Written By Andrew Seale
Chat is undeniably the future. It sounds trite doesn’t it? Especially for a tool that has existed in some shape or form since the internet was just an idea. But it’s changed, it’s evolved into something else entirely, and it's the new catch-all for digital exchanges.
Look at WeChat, says Adomas Baltagalvis, co-founder and CMO of Lithuanian born/Toronto-accelerated startup Eddy Travels.
“In China, WeChat is booming,” says Baltagalvis. “More and more products and services are being sold on chat commerce.” Coffees are purchased, restaurant reservations are being made, and money is being exchanged through platforms originally designed as simple messenger apps. It’s a social shift, one that’s been slowly creeping into the west. Chat platforms like Facebook’s Messenger and WhatsApp (also owned by Facebook) are already in the midst of their own re-envisioning as commerce tools.
And Eddy Travels, an artificial intelligence assistant with voice understanding for flights, hotels, and other travel services, is capitalizing on that interest by simplifying the trip planning experience. Users text the assistant using their preferred chat platform as they would any contact. Eddy Travels returns suggestions, learning preferences and personalizing over time.
There’s also a business travel version (something Baltagalvis and co. have become well-versed in having spent nearly a decade travelling outside of their Lithuanian home) that can be installed as an app on their Slack Workspace where you can tag colleagues and skip all the back and forth with administrators in favour of simple suggestions and booking by your AI assistant.
“We have over 60,000 users on Eddy Travels and they did over 30,000 flight searches in the last month alone,” says Baltagalvis, who co-founded the app alongside Edmundas Balčikonis and Pranas Kiziela. The company launched one year ago and is available in popular messaging apps including Facebook Messenger, Telegram, WhatsApp, Line, Viber, Slack. It’s powered by the company’s custom-built natural language processing system.
Eddy Travels graduated from Techstars in Toronto this past spring, wooed by the city’s AI and machine learning talent. “Canada is famous for its AI and machine learning,” says Baltagalvis. “And travel tech is growing here as well.”
Couple that with established VCs and growing interest from American investors, and Canada’s English speakers who are avid travellers with the purchasing power to do so and “Toronto was a match made in heaven” says the Eddy Travels co-founder. “It opens a lot of doors.”
The startup is currently a part of the Intelak startup program in Dubai, working on a pilot with the Emirates Group and Dubai Tourism, as well as gearing up for a stint in the Global Acceleration Academy in Hong Kong with main partner Cathay Pacific. They’re also discussing the white labelling of the solution with a dozen travel companies, online travel agents, and airlines.
It’s a global company, but Baltagalvis says Toronto will play an even larger role going forward.
“Setting up the headquarters in Toronto is almost a badge of validation,” he says. “North American investors in general, they would be that much more willing and open to speak with you and discuss any potential deals in the future… if we stayed in Europe it would be much more challenging to actually get those initial relationships going.”
Photo credit: www.eddytravels.com