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ZaiLab: The Story Behind the Space Truck

If you made it to the show floor at Enterprise Connect 2018, then you saw "the truck." It visually overshadowed almost everything else in the exhibit hall -- and that was the point. ZaiLab used the truck to bring attention to a new contact center company from Cape Town, South Africa, launching this year in North America.

I admit that my title is a bit of a bait and switch. While the story behind the so-called ZaiTruck is an interesting one, it has already been told. View this YouTube video to hear the tale of how the truck made the trip from South Africa to the Enterprise Connect show floor in Orlando, Fla. Here on No Jitter, we are likely more interested in the story of the company, team, and solution behind the truck -- and that's the one that I will tell.


I discussed the company and its products with ZaiLab founder and CEO Nour Addine Ayyoub before he headed back to Cape Town from the United States. Ayyoub explained that he is a developer and entrepreneur at heart. After spending six years at a venture he co-founded with a London-based financial conglomerate, Old Mutual, he was ready for a new adventure.

Having been exposed to the contact center solutions available in the market when at the venture, Old Mutual Finance, Ayyoub was convinced there had to be a better way -- contact centers were still operating with "ancient technology."

"My vision was to create a real contact center in the cloud, accessible to everybody, with the ultimate goal of creating employment," says Ayyoub on his LinkedIn page. "I also wanted to make contact centers sexy. I love science fiction movies, and I thought their style was perfect for a new kind of contact center. Turns out I was right."

The science fiction style was evident in the video wall that was part of ZaiLab's booth at Enterprise Connect. The video wall can be seen in the above photo, which also includes the ZaiTruck. The ZaiLab team added a platform stage, stairs, handrails, and furniture to the truck so visitors could look around, meet with the team and even demo the contact center software.

The quick facts on the ZaiLab solution are:

  • History: Ayyoub told me he started doing the analysis for the new company in 2013 and officially founded ZaiLab in 2014. After beta testing for a year or so, ZaiLab made the contact center solution generally available in South Africa and Europe in October 2017.
  • Deployment Model: For the U.S. and European markets, ZaiLab's contact center application is delivered from the AWS cloud, specifically the Oregon and Dublin, Ireland regions. Because AWS does not currently have a location in South Africa, ZaiLab built its own data center there to run its application stack.
  • Functionality: Interactions from three channels can currently be routed by ZaiLab: voice, email, and text. Web chat and video are currently in beta trial, and Ayyoub says these channels should be generally available within a month or so. Social media interaction routing is on the roadmap for October/November 2018, with 45 ZaiLab engineers currently working on building-out the solution, Ayyoub told me.
  • Pricing: ZaiLab describes itself as the first consumption-based contact center solution. Asked about Amazon Connect, which announced a consumption model in March 2017, Ayyoub maintains his solution was first to market. Regardless of who was first, I'm not sure we have the market evidence yet to judge whether it will be a winning model.
  • Target Market: Zailab is targeting the small and mid-market, defined as up to 250 agents internationally and about 500 agent seats in North America, Ayyoub said. Note that this does not overlap at all with the other new contact center solution announced at Enterprise Connect -- Twilio Flex -- which described its initial target market as companies with over 1,000 agents.
  • Go-to-Market: ZaiLab's main office is in Cape Town, and they have a sales and support office in Dublin. Ayyoub says the company plans to open another office in the United States, hopefully as soon as June 2018. For now, the strategy is to directly sell the solution, but that may change over time.
  • What Makes ZaiLab Different: The company describes the solution as an artificial intelligence (AI)-driven contact center, and AI was certainly one of the key buzzwords at this year's show. I admit to not having enough detail yet about how ZaiLab has incorporated AI to understand if it will be an immediate differentiator.

Speaking of what makes ZaiLab different, I would be remiss if I did not mention the social consciousness that pervades the company culture. ZaiLab is the contact center software for a project in Western Cape, South Africa, to Reimagine Delft. An impoverished neighborhood in the Cape Town area, Delft was established near the end of apartheid. The area still struggles tremendously with poverty, crime, and a low standard of living.

The Reimagine Delft project has five ingredients: an incubation center that trains agents, solid Internet infrastructure, furniture and hardware, contact-center software, and a soon-to-be-named BPO client. The goal is to eventually, with cloud-based contact center software, allow people to work from home to avoid the time and expense of traveling to a distant location to work.

When I spoke to Ayyoub, we discussed cities in the United States that might have a similar profile of high unemployment where he could begin to globalize the Delft plan. It's not often a business interview turns to social welfare, and it was a heart-warming change.

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