How many times have you called multiple restaurant just to see if they are open and nobody picks up or you called to make a reservation and ended up getting put on hold for five minutes? This annoying and time-consuming ritual occurs at least once a week for New Yorkers, and it seems like there should be a more efficient way to ask restaurants these trivial questions. Finally, there is! Guestfriend is a personalized, chatbot platform that allows restaurants to enhance their customer service by enabling customers to easily communicate with the restaurant through multiple messaging platforms. Guestfriend compiles information about the business, which is already available through sources like Foursquare and Google Places, to create a fully- functioning and customized chatbot. These chatbots are ideal for busy, growing businesses because there is no learning curve to deploy them and they are fully self-sufficient.
AlleyWatch chatted with Guestfriend’s founder and CEO Bo Peabody and head of marketing Alec McGuffey to discuss its product and latest round of funding
Who were your investors and how much did you raise?
$5M in seed funding from Primary Venture Partners, Techstars Ventures and Betaworks.
Tell us about Guestfriend’s product or service.
Guestfriend is platform that builds chatbots for small businesses automatically using publicly available data, with no manual work required by the business to set up and launch a fully-customized chatbot on all of their online channels. Our platform is unlike anything else that exists because we are able to create a fully-customized bot for any small business instantly using the information about their business that already exists online across sources like their website, Foursquare, Google Places, and more.
What inspired you to start Guestfriend?
90% of people now say they would prefer to communicate with businesses via text and messaging apps. I started talking to restaurant operators about their issues and heard over and over again that they weren’t sure how to deal with texting, both as practical matter (allowing guests to text them) as well as a possible marketing channel to drive business. I realized we had the same problem at my restaurants, Mezze and Allium, so we set out solving it for my restaurants. And that’s what led to Guestfriend. It was very organic. No business school studies done!
How is Guestfriend different than other chatbot platforms?
Most small businesses can’t afford to have someone constantly responding to questions via text. And even though 95% of businesses have tools like Facebook Messenger enabled, many businesses ignore the importance of immediacy in customer support, resulting in frustrated customers and lost sales.
Chatbots are the best solution for businesses that want to engage with guests in real-time online but who can’t afford to have staff constantly answering incoming inquiries. Up until Guestfriend; however, there were no good ways for small businesses to create their own chatbot. Either they could hire an agency to build one for them- which can cost thousands of dollars and take months to deploy- or they could create one themselves on a chatbot authoring platform. However, this method has a steep learning curve and it can take dozens, if not hundreds, of hours to create something remotely usable. That’s something no business owner is going to do.
We need something simple that we can set and forget, so we can get back to making sure guests are having a great experience inside the restaurant. That’s why we built Guestfriend the way we did. Our platform is unique in that it takes a different approach to the creation of chatbots from anything else on the market. Your chatbot is done in seconds! No more going to an agency that’s going to take 2 months and charge $10,000 dollars.
What market are you targeting and how big is it?
There are over 600,000 restaurants in the United States and millions internationally. Restaurants are our vertical test, but we’ll soon expand to other verticals like home services, spas, hotels, and more. In short order, any small business that could benefit from an automated messaging solution will be able to claim their own Guestfriend “virtual host”.
What’s your business model?
We are a SaaS product. We charge restaurants an incredibly low $39/month, which gives them access to their custom Guestfriend which they can edit and easily add to their website, Twitter, Google, Facebook, Alexa, Google Assistant, and more.
How are restaurant owners reacting to adoption of the technology? What sort of outcomes can you share?
Chatbots are still a very new technology to small business owners, but initial reception has been great. Restaurants know they need to figure out a solution to messaging, but they can’t afford to have someone constantly responding to text messages from customers. We’ve been really excited by the initial response.
What are the milestones you plan to achieve in the next six months?
Now that we’ve built a platform that can create a chatbot for a small business instantly, we’re preparing to point it towards other small business verticals in the coming months. Restaurants are our proof vertical and after this we’ll be expanding to areas such as gyms, salons, home services, hotels, and more.
Where do you see the company going now over the near term?
Our main goal is to expand our platform to other SMB categories so that any small business that wants to let their customers and potential customers message them will be able to do so without adding any in-house staff or major costs to their balance sheet.
What’s your favorite restaurant in the city?