By Mary Tucker, Sr. PR/Communications Manager
Chuck Elias, CEO & Co-founder of 42Chat, has guided the 42Chat team from an idea, to a start-up, to the industry leader in AI Conversation solutions. Chuck and the 42Chat team have relentlessly invested in, and enhanced, their technology to meet the changing needs of the industry. Perhaps there is no better example than how he is leading 42Chat through the dramatic impact COVID-19 has had on the industry. In the first days of the pandemic, Chuck and 42Chat created a new bot to answer questions for the attendees of all the shows that were being postponed or cancelled. That “Rapid Response Bot” was deployed for more than 100 shows to help manage the tidal wave of questions about the constantly changing event status. For those who could not pay, the bot was offered at no cost.
Quickly thereafter, Chuck and the team leveraged their award-winning platform to create an invaluable safety tool to help events open safely. HealthShield is a chatbot that pre-screens users for CDC identified COVID-19 symptoms. It can either stand alone or be integrated into a traditional EventBot. As the events industry begins to reopen, Chuck and 42Chat have completely redesigned their solutions toward meeting, conferences, trade show and exhibitor subscriptions to help shows provide year round, easier access to information with quicker deployment, and all at substantially less cost.
Chuck and the 42Chat Team’s accomplishment earned them the IAEE Innovative Business Solution Award last year, for which they were recognized this past December during virtual Expo! Expo! IAEE’s Annual Meeting & Exhibition (watch the awards presentation and Chuck’s acceptance speech here).
Here, Chuck shares with IAEE how 42Chat has evolved since its entry into the industry, what he and his team have learned during the industry’s most challenging time, and his vision for 42Chat in the future of exhibitions and events.
Tell us how 42Chat got its start?
Chuck: We started 42Chat, then called Sciensio, in 2016 when one of our co-founders introduced me to the then-emerging world of artificial intelligence chatbots. We quickly realized that we could combine the SMS channel, with conversation A.I., to automatically respond to customer and employer questions using natural language. That simple combination meant that we could create a better experience, increase the productivity of overwhelmed teams and save money for our clients. When we started we knew that every industry could use our solution, but we weren’t sure where we would gain the most traction or even if the technology could scale. We did our first proof of concept A.I. chatbot for the Agile Alliance Conference in 2016 and discovered the events industry. It was the perfect match of timing, user need and technology. In 2017, we deployed Betty for BizBash Live Florida and David Adler, Nicole Peck and the team embraced this new customer experience channel. We won the SISO Innovation Battlefield Award in 2017 and our business exploded from there – winning over a dozen industry awards and supporting clients across every type of event.
You jumped into action pretty quickly as the industry experienced the effects of COVID-19. What made you realize that you could adapt your offerings to this purpose and what was your strategy in making sure you were hitting the mark on what the industry needed?
Chuck: One of the most powerful features of our AI Conversational solutions is the ability to listen and learn from users and then quickly adapt to their unmet needs. As soon as the pandemic hit, our bots were being inundated with questions about the status of the upcoming shows. We added conversation topics to automatically respond to those questions for all our existing clients. We then built a stand-alone Rapid Response Bot that could be deployed for any event in just a few hours.
Because users of our solutions tell us, in their own words, what they need, it’s pretty easy to see when we are hitting the mark. We are able to that same approach for every new product we build.
What would you say your biggest challenge has been and what was your approach in overcoming it?
Chuck: When the pandemic hit, like many, we saw an immediate drop in revenue. Up to that point, we were experiencing explosive growth across the events industry. With uncertainty in the air, my first message to our team was that our goal was to thrive, not just survive, through the pandemic. We worked harder than we ever had to improve our solutions, capabilities and our team. We created our HealthShield product and deployed it in less than three weeks. And that solution has helped schools, manufacturers, clinics and sports leagues remain open. To date, we have completed close to one million total daily symptom screenings. While it’s been hard, I believe great companies and teams are formed during the toughest of times and we’ve never waivered from our goal of being seen as a great company helping others to thrive.
What industry tech trends do you see coming down the pipeline – both in its recovery from the pandemic and beyond?
Chuck: I think the biggest trend is a deep understanding of the need to build and stay connected to your community, whether that community is your employees, your customers or your members. This is a universal concept but one that became really apparent during the pandemic. Things were changing so fast that the tools we used to use to communicate, email and apps, were either too slow or too under utilized to get the message out as broadly and quickly as we needed. This problem cried out for what we call “On-demand Engagement,” and we think it applies to every business, everywhere. Employees and customers have questions and need answers, immediately. And companies need to be able to reach their employees and customers, now, with critical information, tools and insights. It’s no longer okay to communicate only around the event. It’s critical to build a true community of users that can be supported and reached immediately, year-round.
What future goals do you have for 42Chat and its team?
Chuck: Our goal is pretty simple, to help every company in the event industry and beyond, to connect and stay connected with their customers, employees and other key stakeholders year round. As events restart, we’ll be there with the solutions that will improve the productivity of the understaffed teams looking to restart their business, while improving the customer experience, and saving money. More importantly, we want to see every business thrive within the community they choose to serve. We’re all in this together.