As a first time startup CEO, Jake Wobbrock has learned a lot about his company in the past year. But one of the more important lessons he’s picked up has to do with something a little unexpected: People’s pronunciation habits.
“North Americans are not used to seeing a ‘q,’ without a ‘u,’ after it,” Wobbrock said. “It’s confusing.”
And so today Qazzow, which was spun out of the University of Washington by Wobbrock and co-founder Andy Ko, is rebranding to AnswerDash and officially launching out of beta after one year. The startup has also named a bevy of new advisory board members, including ex-Drugstore.com CEO Dawn Lepore and former Oracle executive John Kembel.
The change to “AnswerDash,” has to do with more than just phonetics. The name also better captures what the eight-person startup is really all about: Helping people online find instant, contextual answers to any question.
“We want to be the fast answer company,” Wobbrock said. “We want to weave answers into the fabric of where people are. Our ultimate goal is to really remove the days when people are confused by user interfaces on any kind of device or platform. UI frustration and confusion should be a thing of the past.”
AnswerDash wants to fundamentally change how online businesses answer questions that customers might have. Rather than forcing people to comb through an FAQ or use a written-based solution like email or live chat — Wobbrock calls these “help islands” — AnswerDash’s technology embeds answers within a website’s functionality.
When a user clicks on something they have a question about — this could be an image, link, header, etc. — AnswerDash employs a machine learning search process to retrieve the most relevant questions and answers.
“We bring the Q&A right to the point of action,” Wobbrock explained. “We don’t want users to switch screens, dig through articles or be taken away from where they had a question. We want to give them answers right where they need them.”
The idea is to reduce the amount of time customers are searching for answers online, ultimately helping businesses improve the consumer experience while retaining revenue that previously could have been lost due to user frustration.
AnswerDash has worked with about 40 companies in the past year, many of whom are seeing increased sales conversions and reduced customer churn. The company also produces unique analytics that can provide insight into what types of questions customers are asking while browsing through a given website.
AnswerDash, which makes money with a tiered subscription model based on the amount of usage its tool gets, is aimed at the generation of online consumers who have developed a knack for instant gratification. Many of these younger customers end up leaving websites where they can’t find quick answers, and that ends up being lost businesses for companies.
Lepore, a startup veteran who currently serves on the board of AOL and RealNetworks, said that we’re still at the very early stages of innovation in the way customers shop onine.
“The millennial generation will drive even more innovation— digital natives shop very differently than people from my generation,” Lepore said. “They don’t want to pick up the phone or wait for answers or information — they are used to having everything at their fingertips. They want to self-serve. Websites have to catch up to the expectations of customers and AnswerDash helps companies deliver instant answers and customer service.”
AnswerDash has raised $2.4 million to date from WRF Capital and Voyager Capital, in addition to a handful of angel investors including Seattle super angel Geoff Entress. Wobbrock and Ko co-founded the company at the UW with Parmit Chilana, who is now a professor at the University of Waterloo. Wobbrock and Ko are currently on leave from the faculty of the UW.