It started with a staffing firm for Sahil Sahni and Ankit Somani, and that eventually led to artificial intelligence chatbot-fueled firm AllyO. And, recently, the firm won a competition styled after the television show “Shark Tank” last month at Staffing Industry Analysts’ Collaboration in Gig Economy in Dallas.

“AllyO is part of an exciting and fast-growing market and has already been able to prove good traction for their product,” said Staffing Industry Analysts’ John Nurthen, who was one of the “Shark Tank”-style judges.

Looking back, AllyO’s two founders were exploring ideas in the “business-to-business-to-consumer” space back in 2015, and they started a small staffing company to give them insight to how recruiting worked.

The Retail Connection

“The innate loyalty or passion that we had was to do something that is B2B2C, what that means is you have a clean business model where you make money from businesses, but you also have a direct impact on the end consumer and there’s a social angle to it,” Sahni said.

Recruiting is one of the top segments in B2B2C, and that’s what led them to start a staffing firm.

Sahni said he and Somani also spent almost six months camping out at almost every mall in the San Francisco Bay Area, working to recruit talent and interviewing hiring managers. They ultimately signed up 15 to 20 local retail chains and restaurants as clients.

They said they learned three things from working in the malls:

  1. Both the talent and employers hated the recruiting process.
  2. Both the talent and employers corresponded much more efficiently over a chatting application as opposed to email.
  3. There was a need for automation. Even with the two of them working seven days a week, 12 hours a day, they could entertain only 300 applicants. Automation would let them scale their efforts significantly.

With those lessons learned, they decided to start AllyO, which provides an AI-powered recruitment chatbot designed to provide end-to-end service. The company has since received $19 million in funding from names such as the Randstad Innovation Fund, Gradient Ventures (Google’s AI Fund) and Bain Capital.

Somani had worked at Google previously, and Sahni had worked at McKinsey & Co.

Countering Commoditization

However, other recruitment chatbots exist, so the company needed a way to differentiate itself.

“We strongly believe that within the HR space, chatbots are going to be commoditized by 2020,” Sahni said. “Any new technology … takes three to five years to get super crowded.”

He said AllyO invested in four key differentiators:

  1. The company provides an “end-to-end” solution. It doesn’t just capture leads from visitors to a website. “We automated everything from job exploration to interviewing to scheduling interviews with a hiring team to assessments to all the way to getting somebody hired and checking in with them after they are hired to see if they are happy or not.”
  2. It focuses on large enterprises such as Walmart, AT&T, Hilton and Chili’s. This raises the product’s visibility and available data.
  3. AllyO’s product is highly customizable. In addition, all the development, be it their screener, scheduler, natural language programming interface, ontology, etc. is done in-house to give full control to their customers.
  4. Important partners that have invested in them such as Bain Capital Ventures — which invested in companies such as Taleo and LinkedIn — Google and the Randstad Innovation Fund.

“What we want AllyO to become is a centralized AI platform that serves every stakeholder,” Sahni said, whether that be applicants, hiring teams or HR business leaders.

AllyO also works with all types of skills and firms. For executive roles, it can help keep leads warm. For high volume situations where employers need people who meet basic, minimum qualifications — such as a retailer gearing up for the end of the year — it can handle the entire recruiting lifecycle without humans, other than the job applicants. That means it would take applicants from screening, through assessment, then extending an employment offer.

Humanizing the recruiting process

“When done right, AI can really humanize the recruiting process and bring huge efficiency and insight to staffing firms,” Alan Stukalsky, chief digital officer, Randstad North America, said in a statement to SIA

“The thing about AI and chatbots is that the media has hyped it up so much,” Stukalsky said. “Most of what is considered AI today is actually a combination of rules-based algorithms and heavy human involvement. But what’s possible is quickly advancing. That’s why we chose to invest in AllyO. It’s one of the most advanced solutions on the market and its recruiting-specific chatbot is already showing great impact on various roles in activities ranging from inbound screening to redeployment processing.”

Chatbots will have much more impact once they advance into true AU with self-learning algorithms, he said. They will tell candidates where they stand in the application process, advice on the most relevant to them and assist recruiters as they screen. Already, 91% of job candidates think technology, including AI, has made applying for jobs more efficient.

“I believe, at some point soon, people will be more comfortable and get better results talking with chatbots than humans for many needs,” Stukalsky said. “Humans will always have their place in the staffing industry, but chatbots will be a huge enabler. Balancing the benefits of tech (like on-demand communications) with the personal touch of a recruiter will always get the best outcome.”

How did AllyO get the name?

For a while, anything related to AI chatbots was given a female name, and Sahni said they wanted to give their firm a name that didn’t have a gender bias but at the same time was distinctly memorable. They tested AllyO with more than 1,000 job candidates and decided to keep the name.

In the end, Sahil said the company is focused on making the recruitment experience delightful and efficient.

By delightful, they mean making sure every stakeholder is wowed and engaged, such that no job candidate falls through the cracks. Efficient means cutting down significantly that time and effort it takes to recruit candidates.

‘Shark Tank’

Serving as judges for the “Shark Tank”-styled competition at the Collaboration in the Gig Economy conference were:

  • Jody Greenstone Miller, co-founder and CEO of Business Talent Group
  • John Nurthen, executive director, global research, at Staffing Industry Analysts
  • Marcus Sawyerr, CEO of YOSS USA.
  • Jai Shekhawat, founder and former CEO of SAP Fieldglass

“All the finalists presented great business cases and it was tough choosing one above the others,” Nurthen said.

While AllyO received the judge’s choice, The Mom Project, was voted as the winner by the audience. The Mom Project is a digital marketplace that launched a program connecting local corporations with diverse and experienced women returning to work.

Other finalists in the competition were Workonomix, a platform that facilitates work identities and simplifies work engagement process using blockchain; Crowdstaffing, a curated marketplace that enables enterprises and MSPs to tap into a crowd of certified recruiters to find local talent; and Fulcrum, an online staffing marketplace aggregator for enterprise programs.