In this edition of The People of Botpress, we interview our co-founder and CEO, Sylvain Perron.
Give us an introduction! Who are you? What do you do at Botpress? Favorite Code Editor? Dark theme or Light theme?
Tell me about your background and what led you to starting botpress
Botpress emerged from an internal project at a company where I was the CTO. It was a company in the financial services space. This project was - well, think of it as a complex version of Excel. Customers would ask me all sorts of questions about how to use the software we were providing, and I would wake up in the morning to a lot of these repetitive questions. Very repetitive. I personally felt like a robot translating those messages over to computer instructions.
One day, I realized: Wouldn’t it be simpler for computers to actually understand language and do that stuff for me? That sort of boring work. That’s how I got interested in NLP (Natural Language Processing), which back then in 2014 or 2015 wasn’t really a thing. But, I got fascinated by it and I essentially created the first version of botpress out of that experience.
Fast forward a couple of years: the chatbot hype arrived and all of a sudden it was the next cool thing! I decided to create an open-source project, because I thought it was very beneficial for developers to have what I built. I open-sourced Botpress on Github in January of 2017. That’s how it got started–as an open source project and not an actual company.
What gets you up in the morning and excited to get to work?
I once heard that the human species are the only species that do not strive to grow as big as they can. For example, a tree will grow as big as it can, but not humans. I got fascinated by this.
What gets me up is really pushing the boundaries and growing the company as much as possible by helping as many people and as many companies as possible to scale their conversations with customers. I am very proud that all of the employees are working super hard and are also very growth-oriented. Everybody at Botpress is trying to become the best version of themselves by tackling challenges they've never tackled before. We’re all learning and growing. That’s been an amazing experience. As long as we’re growing personally and professionally, I know that we are on the right track.
According to you, what makes Botpress different as a company?
I think Botpress is a very interesting company to join because it’s open source. Especially for developers, it’s one of the only open source dev-oriented companies that mixes all sort of interesting challenges like AI, machine learning, hardcore front-end and back-end. Also, we sell to Fortune 500 companies as well as startups.
Understanding natural language is a non-obvious thing to solve. So it is very challenging considering it touches many things. I think it is one of the only companies in Canada that combines all of that. That is exciting for developers.
There are just so many opportunities at Botpress. You can work on the open core product, or you can work with customers considering we have sales engineers. In fact, 70% of our staff is composed of software engineers. Even in our marketing team, the majority are engineers even our VP/Marketing who has a software engineering background. To me, it's amazing, it’s an awesome company to join, and it’s very unique.
From a product perspective, what will be Botpress’ competitive advantage in the future state of the space?
Just like Photoshop is used by designers to edit photos, we want Botpress to be the best editor for creating and automating conversations. To me, if you want to have the best editor, the experience is extremely important. I’m very proud that we are one of the only companies, if not the only company, in the space to really focus on the end user. The end user means the developer and the conversation designer. I think that’s the only ingredient for long-term success in this sector. That’s really where we’re tripling down on for the years to come. We want to create the very best tool and ecosystem for the makers and builders. The rest will come.
2021 was quite a year in terms of growth. How does it feel to build a company from the ground up and now see so many people rallying to your mission?
Everything goes so fast. You sort of don’t take the time to take a look back and see the big picture. Yes, we have grown a lot. I think we’re over 70 employees. We were just 20 employees a year ago. I see where we’re headed and in two years we’ll be 200 or 300 employees. I’m thinking about the future and not so much about the past because we need to grow and we have a long way to go. But, it’s really amazing that we’ve been able to gather such a high density of talented individuals at Botpress.
What do you think the conversational AI space will look like in 2023?
I think the space will be different in many ways. I think a lot of our upcoming innovation is going to disrupt the market. But, it’s also a very long way to go until we have human-like conversations. I think the pivotal year will be 2025. Considering we’re on an exponential curve of improvement in terms of machine learning models, NLP models, all the research, the data, the infrastructure, the tooling, and also the talent. All of this will reach a critical moment somewhere around 2024 or 2025. That is when there will be a big leap in the market. For next year, a lot of what we are doing today will have contributed to a better way of developing and building chatbots.
What do you think conversational AI will look like in the far future?
Since the invention of the computer, we’ve pretty muched digitized everything through software. The only remaining piece of the puzzle is automating conversations. Conversations are actually a big bottleneck in a lot of businesses and operations on a daily basis. It’s also a root problem in a lot of customer frustrations, including mine when interacting with brands. Computers will eventually become so good at communication that they will become the norm rather than the exception. I think that’s a very beautiful and positive thing.
How do you think your products will impact your customers and your customers’ customers?
The great thing about what we’re doing is that the benefits are extremely clear. You’re taking conversations that normally can only happen between one human and another human and you’re essentially enabling those conversations to scale infinitely. One bot can potentially talk to billions of humans at the same time. You’re completely unblocking the gateway to knowledge and efficiency and satisfaction through that single innovation. I think we’ll see a lot of industries transformed by this. Customer service is the most obvious one, but we will see bots pretty much everywhere. For example, when you think of an amazing game like Grand Theft Auto, all the NPCs have a very hard-coded and static dialogue. The future of gaming is going to be conversational where you have to interact with NPCs in the game to develop social skills to unlock a new step or level in the game. That to me is fascinating! All the new types of games you’ll be able to build and create, especially combined with VR and AR, are going to be amazing. There are also many more industries like education that will also be transformed by conversational AI.
Do you have any tips for a software developer who wants to join Botpress?
At this stage, we’re really focused on having the best talent as possible. We are doing everything we can to try and raise the bar at every hire. What we are doing at the interview process, is to try and find people who are actually better than we already are which drives quality continuously upwards. As much as it is getting a lot more difficult for us to find the right people because of this, I believe that this is the right path.
We have a pretty short interview process, but we test for very specific things and we test by actually looking at code and by having you code things. The goal here is to identify who is actually better than us because we want to grow and create this ever-better team.
If you are up to the challenge and think you have what it takes to join the team, I would welcome you to apply and share your Github profile with us. Obviously, it would help if you have open-source code on your profile because we are big open-source fans.
Any final words, comments or thoughts that you would like to share with the world?
I am very excited about the future because we are in the fastest growing AI field which is NLP. We also have very clear business cases, we have amazing customers, and we are growing very fast. There are just so many opportunities! Our competitors are great too. We compete against Google and Microsoft, so the challenge is so big. But, at the same time, the reward is just enormous. It’s such a great adventure and I want to see more people be a part of this.
We look forward to seeing what the future holds!
The People of Botpress is a series where we highlight our people and the great work they do by talking about life at Botpress.
You can find Sylvain Perron on LinkedIn.
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Read The People of Botpress: Jean-Bernard Perron, CFO
Read The People of Botpress: François-Xavier Darveau, Head of Engineering