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Tag: Acquired

Snapchat quietly acquired AI Factory, the company behind its new Cameos feature, for $166M

January 4, 2020 No Comments

After acquiring Ukraine startup Looksery in 2015 to supercharge animated selfie lenses in Snapchat — arguably changing the filters game for all social video and photo apps — Snap has made another acquisition with roots in the country, co-founded by one of Looksery’s founders, to give a big boost to its video capabilities.

The company has acquired AI Factory, a computer vision startup that Snap had worked with to create Snapchat’s new Cameos animated selfie-based video feature, for a price believed to be in the region of $ 166 million.

The news was first reported by a Ukrainian publication, AIN, and while I’m still waiting for a direct reply from Snap about the acquisition, I’ve had the news confirmed by another source close to the deal, and Snap has now also confirmed the news to TechCrunch with no further comment on the financial terms or any other details.

Victor Shaburov, the founder of Looksery who then went on to become Snap’s director of engineering — leaving in May 2018 to found and lead AI Factory — declined to provide a comment for this story. (The other founders of AI Factory are Greg Tkachenko and Eugene Krokhalev.)

Cameos, launched last month, lets you take a selfie, which is then automatically “animated” and inserted into a short video. The selection of videos, currently around 150, is created by Snap, with the whole concept not unlike the one underpinning “deepfakes” — AI-based videos that look “real” but are actually things that never really happened.

Deepfake videos have been around for a while. But if your experience of that word has strong dystopian undertones, we now appear to be in a moment where consumer apps are tapping into the technology in a race for new — fun, lighthearted — features to attract and keep users. Just today, Josh reported that TikTok has secretly built a deepfake tool, too. I expect we’ll be hearing about Facebook’s newest deepfake tool in 3, 2, 1…

From what I understand, while AI Factory has offices in San Francisco, the majority of the team of around 70 is based out of Ukraine. Part of the team will relocate with the deal, and part will stay there.

Snap had also been an investor in AI Factory. Part of its early interest would have been because of the track record of the talent associated with the startup: lenses have been a huge success for Snap — 70% of its daily active users play with them, and they not only bring in new users, but increase retention and bring in revenues by way of sponsorships or users buying them — so creating new features to give users more ways to play around with their selfies is a good bet.

It’s not clear whether AI Factory will be developing a way to insert selfies into any video, or if the feature will be tied just to specific videos offered by Snap itself, or whether the videos will extend beyond the timing of a GIF. It’s also not clear what else AI Factory was working on: the company’s site is offline and there is very little information about the company beyond its mission to bring more AI-based imaging tools into mainstream apps and usage.

The company’s LinkedIn profile says that AI Factory “provide[s] multiple AI business solutions based on image and video recognition, analysis and processing,” so while the company will come under Snap’s wing, there may be scope for the team to build some of its technology into more innovative ways for businesses to use the Snap platform in the future, too.

We’ll update this post as we learn more.

Updated with Snap’s confirmation of the acquisition.


Social – TechCrunch


Facebook has acquired Servicefriend, which builds ‘hybrid’ chatbots, for Calibra customer service

September 22, 2019 No Comments

As Facebook prepares to launch its new cryptocurrency Libra in 2020, it’s putting the pieces in place to help it run. In one of the latest developments, it has acquired Servicefriend, a startup that built bots — chat clients for messaging apps based on artificial intelligence — to help customer service teams, TechCrunch has confirmed.

The news was first reported in Israel, where Servicefriend is based, after one of its investors, Roberto Singler, alerted local publication The Marker about the deal. We reached out to Ido Arad, one of the co-founders of the company, who referred our questions to a team at Facebook. Facebook then confirmed the acquisition with an Apple-like non-specific statement:

“We acquire smaller tech companies from time to time. We don’t always discuss our plans,” a Facebook spokesperson said.

Several people, including Arad, his co-founder Shahar Ben Ami, and at least one other indicate that they now work at Facebook within the Calibra digital wallet group on their LinkedIn profiles. Their jobs at the social network started this month, meaning this acquisition closed in recent weeks. (Several others indicate that they are still at Servicefriend, meaning they too may have likely made the move as well.)

Although Facebook isn’t specifying what they will be working on, the most obvious area will be in building a bot — or more likely, a network of bots — for the customer service layer for the Calibra digital wallet that Facebook is developing.

Facebook’s plan is to build a range of financial services for people to use Calibra to pay out and receive Libra — for example, to send money to contacts, pay bills, top up their phones, buy things and more.

It remains to be seen just how much people will trust Facebook as a provider of all these. So that is where having “human” and accessible customer service experience will be essential.

“We are here for you,” Calibra notes on its welcome page, where it promises 24-7 support in WhatsApp and Messenger for its users.

Screenshot 2019 09 21 at 23.25.18

Servicefriend has worked on Facebook’s platform in the past: specifically it built “hybrid” bots for Messenger for companies to use to complement teams of humans, to better scale their services on messaging platforms. In one Messenger bot that Servicefriend built for Globe Telecom in the Philippines, it noted that the hybrid bot was able to bring the “agent hours” down to under 20 hours for each 1,000 customer interactions.

Bots have been a relatively problematic area for Facebook. The company launched a personal assistant called M in 2015, and then bots that let users talk to businesses in 2016 on Messenger, with quite some fanfare, although the reality was that nothing really worked as well as promised, and in some cases worked significantly worse than whatever services they aimed to replace.

