yes, we were initially financed with contributions from partners and family and friends. We also received some funding as a result of participating in the accelerator in Mexico and through a small round from angels. Our plan is to start a new round in early 2020, mainly with investors from Peru and Mexico and the greater region. But we welcome interest from potential strategic investors from any region.
Do you think the benefits of AI outweigh the risks?
The benefits far outweigh the risks. The potential risk posed by smarter machines is largely the influence of science fiction. The risks are more on the other side: the unethical use of technology, which not only has to do with AI, but with its improper use. This could occur if AI models are implemented incorrectly or if poor decisions are made on how it is deployed.
Does a part of you already feel fulfilled having started Mensajea?
Certainly, I am more than satisfied and very motivated as we move forward.