As Austin company is benefiting from a wave of interest in so-called "Chatbots" with a seed round of investment and with a partnership on Microsoft's recently announced Teams project.
Message.io, which has 11 employees, announced Thursday that it raised $2.5 million in seed funding from Khosla Ventures and Eniac Ventures for its business, which focuses on translation software for chatbots. In this case, bots refers to software created for chat platforms such as Slack and Hipchat that allow users to access information or communicate with artificial-intelligence programs. Message.io is partnering with Microsoft to offer translation tools for bot developers to easily make their existing chatbots available on Microsoft Teams, a new platform that will work with Skype and incorporate into Microsoft 365 software.
Austin has become a nascent hub for chatbot-related companies. Conversable, with offices in Austin and Dallas, has been working with companies including Twitter, Whole Foods and Pizza Hut on tools that allow customers to converse with artificial-intelligence bots via chat services. And the company that make chatbot software such as Howdy and #Botkit held a conference on the topic, Talkabot, in late September.
Tom Hadfield, chief executive of Message.io, said it's a quickly growing industry here.
"We really see Austin as the chatbot capital of the world," he said. "There's more venture-backed bot companies per capita than in any other city in the world. Messaging and bots are going to change the way we all interact with the world around us the way the web did in the 90s and mobile apps did more recently."
Hadfield said that Message.io's bot-syndication took makes it easy to translate bot service from one chat platform to another without making any coding changes.
He said about 100 companies are using Message.io's tools to migrate bots to Microsoft Teams. His company is working on future enterprise chat migration tools for Salesforce Chatter and Cisco Spark, two other popular services for workplace collaboration and messaging.
The migration company itself migrated from Silicon Valley to make Austin its headquarters. Austin's culture and its cheaper office space and cost of living made it an easy decision, Hadfield said.
"We were able to extend our runway for more than a year due to the lower costs in Austin," he said.
The British-born Hadfield has been in partnership before with co-founder James Cundle, who worked with him on several other companies and the two brought on Joe Lopez as chief product officer. Lopez was previously head of engineering at Austin messaging company Hipchat.
Hadfield started his career as a teenager when he created with his father a wildly popular soccer site that was eventually acquired by ESPN.