Pune twins who sold AI-based travel startup Mezi to American Express share what’s nextVallabh Rao
AI-based personal travel assistant app Mezi will function as an American Express subsidiary; the brothers will continue to focus on developing the core technology.
Founded in 2015 by serial entrepreneurs Swapnil Shinde and Snehal Shinde, Mezi was acquired by American Express for an undisclosed amount in January 2018 and now operates as a wholly-owned subsidiary of American Express.
Swapnil and Snehal, twins from Pune, graduated from College of Engineering, Pune, in 2000. Their app allows travelers to simply text their requests for flights, hotels, or restaurant reservations; Mezi then provides recommendations and makes travel arrangements at the customer’s request.
Mezi uses artificial intelligence (AI) and human expertise to personalise the online travel discovery and booking experience. By learning travellers’ preferences and understanding the way customers make requests using natural language, Mezi gets smarter and more efficient over time.
Mezi raised a Series A round of $9 million co-led by American Express Ventures, Nexus Venture Partners, and Saama Capital in July 2016, and a seed round of $2.5 million led by Nexus Venture Partners in December 2015.
This is the brothers’ second startup - they sold online music streaming service Dhingana to Rdio in 2014. Swapnil and Snehal speak to YourStory about the acquisition and future plans.
YourStory: Where does Mezi stand now, in terms of growth?
Swapnil Shinde (Co-Founder & CEO): We have more than 100,000 travelers using Mezi, and Mezi AI has learnt from more than 50 million words. With every conversation, our AI gets better. We are super excited at what lies ahead of us.
YourStory: What are your plans for Mezi after the acquisition? Will it continue as a separate brand?
Swapnil Shinde: While we are still working on our roadmap for Mezi post-acquisition, we are excited about the resources that American Express offers and that we will now have access to. We want to invest more in our AI and machine learning technology, so the platform continues to get better. Our goal is to increase the automation process we have; we want to get to an 80 percent response rate (we currently operate at 60 percent automation) within the next 3-6 months.
We also plan to gracefully grow our team, and scale the Mezi platform quickly over the next 12-24 months.
While we are now a wholly owned subsidiary of American Express, we will still continue to operate as we have. The day-to-day operations will remain the same, and we are lucky that American Express wants us to continue growing as a startup. We both will continue to be very involved in the business. Additionally, Mezi will continue to offer its digital concierge services to consumers, travel management companies, and travel agents.
YS: How will Mezi fit into American Express's offerings?
Snehal Shinde (Co-Founder & CTO): For now, our main focus is to a seamless integration with Amex’s travel and concierge services.
We will put more manpower behind the already successful AskAmex. We want to scale this, with the goal that it will eventually be available to all American Express cardholders. Our mobile chatbot interface and machine learning algorithms will be utilised to automate travel and concierge platforms within Amex Mobile Assist. With this, American Express will be able to scale support to its staff so they can handle additional requests and eliminate redundant conversations by leveraging consumer preferences and data to improve the card member’s experience.
Eventually, we hope to explore other ways to apply our AI and machine learning technology to enhance additional Amex capabilities, but in the immediate we will focus on travel and concierge.
YS: How has this journey been for you - this is your second startup being acquired. Are more startups in the pipeline?
Snehal: It has been an amazing journey so far – tonnes of learning, an insane amount of hard work, but we made sure we were having fun along the way. It being our second startup definitely helped. Thanks to the learnings we had from Dhingana, we were able to ramp up Mezi at a very fast pace. Our job at Mezi is half done. We will continue to focus on making Mezi big with Amex’s backing, and we’re confident we will get to our goals much faster.