XiByte, a Tampa-based startup, is gearing up to release Maya 2.0, an updated version of its artificial intelligence-powered advisor and a virtual assistant for entrepreneurs.
The new release has a gamification feature that motivates entrepreneurs and startups to push forward, said Sat Ramphal, cofounder and CEO of XiByte.
That’s in addition to Maya’s core function, serving as a virtual advisor for startups on a range of tasks, from incorporation to setting up a bank account to creating a website and other operational requirements.
Helping young companies grow hits home with Ramphal. He and the four other XiByte cofounders previously launched two technology startups that failed. But those failures were a success in Ramphal’s view.
“We were able to stay intact as a team. That was the most important thing. And we were able to make that a mission of ours – to not have another startup go through such a terrible experience as failure,” Ramphal said.
One key learning was that startups need advisors. But 97 percent of startups can’t get an advisor because they can’t get into an accelerator.
“That’s why we decided to build this bot,” Ramphal said. “What we realized is entrepreneurs who don’t have an advisor spend most of their time in operations, not innovating and growing their company.”
Maya advises entrepreneurs about the operational tasks and steps they need to take and facilitates that work through XiByte’s 1,500-member corporate partnership network that includes law firms, accountants and marketers, among others.
Maya is not meant to completely replace human interaction.
“Even myself, as CEO of the company, I wouldn’t want to be engaged to a bot all day. I would miss that social interaction with another human being,” Ramphal said. “We don’t want to remove that interaction. Every human has great insight or another perspective. Maya is not meant to replace that human touch. She’s meant to be an added benefit, a virtual business partner.”
Maya launched in November 2019 and quickly picked up 14,000 to 15,000 users.
The 2.0 version was inspired by the Covid-19 pandemic, Ramphal said.
“We noticed a lot of entrepreneurs are at home. A lot of them have become less engaged and less motivated,” Ramphal said. “We decided to build a feature to engage them and motivate them more. That’s why we built a gamified version of Maya which motivates the user and entrepreneur to progress further. They can earn badges and rewards to unlock more features within Maya to help their business progress.”
For instance, once an entrepreneur completes the tasks around incorporation, they earn a reward that unlocks high-end marketing information from Forbes.
XiByte initially programmed Maya using the cofounders’ own experiences.
“As our advisor network grew, we shaped Maya to be more intelligent and to offer more suggestions,” Ramphal said. “She has now gotten even smarter with new data we have gotten from our corporate partners … including entrepreneurship data from the Kauffman Foundation and the Nielsen Foundation.”
Maya 2.0 also has new voice capabilities that no longer sound robotic, Ramphal said.
XiByte normally charges $30 a month for access to Maya, but is giving away the tool for free during the pandemic to companies impacted by Covid-19.
The company also has struck a deal with Hillsborough Community College, which will use Maya in three classes this fall. XiByte is in talks with University of Central Florida and University of Miami about similar deals.
XiByte has added two professors from Florida Polytechnic University who focus on artificial intelligence to its advisory board. They are Feng-Jen Yang, associate professor in computer science and information technology, and Arman Sargolzaei, assistant professor of electrical engineering and director of the Advanced Mobility Institute.
XiByte, founded in 2017, has been bootstrapped by its cofounders so far, but with the release of Maya 2.0 Ramphal said the company will consider outside investors.
“We’re going to raise capital between now and end of October, trying to close on a seed round. What that will do is allow us to expand Maya’s resources intelligence further, add more voices and personality types, so it’s more engaging to the user,” Ramphal said.