Photo: Courtesy of Irzan Raditya

Irzan Raditya began his journey thanks to a computer science degree from a German university. Now he is the CEO of kata.ai, a company that builds conversational artificial intelligence (AI) to take things to the next level for marketers and customers.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

I am the Co-founder and CEO of Kata.AI, a conversational AI platform for brands and enterprises in Indonesia. We aspire to be the future because we believe that AI is here not to replace jobs but to make people more productive.

Can you tell us more about that?

We want to find ways to replace jobs that are considered to be repetitive and mundane so that people can do more meaningful activities. For example, businesses with high growth like Telkomsel are growing in double digits every year, and as they grow, more customers and more customer service staff will be needed. It won’t be scalable if they keep on adding people to handle all the customer service activities. That is why we are creating a virtual assistant called Veronika for Telkomsel, to help it in its growing need for customer service.

Veronika is available on Telkomsel’s messaging platforms such as Facebook Messenger, Line, and Telegram, and Veronika is there to assist customers with all of their questions. After five months of employment, Veronika has reduced the customer service workload by 60 per cent.

So the name of the technology is Veronika?

Well, Veronika is the name of our virtual assistant for Telkomsel, and we have several others with different names for different brands. For example, we have Jemma for Unilever, Shalma for Alfamart, and Sabrina for Bank BRI.

Why do you think that such technology will be better than existing marketing tools?

We are creating a new way of marketing, because what we see right now is that a lot of brands are creating social media but when they post on social media, the form of interaction is limited to the amount of likes or comments they get, so customers are seen as more receptive rather than interactive. Through this automated intelligence technology, you can build a conversation with a brand, which will create more engagement and eventually lead to sales. It makes an easy sales channel for Telkomsel as it can easily sell data packages through its 10 million customers who are connected to its social media channels.

How do you make the AI conversation as authentic as possible?

It’s all about copywriting and how you develop the brand persona into the conversation experience. But if you expect something as advanced as the technology in the movie Her, our technology is not there yet [laughs].

So for example, are all of the official accounts on LINE using AI?

Not all of them: some are just using blast messages, which means there’s no interaction. If you want interactions, you need AI and chatbots. So if you get an automatic response, it could mean that they are detecting keywords that you use or maybe some of them have applied chatbots inside the official accounts.

Tell us more about Jemma.

We created Jemma for Unilever and currently it has more than 2 million users. It understands everything, from abbreviations to the slang that we use every day. In Indonesia, “I” can be said in many forms, like saya, gue, gua, and gw [laughs], but Jemma understands everything. I created Jemma as a marketing tool for Unilever. So if I say I am hungry and I want some chicken, Jemma will send me some recipes along with links to Bango, for example. We are just re-inventing ways for brands to increase customer engagement.

But isn’t it kind of sad that you’re talking to a machine? 

Yes, and there is someone who actually talks to Jemma for four hours [laughs]; last year alone, it collected more than 200 million conversations. Most of Generation Z can do this easily because they are born with technology in their hands.  Conversational AI is a new way for marketing 101, and it is all about getting to know your customers through conversations.

What is the progress for AI in Indonesia?

There are not a lot of start-ups focusing on AI right now. Some notable ones include Databot, which uses AI for agriculture, Nodeflux, which uses AI for video analytics, and e-commerce companies like Bukalapak, which is also utilising AI for its product recommendations.

How did you land Telkomsel as your client?

So our core product is called Kata Platform, and it is a developer tool for our clients to build chatbots in Bahasa Indonesia. One of our clients, Accenture, is using the Kata Platform to build Veronika for Telkomsel. The platform is so powerful that it sees no compromise in scalability and flexibility, and that allows people to unleash their creativity in building bots without limits. What we are doing is just providing a blank canvas and paint for our clients.

Did you go through any incubation program?

We did not get into any early-stage programme, but we did get into Microsoft’s accelerator programme for later-stage companies. And so far, we are the only Southeast Asian company to get into that programme. Through this programme, Microsoft will open its sales door for us globally and introduce us to its partners.

As a leader, how do you motivate your employees?

I guess it comes back to a higher purpose. We are here not to focus on making money or building a business, but we want to thrive as a company that is known on the global stage as a company building sophisticated technology. It is more on how we can give an impact to millions of people through the technology we are creating. Right now, we have made an impact on 28 million users across our client base.

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Tags: Interview, CEO, Artificial Intelligence, Irzan Raditya, Kata.ai