Y Combinator backs AI-based virtual receptionist startup Phonely with $750,000

- June 2, 2024 2 MIN READ
Phonely cofounders Nisal Ranasinghe and Will Bodewes
Phonely cofounders Nisal Ranasinghe and Will Bodewes
Melbourne startup Phonely has been backed by Y Combinator, which tipped US$500,000(A$750,000) into artificial intelligence-based call receptionist.

The legendary US accelerator has gone all-in on bringing Phonely to the world’s attention with posts that make it an instant rising star, generating a spectacular customer response that sets the nascent Aussie startup on the path to success.

For Phonely cofounder and CEO Will Bodewes, a PhD AI researcher at University of Melbourne, along with his cofounder Nisal Ranasinghe, it’s been a case of everything, everywhere, all at once, eight months after they set out to build an AI receptionist.

Phonely was spun out of the university’s AI Research Lab and launched in February. It can handle a range of phone enquiries, using a human voice to transfer calls, schedule appointments, and answer frequently asked questions.

Bodewes said it’s is not a typical robotic voice assistant or “press 1 for this” system, and can learn and adapt to a company’s own needs.

“Think of it as the voice assistant from ‘Iron Man’, but for businesses. Real-time, emotionally intelligent, and capable of handling complex queries just like a human,” he said.

“Phone support is often the first line of interaction between a business and its customers. Yet, small and mid-sized businesses miss 37% of all business calls, and larger enterprises struggle to scale up efficiently. Phonely’s technology is specifically designed to bridge this gap.”

While Phonely is 70% cheaper than a traditional answering service, Bodewes said their goal is not replacing receptionists, but rather “to allow businesses to provide better support to their customers and let all of us never have to be put on hold again.”

The pair kicked off May at 3am, having won the People’s Choice Award at a Startup Victoria AI pitch event earlier in the evening, with their interview for Y Combinator. Then Bedowes jumped on a plane to Sydney to be part of the Blackbird’s Sunrise to pitch.

Last week, Phonely launched with Y Combinator and immediately become one of the most viewed and shared launches in YC history.

“Sometimes things happen all at once. Entrepreneurship is about taking every opportunity you’re given and trying your best with every one,” Bedowes said

“We never expected this. Our posts are now one of the top performing posts on YC’s Linkedin and Twitter pages and our already significant user base has grown 500%+ virtually overnight. I couldn’t be more excited and grateful for our team.”

Later this month duo head to Silicon Valley to be a part of the accelerator that helped build the likes of Airbnb, DoorDash and Stripe.

Ranasinghe said a key challenges they faced building their AI system was how it responds accurately to a call.

“It’s not a simple problem, Large Language Models have to be carefully trained and instructed in order to prevent speech errors and to interact with scheduling software,” he said.

“Additionally, when you’re dealing with voice applications everything has to happen in less than a second.”

For more, see phonely.ai