How much time do you devote to scheduling meetings each week? If you’re like the average person, it’s somewhere around five hours. That might not sound like much, but consider this: By the end of the year, you’ll have spent the cumulative equivalent of six weeks on this mundane task.
Dennis Mortensen, cofounder and CEO of startup X.ai and a computer analyst by trade, thinks about meetings — and scheduling — a lot. He first hatched the idea for an automated appointment scheduler back in 2012, when he realized that of the meetings he attended that year — 1,019 — roughly half had to be rescheduled at least once.
Today marks something of a relaunch for X.ai, which initially planned to adopt a “Salesforce-like” per-seat billing model but settled on a tiered system when it emerged from stealth in 2016.
The least expensive plan now starts at $8 per month. Multiuser team plans are $12, and enterprise plans, which allow administrators to add a custom address to a web domain (i.e., “firstname.lastname@example.org”) and view a master calendar of every meeting set up in a given week, starts at $24.
Previously, team and enterprise plans started at $39 per month and $59 per month, respectively.
“It shouldn’t be much more than the cost of a cup of coffee,” Mortensen said. “Initially, engineering against that fantasy was a little harder than we imagined.”
Pricing isn’t the only thing that’s changing this week.
In the X.ai agent’s email interactions, it’ll begin linking to a calendar flow from which meeting participants can quickly book alternative times. Improved integration with Slack will allow subscribers to set up appointments with one-line commands (for example, “/andrew please schedule a one hour meeting with @dennismortensen on Monday at 11 a.m.“). And now, in office suite settings the agent can cross-reference calendars to find and book available conference rooms.
Also new are calendar pages, which provide a custom URL where meeting requesters can view a user’s availability, and integrations with Salesforce, Zapier, Greenhouse, and Workflow that enable the agent to trigger actions with meetings (like an SMS reminder from Zapier or a new contact in Workflow).
“We’ve spent four years and 40 million dollars trying to get the agent to work within a conversational UI,” Mortensen said. “There were two core elements of our original vision: moving to the conversational UI and this idea of scheduling nirvana,” Mortensen said. “I have to admit I was wrong on the first point, that of conversation being the best type of interaction for all touchpoints. So we added multiple new ways to get meetings on your calendar and manage them as things change.”
X.ai’s underlying artificial intelligence (AI) took three years of research and development and $30 million in seed funding, Mortensen said.
In the interim, it’s gotten pretty good at parsing emails — Mortensen claims it’s accurate 98 percent of the time — and now it typically responds to messages within minutes, down from an hour a few years ago. (Mortensen explained that instantaneous replies tend to feel unnatural and don’t afford meeting hosts an opportunity to make introductions.)
It’s capable of a surprising degree of nuance, too. For example, it automatically accounts for time zone differences and follows up with reminders (as well as gentle nudges if an agreed-upon meeting hasn’t been scheduled yet.) A previous incarnation of the agent even penciled in times outside of working hours for meetings it predicted would be difficult to reschedule, which users often mistook for a bug.
“Most people thought it was a mistake,” Mortensen said. “Now [automated assistant] Amy writes back and asks for permission.”
At a high level, here’s how it works: When you sign up for a plan, X.ai’s web dashboard has you link calendars and email addresses ( Google, Office 365, and Outlook), settle on a default meeting location (i.e., at your office or over the phone), and provide basic contact information, including a name and phone number.
If videoconferencing’s more your style, you can instruct X.ai to generate a dynamic Zoom meeting for every appointment or use a static Google Hangout, GoToMeeting, JoinMe, or WebEx teleconference room. Those links get added to calendar entries.
Next, you establish the time window you’d like X.ai’s agent to work within (for example, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.), plus the default meeting duration (between 15 minutes and an hour), and “meeting breather” time. A nifty country selector allows you to specify national holidays or travel days during which you’ll be unreachable and a customizable notifications page lets you switch on weekly meeting summaries that provide a digest of scheduled (and yet-to-be scheduled) appointments.
When someone emails you with a meeting request, you loop in X.ai’s intelligent agent (which self-identifies as “Amy Ingram” or “Andrew Ingram,” depending on how you address it) and the AI takes it from there. It automatically suggests meeting times based on participants’ calendar availability, taking into account factors like their location and the time of day. And when the sender or senders reply, it uses natural language processing to figure out how to proceed.
Mortensen declined to say how many users have signed up for service but revealed that more than 11 million meetings for or with 98 of the Fortune 100 companies have been scheduled by its agent.
According to CrunchBase, X.ai has raised $44.3 million in venture capital to date.