This article was first published on BestStartup.ca.
HUEX Labs was founded on the premise that the hospitality industry is facing a huge labor crisis and automation is the key to alleviate some of the pains the franchise operators face on a day-to-day basis, to operate their locations.
We have built an automation AI that mimics the best employee at the location, to automatically take orders at the drive-thru locations, so that the employees can focus on really doing the high touch aspects of hospitality, which is the taking care of preparing the food, and ‘wow’ the customer with experience at the location.
That is our vision at HUEX to provide automation capabilities across retail and hospitality domains by providing a digital employee. We also believe application of AI and building automation that is privacy first and safe guards the end users of the systems.
Tell us about yourself?
I come from a deep banking background, but I have seen the customer experience aspect of banking, at Bank of America, where I was VP of architecture of Conversational Commerce Systems, where I was involved with building multimodal chatbot for banking.
I firmly believe conversational systems have lots more applications in automation, and that was the genesis of the idea of cofounding this company, of really helping conversational systems to alleviate a real business problem, in this case, in retail and hospitality, to help automate the customer experience for automated order taking and providing a digital employee so businesses can focus on doing more high touch activities for providing the best customer experience.
If you could go back in time a year or two, what piece of advice would you give yourself?
Startups are risk but not impossible. Start early when the risk appetite is more and the cost of failure is less.
What problem does your business solve?
Restaurants are facing a huge labor crisis and not able to serve their customers. They are facing unprecedented retention issues as the employees burnout right is the 2nd highest only after the Investment banking / Wall St. Retraining a new employee cost time, money/ and effort.
This all lead to customer satisfaction issues. We are focusing on Drive-Thru channel. people at the drive-thru speak differently than if they were actually facing a cashier at the location, or if they were to call the location over the phone to make an order.
That is because they come with certain ideas about what is available today on sale, or what is the special for the day, is there a buy-one-get-one-free offer going on, and they are undecided, especially if they come later in the afternoon, when they want to explore different products.
Therefore, when they come in, when they speak to a AI agent, they do not carefully say what they want. Sometimes they say, “Hey, you know what, make that a combo,” or “make that two,” or if they are asking for a modification they would say, “Hey, take the lettuce out of that sandwich.”
There is a lot of customization that are possible for a given menu and product and achieving that, using natural language processing on the fly, requires a lot of compute processing.
If you look at any of the big tech, or any of the providers in the speech processing space, all of the transport the audio out to a cloud instance, run their secret sauce on top of it, and then revert back with what are the next logical steps to be taken.
However, what we have done is entirely different in the sense that, we have built a language model based on our technology, which is what we are patenting, which really understands human behavior – when they speak the orders, the system is then able to relate what is the next thing they could say, and doing all of it in that location, instead of transporting all that audio in an Edge device right there at the location.
We have found out our own unique way of processing the audio in their location, which is on the Edge, that can be dynamically adapt when people change their behavior of talking, we are able to understand the nuances language better.
The third and most important thing is, when we move from one brand to another brand, we can do all of this with minimal data, and we call this concept a Free Flow technology for which filed for Provisional patent and going through the full patent pending process
What is the inspiration behind your business?
We are 3 cofounders. We have both industry, academia, and domain expertise. Our CEO, Anik Seth, comes from a hospitality/operations background.
He and his family have ties to operating restaurant locations in the Ontario, Canada region, where he has been through this journey of really seeing how the inner workings of hospitality at a restaurant location works with the deep understanding of supply chain, labor, and customer experience and the consumer behavior aspect of restaurant operations.
He has done this for over 15 years. He has seen first hand the challenges the industry is facing and teamed up with industry experts to take this challenge head on by building a solution that can co-exist in the existing restaurant technology map.
What is your magic sauce?
Our solution operates at the Edge co-existing within the restaurant technology stack. This ensures high performance and realtime response times.
Our patent pending technology ensures our systems adapts to the consumer behavior rather than having a rule based chatbot solution.
Our deep domain knowledge ensures our purpose built AI will provide the best performance in real world deployment. Passive analytics ensures the restaurant operations are optimized. Highly adaptable solution that can be scaled to other domains and use cases.
What is the plan for the next 5 years? What do you want to achieve?
it is a hard problem that we are going after. We are trying to disrupt this with our own IP, with our own research, to productization with commercial deployments.
To work with someone like HUEX Labs is only going to help the brands to automate some of this order taking process, where they are seeing huge employee retention issues, and that is what we are trying to alleviate with our solution.
HUEX vision is to be the most prominent player in the drive-thru automated order taking function across the world by supporting different brands, languages, diversity of accents and provide best in class automation suite.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?
When we were starting to build the technology solution since we had to make a very difficult choice about our end goal – to build a Cloud solution using Big tech providers or build a custom solution at the Edge. We made the difficult choice of building our solution on the Edge.
This meant we had to do a lot of research and come up with our Natural Language models that operating in one of the most difficult environment.
The audio quality at the drive thru which have systems that are on an average 10+ years old, with single microphone, the system needs to be robust to extract the right information to engage with the customers.
We made that choice, which meant we had to design the system ground up and not leverage any commercially available system, we had to build our own IP that can operate and synergize with the consumer behavior dynamics.
How do people get involved/buy into your vision?
We want to engage with Restaurant Operations leadership to checkout our website httpes://www.huex.ai and understand our work.
We will be happy to follow up with a demo for demonstrating the power of our solution and how they can benefit from it and improve their overall operations and achieve better business outcomes.