BackboneAI is designed to fill the need for automation between companies, an approach that’s distinct from the other solutions that focus on AI within a company or between a company and its customers that I most commonly cover and invoke as a customer experience consultant and customer service expert.
BackboneAI, which announced its public launch today, was founded by Rob Bailey, who saw an opportunity to use AI to interconnect companies in a way that hadn’t been feasible in the past.
BackboneAI CEO and founder Rob Bailey
Bailey’s company appears to be off to a fast start, with a promising (if nascent) client list that includes one Fortune 500 company–with others on deck–and seed funding of $4.7 million from Fika Ventures, Boldstart Ventures, Dynamo Ventures, GGV Capital, MetaProp, SpiderVC, and other angels.
Bailey has been building enterprise software businesses for 20 years. Most recently, he was COO of Kustomer [which I cover here] and was previously CEO of DataSift. He moved from San Francisco to New York City three years ago, where I caught up with him for this interview.
Micah Solomon, Customer Experience Consultant and Senior Contributor, Forbes.com: Tell me a bit about BackboneAI and the problem it’s designed to solve.
Rob Bailey, CEO and Founder, BackboneAI: BackboneAI uses AI to automate inter-company data flows of all kinds. You can think of it as an intelligent layer that connects data silos between companies in a secure way so that companies can work faster and more productively with suppliers and customers.
Solomon: There have been non-AI, or, should I say, pre-AI, attempts to fill this need before, right?
Bailey: Correct. The deployment of inter-company automation has been happening for decades, with some big players being SAP and Microsoft. What’s different now is that AI technology has advanced so much that it is possible to build AI-informed inter-company connections that are more effective, faster to implement, and more affordable.
There are lots of use cases for BackboneAI, including supply chain data coordination between suppliers and customers, product data coordination with suppliers including catalogue management, coordination of construction materials across vendors and construction companies, and global rights management for entertainment companies with affiliates and distribution.
Solomon: How did you settle on inter-company connections as the problem you wanted to work on?
Bailey: I spent a lot of time this past year traveling around the US visiting and talking with 30+ Fortune 500s and getting an understanding of what their challenges were. This is one that kept surfacing. We found that data flows between companies were relying on decades-old technology like email, phone calls and EDI to transmit important data. We then got to work developing the platform iteratively with lead customers.
Solomon: Your company was incubated with Boldstart. Is this a model you recommend for other entrepreneurs?
Bailey: Working with Boldstart has been an amazing experience and I highly recommend it to other founders. Each one of Boldstart’s partners has different skill sets that were valuable to me at different times during the last 18 months. I am deeply grateful for their help leveraging relationships with dozens of Fortune 500 companies and their CXO advisor network.
Solomon: What have the biggest challenges been in getting BackboneAI to market?
Bailey: Data complexity is probably the biggest. When you are looking across companies, there are what seem like endless formats, which created complexities initially. Also, we are growing so fast that finding enough exceptional talent was initially a challenge. We ultimately started using an AI-powered recruiting platform called Fetcher.AI that has been a huge help.
Solomon: Can you share any of what you’ve learned raising money at previous companies and now for BackboneAI?
Bailey: Raising money successfully from angels and VC funds is a skill that can be learned and honed over time. Some helpful hacks include: develop a well-researched fundraising plan and target list, focusing on a big problem for a sizable TAM [total addressable market], and tell a compelling story that resonates emotionally with investors.
But I still have a lot to learn. I rebuilt the BackboneAI deck over 30 times. My first few versions were pretty awful, and, happily, never saw the light of day.
Solomon: Beyond raising money, what do you think are key qualities that make for a successful entrepreneur?
Bailey: Be passionate about the problems that you’re solving. You may spend a decade of your life working on it. Be selective about the people that you work with (from vendors, to investors to partners). Building a start-up is a long journey so it is important to love who you work with. Conversely, toxic working relationships can destroy valuable companies. Finally, give back.
Micah Solomon is a customer service and customer experience consultant, keynote speaker and trainer. He also works as a content creator and ghostwriter and as a customer service expert witness. Micah was recently named “the World’s #1 Customer Service Turnaround Expert” by Inc. Magazine. Email Micah directly, visit his website, or check out his new bestseller: Ignore Your Customers (and They’ll Go Away) (HarperCollins Leadership).