ConverseNow boosts restaurant-ordering AI with $15M raise

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ConverseNow, a startup developing a platform that automates orders at quick service drive-thru windows, today announced that it closed a $15 million series A funding round led by Craft Ventures, with participation from LiveOak Venture Partners, Tensility Venture Partners, Knoll Ventures, Bala Investments, 2048 Ventures, Bridge Investments, Moneta Ventures, and angel investors. The proceeds bring the company’s total raised to date to $18.3 million, which CEO Vinay Shukla says will be put toward scaling and creating technologies like “digital line-busting” — some of which will roll out later this year.

As restaurants recover from the pandemic, many are reimagining their channel strategy for ordering as well as the in-store guest experience. Labor availability and the supply chain are affecting those decisions, as well as challenges like inaccurate orders. Wrong orders alone cost fast food locations an average of $94,232 each year, according to one study.

ConverseNow was founded in 2018 by Shukla and Rahul Aggarwal, who say they were motivated by the front-of-house and back-of-house blockers that restaurants face. By using conversational AI and other tools to let human workers focus on food prep and service versus order-taking, technology could improve the customer experience, the cofounders believed.

“ConverseNow transforms how quick-service restaurants serve customers with George and Becky, sophisticated AI voice ordering assistants that help optimize the deployment of valuable staff hours and improve the speed and accuracy of orders,” Shukla explained to VentureBeat via email. “ConverseNow believes that as off-premise ordering continues to rise, restaurants will add more drive-thrus [and] assess their dependency on aggregators and third-party deliveries. Another important lesson for restaurants to learn is how to manage the peak demand of resources without risking employee health and wellness.”

Conversational AI

ConverseNow’s platform plugs into restaurants’ phone systems, drive-thru kiosks, and mobile apps to automate order-taking. The aforementioned George and Becky — multilingual voice assistants whose personalities can be tailored to individual brands — leverage AI trained on “millions” of data points to predict behaviors based on questions and customers’ responses. The technology takes into account variables like order history, time of day, weather, and even restaurant busyness to suggest, for example, items with shorter prep times and higher profit margins.

On the backend, ConverseNow intercepts audio from calls and drive-thru displays, listens to conversations, and provides visualizations to employees with tagged items as customers add them, prompting recommendations based on preferences. The platform integrates with existing restaurant point-of-sale systems and digital ordering platforms, providing access so that clerks can make changes to orders as needed.

Austin, Texas-based ConverseNow has competition in Kea.ai, Novo Labs, Valyant.ai, Hi Auto, OpenCity, and Presto, which aim to corner a multichannel order management market anticipated to be worth $3.9 billion by 2026, according to Markets and Markets. McDonald’s restaurants in Chicago are testing automated drive-thru ordering using AI software. In 2019, some Sonic drive-ins got AI-powered menu kiosks as part of a limited pilot. And Starbucks recently launched a program that creates recommendations based off of customers’ previous orders, in addition to factors like weather and ongoing promotions.

For ConverseNow’s part, the company, which employs 47 people, says it has deals with eight multinational and national quick-service restaurant brands.

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