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Hello Marcel was founded a year ago by Sandrine Thery and Marie-Anne Decaux. Striving to encourage and promote family outings, they came up with Hello Marcel. We met with Sandrine Thery to discover their journey and learn more about their product.

How did Hello Marcel come into being?

“Hello Marcel has been up and running for a year, but we started thinking about the project eighteen months ago. I am a co-founder and in charge of product development, business development and digital marketing.

I met Marie-Anne Decaux, co-founder of the company, when working at M6, first in mergers, acquisitions and strategy, then in catch-up TV. Our relationship developed quickly and we soon realised we wanted to build something together.

We both had many ideas, but nothing concrete. We then decided to focus on the things that could be improved in our daily lives, our needs, wishes and expectations. We are both struggling to live a fulfilling life as parents.

By studying supply and demand, we discovered that there where many solutions available in the Parisian area, offering activities for parents and children, as well as a big demand, but nothing connecting parents with these providers. That’s when we started our company.”

What does your product do? 

Our mission is to help parents have good times with their families. Hello Marcel is the tool that helps, coaches and supports parents in a personalized way. The product is positioned as a new type of media for parents. As Hello Marcel touches a very personal topic, it was very important for both founders to create a personalized and likable interface.

Why do you believe a chatbot is the best interface for Hello Marcel?

In March 2016, Facebook announced the opening of its API to developers, hence allowing the creation of bots. As we dove deeper into understanding the powers of chatbots, the idea of an app or a website was discarded. An app is very reactive and allows for more variety of features, but is very complicated to sell when you’re not a major company. A bot is simple, easy to access, immediately available, fun and fast: everything we wanted.

How have the public reacted to your product?

“Very well! People usually start with small talk and then move on to the core of the bot. They really see the benefits: time saving, quality of the outings suggested, all combined with an addictive personality.

Our audience is very mixed, 55% women and 45% men. Most are between 25 and 45 years old, with more than half residing in the Parisian area. Half of our user base subscribes to our push notifications. Overall, people seem pleased!

I believe it is because we’ve put a big emphasis on the bot’s identity. The first thing we did was making the logo, and immediately tackled the question of “tu” or “vous”, humor, tone, and it is something we are constantly doing. Our audience is moving, and we’re always striving to adapt.”

How did you meet the Recast.AI team? 

“We met the team in June 2016 at VivaTech, a major tech conference held in Paris. They were very helpful and quickly understood our project. The platform being already available, performing, free, supporting French, and a friendly, helpful and qualified team made our NLP provider decision very easy.

We benchmarked other solutions in the market and from a technical point of view; Recast.AI was among the best. The last choice was between Recast.AI and API.AI. We eventually went for the fun, collaborative and Frenchie side of Recast.AI,  as well as the proximity of the team. In Spring 2017, Recast.AI was in our product roadmap, and development started in the summer.”

How did you build your bot?

“We first started by building our own framework and architecture. We didn’t want to depend on anything public, we wanted to have full control. Then we developed our back office allowing us to manage JSONs ourselves. We didn’t want to depend our our developer at all times. We are capable of fixing things ourselves, only calling a developer for new features. Everything is in NodeJS and we’re using MongoDB for our databases.”

Any tips for someone who’d like to build his own bot?

“Using Natural Language Processing (NLP) is essential to create a true loyalty from your users. A bot without NLP isn’t capable of holding a conversation, and therefore has no added value. In the future, we want to include recommendation algorithms and other areas of AI, because it can do so much!

My two cents would be that if your bot is the core of your business, do not use a framework. It’s better to build your own bot internally to be more agile and independent. Work on your bot’s identity from the beginning and always keep improving it! Adopt a humble style in your bot’s answers, be welcoming and walk the user through the conversation to avoid any frustration. Good luck!”

 

You can discover Hello Marcel on Messenger or visit their website. Many thanks to the team for their valuable insights! Share your thoughts in the comment section. 

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