Wednesday Dec 26, 2012 by Susan Johnston - Contributor, VentureFizz
Six billion SMS messages are sent per day, according to data from Forrester Research, most of them between friends or family members. But Stuart Levinson, formerly an entrepreneur-in-residence at Cambridge capital firm General Catalyst, predicts that texting could progress beyond social communication in 2013.
“I think this will be the year of moving beyond simply texting friends and family and seeing that texting can be used to communicate with any business,” says Levinson, now CEO and cofounder of Cambridge-based startup TalkTo. “I think at the end of this year, people will look back and say ‘of course. Why should I be looking for a ‘contact us’ page on my small phone?"
Levinson’s 10-person startup, TalkTo, is part of that move towards texting businesses. It allows users to text simple questions to any business in the U.S. instead of waiting on hold or calling back during business hours.
TalkTo works behind the scenes to figure out how each business prefers to be contacted, whether by phone, email, or other channels, and sends you a response. “If we don’t know, we make the call on your behalf,” adds Levinson, who cofounded TalkTo with Riley Crane, now cofounder and CTO, in 2010. They raised $3 million from Matrix Partners in April.
Users might text a restaurant to make a reservation or a doctor’s office to confirm an appointment. They might text a store to check business hours or find out if a product is in stock. In fact, TalkTo created a special page in November designed to help consumers locate a WiiU using TalkTo’s technology.
TalkTo also tracks the responsive of businesses. “When you go to get flowers from a florist, we want you to understand that one florist is more responsive than another,” says Levinson. “We want to give you that information so you can be informed before you send your message.”
The TalkTo mobile app is available for iPhone and Android using an interface that mimics SMS. The company recently launched a web app that has a search interface. “Instead of an SMS look, you type in the name of the business you want and get a list of results,” says Levinson. “You can send it a text message directly in the results, and when a response comes back, you can choose text me or email me. We made it possible to sync your conversations [between the mobile and web app].”
Levinson says the current focus is on “making it dead simple for users” to text businesses and monetizing the concept later on. “One of the very important things about what we’re doing is that the consumer is at the center of everything we design,” he adds. “If you think about designing software for businesses, then you would start thinking about ‘here’s how I choose to connect with my consumers.’ If you think about designing for consumers, you have to start from this place of ‘I want to be able to communicate when and how I want to.’ We think it’s the right problem to be working on.”