Ojo Labs, AI-Enabled Chatbot Maker for Real Estate, Raises $20.5M
Austin—Ojo Labs, which is developing artificial intelligence-enabled chatbots designed for the real estate industry, has raised $20.5 million.
The new Series B funding round comes from investors such as Realogy Holdings, Royal Bank of Canada, Northwestern Mutual Future Ventures, and ServiceMaster, along with Texas venture capital firms LiveOak Venture Partners and Silverton Partners. Ojo Labs has now raised a total of $29.5 million.
“Ojo is a single-source, 24-7, of all the information and resources needed in the home journey,” says John Berkowitz, Ojo’s co-founder and CEO. “From you bought your home yesterday and need to service it to all the way to five years from today when you are selling your home and then need to buy a new one.”
Right now, Ojo (pronounced: O-Joe) has partnered with companies that focus on that initial step: researching and buying a home. “We decided to bring [our technology] to real estate because there are 100 million-plus people talking about homes in some way, whether that’s watching HGTV and dreaming about homes or wondering what my house is worth to thinking about moving in the next few months,” he says.
Essentially, Ojo is an AI-enabled chatbot that consumers can be connected with through a real estate broker from Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate, Century 21, Coldwell Banker, Corcoran, and Sotheby’s International Realty.
The idea is to enable prospective homeowners looking for information that could help their search but before the point when they need to speak to a human agent. “People want more personalized search and answers than they can get from websites but less than what they would get from engaging with a human being because they are not ready for those conversations,” Berkowitz says.
Chatbots are increasingly being used in a variety of customer-facing businesses, not only in real estate, but also by retailers and customer call centers. In two years, a quarter of customer service operations will use virtual assistants like chatbots to handle inquiries from customers, up from less than 2 percent last year, according to research firm Gartner.
Ojo Labs was founded three years ago when Berkowitz and his co-founder David Rubin had developed their technology and began looking for the best way to deploy it. “We knew there was a huge business opportunity in any place where businesses interact with large numbers of humans at scale,” he says.
They settled on the real estate market and made the chatbot available commercially about six months ago. Berkowitz says the new investment funds will go to further development of the startup’s AI technologies, and to make about 25 hires in Austin to add to its 103 employees total.
The company also employs about 75 people in St. Lucia in the Caribbean, who serve as a back-end line-of-defense of sorts in ensuring that consumers have a smooth experience talking to Ojo. When a consumer is interacting with Ojo, company employees are at the ready to jump in, if necessary, Berkowitz says.
“If Ojo says, ‘I’m 90 percent confident this person is saying this and I’m 80 percent confident you can trust my 90 percent,’ it’s telling us the competence of what it knows,” he explains. “If that [confidence level] drops below a certain level, a human operator confirms or fixes.”
In the course of all those transactions, Ojo is constantly learning, Berkowitz says. “But the consumer always has a great experience,” he says. “Ojo never says, ‘Hey, can you repeat that to me?’”