Toronto’s Ada sees strong momentum for its no-code automated AI chatbots

2020 was an uneven year for the Automated Customer Experience startup, thanks to COVID in the spring but momentum quickly mounted during the year, which included increased interest from channel partners.

Mike Murchison, Ada CEO and co-founder

Ada, a Toronto-based startup in the Automated Customer Experience [ACX] space, is expecting a strong 2021 for their no-code automated chatbots. The 2016 startup, which took its A series funding round in late 2018, was initially buffeted by COVID last spring. However, they bounced back quickly, and as 2020 progressed, the company says its easy-to-use approach towards automation found increasing resonance, from the enterprise down to the higher levels of the SMB space. The company also began to see increased interest from channel partners, and is looking to scale up its partner business in 2021.

Ada – the name is a tribute to early 19th century computing pioneer Ada Lovelace – plays in a field of software where these days absolutely everyone emphasizes their facility with automation. Ada CEO and co-founder Mike Murchison says that Ada’s technology really is differentiated in the market, however.

“The core difference is that Ada puts the business person first,” Murchison told ChannelBuzz. “We are a decision-making platform that makes AI really easy to use, with an entirely no-code approach. Many businesses today use bots to reduce the number of conversations they have with customers, and particularly to reduce the number of phone calls. They have a strategy of avoiding customer communication, and want to speak to customers less. With us, it’s the opposite. Our clients are tripling or more the number of conversations they have, so they have much more customer data than before. Businesses that win in 2021 and beyond will have this more sophisticated investment in customer service. The old strategy of deflecting voice phone calls to messaging to save money will quickly become outdated.”

Ada’s chatbots can be deployed in days, without involvement from IT, using a proprietary Natural Language Understanding engine that provides better comprehension of meaning and context of conversations, and expands what can be automated. Their platform is designed to work with existing platforms, increasing their level of automation in a painless fashion.

“We automate about 80% of conversations, particularly repetitive inquiries like  updating accounts, and helping with purchases,” Murchison said. “We don’t replace too many systems. We sit as the automation layer on top of incumbent offerings like [Salesforce] Service Cloud, Zendesk and Oracle.”

Ada’s relationship with these kinds of vendors is very much one of co-opetition.

“We do compete with some of the automation offerings of these incumbents, like Salesforce Einstein,” Murchison said. “We compete with Salesforce on their automation offerings but co-operate with them on everything else. We compete with Zendesk in the SMB space, but co-operate on automation as they move upmarket. There is also an emerging number of smaller startups, but the important thing here is that the total addressable market for automation is far larger than the current Automated Customer Experience market.”

Ada has had some major enterprise customer wins, including Zoom, Shopify, and AirAsia, the largest airline in Malaysia. Their market is broader than the enterprise, however.

“We sell to midmarket business, which we define as 100 employees up, and enterprises, which we define as 1000 up,” Murchison said. “What unites them all is a core focus on customer experience. Zoom picked us to scale their customer experience. We like to partner with companies who innovate around customer experience.”

Ada had to work through COVID related challenges in early 2020. They laid off about a quarter of their staff in the spring, because COVID extended sales cycles and resulted in the decision to reduce operational expenses.

“Any time you go through something like that, it is an incredibly difficult experience,” Murchison said. “We were able to follow it with a record quarter of growth. It took a while for businesses to learn how to buy software in the COVID world, so that what looked like abandoned sales cycles was in reality backed-up sales cycles. While we made what was the right decision for the business at that time, we were able to rebound super-quickly. It also left an impact on the company’s culture that was quite positive in reminding us that we never want to go through that again.”

Ada’s establishment of a strong global presence helped with that rebound.

“We are a global company, with a considerable presence outside North America,” Murchison stated. “Asia is big for us, and AirAsia was a big win.

In a space where all vendors typically begin by selling direct, Ada began that way as well, but Murchison described the channel as a small and quickly growing percentage of their revenue.

“Towards the last quarter of 2020, we really got a lot of interest there, and are starting to see significant increases in revenue,” he said. “Our goal is to have 25% of revenue coming from partners by 2021.”

Murchison expects that 2021 will be a huge year for Ada overall.

“We have very ambitious revenue growth targets, and plan to more than double from an employee perspective,” he said. “We are being applied to more and more business cases, and are heavily focused on enabling the market to learn from the 120 million plus conversations we automated in 2020. We know there has been a debate on the health of the Canadian tech ecosystem. But there are many multi-billion dollar Canadian companies emerging. It’s really important to us that Ada serve as an example of how Canadian companies can grow very big by thinking globally. It makes it clear that our ecosystem is working.”