Startmate Winners: Chorus: Dave Trindall - Interview
Startmate winners: Chorus
By Oliver Milman
Last week, StartupSmart reported on the unveiling of the five tech start-ups that will be taking part in the inaugural Startmate program.
The scheme provides $25,000 in funding to each start-up along with ongoing mentorship from the likes of Mike Cannon-Brooks and Simon Baker.
StartupSmart speaks to four of the successful applicants, minus a publicity-shy fifth start-up, to get the lowdown on their ideas, what they hope to get out of the program and their lofty ambitions.
Dave Trindall, co-founder of Chorus
What is Chorus and how does it work?
It’s a system that’s based on analysing how people feel based on their Tweets or emails.
It’s based on NLP, which stands for natural language processing. It takes a bunch of text and makes a good guess at how the person who sent it feels. We took some existing NLP technology and developed some of our own to come up with Chorus.
The core of Chorus is something called the Opinionator, which does two things. Firstly it has algorithms that analyse how someone feels. It also calculates how certain it is – if it’s 100% certain it will give that result.
If it’s not certain, it will ask a human agent to help it and train it. There are probably 500 competitors out there and they all do it from a cold start – they don’t have the data to learn from. So they look for the word ‘hate’ to show that someone hates something. This system uses existing data to make future predictions, so the algorithm gets better and better.
There’s a monthly subscription for the service. We don’t have a public price list yet.
How did you come up with the idea?
Andy Morris, the co-founder, and I talked a lot about a few ideas, but when we went to talk to customers, they really honed in on the NLP features. This evolved into Chorus. It took us about four months to develop and we incorporated in October.
Mike Casey, who is director of GradConnection, introduced me to Andy. It was a bit like dating. A lot of people want to start a business for the sake of it, but Andy has big ambitions, much like me.
I was working as a software developer and doing university part-time. I’ve known that I wanted to run my own business since I was 13, so once I graduated in 2009 I knew it was time to quit my job and start my own venture.
What uses does Chorus have?
We’ve signed up our first customer in December – Cudo, the online deals website. They use it for customer support emails to improve how they deal with angry customers.
Chorus can look at how customers and also whether the business is making them happy straight away. It looks at the most effective way of dealing with customers. Clients are given a web-based dashboard that gives stats on topics such as how happy customers are. This dashboard can be integrated into Twitter and other social media.
We currently have six agents who we outsource to who check emails that Chorus needs help with.
Why would a client use this rather than just use a human being?
It’s much faster to use Chorus than people and as it gets faster and more accurate the more it does, that’s where the saving is for clients.
The more data you give it, the better it gets.
What about the privacy issue of other people seeing customer emails?
When Opinionator needs to query an email, it sends segments of that email onto the agents. The emails are identifiable when someone looks at it – you can tell who the sender or receiver is. It just gives the information needed to get the sentiment of the email. There are no random people looking through customers’ emails.
What prompted you to apply to Startmate?
It was definitely the quality of mentors. We needed investment, but when we saw the collection of mentors, that’s what got us involved. We’ve already seen three mentors and learned a lot already.
What are your plans for the business?
By the end of 2011 we want to be able to acquire customers very quickly. We don’t expect to be a billion dollar company within the next 12 months, but we want a big outcome.
Calculating customer sentiment is a fairly new thing so there needs to be a bit of an education process to take place. Companies like Coca-Cola and Vodafone know that everyone is talking about them on Twitter but we need to have those entry-level conversations with them.
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