This interview is part of our new AI in Retail series, where we interview the world's top thought leaders on the front lines of the intersections between AI and retail.
In this interview, we speak with Todd Greene, CEO and co-founder of PubNub, and Stephen Blum, CTO and co-founder of PubNub, to understand how his company is using AI to transform food retail, and what the future of food retail holds.
1. What’s the story behind PubNub?
TG: We believe that everyone, and every product, will be dramatically changed by our “always-on” connection to the Internet, and through it, to every other person and device in the world. 3 billion people now have smartphones, most with virtually unlimited data. Most people use their phones to read content, watch videos, and send emails. Yet the most exciting uses of our phones happens when we leverage that real-time connection to the Internet. Just think about what has changed in the 6 years: People worldwide now use their phones to order taxis, track food delivery, control their lights, and have a bunch of apps specifically for chatting with people. We buy goods, collaborate, and conduct a massive amount of our work through a web browser.
These apps are all powered by a new layer of technology, real-time technology. At PubNub, we call this a Data Stream Network, and our tech is used by many of the apps you already have installed on your phones, in your homes, in the stores you shop in, and on your web browsers.
2. Why and how did you begin?
TG: My brilliant co-founder, Stephen Blum, demonstrated an early version of PubNub to me, and I immediately knew this was going to be big. In prior years, I had tried to build a number of online games and apps that all needed real-time experiences. And yet I’d always stumbled on delivering these products because I didn’t have the right underlying technology to deliver on the vision. I knew that if I took the time to get the tech right, I’d never have time to launch the app. And if I hacked together some flimsy realtime tech, the app would crash if it ever got real adoption. We figured that we weren’t the only one caught in that Catch-22 situation. Turns out we were right. Today, fewer and fewer people are trying to build their own real-time tech, they’re too busy launching their own amazing idea, and using PubNub to power it.
3. Please describe your use case and how PubNub uses artificial intelligence:
SB: As our company continued to grow – including our customers and the amount of data flowing through our network, new use cases and industries emerged. We're beginning to see widespread adoption in retail, both online and in-store. They're harnessing PubNub to enable the engagement of customers in new ways that keeps them competitive in a crowded, cutthroat market. We're a crucial component of powering chatbots – giving businesses a scalable, reliable, and always-on support channel for their customers. Recommendation engines deliver the right content at the right time to customers beyond simply emailing them. Smart devices utilize beacon technology in-store to instantaneously interact with the customer the moment they enter the store. It all requires a fast, reliable, and seamless real-time network to deliver those experiences.
If you think of a chatbot, it needs two things – a voice and a brain. The many cognitive services out there – Watson, AWS Lex, Microsoft Bot, give a chatbot the intelligence. PubNub is what allows that bot to communicate at massive scale with any number of connected users. We deliver the chat messages between the bot and the user, anywhere on Earth, in a quarter second. Businesses can easily deploy chatbots on our Data Stream Network using PubNub Functions, our serverless compute platform. It's not just chatbots. Any cognitive service – natural language processing, sentiment analysis, text-to-speech, language translation – can be deployed directly into our network with Functions.
This is crucial for next-generation retail. Businesses can now engage with customers at massive scale without hiring a huge support team. They can gauge the sentiment of customers to see how they perceive a campaign or a new product line roll out. They can go global with fast, accurate language translation. Combining a realtime Data Stream Network with cognitive services allows traditional retail companies to modernize, and give them new ways to engage and retain customers.
4. Could you share a specific customer/user that benefits from what you offer? What has PubNub done for them?
SB: NumberAI is a great example of a transformative company that utilizes PubNub to empower companies to go beyond being a traditional retailer. They've reinvented how businesses connect with customers with their conversation platform. With AI-powered text messaging, social media response, phone calls, and web chat build into their platform, businesses can implement the platform to scalably engage customer bases through a wide variety of channels. In essence, they're replacing phone calls with messaging. Their customers include Ace Hardware, Sole Space, and Red Bay Coffee.
Numa is their AI-based assistant that automates response through the different channels. PubNub powers all real-time messaging on the platform, converting human speech to text for processing, sending responses back from Numa to customers, and sending alerts and notifications to customers.