Melbourne AI receptionist startup Phonely receives Y Combinator funding with record-breaking launch

Melbourne AI receptionist startup Phonely receives Y Combinator funding with record-breaking launch

Phonely founders Nisal Ranasinghe (left) and Will Bodewes (right).

An artificial intelligence (AI) receptionist that can reportedly handle up to one million phone calls at once has secured a US$500,000 ($749,720) investment from the prestigious Silicon Valley accelerator Y Combinator, as the Melbourne-founded startup continues to "push boundaries with voice AI that were previously believed to be impossible".

Phonely, an AI-driven answering service startup founded by Will Bodewes and Nisal Ranasinghe, joins a small cohort of fewer than 20 Australian startups that have been accepted into the program, including the likes of Go1, HEO Robotics, Mindset Health and Greaseboss.

As PhD researchers in Professor Saman Halgamuge's AI research group at the University of Melbourne, eight months ago Bodewes and Ranasinghe set out to build a service that could help businesses provide lifelike phone support to customers.

The founders claim one of the biggest challenges they faced was in getting their AI system to respond accurately for every phone call.

"It's not a simple problem. Large language models (LLMs) have to be carefully trained and instructed in order to prevent speech errors and to interact with scheduling software," says Ranasinghe.

"Additionally, when you’re dealing with voice applications everything has to happen in less than a second."

Within three days of Phonely officially launching with Y Combinator it has already become one of the most viewed and shared launches in YC history.

"We never expected this," says Bodewes. "Our posts are now one of the top performing posts on YC’s LinkedIn and Twitter (X) pages and our already significant user base has grown 500 per cent-plus virtually overnight. I couldn’t be more excited and grateful for our team." 

 

When it rains it pours, as the saying goes. When the pair had their Y Combinator interview at 3am on 1 May, just hours earlier they had won the People's Choice Award at a Startup Victoria AI pitch event. Two hours after the interview Bodewes was set to fly to Sydney for Blackbird's Sunrise fundraising event.

"Sometimes things happen all at once. Entrepreneurship is about taking every opportunity you’re given and trying your best with every one," the co-founder says.

"Our bread and butter is in building software that is super easy for businesses to use and can guarantee accurate responses to customers' calls. Plus it doesn’t hurt that we do it 70 per cent cheaper than a traditional answering service."

Bodewes says phone support is often the first line of interaction between a business and its customers, yet often small and mid-sized businesses miss 37 per cent of business calls, and larger enterprises struggle to scale up efficiently.

It might also be noted that for this same reason many businesses miss out on beneficial news coverage, which operates under tight deadlines and requires expedited access to company representatives when journalists try to make contact.

The two founders also happen to be the first founders from the University of Melbourne to ever take part in Y Combinator.

"At the end of the day, our goal is not to replace receptionists, but rather to allow businesses to provide better support to their customers and let all of us never have to be put on hold again," Bodewes concludes.

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