Table of contents
- Bot Hello
- Founder - Sean Melis
- Founded in Brisbane, Australia
- Started in 2017
- 1 founder, 2 employees, 11 contractors
- $500K + annual revenue
Hi Sean. What's your backstory?
I grew up in Brisbane to a Chinese/Indonesian Mother and a Dutch Father, who were both 1st gen immigrants. They met while studying Architecture and have continued to work across design disciplines while simultaneously working on pet projects (i.e. flipping houses) ever since.
From a young age, I was immersed in everything design, arts/crafts, and DIY.
This translated to high school, where I did well in artistic and graphical design subjects (not so much in everything else) and in grade 12 was asked to design the cover of the student magazine — this gesture cemented my love for design. During this time I also started freelancing within Australia's eSports scene; designing forum signatures, business cards, website graphics, and logos for teams and players.
After high school, I went on to study marketing and a new 'video games design degree' at university, but was quickly bored and swapped to finance/IT a year later. Changing degrees and hanging out with more ambitious/motivated students changed my life.
As a result, I got heavily involved in anything extra-curricular; co-founding the Australia-China Youth Association Chapter at QUT, running the Economics & Finance Society as President, leading the design of the University Magazine for multiple years, co-founding my first company called 'Prokure Australia' which helped SMEs import wholesale goods from China, and finally, competing in varying international business case competitions, often beating Ivy League schools. I was the lead PowerPoint designer and finance guru in all competitions.
I'll admit...I was a serial extra-curricular overachieving maniac, and while it was fun, it took a real toll on my mental and physical health — do not recommend.
However...all this madness helped me land my dream grad role at Deloitte in their tech consulting team.
After leapfrogging from project to project around Australia, I was eventually resourced in Singapore and China on one of Deloitte's largest Robotics Process Automation projects. I helped map and automate the back office of a global investment bank, leveraging AI to reduce labour related to manual and repetitive tasks. BUT...it wasn't uncommon to log 100+ hour weeks, and the 'work hard, play hard' culture quickly became unsustainable. I was textbook 'burnt out', and the rocket ship I felt like I was on came crashing down. I left the project and took a 3-month leave of absence.
During these three months, I made countless mistakes. I spent $5K paying offshore web devs to build a marketplace product that had rampant copyright issues, I lost the remainder of my savings (and some of my parent's money) trading through the 2017 crypto crash, and spent countless hours trying to make a cent through drop-shipping and affiliate marketing.
Nothing was working, but through these experiences, I learnt the importance of embracing failure and the growth that comes as a result.
With starting capital of $720 (all my co-founder and I could afford), Bot Hello was born a few months later.
What does Bot Hello do?
Bot Hello is a Customer Experience Agency that helps consumer brands optimise their customer journeys with automated yet immersive conversational experiences. We design, develop, deploy, optimise and analyse products like Help Desks/Centres, Chatbots, and Digital Humans/Avatars.
For our clients, we aim to reduce time and overheads associated with customer support and generate new revenue opportunities through platforms like Facebook and Instagram.
For our client customers, it's our mission to bring to life a world where customer support is instant and stress-free.
How did you come up with the idea?
While attempting to make drop-shipping work, my co-founder and I (of the drop-shipping company at the time) discovered that chatbots had launched on Facebook Messenger.
We quickly built a FB Messenger chatbot for our drop-shipping store and were hooked. We dropped everything and started a chatbot agency, as well as our own platform that supported the development of our chatbots.
At that point in time, the business launched as 'Bothello' because we liked the connection to 'Othello' and literature, while combining the worlds 'Bot' and 'Hello'; 'Bot' encompasses the technology, and 'Hello' embodies language, copywriting, and communication.
Unfortunately, Bothello never really stuck and many people ended up calling the business 'Bot Hello', so we changed it after a year.
How did you go about building and launching the business?
We bought a number of courses on Udemy and just dedicated 3 months to studying the art of chatbot design and development. As well as building examples and Proof of Concepts (PoCs) for friends who owned businesses. We gave those PoC's away for practically nothing and eventually started receiving referrals and introductions to larger and more notable brands.
