We’ve been hearing about former Salesforce co-CEO Bret Taylor’s latest gig since he announced he was leaving the CRM giant in November 2022. Last February we heard he was launching an AI startup built with former Google employee Clay Bavor. Today, the two emerged with a new conversational AI company called Sierra with some bold claims about what it can do.
At its heart, the new company is a customer service bot. That’s not actually all that Earth-shattering, but the company claims that it’s much more than that, with its software going beyond being an extension of a FAQ page and actually taking actions on behalf of the customer.
“Sierra agents can do so much more than just answer questions. They take action using your systems, from upgrading a subscription in your customer database to managing the complexities of a furniture delivery in your order management system. Agents can reason, problem solve and make decisions,” the company claimed in a blog post.
Having worked with large enterprise customers at Salesforce, Taylor certainly understands that issues like hallucinations, where a large language model sometimes makes up an answer when it lacks the information to answer accurately, is a serious problem. That’s especially true for large companies, whose brand reputation is at stake. The company claims that it is solving hallucination issues.
At the same time, it’s connecting to other enterprise systems to undertake tasks on behalf of the customer without humans being involved. These are both big audacious claims and will be challenging to pull off.
Some other startups working on this problem include former TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield winner Forethought, which has been working on this problem since long before ChatGPT came along, and Ada, which launched an AI customer service suite last spring.
It makes sense that Taylor, who spent seven years at Salesforce, would be looking at AI to solve customer problems. Salesforce bought his last company, Quip, for $750 million in the summer of 2016. He rose through the ranks all the way to co-CEO before leaving to start building Sierra with Bavor.
They already have several big consumer brands using the initial version of the platform including SiriusXM, Sonos and WeightWatchers.
Bavor was previously at Google for seven years, where he was in charge of AR and VR, before joining forces with Taylor, who also did a stint at Google in the early 2000s.
In addition to his day job running Sierra, Taylor is Chairman of the Board at OpenAI after previously serving on the board at Twitter. He was dismissed from that position when Elon Musk dissolved the Board shortly after taking over the company in October 2022.