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Sequoia invests in AI platform Salesken; Unitus Ventures, MSDF partially exit
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Salesken, operated by ISTAR Skill Development Pvt. Ltd, said on Thursday it has raised $8 million (around Rs 59 crore) from Sequoia Capital India as part of its Series A funding round.

The deal also involves a secondary component that has paved the way for the partial exits of existing investors Unitus Ventures and the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation (MSDF), Salesken said in a statement.

Salesken will use the fresh capital to strengthen its artificial intelligence-based conversation platform, called Salesken.ai, and for expansion across the Asia Pacific and North America markets.

ISTAR was founded in 2009 by Surga Thilakan and Sreeram Vaidyanathan, both graduates from IIM-Ahmedabad. It started by partnering with colleges to equip business and commerce students with specific skill sets to make them employment-ready after graduation. It also provided career counselling and job placement support to students to accelerate their job search process.

Salesken started commercial operations in 2019. It was conceived when the founders and the company's chief technology officer, Vaibhav Verma, shifted their approach to solving the sales skill gap problem from a behavioural science-led training approach to a data science-driven product.

The company aims to tap into the inside sales market where nearly 48% of all sales teams globally are selling products over the phone or web conferencing tools.

According to co-founder Thilakan, the platform enables sales teams, in real time, during their customer conversations and in adopting a more scientific approach to sales management.

ISTAR had raised its first round of funding from Unitus Ventures (formerly Unitus Seed Fund) in April 2013. Subsequently, it had raised $1.5 million led by MSDF in 2015.

Salesken joins a number of AI-based conversation platform startups to have raised funding in recent months.

In December last year, Observe.ai, an AI-based startup that focuses on voice conversations for customer service, raised $26 million in its Series A funding round from a clutch of investors.

In September, Haptik Inc., an AI-based conversational platform controlled by Reliance Industries Ltd, acquired Buzzo.ai, a Mumbai-based conversational commerce platform.

In August, Chennai-based conversational AI startup Uniphore Software Systems Pvt. Ltd raised $51 million in a Series C funding round led by California-based March Capital Partners.

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