When the professional chat app Slack launched in 2013, the small team at software development studio XOXCO immediately started building integrations. Based in central south Austin with a dozen delicious food trucks within walking distance, team lunches were a point of constant group discussion, so the team developed a Slack bot named “Lunch Bot” that would pipe in with suggestions. “We thought, what are the other kinds of things that are boring and mundane that lots of teams do that can be delegated to a bot?” says CEO Ben Brown.
Two years later and the company, now known as Howdy, is launching the beta version of its trainable workplace bot. The friendly Howdy bot can be trained to automate administrative tasks like scheduling meetings, checking in with coworkers and delivering updates to team leaders.
Here’s how it works: install the Howdy bot in your Slack; it comes with a pre-programmed suite of functions. Users can interact with the bot by using natural language commands like “start a meeting” which will notify and organize a team to get ready for a meeting. As of right now, Howdy’s functionality is limited to basic administrative tasks, but Brown and his team are working on a web version that will allow users to build a more complicated script.
“A lot of software these days pushes info to you in the form of the alert. You dismiss and that’s it,” Brown says. “We learned quickly that that didn’t work and we wanted it to ask questions and to ‘listen’ more.” For example, when Howdy needs to get information from you, he politely asks, “Can you talk?” and then waits until you can.
The team at Howdy also figured that interacting with a bot day in and day out could get old fast, so to keep things fresh Howdy hired humor writer Neal Pollack to script Howdy Bot’s clever, helpful, sometimes funny responses. “We want it to be that coworker that you wish you had and works with you the way that you want to work,” says Brown. “That personality that makes it enjoyable to engage with but not distracting or bothersome.”
There are other tools that are built into Slack–like the time-management tool Trello or the WordPress integration–but as far as Brown knows, Howdy will be the first integration to hit the market that actually lives completely in Slack. The company recently closed on a seed round of funding of $1.5 million led by Bloomberg Beta, True Ventures, Betaworks and a group of angel investors to develop the app. “The Slack ecosystem is so nascent we’re one of the first companies to receive funding to build on top of it,” Brown says.
Howdy bot has launched in beta. Try it out here.