Chinese RPA startup Laiye aims to bring “virtual workers” to more countries
China’s economic headwinds are making investors more cautious, with investment in the primary market down 65.97% year-on-year in April. However, even in this context, the robotic process automation (RPA) space is doing well, with two startups closing high-profile funding rounds in April.
Winrobot360 completed the $100 million Series C financing led by Goldman Sachs, while Laiye received $70 million from Hopu Magnolia, Lightspeed Ventures, and other heavyweight investors, bringing its total Series C financing to $160 million. The continued capital injection proves investors’ long-term confidence in the sector that aims to reduce manpower for repetitive and continuous operations.
Beijing-based Laiye presented PingWest with a blueprint for its overseas expansion, revealing how the funding will fuel its ambition to become an international market frontrunner.
So what exactly is RPA and why are investors increasing their bets on it? To be clear, it does not refer to the types of robots commonly found in manufacturing environments, but in fact refers to technologies that automate repetitive digital tasks with little or no human intervention. It’s an emerging form of business process automation technology based on the notion of software robots or artificial intelligence (AI) workers.
RPA solutions, simply put, are similar to providing business owners with “virtual workers” to alleviate human employees from repetitive tasks. One of the best use cases of RPA is Business Process Outsourcing—a software that can replace routine tasks of technical support and customer service, providing clients with assistance 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The automated software technology has emerged as a reliable weapon for companies looking to stay ahead of the competition, as it can reduce costs, improve efficiency, and assist companies in quickly implementing digital transformations as well as business expansions.
Wang Guanchun, CEO and founder of Laiye, said that in 2016, he and his team saw an opportunity to provide packaged AI solutions such as automated customer service and automated marketing to enterprises, therefore, they decided to pivot the company’s product line from consumer-facing to enterprise-oriented. Wang himself is a serial entrepreneur focused on the AI sector. Before establishing Laiye, he built out “jinwankansha.com”, a video platform based on algorithmic recommendation systems. The platform was acquired by Chinese search engine giant Baidu in 2012.
It is the deeper involvement of AI that distinguishes Laiye from other competitors. RPA automates processes that use structured data and logic, whereas AI is the process behind the effort to simulate human intelligence in machines. The startup offers AI-powered RPA solutions that not only streamline processes, but also equip organizations with key insights that help with automation efficiency and faster response to customers.
Laiye positions itself as an integrated intelligent platform for end-to-end high-scale automation, allowing users to plan any automation processes visually using various diagrams. Each diagram will represent a certain type of work to perform.
The need to automate complex business processes across multiple industries, the ease of doing business and the decreasing cost of automation software and services are driving RPA adoption in China.
Now, the company’s solutions span banking, insurance, telecommunications, power industries, manufacturing, and so much more. State-owned enterprises such as China Southern Power Grid, China Mobile, Shanghai Pudong Development Bank, and Zijin Mining are also employing the automation provider’s services.
The company, which owns more than 200 RPA and AI-related patents, announced its enterprise-facing business has achieved profitability in Q4 last year.
With the experience gained in China, Laiye is extending its reach to the international market. “China has the edge in both RPA and AI technology,” Wang told PingWest, “and we want to bring our capability to overseas markets and compete with global counterparts.”
The European market is the first stop for Laiye to unlock developed markets. After acquiring Mindsay, a French startup that uses chat and voice bots to automate customer service interactions, in April, the Chinese company has taken a root in Europe.
It is a promising market, where Chinese technology companies enjoy a sound reputation, said the CEO, adding that Europe’s sizable IT talent pool is attractive for Laiye as well. Following the acquisition, the scrappy company set up an R&D center in Paris and expects to bring in more European developers to help build the platform.
With a populous young generation, a thriving manufacturing industry, and a rapid digital transformation, Southeast Asia is appealing to Chinese entrepreneurs seeking overseas growth, including Laiye. “We already provide some services in Southeast Asia, where the adoption of software services like RPA by large companies is fairly well,” Wang told PingWest.
To open up more opportunities in the emerging market, a sales team and a technical support team have been set up in Singapore, according to the company.
As businesses strive to improve efficiency and cut costs to be more prepared and competitive in an ever-changing market, RPA has plenty of space to scale. According to Grand View Research, the global RPA market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 38.2% from 2022 to 2030 to reach $30.85 billion by 2030.
While the outlook is rosy, competition is moderately fierce, with Laiye facing challenges from major players such as NYSE-listed UiPath, San Jose-headquartered Automation Anywhere, and U.K.-based Blue Prism.
It is worth mentioning that although the market capitalization of tech firms has been struck hard by a series of issues such as interest rate hikes, inflation, and the Russia-Ukraine war in recent months, Cathy Wood, an American investor known for her love of growth stocks, continues to add UiPath to her company’s portfolio.
In the past three years, Laiye’s annualized revenue growth rate has reached 120%, and it is expected that in 2025, overseas markets will contribute about half of its revenue. “Our company’s name is inspired by the signature slogan of the Monkey King, and like the Journey to the West, Laiye is also heading overseas,” Wang said.
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