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Normalising AI: how Aider is making AI simple for any business, big or small

The phrase “it’s a matter of perspective” is one of the most overused in the English language. So, it may sound more than a tad cliché to begin a story about a new technology or service with just that. But when writing about Aider, it’s rather apt.

The reasoning for that aptness is plain: depending how one wants to look at it, Aider – which means “to help” in French – can be seen as incredibly high-tech, or incredibly simple. Or so says Pete Weaver.

“Aider is a digital assistant in your pocket that uses real-time business data for smarter insights and actionable advice through natural conversation,” he says. “We’ve used the latest AI technology to build a solution to help business owners save time and make data-led decisions on the go, 24/7.” Translation: Aider is an AI assistant for businesses – especially businesses that might not necessarily know much about AI or how it works.

Behind Aider are Weaver and Brendan Roberts, as well as a team of five people they work with. According to Weaver, Aider’s points-of-difference are its simplicity and that it’s, well, AI.

“Aider doesn’t exist in the market,” he says. “We wanted to create a solution for small businesses to help them succeed. Traditionally, AI has been inaccessible except to the large [businesses], and we wanted to make small businesses better by giving them an edge insofar they can now access all their data and use their new ‘rockstar’ employee (Aider) to help them with insights and advice.” And as for a target market? “Initially we’re working with cafes, restaurants and hospitality businesses as well as retail,” Weaver says. “As we grow we’re expanding to SaaS businesses.”

Speaking of growth, Weaver says the company is gearing up to officially launch later this month with its minimum viable product (MVP) version for early adopters/users. “We’ve been through lots of market research and user testing to help find out what business owners want and need,” Weaver says of the buildup.

“Being close to our initial customers that have helped us to learn and grow, and Aider is now at the point where it is feeding insights back to users. We have integrated with a relevant number of applications targeting small business hospitality and retail verticals.” Beyond the initial launch in Aotearoa, Weaver adds there are already plans to expand to the Australian and US markets in 2019. Oh, and there’s also a goal of helping more than 100,000 business owners within five years.

Beyond the technology of Aider – which recently won the Judges’ Award at the Fintech Innovation Challenge when Aider was first introduced to the world – Weaver says a key catalyst for the launch has been participating in the Idealog + B:Hive Race for Space competition earlier this year.

“The Race for Space was a great idea to help us get in front of some leaders in industry and share Aider in its most basic form,” says Weaver of the decision to enter. “We were able to test the concept and get some advice on how to grow and scale quickly as possible as well as what obstacles to avoid. Also, we were looking at the B:Hive for our initial office space and the prize of over $40,000 per annum was a great incentive.” He says more on the subject. “We were enthused by the feedback and also had some possible short-comings identified in our pitch, especially about selling the concept to a wider non-technical audience. We were comforted in that we were able to address questions well and had a very good handle on the idea and the proposition. Judges feedback was encouraging even if we did not win.”

And though they didn’t win, Weaver says they learnt a lot – so much so that Aider wouldn’t be what it is today if it wasn’t for the Race for Space. “We have noted the need to amend our pitch or story dependent upon the audience. In particular we realise that the technical aspects of the product – voice and conversation, AI and machine learning – need to possibly be presented in simpler, more pragmatic ways to ease the audience into them. This is particularly true of prospective, less technical customers.” And, yes: there’s also a bigger mission with Aider beyond just the technology.

Says Weaver: “We believe that AI can enhance small business and ultimately change the world. We want to make that reality possible.” Making AI simpler to understand – and harness – certainly helps.

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