Vahan Inc. — a Bangalore- and Singapore-based startup, co-founded by a former employee of Google and Siri — has secured a “six-digit US dollars” in seed funding from a group of investors, including Indonesia’s RMKB Ventures and Silicon Valley-based Spike Ventures.
Well-known angels such as Gokul Rajaram (Product Lead at Square and formerly with Google), Sanjeev Agarwal (former Head of Marketing at Google), Mekin Maheshwari (former CPO of Flipkart, and Vir Kashyap (Co-founder at Babajob) and several other Googlers from Silicon Valley also participated in the round.
Vahan, which provides a virtual assistant inside instant messaging apps like WhatsApp and targets blue-collar workers in Asia, will use the money to scale the business. “We are looking to scale our total user base to a million users, mature our Artificial Intelligence and Natural Language technology, and are hiring to grow our sales and engineering teams, particularly in Machine Learning,” Vahan’s Co-founder and Head of Product Mohammed Abdoolcarim told e27.
Vahan was established in 2016 by Abdoolcarim and Madhav Krishna (CEO). A Stanford alumnus, Abdoolcarim grew up in Hong Kong. In the past, he worked at Google as a Product Marketing Manager, and then moved to Siri as Lead Product Manager at Siri (which was acquired by Apple for US$250 million).
Krishna, an alumnus of Columbia University in New York, grew up in Delhi, and is a Machine Learning and AI expert. He was part of several successful startups in New York such as Jetsetter (which was acquired by TripAdvisor).
Vahan is building the Siri for businesses. Salespeople and frontline workers can chat with the virtual assistant on WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and WeChat; no separate app download is required. The virtual assistant is customisable to align to employers’ support, training, communication and reporting needs.
Vahan’s web-based dashboard allows employers to track usage data that can be used for business intelligence.
“Businesses globally are already using messaging apps to engage their workers, but find it difficult to scale and save costs. Our assistant uses Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning techniques to automate tasks such as acquisition/on-boarding, training and support, and helps companies engage their workers at scale,” Abdoolcarim explained.
The product is mainly targeting blue-collar front-line workers (drivers, delivery boys, bank tellers and baristas), who don’t use laptops or email, but are active on WhatsApp. “We are doing for them what Slack has done for desk workers. India needs to grow its middle class, and Vahan is helping to achieve this goal. We do this by empowering this group of people by helping them succeed in their jobs and further their careers,” he added.
At present, Vahan supports English, Hinglish (Hindi written in English). It is also working towards supporting Bahasa.
Explaining the underlying language technology, Abdoolcarim said that Vahan collects Hinglish text data from its Facebook Messenger product called FriendFinder. FriendFinder allows people to find strangers to chat with and make new friends. Vahan then builds a model of this Hinglish text data, which is targeted for language and cultural tendencies from an Indian audience. Vahan also understands emoticons and Hindi slang, as well as a combination of Hindi and English text and voice used inside of messaging.
Vahan is catering mainly to large enterprises in India, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Middle East. The firm is currently working with Uber, Careem, Grab, Dunzo, Unnati, Amazon, YES Bank, and Flipkart.