Smartsheet is a cloud-based application for collaboration and work management that customers use to assign tasks, track project progress, manage calendars, share documents and manage other work. The name comes from the fact that, borrowing from the ubiquity of Excel in workplaces, it has a spreadsheet-like user interface. Smartsheet (the company) is an almost 800-person organization that boasts an almost $1 billion valuation. It’s customer base reputedly includes over 70,000 brands including half of the Fortune 500. Global customers include Cisco, Aramark, World Vision, Netflix, Colliers International, and Hilton.

Given Smartsheet is all about making work practices smarter, it is somewhat ironic (or meta, even) to hear that the company has acquired artificial intelligence vendor Converse.AI in a bid to accelerate natural language user experiences and conversational workflow automation. The idea of the tie-in is that Converse’s “ChatFlow” will deliver ‘no-code’ workflow automation that can link across popular messaging platforms and business systems.

Converse, who launched in 2016, helps organizations build and manage conversational bots via a drag-and-drop interface without writing code. The platform integrates with platforms like Slack, Twilio, Workplace by Facebook, Salesforce, Google, HubSpot, and PayPal. Via these integrations, Converse has been used to build in-platform tools such as Answer FAQs, Triage Questions, Automated Fault Finding, New Service Offerings, Gather Data, Route Queries, and Personalized Surveys.

Essentially Converse will allow Smartsheet to develop more automation features within its own platform. Speaking to this ongoing need for immediacy and touchless functionality, Smartsheet’s CEO, Mark Mader, commented that:

The need for a better way to execute work is real and immediate, and automation plays a critical role in helping organizations achieve competitive advantage. With Converse.AI’s team and technology, we gain the type of innovative natural language and chatflow capabilities that will accelerate our ability to empower business users to automate important workflows and use intelligent natural language interactions to execute work.

Converse’s genesis and short independent life

Converse.AI was founded by Tony Lucas, a seasoned CEO and founder. Sources suggest that Converse had been bootstrapped since its founding and this early acquisition would seem to indicate that, in the incredibly busy space that is the world of chatbots, it failed to find a significant point of differentiation that would allow it to gain traction. The success or otherwise of Converse as a business, however, is somewhat irrelevant given the applicability of what to do to their new home. Riffing on the opportunities here (and, bear in mind that CEO’s of acquired companies ALWAYS was poetic about their acquirer), Lucas said that:

As we started to engage with Smartsheet, we saw an exciting opportunity to bring the capabilities of Converse.AI to Smartsheet’s global customer base. Smartsheet’s entrepreneurial culture and approach to enabling accessible workflow automation in the enterprise is very much aligned with our own vision. Together we form a complementary platform that is reflective of how businesses want to extract value from technology.

Everyone wants to know about the price

Alas, financial details of the deal are not being reported. Smartsheet advises, however, that the entire Converse.AI team, including founders Tony Lucas and Gihan Munasinghe, will stay intact as a wholly-owned subsidiary under Smartsheet, and the company will continue to hire in order to meet growing customer demand. Existing Converse.AI customer relationships and agreements will not be impacted by the acquisition, and the Converse.AI platform will continue to be supported. Converse is still tiny, with under 10 staff and seemingly doesn’t have massive customer traction, so while this statement shows good intent, in practicality it isn’t massively impactful.

Integrating the products

According to the release, in the coming months, Converse.AI’s core technology will be integrated into the Smartsheet platform directly. Time-consuming business processes that span multiple systems, such as onboarding new customers, cross-departmental reporting, and qualifying leads, will be simplified through the use of bots.

MyPOV

This deal makes total sense for Smartsheet. I’d suggest it’s not a massively positive outcome for Converse, but at least their technology and value proposition gets to enjoy greater impact via a larger customer base. Congrats to all, and I’ll be looking forward to seeing Converse within the Smartsheet product.

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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