Within 12 months we were working with the Brisbane Lions, Youfoodz, and Anytime Fitness — all deployed on our proprietary bot platform.
How have you grown the business?
Through personal networks, referrals, and partnerships. Since the business's inception, not one project/deal has been the result of cold outreach.
Although my network through university involvement has certainly helped, I'd say the biggest impact has been through our partner network.
We now have official partnerships with leading CX technology platforms like Intercom, Gorgias, ManyChat, UneeQ, and Meta; as well as partnerships with marketing agencies, media buyers, systems integrators, software development studios, and tech/business consultancies.
I will say though, developing partnerships like these take time. It's the result of active relationship-building with the right people, and then delivering results for them time and time again.
What's your biggest selling product?
Our Facebook Messenger and Instagram DM Customer Support Chatbots. Suited best for brands with large followers who struggle to keep up with customer enquiries after hours and/or across peak periods (i.e. Xmas, black Friday etc).
What have been some of your biggest failures along the way?
One of the reasons I parted ways with my co-founder was due to the platform being built on top of a singular API, the Facebook Messenger API. When GDPR hit and caused Facebook to roll back a number of their Messaging API features (in order to comply with GDPR) — our chatbots broke, and so did our platform.
Unfortunately, this was also during COVID while my co-founder/CTO was on leave. We didn't have the resources to update our platform and augment our service offering to deliver the same value we had originally sold to our clients.
The lesson here is the classic maxim of "don't put all your eggs in one basket". Or don't hinge your entire business's success on one platform or product. If that platform/product makes an update that cuts you out of the equation, you better have a backup plan.
What's next for you and your business?
I'm excited for Bot Hello to put out more content and drive greater awareness of not only what we do, but how these technologies can help businesses save money and generate sales. As well as giving people the resources to configure, implement, and optimise these platforms on their own.
With an impending recession, it's vital that SMEs look to upskill and integrate automation throughout their workflows to ensure they're reducing overheads and time wasted on repetitive tasks as much as possible.
These kinds of integrations are long-term cost savings that could mean the difference between having to let go 5, 50, or 500 people (depending on how drastically the tide turns).
What digital tools do you use regularly?
What books have been a great inspiration to you as a founder?
These three books have had the greatest impact on my life:
I'm also a big fan of entrepreneurial biographies. They can really help put things into perspective when you feel like you're carrying the weight of the world. Shoe Dog by Phil Knight is my favourite.
Any quotes you live by?
"It's never too late to be what you might have been." George Eliot
I just like the idea that it's never too late to do the things you've dreamt about doing (apart from some professional sports).
A big drawback to that though is the loneliness. It can be really tough as few others are on similar paths as yourself, particularly within your close circle of friends. You have to consciously make an effort to seek out like-minded individuals who are also building businesses at similar stages to yourself. It's the only way to stay sane.
What do you do to look after your mental health as a founder?
Surrounding myself with good people and positive attitudes. As well as looking after my physical health which has a direct correlation with improving mental health. For me, this means going to the gym, going for runs/bike rides, playing basketball, or VR fitness.
I also do my best to meditate, journal, and take time off social media. For many periods throughout the business, I've disabled my Instagram and deleted all social media apps, including LinkedIn in order to focus and take my mind off other people's journey's/successes (it can be extremely toxic for you, especially in the first few years of being a founder).
What are the biggest pieces of advice you’d give to other founders?
Don't underestimate the importance of keeping costs low. You can increase your profit so much more easily by reducing your expenses vs. increasing your revenue. Cut that fat, invest in automating repetitive tasks, and cancel those unnecessary SaaS subscriptions.
Also, your energy levels and focus will be proportionate to how active and healthy your lifestyle is. If you feel like your tank is low, ask yourself...am I exercising enough? Is my diet healthy enough? Should I cut down on anything? Have I been meditating, sleeping right, journaling etc.