Best young entrepreneurs of 2016 launch future of customer service and collect 1.5 million euros in funding.

UTRECHT– Always get your customer service questions answered immediately: it sounds almost too good to be true, but soon it can be. Voted 2016’s most promising young entrepreneurs, Alexander Wijninga and Charl Haas are set to launch their innovative customer service platform Watermelon Messenger on February 1st. Using artificial intelligence, their aim is to reinvent the world of customer service. 

Watermelon versus WhatsApp
It is not the first time the two young entrepreneurs turn their efforts to customer service. In 2015, Watermelon was launched as a corporate tool for using WhatsApp as a customer service platform. Demand was high, and organisations like the Dutch tax authority, Randstad and Heineken soon started using Watermelon. This success did not go unnoticed by WhatsApp. The messaging service demanded Watermelon take their product off the market, which led to bankruptcy in July 2016.

All Communications from One Platform
Despite their setback, Wijninga and Haas remained convinced of their vision of creating a more accessible customer service. Shortly after filing for bankruptcy they started developing Watermelon Messenger. This new tool lets businesses communicate through Facebook Messenger, Telegram, chat and e-mail from one clear and easy-to-use dashboard. At a later date, Skype, Line, Twitter, Instagram, WeChat and – as soon as an official API becomes available – WhatsApp are also to be added to the list.

The Future of Customer Service
What makes Watermelon Messenger unique is its use of chatbot technology. An automated representative is not only capable of replying to customers’ messages more quickly, it can also handle hundreds of questions simultaneously. This gives regular customer service workers more time to talk to customers who do need the help of a human representative. This could permanently solve the issue of reply times. In the last half of 2016, Watermelon has already built several artificial intelligence chatbots for major Dutch companies like Randstad, De Zaak and UWV (Dutch Employed Person’s Insurance Administration Agency).

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1.5 Million Euros
Watermelon Ventures, the trust fund behind Watermelon Messenger, is investing 1.5 million euros in the development of Watermelon Messenger. Watermelon Ventures previously received a substantial amount in funding from a private investment fund. The investors, two brothers, predict a bright future for the two young entrepreneurs, thanks to their ambition and perseverance. The sum is to be put towards the development of their digital tool, further development of chatbot technology and market penetration in the Low Countries as well as the European region.

Chatbots

For the past half year, Watermelon Venture’s other venture ‘melon.ai’ has been developing artificially intelligent chatbots for major Dutch companies like Randstad, UWV and De Zaak. Chatbots developed by melon.ai can be easily integrated into Watermelon Messenger, and we are currently working on multiple requests for similar customised chatbots.

The beta version of Watermelon Messenger will be available for free (freemium) use from 1 February. You can already create your account at watermelon.nl/en.

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Building a brand

Let me start by saying that I am a huge fan of Richard Branson, a man who has been an entrepreneur since he was sixteen years old. There’s no bigger source of inspiration to me than he is, his lifestyle and the mistakes and successes he’s made really appeal to me. In his early twenties, Richard Branson developed the Virgin brand with a long term vision: developing businesses that make an impact and completely turn the market upside down.

I got started with entrepreneurship when I was seventeen. I’m 22 now and I have made a lot of wrong choices and mistakes as well. But without those mistakes, I would not have been successful, which is something I will always keep in mind and learn from. When I was nineteen, I already worked on developing a long term vision, something that I found quite challenging. It was easy to get fixated on all the things that could possibly happen one day.

In July 2014 I wanted to develop an app with my roommate, an acquaintance and a colleague. The idea was to start a social network that would be similar to Instagram, but for sound. We could already imagine Justin Bieber posting an image of his new album along with a teaser of his first song, or a pictures of a Lamborghini with that incredible sound. In order to make progress with our marketing concept and design of the app, we needed a good name. My entire life I’ve always loved melon, watermelon especially. While I was eating this, a perfect concept came to me: account managers being farmers, calling your subscriptions greenhouse, vegetable garden and plantation and beautifully visualizing your growth from a small seed to a big watermelon. The marketing concept was born, and I started putting it all on paper. The app eventually ceased and nothing more came of it.

In December 2014 we noticed an increasing demand in the market for WhatsApp for business. Before we’d even created anything at all, we already had customers. Together with Charl, my colleague at the Next Network, we started thinking of the possibilities of WhatsApp for business and an exciting business plan followed quickly: we would create a dashboard that would allow companies to use WhatsApp for customer support with multiple employees at once.

In April 2015 we went to the notary to found the company. The decision to link our business to the marketing concept of “Watermelon” had already been made months before. We could get started and, as many know, this became a crazy roller coaster ride.

In July 2016 we filed bankruptcy, we couldn’t keep going anymore. The worst part was that the entire marketing concept of “Watermelon” was now up for anyone to take. Needless to say, the decision to purchase the brand name again was easily made. While I was still busy exploring all sorts of new businesses, the idea of a plan with a clear long term vision stayed with me. In the past I’d wanted to do this with The Next Network, but something told me that this wasn’t the right brand. When I got back control of Watermelon, I seized the opportunity. I went back to work and developed a plan with a long term vision that I will tell you more about in a later blog.

Watermelon Ventures has now been established and the first two ventures are on its way.

Watermelon Ventures will focus on building software companies that make business processes better/easier/faster and/or cheaper. It would be amazing to be able to invest our knowledge, brand, capital and network in the future. But that’s not our main focus for now. Currently we are working on developing the Watermelon Messenger Platform (which is still a mystery) and getting new clients to melon.ai, where we make custom bots for major platforms such as Facebook Messenger, Twitter and Slack.

Together with my Advisory Board, Charl Haas, and my partners at melon.ai; Milvum, I am full of excitement and confidence to start working on Watermelon Ventures. In the words of Richard Branson: “Screw it, let’s do it!”

 

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Alexander Wijninga, Founder of Watermelon Ventures