An ambitious Chinese startup wants a slice of the booming global labor automation market. Laiye, a Beijing-based company that provides a unique platform to automate office tasks of varying degrees of complexity, just raised $160 million from a Series C funding round to expand globally .
Guanchun Wang, founder and CEO of Laiye, understood the “value of artificial intelligence” during the years he worked in Baidu’s smart speaker department after his movie discovery startup was sold to the Chinese giant. search engines. At the time, he also realized that traditional industries were badly underserved compared to the attention internet platforms like short videos and news apps were getting from AI entrepreneurs. To fill the void, he launched Laiye in 2015.
Laiye’s Series C funding came in three tranches, with the last one recently closing at $70 million, an oversubscribed round led by influential Chinese private equity firm Hopu Magnolia. Other investors include Hong Kong-based VMS Group, Chinese private equity firm Youshan Capital, as well as existing investors Lightspeed China and US-based Lightspeed Venture Partners.
The addition of Hong Kong-based investment firm VMS Group to the company’s capitalization table will provide the resources needed for a possible initial public offering in the city, Wang said. The company does not yet have a timetable for its IPO, but will hold preliminary discussions with the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in the coming months.
Leaving from Paris
Along with the fundraising announcement, Laiye is acquiring Paris-based chatbot service provider Mindsay for an undisclosed amount and transaction type. The pair met through startup investor Cathay Innovation, and the acquisition will pave the way for Laiye to enter the European market, Wang said.
In Paris, Laiye is expected to assemble a production and engineering force, relying on Mindsay’s 30-person team. Many of the top talented developers in China have become as expensive as their counterparts in Western countries, observed Wang, who holds a doctorate in machine learning from Princeton. Laiye chose Paris as a springboard to enter the rest of Europe in part because Mindsay is located there, but France itself is also a great source of scientific and technical talent, the founder said.
Mindsay nicely complements Laiye’s core product offerings, which include conversational AI and robotic process automation (RPA), a technology that mimics repetitive human actions interacting with digital interfaces, such as handling a customer complaint. insurance, and which was popularized by the New York-based company. UiPath.
While RPA software has universal adaptability, success in scaling conversational AI is “strongly dependent on language processing and data collection, which is why the expansion of RPA into different regions cannot be done overnight,” Wang explained. The acquisition of Mindsay naturally allows Laiye to skip the challenges of developing training algorithms for a new language. Wang also saw a strong “cultural alignment” between his company and the French startup led by a team of young founders.
Laiye has ambitious goals for global expansion. Currently, the company generates around 20% of its revenue outside of China, with customers spanning Europe, the Americas and Southeast Asia. It aims to increase this ratio to 50% by 2025, when it plans to operate several technology development centers on different continents. Twenty percent of its employees are currently outside China, but it expects that proportion to rise to 50% in a few years.
The startup appears ready to jump on the international business front after bringing in a group of international executives from the C-suite. Ronen Lamdan, its CEO for international markets, for example, was a former sales director at Microsoft and led business process automation company WorkFusion in Asia.
In terms of operational metrics, Wang said Laiye’s products for individual users and SMBs have already become profitable, while its segment targeting Fortune 500 customers still requires significant investment in product development and sales.
“[Large corporations] are the biggest opportunity for us,” said Wang, who believed his startup’s competitive advantage was its ability to provide an “integrated” platform that covers all of an employee’s daily routines, from responding to document processing calls, rather than solving a single process.
Wang declined to disclose her company’s valuation, saying an announcement would be made when she reaches “unicorn status”. Worldwide, Laiye has nearly 200 large corporate clients and global consultants as strategic partners, including Deloitte and KPMG. Its software suite is available on Microsoft Azure and Alibaba Cloud worldwide, and it has a community of 600,000 developers working on all forms of work automation solutions.