[Updated 11/7/16, 2:51 pm, with CEO comments at end of story.] GetHuman has raised $3 million from investors to boost its new service that fights people’s customer service battles for them.
The funding round was led by NextView Ventures and Founder Collective, along with contributions from Operator.VC, Companyon, Correlation Ventures, O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures (OATV), and Precursor Ventures, according to a blog post by GetHuman CEO Christian Allen.
It’s the first money Boston-based GetHuman has raised from institutional investors.
The company’s roots lie in a pet project of Paul English, Kayak’s co-founder and former chief technology officer. English wanted to make it easier for his father to circumvent robotic customer service lines and reach an actual human. About a decade ago, he compiled a list of direct phone numbers of customer service departments at big companies, and posted them online. The website he created stayed fairly static for several years until Allen, a former colleague of English’s at Kayak, created a business around it and expanded upon the original concept.
GetHuman’s list of phone shortcuts to customer service reps and other tools have drawn more than 100 million visitors to the company’s website over the past few years, enabling it to become profitable primarily by selling display advertisements next to the content on its website.
But GetHuman is getting more ambitious with its new offering, and saw an opportunity to fuel its growth with the help of investors. The new on-demand service enables people to hire a GetHuman employee, aided by artificial intelligence-related software, to resolve their customer service issues for a small fee, around $5 to $25 a pop. This might involve securing airline refunds, disputing bank fees or extra charges imposed by cable companies or wireless carriers, fixing issues with social media accounts, and so on.
About 20,000 people have used the service since GetHuman launched it nine months ago. The challenge, as Allen told Xconomy in May, is figuring out how the small startup can serve a much higher volume of customers.
“Currently, we are only able to provide this service for a hundred or so people per day,” Allen wrote in the blog post announcing the funding. “We want to be helping the millions per day that are struggling through customer service problems—or are avoiding doing them altogether.”
The new money could help. It will fund product development and the expansion of GetHuman’s two-person software engineering team, Allen wrote in the blog post.
Currently, GetHuman’s employees are aided by a simple online “bot” program that gathers basic information about the problem a customer needs solved, thereby shortening the time it takes the human staff member to resolve the issue.
Allen has said GetHuman is experimenting with ideas that could make the problem-solving process more efficient. Those might include developing artificial intelligence software that could communicate with customer service reps via online chatting, and telephony and machine learning technology that would cut down on the wait time when trying to navigate to a customer service agent on the phone.
Reached by phone Monday afternoon, Allen said GetHuman plans to hire four software engineers in the next couple of months, which would bring the company’s total staff to 14 people.
He declined to share details on what the company is developing, but it will involve digital technologies to help the company’s human problem solvers do their jobs better and automate some tasks for them. “Their process is very manual now,” Allen said. “Eventually we want to scale the number of problem solvers, but first we need to build them better tools.”
Accomplishing that requires a “significant upfront tech investment,” he said—hence the venture capital.
“There’s a grace and beauty to bootstrapping,” Allen said. “But one thing about growing organically is you can’t make big leaps and bounds that easily. Your revenue’s growing, but maybe not at a rate that allows you to quickly make big moves.”