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High-tech firm ready to add workers to Bellingham office

Software development engineer Justin Smith walks on a treadmill Thursday, March 9, 2017 while working at Conversica, a high-tech company in Bellingham that produces artificial intelligence bots that help sales people with contacts. Smith says he walks about 8-10 miles a day while working on the treadmill.
Software development engineer Justin Smith walks on a treadmill Thursday, March 9, 2017 while working at Conversica, a high-tech company in Bellingham that produces artificial intelligence bots that help sales people with contacts. Smith says he walks about 8-10 miles a day while working on the treadmill. pdwyer@bhamherald.com

A high-tech company is planning on adding employees to its Bellingham office in the coming months as it prepares to grow into new markets.

Conversica, which employs 70 people in downtown Bellingham, is planning to hiring at least 20 more workers here in 2017, said Werner Koepf, senior vice president of engineering for the company. Conversica builds artificial intelligence-based software that helps companies follow-up on sales leads.

This comes on the heels of the Bellingham tech firm Emergency Reporting’s announcement that it has hired 20 employees in the past two months and is looking to hire a few more this spring.

A couple of factors are behind Conversica’s growth, Koepf said. One is that its clients are getting a positive results, which is leading to expansion to other industries. The other factor is receiving $34 million from an equity investment firm in December that is helping fund its growth plans.

The AI-powered sales assistant works as a way to help employees by doing follow-up emails on possible leads, Koepf said. For example, a real estate company can use the AI assistant to send emails to potential customers that made initial inquiries or put themselves on an email list. If the lead turns out to be solid, the sales representative can then take over to set up a presentation or meeting.

The key, Koepf said, is the AI sales assistant emails are done with a casual style that people actually read them. It’s passing the Turing test, which makes an AI sales assistant email indistinguishable from an email written by a human.

To a large degree we’re passing (the Turing test) because people think they are talking to a human.

Werner Koepf, senior vice president at Conversica.

“To a large degree we’re passing (the Turing test) because people think they are talking to a human,” Koepf said, noting that the AI sales assistant can be persistent without being annoying by following up as scheduled. It also frees up sales representatives to go after leads they didn’t have time to pursue before. “It’s assisting people rather than replacing them.”

In developing the software, Conversica has learned to craft the email in a way that avoids the spam folder, such as not putting in links or attachments.

The company, which is headquartered in Foster City, Calif., has strong ties to Bellingham. Ben Brigham founded AutoFerret.com in Bellingham 10 years ago. The company was later renamed Conversica. The firm originally focused on software products to help track down leads for car dealerships. It has since expanded into a variety of industries, including real estate, finance, technology and insurance.

The Bellingham office at 1201 Cornwall Ave. has engineers as well as other positions, with many coming from Western Washington University’s programs, Koepf said. The company’s able to attract people who want to stay in Bellingham while working with some interesting technology.

“AI is a hot field right now,” Koepf said.

Dave Gallagher: 360-715-2269, @BhamHeraldBiz

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