AI-startup Face Me says it has a US$10 million ($15m) Series A capital round underway at a US$50m ($74m) post-money valuation.

The Auckland-based maker of virtual assistants tells the Herald that its seeking backers from the US, Australian and NZ.

It has already bagged a lead investor for the round, Sydney-based Alium Capital.

FaceMe says its also signed on noteworthy US investor Richard Socher - founder of MetaMind, a natural language processing and image recognition startup sold to Salesforce for US$32.8m in 2016 (today, Socher is chief scientist at Salesforce).


The raise comes on the back of two recent high-profile projects.

One is "Kiri", a kiosk-based smart assistant who will shortly be trialled in several of Vodafone's Auckland stores.

The other is a tie-up with Sir John Kirwan's startup Mentemia, which will offer a "virtual John" for counselling as part of a wider workplace wellbeing programme. Mentemia is still in still some distance from launching its product, but has managed to sign The Warehouse Group, Barfoot & Thompson and Andrew "Four-Day Week" Barnes' Perpetual Guardian as foundation customers.

A successful raise would put FaceMe closer to local rival Soul Machines, which has raised tens of millions from customer Mercedes Benz and other investors on the back of deals with Air New Zealand, ANZ and other blue-chip clients. Soul Machines has a $30m Series B round under way.

Both of the Kiwi startups develop virtual assistants with the help of IBM's Watson AI programme. They feature the ability to "learn" from responses over time, and to read someone's emotion from their facial expression, tone-of-voice and body language.

In an October 26 interview with the Herald, FaceMe chief operating officer Bradley Scott declined to give any financials, but said the 25-person company is in talks with potential customers around the world. It already counts ASB, MPI (at Auckland Airport) and, overseas, UBS Bank in Switzerland among its clients

Scott says his 25-person company wants to "move down market as soon as possible" and make AI assistants available to medium or even small businesses".

Last month, Scott was wary of giving any specific figure, saying it would depend on the context and customisation.


A FaceMe implementation could be a 3D face that appears on a special kiosk; one that sits on the web where it can be viewed on a PC or smartphone or any screen, or a more straightforward voice-only assistant.

"Our vision is to bring digital humans to everyone, not just big enterprises," Scott says.

FaceMe and Soul Machines recently got chipped by Mike Hosking for featuring only young women in their line-up of AIs.

Both said the gender, age and other AI attributes were up to clients, and expected over time end-users would be able to choose a virtual assistants with any features they wanted.

In FaceMe's case, Kirwan's mug will soon be fronting its technology.

FaceME CEO Danny Tomsett says "It's an exciting time for FaceMe. We are experiencing considerable growth and demand for our technology as business seek to solve for both cost and experience.


"We are grateful to our early adopter customers such as BNZ, ASB, Vodafone, UBS and many others as we've validated the value that Digital Humans bring to their customers. We're about to announce even more companies who will be launching Digital Humans using our intelligent Digital Human platform over the next few months."