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Invisible raises $2.6M to combine AI and humans for work automation

The company combines an AI-powered bot with a human labor force that can free up workers

Financial trends and news by Steven Loeb
October 18, 2018
Short URL: http://vator.tv/n/4c63

There's a lot of fear out there when it comes to automation and artificial intelligence, specifically what that is going to mean for the future of labor. Many, many people are worried about their jobs being taken away by a machine. The general feeling seems to be that we should all embrace the change, join hands to sing and say "welcome" to the machine.

Perhaps the reality of these technologies is not going to be quite so stark, though, at least that what Francis Pedraza, CEO of Invisible, believes. Invisible is a company that merges an AI bot with human intelligence in order to automate menial work tasks. Rather than replacing workers, Pedraza believes that it will enhance work, allowing employees to focus on more important tasks. 

"There’s an app for everything these days, so why isn’t everything perfect yet? The insight is that solutions have cost. You have use them, and there’s only 24 hours in a day, so even though there’s more and more technology available every year, we feel somehow more and more overwhelmed because we’re running around using it," he told me in an interview.

"It’s weird that technology has turned us into slaves instead of masters, and I think the idea with Invisible is to put everyone back into that position of being the master, where technology is serving them and they can be more creative and more strategic and more free."

The company officially launched on Thursday with $2.6 million in seed funding that the company raised from Backed Ventures, Loup Ventures, Horizons Alpha, and Day One Ventures. The round also included angel investment from Mark Pincus, Siraj Khaliq, Howard Morgan, Charlie Songhurst, and Lee Linden.

With Invisible, users interact with a bot, which they can name themselves, via e-mail, call, or text. They tell it what work they need done, and the bot then outsources that work to real humans, called Agents, that are employed by Invisible. Once the assigned Agent finishes the requested work, the bot sends it directly back to the user. 

The idea for Invisible came from Pedraza's busy schedule, and his own desire to delegate that work to someone else but not wanting to load one person with too much. 

"Like any busy person, I’m always trying to delegate work so that I can focus on the most important things. I thought about hiring an assistant, but I realized that even if I hired the best assistant in the world, I would end up feeling guilty because I delegate more than 40 hours of work per week, and then my assistant would need an assistant and so on and so forth," he said.

"So, I thought, ‘What if there was a bot that could coordinate an army of assistants for me, and a single bot that could do everything that wouldn’t have to feel guilty about delegating to, and that could run hundreds of processes for thousands of hours and take advantage of the fact that 70 percent of the world makes less than $10 a day so there’s a nearly infinite supply of willing labor in the world.’ That’s where the idea was born. And then actually figuring out how to do it has been a long journey."

While Invisible, which starts at $10 per hour, can be purchased by an individual, so far it has mostly been purchased as a business expense to be used by employees. So, for example, Agents can be asked to administrative tasks, such as scheduling meetings, booking flights, managing contacts or even drafting messages, or salesperson can use it to do lead gen work or updating CRMs. In other cases, recruiters have used it to do job sourcing, and account managers often use it to generate reports. It can also take over workflows for operations managers.

"Depending on what your role is within the company, the average knowledge worker can delegate about 40 percent of their work, but everyone, director level and down, doesn’t have assistants in most companies. Only VPs and up have assistants, so providing that infinite delegation resource makes every person in the company more productive," Pedraza told me.

"What’s the line at the bottom of the Statue of Liberty? Like, ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your oppressed.’ I want to deliver that message to people at companies. The person who’s most stressed, who’s most overworked, who’s spending nights and weekends in front of a screen, and who knows that they could be delegating some of that work if they just had an intern or an assistant. That’s the person we’re trying to reach."

Currently, Invisible is being used by 200 companies, and it is already saving them both time and money by cutting down on the hours necessary for work to be completed, as well as the hourly rate that needs to be doled out. 

"If you’re very conservative and you assume that people are only working 40 hour weeks, and their billable rate is only $100, and we’re at $10 an hour, and we’re saving about 16 hours a week per person, then it ends up being about $75,000 a year per head in savings," explained Pedraza.

When it comes to competition, the closest example to another company doing something similar to Invisible that he could give me was Upwork. With that company, though, the user has to train each person it hired, manage them and check their work, while Invisible automates all of those processes and takes it out of the user's hands.

"We provide an easy interface with the bot and you can give as many processes and as many hundreds or thousands of hours of work you want done and it just scales. We handle all of the coordination of labor, we design the processes and upgrade the process and automate them to improve cost over time. We handle the security issues, we handle the QA, we handle the training. We run the army for you," said Pedraza.

The focus for Invisible going forward is getting to profitability, and that is what the company will use the funding for, as well as to build out the team, which currently consists of 100 employees. 

"Our model is very unusual, our partners, so the core team, our salaries are tied to gross profits. So, we have a relatively capital efficent model, and this does give us a large war chest to attract more talent but the focus of the company right now is getting to profitability," Pedraza said. "Conservatively, we want to 4x the business over the course of the year, but, more aggressively, we’re trying to 10x but I think it’s always good to be conservative."

In the short term, Invisible's goal is to continue building out its own platform, improving its own automation, and to start serving larger clients. The idea is to scale the company faster, and to become cheaper, as the automation improves. The longer term goal, though, is to change the way that people are able to do their work, allowing them to not have to focus on menial tasks, freeing them up to focus on more important things. 

"I think that AI has actually been overhyped. If you listen to the press it sounds like most humans won’t have a job in two decades. That’s very different from what we’re seeing. The relationship that we have between humans and technology is much more aligned, where clients are giving us the work that they don’t want to do but that they can’t easily automate. We have humans do it first and build processes and treat those processes like products. We version them, we network them, we upgrade them over time. Then, as we automate, we’re continually moving our workers into more and more advanced work. So, it’s more of a dialectic, where technology is showing humans what humans can do and technology is constantly moving us further and further into our zones of genius and freeing us up," said Pedraza.

"The bigger message of Invisible is about freedom. We are creating freedom for our clients, they have more and more time to both enjoy life and get things done, and we are creating this freedom for our workers where they’re able to enter the digital class, start working at a low dollar per hour rate and end up working at rates that they couldn’t have imagined previously, doing much more advanced work and working within a structure that basically increases their market value. Technology is sort of the thing driving that whole machine, constantly pushing them to do more advanced work and constantly giving clients better outcomes. It’s a very different conception and we call it ‘synthetic intelligence,’ a combination of human intelligence and AI, and it’s a much more grounded, realistic approach."


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