Infosys co-founder Senapathy Gopalakrishnan, popularly known as Kris, is investing an undisclosed amount in Uniphore, a Chennai-based firm that has created a suite of voice-based products for authentication and customer service in sectors such as banking, financial services, and aviation.
Gopalakrishnan believes Uniphore’s technology “will be used a lot more” and with voice-based services taking off globally, the company is “at the right place at the right time with the right technology”. He has invested in Uniphore in his personal capacity and not through Axilor, the investment firm that he and Infosys co-founder S.D. Shibulal have promoted. This investment is part of a first-round funding led by IDG Ventures for the six-year-old company.
“Uniphore has scale, marquee customers, and repeat business, and is technologically differentiated. It has no competitor in this part of the world. Can we build a global leader? Yes,” says Ranjith Menon, executive director at IDG Ventures.
Unlike Google and Apple, which use voice for consumer-to-machine interaction, Uniphore targets businesses. The six-year-old company claims to be profitable, with revenues of around $4.5 million (Rs 28.4 crore), and its clients, mostly international, include American Express and Airbus.
One of Uniphore’s products is a software that analyses call-centre calls and enables value-added services like cross-selling. It also has a voice-authentication software that produces voiceprints, akin to biometric markers like fingerprints.
The Uniphore story shows how products and services designed for Indian conditions can be robust enough to be used in several scenarios. CEO Umesh Sachdev, 30, and COO Ravi Saraogi, 32, started Uniphore with incubation support from IIT-Madras in 2009, on the condition that the business have “rural or emerging-market relevance”. Their research indicated that an overwhelming majority of people were using the phone only to make and receive calls and most of them used vernacular languages to communicate. Based on that, says Sachdev, they wanted to build a company that would play in the intersection of vernacular voice and services.
They set up a query-answering firm (like Justdial), but soon realised that scaling up was a challenge. So, they worked on replacing human interaction with a software that could decode queries and talk back in vernacular.
“Our tech decodes speech into text and adds a layer of analytics, which makes it useful in a variety of contexts,” says Sachdev. “It was created for harsh conditions, taking into account the noise levels [in India] and the variety of languages.” Uniphore has created products for 12 Indian languages.
Natural User Interface (NUI) has been the direction that computing has taken globally, with touch, movement, and voice increasingly becoming the norm for human-machine interaction. A conversation with a computer was still in the realm of science fiction until Apple debuted Siri on the iPhone in 2011. With momentum gathering in the space, it is likely that there will be more to hear in the days to come.