PayTalk promises to handle all types of voice payments, but the app has a long way to go.

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Neji Tavo, founder of a boutique software company Wiscount Corporation, says his father inspired him to become an engineer. When Tavo was a child, his father tasked him with coming up with a formula to calculate the amount of gasoline in fuel tanks at his family’s gas station. Tavo then created an app for gas stations to prevent gasoline from being pumped.

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The seed of the idea for Tavo’s latest venture came from another source: a television ad for a charity. Frustrated by his experience filling out donation forms, Tavo looked for an alternative, faster way to complete such transactions. He stopped at the voice.

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Tawo PayTalk, one of the first Amazon products. Black Founders Build with Alexa, uses conversational AI to complete transactions through smart devices. With the PayTalk app, users can do things like search for a ride, order food, pay bills, buy tickets, and even apply for a loan, Tavo said.

“We see opportunities in a generation that already uses voice services for everyday tasks like checking the weather, playing music, calling friends and more,” Tavo said. “At PayTalk, we believe that voice services should function like a human—be able to do multiple things, from picking up a pickup to accepting a delivery order and paying phone bills.”

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According to Tavo, PayTalk uses out-of-the-box voice recognition models in the front-end and various hidden API connectors. In addition to Alexa, the app integrates with Siri and Google Assistant, allowing users to add voice commands such as “Hey Siri, book a room on PayTalk.”

“My team and I have been running this along the way, as many of the VCs we approached early on were skeptical about the voice form factor of the devices of the future. The industry is in its infancy and many are still skeptical about it,” Tavo said. “With the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent shift to more remote execution of various types of transactions (e.g., ordering food from home, shopping online, etc.), we… have seen an increased interest in the use of voice services. This, in turn, has increased demand for our product, and we believe we can further expand our offerings and make voice services more useful as a result.”

Tawo’s presentation for PayTalk reminded me a lot of Viv, a startup launched by Siri co-founder Adam Cheyer (later acquired by Samsung) that proposed voice as the connective tissue between disparate apps and services. It’s a promising idea, teasing even. But as far as PayTalk is concerned, the execution is not quite ready yet.

The PayTalk app is only available for iOS at the moment and is a little rough in my experience. A chatbot-like flow lets you enter commands—a good fallback for situations where voice doesn’t make sense (or doesn’t fit)—but doesn’t transition very gracefully into action. When I used it to find a taxi by typing the suggested “book a ride” command, PayTalk requested a pick-up and drop-off location before throwing me at an Apple Maps screen without any of the information I had just entered.

Booking and booking functionality also seems to be broken. PayTalk took me through the steps of finding a restaurant, asking what time I would like to reserve, the size of my party, and so on. But the app allowed me to “confirm” a table for 2am at SS106 Aperitivo Bar – an Italian restaurant in Alberta – on the day the restaurant closes at 10pm.


Image credits: paytalk

Other “categories” of commands in PayTalk are very limited in their capabilities – or simply non-functional. Currently, you can only order groceries from two services – MNO African Market and Simi African Foods Market. The loan request triggers an email with a link to Glance Capital, a personal loan provider for gig workers, which throws a 404 error when clicked. A command to book “luxury services” such as a yacht or “seaplane” (yes, indeed) does not achieve anything like a confirmation screen, while a “pay for parking” command confuses the zone number request.

To pay for purchases via PayTalk (for example, parking), the application has a wallet. However, I could not figure out how to transfer money there. The app supposedly accepts payment cards (unfortunately, no integration with Apple Pay), but clicking on the “Use Card” button starts a loading animation that ends quickly.

I could go on. But suffice it to say that PayTalk is in its very early stages of development. I started to think that the app was released prematurely, but PayTalk official twitter account has been touting it for at least the last few months.

Perhaps PayTalk will eventually become the shoes that Tavo gave me, so to speak – Viscount begins a four-month tenure in the Black Founders Build with Alexa program. In the meantime, it should be noted that Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri are already capable of doing much of what PayTalk promises someday.

“With a potential investment of $100,000 [from the Black Founders Build with Alexa Program], we will be looking to conduct an initial round to expand our product offerings to include features that enable customers to seamlessly conduct e-commerce and financial transactions on voice-enabled devices,” Tavo said. “PayTalk is basically a business-to-consumer interaction platform. However, as we continue to innovate and integrate voice-activated options…we see the potential to support enterprise use cases by replacing and automating the lengthy form-filling processes that are common in many industries such as healthcare.”

Let’s hope that the main features of the application will attract attention first of all.

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