Startups, An Xoogler-Led Health Chat Platform, Raises Most Of $13.7M Round

There once was a time when chat was eating the world, but there’s always another company ready to take another bite out of the market.

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Syllable is a company that helps healthcare providers communicate with their patients through secure chat backed with AI developed by former Google engineers.

The Deal

According to SEC paperwork filed late Monday afternoon, Syllable is raising $13.71 million. The company has already closed on $13.21 million of the total from eight investors, leaving just $500,000 to raise.

The company closed a $4.3 million seed round in March 2017. New Enterprise Associates, Khosla Ventures, Greylock Partners, and Esther Dyson invested in that deal.

It isn’t yet clear if any new investors are involved in this new round of funding. As we’ll see, the company’s disclosed board of directors doesn’t provide additional context.

Who’s Involved

Typically, at least one investor (usually the lead investor) in a venture round will join the company’s board as a representative of investor interests.

As it stands on the filing, however, Syllable’s board consists of two of the company’s co-founders:

  • Kobus Jooste is Syllable’s co-founder and chief executive. Prior to founding Syllable, Jooste was an engineering director at Google, where he worked first on Android Pay, then on Verily through Google X, and finally on Google Assistant and Knowledge Engine within the Google Home group. His list of patents is interesting.
  • Guilherme “Gui” Bastos, the company’s co-founder and chief operating officer. Prior to Syllable, Bastos served in product leadership roles at MercadoLibre (after it acquired his first startup, Dabee) and Ebay, where he was the director of product management.

The company’s third co-founder is Andrew Rogers. He worked as a software engineer on the Google Wallet team during Jooste’s stint at the search giant.

Syllable recently hired a head of artificial intelligence engineering: Raphael Cendrillon, another ex-Googler who also worked on project Verily.

What The Company Is Building

Syllable is building a chatbot for healthcare. According to its website, Syllable’s platform helps medical providers communicate with patients through a chat-driven user interface.

Common questions can be answered automatically, without human intervention. Healthcare providers can capture patient data with interactive forms, automate the scheduling process, and refer patients to specialists. It is HIPAA compliant.

Syllable offers a voice interface for Google Home and Amazon Alexa users. It also released a word-association game called Cognitive Challenge on both major voice assistant platforms. The company cites the game as “an example of how voice can be used on a regular basis at home as part of a longitudinal assessment.”

The Broader Context

Building chat platforms which facilitate specific types of professional, home, or health-related interactions is not a new trend.

Even in the broader healthcare sector, there are plenty of companies around the world building “messaging” apps and AI “assistants.”

Back in May, Crunchbase News covered Luma Health‘s Series A round. Luma also offers automated patient scheduling, follow-ups, and referrals through its HIPAA-compliant messaging platform. Sound familiar?

In order to carve out a position for itself in this crowded market, any company—Syllable included—needs to prove that the enormous collapse in hype surrounding chatbots that happened over the last few years was, in fact, wrong, and that regular humans are willing to chat about their most intimate details with a computer.

For techies and other Silicon Valley types, the proposition makes sense. How well it will play in Duluth is something we’ll find out.

Illustration: Li-Anne Dias

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