Monday, May 24, 2004
Interview With Rob Rappaport, Conversive Inc.
Rob Rappaport is President and CEO of Malibu-based Conversive (www.conversive.com), a company which is focused on bringing "intelligent virtual agents" to market.
BK: Tell me a little bit about Conversive--what is the history of the company, and how did it start?
RR: Conversive was founded as Virtual Personalities, Inc. in 1997, by the Founder, Dr. Michael Mauldin, who Was also the Founder and Chief Scientist for Lycos. Originally, the company built "chatterbots" and evolved Into artificially intelligent virtual 'agents'. The name was changed to Conversive in 2003, and since then all of Our products have been rebranded. Conversive now offers the following products: InstantAgent, AnswerAgent, EasyAgent, a pre-packaged system for small business; LibraryAgent, a 'virtual librarian' for both academic and public Libraries; CollegeAgent, providing information and assistance for college students and families; and AssistedResponse Agent, which features call center integration.
BK: What is a Verbot, and how are they useful?
RR: Although Conversive now offers Conversive Agents made for all types of companies, from small businesses to large organizations with enterprise-class needs, we've recently re-released our first product, which was a consumer product called the Verbot - (verbally-enhanced software robot). Verbots can answer questions, perform searches, act as personal assistants, open programs, and many other useful functions. They are meant for use on a single computer. The Verbot Player may be downloaded for free at www.verbots.com. There are many existing KnowledgeBases that range from educational to useful to entertaining. Once a user is familiar with Verbots, they may choose to purchase the Verbot Editor, which will allow them To create their own KnowledgeBases. This is also available, for $10.00 as a download at www.verbots.com.
BK: Who are the customers for your product?
RR: Typically, our products are for Fortune 1000 companies. Although we do make versions for small business, Most of our product line is made to integrate with existing Customer Care Systems, enhancing the Customer Self-Service Experience.
BK: How did Conversive end up in Malibu?
RR: I've lived in Malibu for more than a decade, and had an existing office here. When I took over the operations of the company, Bob Williams (Chairman) and I agreed that Malibu was an excellent location, both personally and professionally, with access to Pepperdine University, and close to the San Fernando Valley and Santa Monica/West Los Angeles corridor, where the Pool of available employees is of the highest quality. Plus, we get to see the ocean on a daily basis.
BK: Is Dr. Mauldin still involved with the company, and what is the relationship between Conversive and Lycos?
RR: Dr. Mauldin is still a Director of the Company, and is available as needed for consultation and advice. There is no relationship between Conversive and Lycos.
BK: How are you funded?
RR: Conversive has been self-funded since its inception. Over the past few years, an increasing number of clients have enabled Conversive to provide operating capital from operations, with profitability expected this year.
BK: What's your background, and how did you get involved with Conversive?
RR: My Background you can find on our web site (www.conversive.com - Company page). I was Recruited by the Tech Coast Angels to run what was then called Virtual Personalities. As it turned out, the company was not funded by the TCA due to the 'bubble' bursting, and I had to start from scratch.
BK: How many people do you employ in Malibu?
RR: We employ approximately 10, plus or minus, and several freelancers. We do however, have a partnership with a company called Computer Aid in Allentown, PA, with offices around the U.S. as well as internationally. Computer Aid is a $200M IT services company, which allows us access to the infrastructure of a big company for large deployments and ongoing client support and maintenance.
BK: What's the next big step for Conversive?
RR: We've just released what will be our flagship product, AssistedResponse Agent, which combines our existing NLP technology with the ability to integrate into existing Call Center Systems at virtually any large company. We're currently marketing it to Fortune 1000 Companies, as well as Utilities And Telecom companies.