Even as a child, Surbhi Rathore knew her destiny was to work in technology. Today, Rathore is the co-founder and CEO of Seattle-based Symbl.ai, has recently graduated from Alexa Next Stage, and leads a company supported by the Alexa Fund. And her goal is to change the way collaboration works for people around the world.
With the continued shift to virtual customer service, tech support, sales and a more remote work, practically every conversation is being held virtually, Rathore identified and executed on the growth opportunity for Symbl. She started the company with the belief that there was a wealth of valuable information in digital communications that’s simply lost. What if businesses could capture that info, she wondered, then analyze and use it in real-time to provide a better, more engaging experience for customers, colleagues, (really, anyone) on the call?
“There is a huge amount of data floating around digital channels,” said Rathore. “That data has tremendous value—if you have a way to capture and harness it. And now I know how to do it.”
While growing up in India, Rathore’s father had a background in communications engineering and worked in the Armed Forces. Having spent her time surrounded by technology, sitting in server rooms, and watching systems installations, she knew she was destined to become a computer engineer. And that’s exactly what she di
After graduating with a degree in engineering from the University of Pune, Rathore started on an engineering team at a tech startup where she was the only female engineer in her team. Having always been surrounded by people passionate about technology in itself, Rathore never felt she was affected by the difficulties many women face when entering tech-related industries. However, she did feel as though hers was often the “lesser voice at the table.” As she moved to larger organizations with more diverse cultures, she eventually found a wider community that listened. That’s why she’s relentless about encouraging women to speak up in the tech workplace.
“Overcoming your own barrier and allowing yourself to express your unique opinion about things is a challenge we all face, especially women in tech,” said Rathore. “Having more women on the team makes a difference in how you collaborate and contribute. That kind of support makes it easier for everyone to have a voice at the table.”
Prior to founding Symbl, Rathore was working closely with conversational AI products to see how machine learning and AI could be applied to customer communications to amplify customer interactions with chat bots. When trying to apply the same technology to analyze natural human conversations, she found the technology just wasn’t a fit. She was sure she could harness the abundance of information floating around digital communication channels. And she was certain this data would benefit businesses—if they could access it without spending a lot of time and effort. That conviction led her to co-found Symbl.ai, with the goal of enabling businesses to capture, analyze, and put to work all those conversations from chats, calls, and video conferences.
As Rathore explains it, Symbl.ai delivers contextual conversational intelligence from digital conversations. The API platform enables developers to ingest audio, analyze it, and produce real-time insights based on the meaning of what was said, rather than just the keywords. Enterprise developers use Symbl’s conversational intelligence APIs to integrate and extend the capabilities of collaboration tools or other applications by leveraging the insights gained from analyzing the digital conversation data these tools collect
“We want businesses to free up the time it would take to build a machine learning infrastructure to analyze conversation data,” said Rathore. “Instead, developers can build on top of our platform to customize the insights for their particular use case and build the right experience for their users.”
Rathore first focused on applying conversational intelligence to unified communication apps. But she soon saw the potential to expand it to other industries like sales, distance learning, telehealth, and customer support.
Right after its kickoff, 2019 Techstars Seattle chose Rathore’s company to participate in its program. Then Alexa Next Stage, powered by Techstars, also chose Symbl for its 2020 program. The Alexa Next Stage program selects promising startups in voice technology, provides venture capital from the Alexa Fund, and helps them build their relationship with Amazon through mentoring.
“Working with Alexa Next Stage was amazing,” said Rathore. “Being part of the Alexa Fund portfolio validates what we’re building. The program’s guidance helped us almost double our revenues.”
As an additional benefit, Rathore executed her vision of collaborating with Amazon Chime SDK, Amazon’s video conferencing and online meetings communications service for developers. Symbl announced the first Conversational AI adapter using the Amazon Chime SDK during the Alexa Next Stage innovation showcase in August 2020. Amazon Chime SDK allows businesses to embed their own functional extensions to Chime’s real-time communications and collaboration system.
“With the integration of the Symbl Conversational AI adapter for Amazon Chime SDK, developers can enable action items and many more contextual insights in real time,” said Rathore. “They can also capture questions asked, calendar invites, and notifications to trigger specific workflows. It takes collaboration to a whole new level.”
Early in her career, Rathore learned that women thrive in an active community with the support to speak out, yet she still sees a lot of problems getting more women involved in tech. She is excited to be working alongside companies like Amazon and in the Seattle tech ecosystem where people talk about such problems and make an effort to solve them.
“For anyone who wants to get into voice technology, whether you’re an individual developer or a company, this is the best time to get started on that journey,” said Rathore. “As the communication landscape evolves, the field of voice intelligence has exploded as never before. Just look at how working from home has affected how we utilize video conferencing tools in any domain. If you have an idea, don’t wait. Build something, get the first version to market quickly, and test it with your users. You might be sitting on a goldmine.”
"With in-person conversations going fully digital this year, I am excited to see the inclusion of digitized human to human conversations as part of the multimodal experiences. Adding voice and video call data and stitching those with existing interaction data will be needed for businesses to truly understand the customer journey."
- Surbhi Rathore, CEO, Symbl.ai