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Bill Colleran.
AnswerDash CEO Bill Colleran.

What started as an idea inside the Information School at the University of Washington is now a full-fledged business that’s raising cash from venture capital firms.

UW-spinout AnswerDash today announced a $2.9 million seed investment round led by Voyager Capital, with participation from existing investors WRF Capital, Summit Capital, the W Fund, and Arnold Venture Group.

AnswerDash, formerly known as Qazzow, 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, AnswerDash’s technology embeds answers within a website’s functionality.

The company helps its clients offer customers instant, contextual answers to a question they may have while browsing a given web page on desktop or mobile. 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.

answerdash323The idea is to reduce the amount of time customers search for answers online, ultimately helping businesses improve the consumer experience while retaining revenue that previously could have been lost due to user frustration.

“By enabling users to quickly and easily find their own answers to commonly asked questions, AnswerDash prevents costly and repetitive help requests that would otherwise arrive via e-mail, phone or live chat,” explained CEO Bill Colleran. “AnswerDash also reduces the likelihood that online shoppers will abandon their shopping activity because they fail to receive answers to their questions simply and intuitively.”

Colleran, a former longtime CEO of Impinj, joined AnswerDash in June when he replaced co-founder Jake Wobbrock, who started AnswerDash back in 2012 with fellow UW professor Andrew Ko and their Ph.D student, Parmit Chilana.

AnswerDash co-founders Jake Wobbrock and Andy Ko.
AnswerDash co-founders Jake Wobbrock and Andrew Ko.

Wobbrock and Ko have held the CEO and CTO roles, respectively, at AnswerDash for the past three years —Chilana went on to become a professor at the University of Waterloo — but will return to their careers in academia this fall.

Wobbrock told GeekWire that “this was always a planned transition.” The co-founders will remain involved with AnswerDash in an advisory capacity, while Wobbrock will serve as a board observer.

“Our goal as academic co-founders was to take the technology we created out into the world,” he said. “We wanted to get the startup going, get it funded, build a great launch team, refine our product, and get customers and value proof-points. Once we had achieved this, we knew that the best people to take the company to the next level would be seasoned industry executives with years of experience building companies and taking products to market.”

The leadership baton is now passed to Colleran, who previously spent 14 years leading RFID technology-maker Impinj, and VP of Engineering Kevin Knoepp, who joined the team in January after spending more than two decades as a back-end technology executive.

“AnswerDash will continue its evolutionary arc from a small, research-based product team to a vibrant, innovative and fast-growing SaaS company,” noted Colleran.

answerdashColleran said that the company has “matured dramatically” since starting three years ago. Now that the startup has established product-market fit — it has “dozens of customers” like Chef, PetHub, and PipelineDeals — it will use the fresh cash to expand its sales and marketing efforts while continuing to improve the AnswerDash platform.

Colleran has lofty ambitions for AnswerDash, which makes money with a tiered subscription model based on the amount of usage its tool gets and also produces unique analytics to clients that can provide insight into what types of questions customers are asking while browsing through a given website.

“AnswerDash’s service enables more efficient, succinct and clear communication over the web and on mobile devices, so over time our market will grow to include almost every website and mobile app,” he said. “That’s a huge opportunity.”

Total funding for the 13-person company is now $5.3 million.

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