Common business wisdom holds that it takes months to find a customer—and seconds to lose one. Two Illini have created a better way for businesses to keep their customers through an artificial intelligence-powered, conversational messaging app.
Often, it is “a pain for customers to get in touch with businesses and have an easy, smooth interaction,” says Aakrit Vaish, ’08 ENG. “We thought we could bridge the gap.”
To do so, Vaish and classmate Swapan Rajdev, ’08 ENG, started Haptik in 2013. Based in Mumbai, India, the enterprise has more than 200 employees—including several Illinois alumni. Haptik develops AI systems and chat bots, allowing people to easily converse with apps and electronic devices using speech or text, in subjects such as finance, insurance, health care, technology and communications.
The global company boasts a local origin. Vaish came to the U.S. from India, and Rajdev from Kuwait, specifically to attend Illinois. “I made some of my best friends and network contacts at Illinois,” Rajdev says. “Aakrit and I met there, so Haptik is a U of I company.”
“Anything and everything this company has done the foundation really was created at Illinois,” agrees Vaish. “The rich history of entrepreneurship at Illinois had a big influence.”
The two credit Dan Roth, adjunct professor of computer science, as another important influence when they were students—so important that in 2015 they added him to the company’s board of directors to help improve Haptik’s natural language processing platform.
Their time at the University wasn’t all work. Vaish remembers his first St. Patrick’s Day—“so much happiness around campus, for no apparent reason,” he says. Rajdev remembers the first time he saw snow. “I went out to experience the snowfall, and people looked at me weirdly as if they had never seen someone so happy in such cold weather.”
Haptik has been so successful that the duo sold 87 percent of it to the Reliance Group in 2019 in a $100 million deal, although they continue in their leadership roles. Vaish is CEO and Rajdev is technology chief.
Success was not without a few bumps along the way, however. “[Haptik] has had near-death experiences twice,” Vaish recalls. “Both times we were about to run out of money but survived due to constant perseverance, hustle—and luck.”
“The key is to stick with it and give it your level best,” Rajdev concludes.