AI meets human intelligence: Sensay delivers on-demand advice
August 03, 2016

AI meets human intelligence: Sensay delivers on-demand advice

Although the world continues to shift towards technology that replaces human labor – self-driving cars, robo-advisors, drones – it’s hard to completely replace something as powerful and complex as the human brain and its ability to have conversations.

This became all the more clear when I recently began exploring one of my latest investment theses: chatbots and the exciting world of “conversational commerce.” With chatbots, the promise is the ability to chat with various “bots” powered by artificial intelligence (AI) that help you with everything from booking travel and managing your calendar, to getting personalized advice on what gift to buy a friend. Unfortunately, the enthusiasm in the space has not been equally met with reality. Often times, talking or chatting with a “bot” is not as easy as it sounds – things easy to ask a human can be lost in translation when asking a bot. Just ask Siri!

Surveying the (Chatbot) Land


For that reason, I began looking for chatbot solutions that not only leverage the quickly evolving power of AI, but also the amazingly flexible and robust processing power of human intelligence. After looking deep in the space, I ultimately found a service that combined AI with the vast knowledge of real people who could help answer my questions. This service is called Sensay and was founded by two incredible Los Angeles-based entrepreneurs, Ariel Jalali and Crystal Rose, whose deep expertise and rich life experiences make them the perfect team to build this thriving service and community. Today, we are proud to announce our investment in Sensay.

People Helping People


Sensay has built a peer-to-peer chatbot platform that facilitates instant Q&A between two people across messaging platforms, like SMS, Slack, Kik, Telegram, and starting today – Facebook Messenger. By building across these messaging services, Sensay has the opportunity to tap into billions of monthly active users.

When you sign up for Sensay, you start by selecting a few subjects that you know well (i.e. wine, fitness, travel). This helps Sensay understand what you already know and what subjects you could offer advice on to other users. After you submit your areas of expertise, you are able to ask Sensay a question and the platform intelligently decides who within the Sensay community would have the best answer to the question using a matching algorithm. This 1:1 matching happens within 90 seconds (as Sensay pings multiple users to find the best match), and the conversation occurs in real-time. As you ask or answer more questions, Sensay learns more about you and gets smarter via machine learning so that the bot can match you more quickly and accurately in the future. At the end of each conversation, chats are rated by both parties to ensure the community helps maintain quality.

Here’s an example of how it works:

Sensay text sample2
As Sensay co-founder Ariel often says about the service, “the most satisfying Sensay conversations are those where you get from your normative need (thing I think I need) to your effective need (thing I actually need).”
From an investor point of view, I think the power of Sensay is in the virtuous loop it is creating. As Sensay adds more users, the strength of the community and network will increase exponentially. Response times will shorten, the quality of the answers will improve as more experts join, and the opportunity to participate in the community grows as the questions grow broader. At Norwest, we’ve invested in several types of marketplaces over the years that scale in the same way, but this time it’s a marketplace of on-demand knowledge. By combining the power of “human intelligence” with AI and machine learning, Sensay’s unique platform can leverage the knowledge of its users while also making the matching and sharing of that knowledge fast and effortless.

Most exciting is that in some ways, Sensay is the evolution of what Google has been doing, in that it is in fact indexing people and their ability to provide hyper-local, hyper-specific recommendations on a variety of topics in ways that Google just cannot (i.e. “I need something like X, but not like Y, kinda like Z.”) – quote from Sensay user on Product Hunt

Most exciting is that in some ways, Sensay is the evolution of what Google has been doing, in that it is in fact indexing people and their ability to provide hyper-local, hyper-specific recommendations on a variety of topics in ways that Google just cannot (i.e. “I need something like X, but not like Y, kinda like Z.”) – quote from Sensay user on Product Hunt.

Over the last year since officially launching, Sensay has hit many milestones – its latest being the 1 million user mark and 40 million messages sent! Today, the company is celebrating its launch on Facebook Messenger and a new round of funding from Norwest, Quest Venture Partners, Greycroft Partners, Sweet Capital, DFJ Venture and Amplify Partners. We at Norwest are excited to partner with Ariel and Crystal in their journey to build the Sensay community.

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