Decision-making on the fly for business owners has just become a whole lot easier thanks to Aider – an intuitive AI digital assistant that understands your business and quickly pays for itself. It might just be your smartest technology investment for 2019.
Two minutes. According to Aider co-founder Brendan Roberts that’s all the time it takes for a business owner to be up and running with their new digital business assistant – an AI (artificial intelligence) app that connects through a smartphone and allows business managers and owners to ask questions about their business, receive answers and take action.
If you run your own business, any business, and have been wondering how AI could improve how you manage your operation day by day – here’s your answer. This is AI made easy, and a game-changer for busy entrepreneurs and small business owners wanting to save on time and effort.
NZBusiness met Brendan and fellow co-founder Pete Weaver in January at the impressive new B:Hive business hub in Takapuna’s Smales Farm, where they are based, for the lowdown on a technology that is starting to make its presence felt in the market.
For Pete and Brendan, the Aider journey began just over a year ago. Both had previous experience with tech start-ups. Brendan had been studying the latest AI technology – how it could meet the needs of smaller businesses; how a new breed of young, tech-savvy business owners is emerging; and how AI could help change how the world of commerce operates.
“That’s where the idea [for Aider] came from. We could see the future was around conversational AI – being able to talk with your data and have a digital assistant help you run your business.”
Pete and Brendan boot-strapped Aider from day-one, and still invest in the business today. However, to date they’ve secured more than NZ$1 million in investor funding, along with a Callaghan Innovation grant to help develop the product’s IP.
They’ve now launched their MVP (minimum viable product) in both New Zealand and Australia.
The passion behind Aider is to help small businesses, says Brendan. “It’s a sector that’s been traditionally under-served as far as technology goes,” he believes, adding that AI until now has largely been targeted at consumers (think Siri and Google Assistant) and corporates, which tend to finance and build their own solutions.
Aider is ‘AI as a service’ for small businesses; to give them an edge; to help them open the door to new technology and increase productivity, which in turn helps grow our GDP, explains Pete. Aider utilises AI technology which has evolved to a stage where it can create valuable efficiencies for business owners.
AI is an umbrella term that covers many different types of artificial technology – and this is where confusion and misunderstanding can creep in, the co-founders believe.
“We think the rise of ‘conversational AI’ or ‘natural language processing’ is going to be very important and become more acceptable,” says Brendan. “It means you can access your software and data easier.”
People are becoming more comfortable using AI technology such as Aider, he says. The difference with natural language technology is that it understands what is being asked of it – the actual intent, or context, behind the words you choose, even though we all use different words to label things. “For example, someone might ask ‘what are my sales today?’ Another business owner might use the words; ‘what are my takings?’”
Understanding how small business owners talk has been key to Aider’s development, says Pete. “It’s about making the technology accessible and user-friendly, and business owners comfortable with engaging it.”
Users also need to know that they can trust Aider, he says, on security, privacy and reliability.
Aider’s initial focus has been the retail and hospitality industries and growth is linked to the business apps it plugs into – the likes of Xero, point-of-sale, payroll and rostering platforms, Google Analytics and business social media pages.
“Aider is a digital assistant that understands your business,” says Brendan. “You can ask Aider specific questions like ‘what’s today’s top-selling product?’, ‘who’s rostered on today?’ or ‘how many Facebook posts did we have?’
“You get information in a split second. Aider’s a digital version of your rockstar employee who understands what’s going on in your business and out in the big wide world.”
As an example, Aider can harness outside factors such as local weather and traffic to aid business owners with rostering, he explains – leading to better staff management; the ability to handle issues on the fly.
Business owners also have an affordable (the introductory price is $39 a month) time-saving tool that lets them keep their finger on the pulse away from the business. As the technology progresses there is the ability for Aider to become more proactive in regard to supplying information and suggesting solutions.
“Aider is not like other employees,” says Pete. “It can actively assess your data, tell you what’s going on, and suggest options.”
And with digital assistants never far away these days, business owners can access this input almost anywhere. You don’t have to log on; Aider pushes information out to you.
“The ROI is immense,” adds Pete. “The payback [in time saved] should be measured in hours, not days. The more you use it, the quicker the payback.”
Testing and learning
Right now Aider AI is in a race for awareness. Despite demystifying AI technology, Pete and Brendan see apathy of business owners as a major hurdle.
They’re testing the waters in Australasia first, and will then select other suitable English-speaking markets.
As tech start-ups go, Aider has had a relatively quick journey to market – although there have been lessons. Pete says if they had their time again they would get their core team together in one space much quicker. “Because once everyone’s around the one table, dynamics change, communication improves and the culture really kicks in.”
They have the validated product, now they need revenue. Therefore the goal for 2019 is on sales; adding value to more small businesses around the world.
“Once business owners have looked at Aider, it virtually sells itself,” says Brendan.
“But most of all we’ll be working closely with our business partners, listening and learning from our existing customers.”
To learn more about Aider and how it helps small businesses become more productive go to https://aider.ai/blog.
Glenn Baker is editor of NZBusiness.