Hotels and Service apartments, a traditionally non-tech industry, have fallen behind in the trend of digitalization. Despite its labor-intensive nature, a typical hotel hardly has any part of its daily operations automated, recorded, or analyzed. In response to the problem, Aiello, founded in 2018, develops machine learning models to build an AI voice SaaS platform for the travel and hospitality industry — “Aiello SPOT”, which enables both the digitalization of hotel internal operation flows and the understanding of guest profiles.

Aiello SPOT includes an in-room smart display speaker and a web-based management portal. While the in-room smart speaker acts as a 24-hour concierge beside the guest, the hotel staff can manage in-room guest requests sent by the smart speaker via the management portal, completing an automatic servicing process. With Aiello SPOT, hoteliers are now able to interact with their guests more frequently during their stay, collect guests’ feedback, centralized-process guest requests, analyze user data, and much more.

Vic Shen, Founder and CEO of Aiello

What’s your story? 

I have been working in the tech industry including Google, Qualcomm, and startups for around 15+ years. The first time I was in touch with the Voice and Language understanding field was when I started working on Google Home products 4 years ago. It actually gave me an idea on how I can make better use of Voice in service-intensive industries other than just pure consumer market. In my past 15 years, I always enjoyed learning new stuff and embraced changes. It drove me to believe that what I am doing right now can change people’s lives and create a new generation of the user interface. That is why I am here today.

What were some of the obstacles that your company faced during its initial years and how did your team overcome it?

We faced obstacles from all 3 aspects; manufacturing, sales, and funding. Firstly, our initial OEM was unable to deliver. It caused serious delays in our schedule and waste of resources so we eventually decided to cut it loose. Secondly, our promising clients kept failing us because of various reasons. Therefore, we learnt not to rely too much on a few clients and to switchgear flexibly. Lastly, we learnt a hard lesson when we closed our angel round fundraising ten months later than what we had expected. We overcame the obstacles by being proactive, nonjudgmental, and more open-minded to all kinds of opportunities.

ML-NLU model

How does your company separate itself from the competitors?

We create a natural conversational user experience and data management platform for our clients, a platform that is monetizable. Aiello’s technology to process semantic understanding is based on the machine learning NLU (ML-NLU) model, capable of analyzing multiple intentions within any single conversation. Because multiple intentions are common in natural human conversations, our ML-NLU model’s ability to understand multi-intentions and to analyse speech emotions will largely increase the machine’s understanding capability and make voice and semantic technology much more user-friendly.

In addition, our strategy of only focusing on the hospitality and travel industry gives us a competitive advantage. Since most of our competitors’ products are transplanted from consumer ones, our voice system outperforms them in terms of completeness, comprehensiveness, and the outstanding ability to understand specific travel terms. Our voice system is rooted in the true needs of the hospitality and travel industry and creates true value for the said industry today and into the future.

Name 1 most memorable learning experience of your entrepreneurial journey

I would say the first thing I had to do or was forced to do is to forget who I was.

Well, while you always know you are no longer in a big company with tons of resources to engage, deep down you don’t really change how you comprehend a problem. This causes the team to slow down and to overestimate what we can achieve. Luckily, we realized it and have since then fixed it. The problem will definitely resurface but the lesson learnt is imprinted.

What do you think should be the most important characteristic of a startup and its team to possess?

Ambition. Because a startup comes into existence to solve a problem and to shape the future. The product or service it provides is either unprecedented or believed not working. Either way, the market needs to be educated, and it takes great ambition to transform the common view and the status quo. Being ambitious to change is the only way that a startup can achieve its goal of solving a problem and shaping the future. Otherwise, a company will no longer be a startup, but business as usual.

What are you working on right now that motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?

I tell myself what I should make happen today and tell myself to make more progress.

Always try your best to hit the milestone for yourself even if it is tiny and small. It is not just about the product or company, it could be about yourself, your mind, your thoughts…

Aiello team

What is your company’s five-year plan? Any market expansion plan in the pipeline?

For the coming year, we will focus on the China market as it is an enormous and rapidly developing consumer-voice technology market. For the next three years, we plan to enter the Japan market, given its benchmarking effect, and the Southeast Asia market provided its momentum and high acceptance of cutting-edge technology. In the next five years, we expect ourselves to have a presence in Europe and America.

Looking back, what advice would you tell your younger self?

Go talk to as many people as you can. Forget who you were. Open your mind and listen to those who have gone through it. You don’t have to always believe but you have to always listen.

Given that the Voice AI technology has access to and storage of personal information of users, how will this endanger the privacy of personal information?

The data we collected is anonymous. These data become personal only when the users agree to reveal their personal identities. As such, the privacy risk lies in the extent of awareness a user possesses at the moment he or she decides to link his/her identity to the data. The risk can be reduced by providing clear instructions and warnings to users. We are devoted to the protection of user data as we believe that a user’s trust is one of our most important assets.