Have you ever called a local restaurant, store or service professional and been put on hold for more than give minutes? Or worse, you can’t get through to a representative and are left leaving a message on an answering machine with no assurance that you voicemail will be checked. The fact is it can be frustrating to communicate with local and general businesses via the phone. Enter TalkTo, a company launching today at TechCrunch Disrupt, which allows consumers to send text messages send messages to any business and get quick responses to questions, feedback, and more.
How does this happen? Well, TalkTo uses SMS to communicate with businesses. Via a web app, consumers can search for any business in the TalkTo directory, enter the address or location (city, zipcode etc.) and TalkTo will make sure that message will be seen by the business. With TalkTo, you can ask questions, give feedback, or make appointments or reservations directly with any business as easily as sending a text or instant message to your friend.
And what makes the platform so appealing is that a business doesn’t necessarily need to engage with TalkTo to receive the message. The company employs a call center that receives the message and will notify the business immediately of the request and will make sure the consumer receives an answer to the question.
Of coure, the aim is to onboard all businesses onto TalkTo’s self-serve platform so that businesses can take control over responding to consumer inquiries. Businesses can forward text messages to their email address (i.e. Google Voice) or a cell phone number.
For example, say you want to see how long the wait is at a restaurant. You simply search for the restaurant via TalkTo’s free iOS app, set a location, and send a text asking how long the wait time is. If the restaurant is online, it will receive the message immediately and can respond. If the establishment isn’t using TalkTo’s platform, a call center representative will call the restaurant, find out the wait time and SMS you immediately with the answer.
Another bonus for consumers is that they can see whether a business is online and using TalkTo’s self-service platform, ensuring that the business will respond immediately. So if you need a plumber for an emergency, you can see if the plumber will be able to contact you ASAP.
Founded by an entrepreneur-in-residence at General Catalyst and a physicist who worked at MIT’s Media Lab, the company plans to make money via advertising to TalkTo users via the app and also has a freemium model for businesses (but the startup says the majority of businesses will use the service for free).
TalkTo has the potential to disrupt the local business market (and national business market) in the same way that bringing chat onto retail sites had disrupting communications in e-commerce. No one wants to wait on the phone, and email can be slow as well. SMS Messaging is a natural form of communication these days and the most efficient for simple questions. It makes sense to bring this communication to businesses.
Judges: John Ham (Ustream), Hilary Mason (Bit.ly), Kevin Rose (Milk), George Zachary (Charles River Ventures)
GZ: large companies are likely to have large number if customers. Isn’t it easier to get on the phone?
A: A phone call can be painful and outdated and frustrating.
KR: I love this idea, it is awesome. Reminds me of what uber has done for transportation. The fact that I can text is so lightweight.
HM: This is awesome. Do you have a data source for the restaurants and other listings. Do you give them back analytics.
A: Not yet.
JH: I like the idea because you are getting close to the consumer. What vertical will you focus on? How do you display business metadata to consumer?
A: We are going to start with disrupting the way people interact with businesses.
HM: Do you have anything in place to deal with dispute resolution.
A: Today, we don’t. But we will build out tools for businesses.
CZ: How do businesses receive the information?
A: It’s realtime chat based on Python.