While AI-based assistants such as Alexa have become synonymous with how a computer can carry on a conversation and provide information to humans, the consensus around bots these days is that the most workable way forward is to build services that complement, rather than completely replace, teams.

For Facebook, getting its customer service on Calibra right can help it build and expand its credibility (note: another area where Servicefriend has build services is in using customer service as a marketing channel). Getting it wrong could mean issues not just with customers, but with partners and possibly regulators.


Social – TechCrunch


Facebook has acquired Servicefriend, which builds ‘hybrid’ chatbots, for Calibra customer service

September 22, 2019 No Comments

As Facebook prepares to launch its new cryptocurrency Libra in 2020, it’s putting the pieces in place to help it run. In one of the latest developments, it has acquired Servicefriend, a startup that built bots — chat clients for messaging apps based on artificial intelligence — to help customer service teams, TechCrunch has confirmed.

The news was first reported in Israel, where Servicefriend is based, after one of its investors, Roberto Singler, alerted local publication The Marker about the deal. We reached out to Ido Arad, one of the co-founders of the company, who referred our questions to a team at Facebook. Facebook then confirmed the acquisition with an Apple-like non-specific statement:

“We acquire smaller tech companies from time to time. We don’t always discuss our plans,” a Facebook spokesperson said.

Several people, including Arad, his co-founder Shahar Ben Ami, and at least one other indicate that they now work at Facebook within the Calibra digital wallet group on their LinkedIn profiles. Their jobs at the social network started this month, meaning this acquisition closed in recent weeks. (Several others indicate that they are still at Servicefriend, meaning they too may have likely made the move as well.)

Although Facebook isn’t specifying what they will be working on, the most obvious area will be in building a bot — or more likely, a network of bots — for the customer service layer for the Calibra digital wallet that Facebook is developing.

Facebook’s plan is to build a range of financial services for people to use Calibra to pay out and receive Libra — for example, to send money to contacts, pay bills, top up their phones, buy things and more.

It remains to be seen just how much people will trust Facebook as a provider of all these. So that is where having “human” and accessible customer service experience will be essential.

“We are here for you,” Calibra notes on its welcome page, where it promises 24-7 support in WhatsApp and Messenger for its users.

Screenshot 2019 09 21 at 23.25.18

Servicefriend has worked on Facebook’s platform in the past: specifically it built “hybrid” bots for Messenger for companies to use to complement teams of humans, to better scale their services on messaging platforms. In one Messenger bot that Servicefriend built for Globe Telecom in the Philippines, it noted that the hybrid bot was able to bring the “agent hours” down to under 20 hours for each 1,000 customer interactions.

Bots have been a relatively problematic area for Facebook. The company launched a personal assistant called M in 2015, and then bots that let users talk to businesses in 2016 on Messenger, with quite some fanfare, although the reality was that nothing really worked as well as promised, and in some cases worked significantly worse than whatever services they aimed to replace.

While AI-based assistants such as Alexa have become synonymous with how a computer can carry on a conversation and provide information to humans, the consensus around bots these days is that the most workable way forward is to build services that complement, rather than completely replace, teams.

For Facebook, getting its customer service on Calibra right can help it build and expand its credibility (note: another area where Servicefriend has build services is in using customer service as a marketing channel). Getting it wrong could mean issues not just with customers, but with partners and possibly regulators.


Startups – TechCrunch


Accela gets acquired by Berkshire Partners as it looks to move govtech services to the cloud

October 1, 2017 No Comments

 Boston-based private equity shop Berkshire Partners announced this afternoon that it is acquiring Accela — a nearly 20 year old startup that sells regulatory management solutions to government clients. Accela has gone through a troika of CEOs in the last year. Previously acting CEO Mark Jung replaced Maury Blackman last October who had managed the company for about a decade. We… Read More
Enterprise – TechCrunch


Snapchat has quietly acquired an Israeli startup for a reported $30 million to $40 million

December 27, 2016 No Comments

screen-shot-2016-12-25-at-9-24-58-am Snapchat sewed up its first acquisition in Israel this week, according to the outlet Calcalist News. It acquired four-year-old Cimagine, whose augmented reality platform lets consumers instantly visualize products they want to buy in their intended location, paying what Calcalist says was between $ 30 million and $ 40 million. According to its LinkedIn page, Cimagine currently works with brands… Read More
Social – TechCrunch


bump

Bump Mobile Contact Sharing App Acquired By Google, Will Stay Alive For Now

September 24, 2013 No Comments

After raising nearly $ 20 million and becoming one of the most downloaded mobile apps but never finding real revenue, Bump Technologies has been acquired by Google. Its namesake app Bump lets you physically tap phones together to share contact info and more, and it will stay available for download. Congratulations might not be the right word, but Bump could have a bright future at the Googleplex.

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intel

Intel Has Acquired Natural Language Processing Startup Indisys, Price “North” Of $26M, To Build Its AI Muscle

September 17, 2013 No Comments

Intel has quietly made another international acquisition in its push into artificial intelligence technology: it has bought Indisys, a Spanish startup focused on naturual language recognition. The terms of the deal have not been disclosed, but it is reportedly “north” of €20 million ($ 26 million). It comes just two months after news broke that Intel acquired Omek, an Israeli maker of gesture-based interfaces, reportedly for about $ 40 million.

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