Startup Business Texter aims to give SMB market new tools for text-based marketing

A new startup called Business Texter is aiming to shake up the text-message-based marketing world with an artificial intelligence platform and automation program to lower costs for businesses that want to use texting to reach their customers. The company is also actively talking with carriers and MVNOs to get them to use its services.

Although the company only has 4,500 active business users right now it has large ambitions. The company hopes to sell its artificial intelligence platform to Fortune 500 companies that engage in text-based marketing and will also soon get further into the enterprise market by putting its platform on Android-based PBX phone systems.

In an interview with FierceWireless, Business Texter CEO Aaron Rollins explained the firm's genesis and its goals. The company has received around $600,000 in seed money and is currently seeking investors for a Series A round of funding that it hopes to close by the end of the year.

The founding members of the company, including CTO David Johnston and Noreen Rucinski, vice president of strategic business development, had built social media apps that used SMS as the feedback loop. So, when someone installed an app, it would send a text back to the team to notify them of that. Eventually, they were receiving thousands of texts per day. As a result, the team decided to create an automated tool that would reside on a phone and act as a server to text back users of the app all at once when there was an update available for the app.

Around this time, which Rollins said was late 2011 and early 2012, the company tried to upgrade the tool to handle greater scale. However, Rollins said it wasn't until mid-2012, when more phones were being built with dual-core processors and 1 GB of RAM, that phone hardware could handle the automated responses behind the system.

Since then, the company has been raising funds and going after customers. 

Business Texter takes a phone's existing ability to send and receive text messages and "adds horsepower and business logic or intelligence," Rollins said. Right now, it only works for Android-based phones. If a normal user was sending a text message to 20 people, everyone would see the other 19 people on the receiving end and would have to "reply all" back to the group. "For business that's infuriating and sucks," Rollins said. The company's app sends out massive texts that all look like individual texts coming from a real phone number, and the sending can be automated.

More important is what happens when a customer wants to send a text back to a business. When a customer responds, they can get intelligent, instant answers, because the firm's artificial intelligence platform understands hundreds of different ways customers ask thousands of different questions to businesses. For example, it knows multiple variations for how customers ask what the store's hours are. The app reads the texts, interprets the intent and writes back.

Businesses can pre-program answers to commonly asked questions and they can create filters for specific questions. For example, a pizza parlor could have the app scan for the phrase" gluten-free" and can automatically set up a response that says the shop does offer gluten-free pizza, Rollins said.

The app also has multiple marketing tools that lets businesses intelligently group contacts based on behavior. So, that pizza shop can send out a mass text only to customers who have asked about gluten-free pizza to let them know the shop now offers new gluten-free crusts.

If a customer writes a question that the business did not pre-program a response to, the app can send back a catchall response, such as "Feel free to call us," or it can text back a menu of options.

Business Texter is going after the "low-hanging fruit" of the marketing marketplace right now, Rollins said, including independent small business owners and companies like coffee shops that have a great deal of contact with their customers and want to let them know about specials, for example. The types of businesses the company has gone after so far include salons, massage therapists and independent sales representatives for companies like Mary Kay Cosmetics.

Business Texter also has around 350 Army recruiters using the service, Rollin said, which is ideal for them since their target audience is 18 to 24-year olds who mostly text. He also noted that marijuana dispensaries have become active users as well.

By the end of the year, Business Texter will launch virtual phone numbers for the service so businesses will not have to use individual phone numbers tied to an account. The company is also hoping to expand into medium-sized businesses by launching PBX-based products to send messages over IP. "We have started to identify those devices as potential tools for us in offices," Rollins said. "A lot of medium-sized businesses don't see a cell phone in the office to run a marketing platform as a business solution."

Eventually, Business Texter wants to sell its artificial intelligence database technology to Fortune 500 firms, Rollins said. "Here is intelligence on what your customers are writing you back that you're not responding to," Rollins said. "It's something we've been building up. But it's not something we've actively been out soliciting. But it is ready and it's growing every day."

Rollins also sees the company's tools as a boon for carriers. "We are actively engaging with multiple carriers and MVNOs about both offering our product into their customer bases through [revenue sharing] or white label as well as leveraging their networks as send channels," Rollins said. "We also see Business Texter as an ideal way for all carriers to monetize SMS for business and capture the huge SMB market that is currently under-served by existing offerings."

The company plans to launch international versions of its app in the coming weeks (though it will be English-only to start) and plans to add support for at least one over-the-top messaging provider by year-end, though Rollins declined to say which one.

"We're empowering a large part of the market," Rollins said. "We're providing them an advanced marketing and communication tool for texting that's 80 percent cheaper than what they can get online."

The company's main competitors include Tatango, EZ texting, Group Texting, CallFire and Pro Texting. Business Texter offers a range of plans from $0 to $500 per month, with recurring subscription models. Rollins noted that the company lets customers send out 10,000 texts per month for $50 per month, which is anywhere from $270 to $550 less than competing solutions.

Rollins acknowledged that paying $50 per month for a mobile app is a "new and different business model" for small businesses. "When they look at the power and cost of it, and they look at the tools it gives them, it becomes a low hurdle very fast," he said.

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