- Tiago Paiva won a Twilio hackathon in 2011 with his startup Talkdesk. Now, the company is one of the most recognizable names in the call center industry, with clients such as IBM, Peet’s Coffee, Dropbox, and apparel store Zumiez.
- Paiva, who is originally from Portugal, moved the the US the week he won the hackathon.
- Paiva told Business Insider that he doesn’t see AI or Google Duplex as a threat, because customers still prefer to talk to humans.
Tiago Paiva never wanted to be in the business of call centers.
But when he entered Twiliocon, a hackathon set up by cloud-based messaging company Twilio, Paiva decided the only way he could win was by embracing an industry that, he thought, wasn’t exactly exciting.
“Let’s be honest, you don’t wake up wanting to build call center software,” Paiva told Business Insider. “So having Twilio and this challenge kind of pushed me and gave me a reason to build it.”
Paiva, who was living in Portugal at the time, and co-founder Cristina Fonseca went on to win the entire competition with Talkdesk, which lets businesses set up call centers in the cloud. Talkdesk now has 400 employees and is used by the likes of IBM, Peet’s Coffee, Dropbox, and apparel store Zumiez.
Talkdesk makes the platform that helps agents receiving customer service calls. And since it’s all in the cloud, it makes setting up call centers easier for big companies.
The platform, for example, lets users make calls from their desktop, control the numbers of callers in a queue, automatically dial numbers, and, using artificial intelligence, automatically route calls. It also has a built-in analytics platform that lets companies keep track of how the center is doing.
Putting these features all under one roof and in the cloud was, in 2011, new for the industry, Paiva said.
“Usually what happens in the call center world is that when you want to set up a call center you have to go to the big players that have been around for 20/30 years and buy a huge piece of software and hardware that you have to install,” he said. “So what Talkdesk does is simplify everything so you can set up a call center anywhere in the world with a few clicks.”
Moving to the US in one week
Part of the hackathon took place in San Francisco, where contestants were flown in to pitch potential investors. When Talkdesk won the entire competition and secured $50,000 in seed funding from venture firm 500 Startups, Paiva decided – at that very moment – that he needed to move to San Francisco and work on Talkdesk full time.
“I remember calling my mom and telling her I wasn’t coming back,” he said. “And I’ve been here ever since.”
That same week, Paiva moved to the US. For the next six years, he lived on a H-1B visa, which allows US employers to sponsor foreign workers. Paiva received his green card earlier this month.
Despite some initial excitement when Talkdesk first won the hackathon, the first three years were slow. The company wasn’t a recognizable brand yet, and Paiva needed time to perfect the technology. But eventually the company started landing big customers, driven by the need to be in the cloud.
“The industry is changing. People are starting to realize now that they need to be in the cloud. At the same time Talkdesk became a brand and a product people knew in the space,” he said.
Is AI a threat?
AI is moving into the call center world. The Information reported earlier this month that Google Duplex, the company’s voice assistant, may be looking to become the first point of contact for callers.
Google later denied that it was testing Duplex with enterprise customers, but even so, Paiva doesn’t see the Google as a threat. Customers, he said, still prefer to talk to humans, especially for complex questions that require empathy and context.
“Humans are the only ones that can really understand the customer and can relate to the customer,” he said.
Instead, Paiva said, if Google Duplex did get into the call center business, Talkdesk would want agents to use it within Talkdesk’s platform, in addition to Talkdesk’s proprietary AI that routes calls.
“We see AI as augmenting the experience versus replacing humans, so we would want to integrate with Google Duplex,” he said. “I don’t think AI will replace humans anytime soon, but we’re moving in a direction that, who knows what’s going to happen in five or 10 years. But right now, I see AI as helping, not replacing.”