Interview with Ravi N. Raj, CEO and Co-founder, Passage AI

Ravi N Raj Passage AI
Ravi N. Raj

Tell us about your role and how you got here. What inspired you to conceive a conversational intelligence company?

My inspiration to co-found Passage AI was sparked by a conversation with my sister. She worked in a call center in India and lamented the fact that each day she would answer the same question over and over, leaving her bored and frustrated. Eventually, she left the job as she wanted to pursue something that would allow her to be more creative. She later became a best-selling author.

However, the problem remained – how could technology help alleviate the boredom associated with repetitive tasks so employees could focus on work that benefits from a personal touch. So we started Passage AI to enable businesses to harness the power of AI-enabled conversational interfaces to bring bottom-line benefit to businesses, alleviate mundane tasks from service agents and let them apply their intellect, all while delivering exceptional customer/user experiences.

How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a business leader? How do you leverage AI capabilities at Passage AI?

I do believe that you do need to use your own technology that you’re selling, and our AI chatbot does help funnel in new business inquiries. If you go to the Passage AI website, you’ll see a chatbot pop up in the lower right hand corner that will ask if you’re interested in our bot builder, platform support or AI/NLP. Answering this question funnels you into the right information and background. A user can ask to speak to a human account executive at any point in time.

How soon would we see ‘bots creating bots’ and bots self-deploying anywhere?

Personally, we don’t see bots creating other bots or bots self-deploying anywhere. We feel that bots will be built, trained and deployed using an AI/NLP platform like ours.

What are the core challenges that businesses face in adopting a truly personalized bot conversation platform?

Most businesses want to use bots to help them start addressing customer queries quickly and efficiently, but it can take some companies months to deploy within legacy systems. In addition, most bots don’t truly understand natural language, which can contribute to a frustrating experience for the end-users.

How does Passage AI solve these challenges?

We can deploy a bot in as little as three weeks, getting businesses up and running quickly.

Passage AI has built sophisticated deep learning models using techniques such as LSTM (long short-term memory) which makes it possible for bots created using our platform to understand natural language.

How do you see IT Automation platforms and Virtual Assistants coming together in 2018?

There’s a huge opportunity to transform this area.  IT departments can benefit from a chatbot, enabling prompt IT services to employees through a bot. The conversational interface can handle queries, submit tickets, and take direct action through APIs. Again, a password request or access to a certain application or folder are no longer draining scarce IT resources.

What tools does your marketing and advertising stack consist of? 

We use MailChimp for email marketing and Twilio for SMS. We also advertise on Google AdWords, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Would you tell us about your standout digital campaign? What are your predictions for the B2B customer service industry in 2018?

According to a survey conducted by Oracle recently, 80 percent of all businesses will want a chatbot by 2020. A chatbot can provide automated responses to frequently asked questions, which can significantly improve customer satisfaction and lower customer service costs. Another survey conducted by Digital Pulse showed that 85 percent of consumers preferred to interact with a bot. We see chatbots revolutionizing the world of customer service in 2018 and beyond.

One word that best describes how you work.

I like to provide full clarity on priorities for myself and my team so everyone is aligned and pulling in the same direction.

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?

iPhone, Safari, SMS, FB Messenger, WhatsApp, Uber, and Slack.

What’s your smartest work related shortcut or productivity hack?

Using AI to figure out the right messages, posts, and emails to read, and in some cases, automatically respond to.

What are you currently reading? (What do you read, and how do you consume information?)

“Inspired: How To Create Products Customers Love” by Marty Cagan

“When breath becomes air” by Paul Kalanithi

“The Art of War” by Sun Tzu

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.”

Thank you Ravi! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.

Ravi N. Raj is the Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder at Passage AI, Inc. He served as the Head of Product of BloomReach, Inc. until May 17, 2016. Ravi served as Vice President of Products and General Manager of Owned & Operated Sites of Kosmix Corporation (now WalmartLabs, Inc.). He ran Kosmix’s Product team and was responsible for Kosmix.com, RightHealth.com, and Tweetbeat.com. He has a track record of more than 16 years of successfully developing products in the SEM and e-commerce space. He served as a Senior Director of Product Management at Yahoo! and worked for 5 years at Yahoo! in the search, social media, and marketplace verticals. He also managed product teams at AltaVista, Elance, and SGI, and holds patents in sponsored search and e-commerce. Ravi has an undergraduate degree from the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras and a Master’s from UC, Irvine.

Passage AI
Founded in 2016 by WalmartLabs alumni Madhu Mathihalli and Ravi Raj and LinkedIn alumnus Mitul Tiwari, Passage AI enables businesses to harness the power of AI-enabled conversational interfaces to bring bottom-line benefits, to better utilize service agents saddled by mundane tasks, and to deliver exceptional customer experience. Passage AI counts Kohl’s, Udacity and PwC among the business and services that use its solution. The company has secured $3 million in total funding and is headquartered in Mountain View, Calif.

The MTS Martech Interview Series is a fun Q&A style chat which we really enjoy doing with martech leaders. With inspiration from Lifehacker’s How I work interviews, the MarTech Series Interviews follows a two part format On Marketing Technology, and This Is How I Work. The format was chosen because when we decided to start an interview series with the biggest and brightest minds in martech – we wanted to get insight into two areas … one – their ideas on marketing tech and two – insights into the philosophy and methods that make these leaders tick.

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