Having to write hundreds of letters during an internship spurred Robert Van Den Bergh’s to create the automated handwriting startup company Scribeless, but not only on the basis of efficacy. The results from the letters he had written for a marketing campaign showed significantly higher levels of engagement among potential clients: it became clear it was the personalised touch people were responding to.
Developing this idea with fellow University of Bristol graduate Alex Robinson (who he previously worked with on an app called Resist, that incentivised users to be more present by automatically donating money to a charity if they used their phones within a specific time frame) they founded Scribeless in 2018.
In fact, so confident in their product, they even sent the very same artificially written letters they create to potential investors and did so with phenomenal success, attracting over 90 percent backing.
From banks to political parties, Scribeless has seen a wide range of organisations and firms using their AI product. With proven open rates above 95 percent – a rate far higher than traditional email marketing follow-ups strategies – it isn’t hard to see why. We spoke with the 23-year-old entrepreneurs about Scribeless, and their experience running a startup so far.
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What was the process of starting a business like, any surprising challenges that came up?
We started the business in 2018 with the aim of helping companies better engage their customers through the handwritten letter. We took a very technical approach to this problem and as a result, the main challenge, to begin with, was the technical barriers of creating handwriting technology that is indiscernible from human-written. Luckily, we saw good results (in terms of customer engagement and ROI on marketing campaigns) for the companies we worked with early on which made things slightly easier!
Why do you think the personalised touch has been so popular?
The personal touch, especially in marketing, is so popular because people are sick of impersonal, mass communication. We find that a handwritten letter goes one step further and has the impact of feeling incredibly personal, while also being tactile and importantly, not seen through a screen. In the experience-led world we now live in, people want 1-1 tailored experiences and a personal form of communication is just an extension of this experience.
Do you intend to use AI in other capacities to make the user experience more personalised?
You will have to wait and see!
Scribeless won one of the top prizes at the Santander Universities Entrepreneurship Awards 2019, securing funding but also business mentoring. How has the latter helped?
The support and funding provided by Santander through the Santander Universities Entrepreneurship Award has been invaluable in the growth and development of Scribeless. Since winning, we have expanded our offerings and now have a production facility in the US, allowing us to support some of the largest US organisations.
Had becoming entrepreneurs always been at the forefronts of your minds?
We both have worked on startup projects over the last 5 years. The process of building something from scratch and being able to mould into something that genuinely has value for companies is incredibly exciting. As technologists, the intersection of technology into simple processes, such as the process of handwriting, is the kind of problem we both love working on.
What is the achievement Scribeless is most proud of?
The achievement Scribeless is most proud of is our integration with Shopify, allowing Shopify users to automatically send handwritten notes straight from their store dashboard. It’s an amazingly simple way to send handwritten notes that look and feel genuine without spending too much time on it. Our aim is to help Shopify store owners focus on what they do best and that is building their online business while we take care of their handwritten campaigns.
On top of our current collection of integration offerings, we are building a solution that can be used by all marketers looking for an efficient and cost-effective way to personally interact with their leads. We keep out blog updates with the latest releases so it’s worth keeping an eye out.
What does the future look like for Scribeless?
As Scribeless continues to grow, we will continue helping companies better engage customers through our handwritten letter solution. Whether companies are looking to acquire new leads or retain customers, we hope to grow our offering across the world, helping companies of any size.
With our new CRM and eCommerce integrations, we now help companies to fully automate the process of sending handwritten notes, so once set up, a company can send a handwritten note every time a customer buys a product or does a certain action. With this new technology, we want to make offline marketing as easy and efficient as digital, just with significantly higher engagement and open rates.
What piece of advice would Scribeless give to someone looking to start a business in AI?
The one piece of advice we would give to someone looking to start a business in AI is to look and really understand what is already out there. There is no point in re-inventing the wheel and quite often, for the first step, AI isn’t required for your business (unless you are a very tech-driven company).
We realised early on that to make our solution truly indiscernible from human writing, we would need to use AI and ML, but a lot of solutions simply do not need the complexity when building the MVP. My advice would be to understand your market, achieve product-market fit and then understand how technology (whether that is or isn’t AI) can give you the edge.
What is the ultimate goal of Scribeless?
The ultimate goal of Scribeless is to help companies around the world utilise offline marketing in a more effective and efficient fashion. Handwritten letters are a great way for us to start this but we want to make all forms of direct mail and offline comms easier, more efficient and more effective.