Local startup searches for answer to 404 errors

October 17, 2023

BIG HORN —  It’s a tale as old as time. Or as old as the internet, at least.

You click a link or type a URL with anticipation of what you’ll find on the other end — only to be greeted by the infamous phrase: “404 Page Not Found.”

404 errors are annoying wherever you encounter them, said Big Horn resident Travis Todd, one of the finalists in this year’s Sheridan Start-Up Challenge. But it can be the kiss of death for online retailers.

“There have been studies that 75% of e-commerce site users will bounce when they get a 404 error,” Todd said. “They don’t try to go any further. Our research shows it might even be worse than that. In the best situations, when there aren’t 404 errors, 3% of the visitors that show up will buy something. When they encounter an error, only five in 10,000 users will continue.”

That’s where Todd’s latest entrepreneurial venture NotFoundBot comes in. Created with the help of Todd’s longtime business partner Matt Elliott of Castle Rock, Colorado, NotFoundBot aims to use artificial intelligence and machine learning to automatically redirect users to the page they’re searching for, leading to a hopefully seamless online shopping experience.

The foundation of the program is the concept of machine-learning, or having computers find their own solutions and discover their own algorithms. Machine-learning can be used to look at a faulty URL and guess at the user’s intent, rerouting them to the appropriate page.

For more complex circumstances, Todd and Elliott have harnessed artificial intelligence to create a chatbot. The chatbot can ask a user where they are trying to go, and then redirect them to the appropriate page.

Todd said 404 errors occur more often than many business owners realize — he recalled the story of a California business where one in 100 customers hit the error — and part of the idea of NotFoundBot is not only to create a solution but also raise awareness of the problem.

“Most store owners do not have a clue how many 404 errors they get,” Todd said. “404s have been an issue since the beginning of the internet and most website owners accept it as ‘it is what it is.’ But we believe it might be one of the biggest factors impacting sales. So we’re trying to tell people ‘It’s a bigger problem than you think it is, and there is a solution for it.’”

Elliott noted while he and Todd were focused primarily on working with e-commerce sites right now, the service had endless applications online and could potentially redefine the way people search on the web. 

“Our goal isn’t just to solve the Shopify market, which has a nice return on investment for us,” Elliott said. “We want to get into every website. This is a problem I don’t think people have taken very seriously since the beginning of the internet. We want to make the user experience a lot better, and we want to get it out everywhere.”

Todd has a history of entrepreneurism, most notably starting the software company Full Contact in 2010. That company, which provides a suite of cloud-based software products, eventually grew to more than 250 employees.

Even as a more experienced businessman, Todd said he has benefitted from the mentorship and guidance of IMPACT 307 throughout the Startup Challenge process.

“Anytime you can have somebody to bounce ideas off of, that’s always helpful,” Todd said. “So it’s been great working with IMPACT 307.”

Scot Rendall, Sheridan director for IMPACT 307, said Todd had “a very good understanding of what investors want to see” and “will be able to clearly articulate what his idea is on Pitch Night.”

“I think NotFoundBot could evolve into a really interesting tool, and I’m excited to see where it goes,” Rendall said. 

Todd will be one of five finalists presenting at the Sheridan Start-Up Challenge Pitch NightNov. 1 at 5:30 p.m. at the WYO Performing Arts and Education Center. Each finalist will have an opportunity to win business funding from the $100,000 seed fund established for the event.

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