We’re excited to announce the launch of Zipwhip’s first-ever podcast! If you’re looking to learn more about how to power your business communication with text messaging, Zipcast is for you. The program will be hosted by Zipwhip’s Chief Marketing Officer, Scott Heimes. Every month, he’ll interview employees, customers and industry thought leaders to uncover effective text messaging marketing strategies and reveal the latest and greatest text technologies.
“Businesses around the globe are starting to recognize the powerful marketing and communication potential of text messaging, but given its relatively new nature, there aren’t many resources out there on how to use the medium effectively. Zipcast will help arm businesses with the right tools to harness the power of texting,” said Heimes.
In Episode One, Scott sat down with Zipwhip’s Co-founder and CEO, John Lauer. Listen below to learn more about how Zipwhip got its start, why text messaging is the preferred medium for communication and what the future holds for the technology.
Tune in each month for the latest episodes of Zipcast. And don’t forget to follow us on iTunes, Google Play, and SoundCloud. Have a suggestion for the show? Feel free to text us at 206-816-3550 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This episode is also available on:
Scott Heimes: I’m here today with John Lauer, co-founder and CEO of Zipwhip. Welcome to the program, John.
John Lauer: Thank you, Scott. Thanks for having me.
Scott Heimes: So what does Zipwhip do? What is Zipwhip all about?
John Lauer: Zipwhip is a business texting software. We text-enable businesses so they can communicate with their customers over the texting medium.
Scott Heimes: Yeah, that’s pretty cool. So what’s Zipwhip’s origin story? How did the company start?
John Lauer: Wow. Zipwhip’s origin story does go back about 10 years, actually. We were trying to be a consumer company initially. But as things progressed, and things like iMessage came out from Apple, we had to pivot. So about five years ago, we decided, hey, what better thing to do than go text-enable every business phone number on the planet? Hmm, so here we are.
Scott Heimes: That’s a big goal, but it’s cool. And the company’s experienced an enormous growth over the last couple of years. Friend, it’s been a fun ride. What do you attribute it to? What has contributed to this hockey stick of growth that we’ve seen in [inaudible 00:01:23] last three years?
John Lauer: The growth has been extraordinary. But what I predominantly attribute it to is the growth of this market and the fact that we tapped into a pent-up demand with businesses. They had been wanting to text with their customers for years. They just never knew how to do it. And we unlocked all of that pent-up demand.
Scott Heimes: So what about the texting medium interests you? What’s unique about it?
John Lauer: Okay, so there are a lot of unique things about text messaging that make it this killer medium. When you look at other mediums we use out there, like email, like voice calls, they all have their problems.
Voice calls, you’ve got to sit there on a phone. You’re captive to the person on the other end. It’s hard to hang up on them sometimes, even though you want to. And you look at email, and our email inboxes are so cluttered these days, it’s hard to actually get your message across. And yet we still have to communicate with other human beings. You still have to talk to your dentist. You still have to schedule your appointment with your hair salon. We need a good way to talk to each other. It turns out texting is the most brilliant way today for a business to talk to their customer.
Scott Heimes: And there’s something about texting, right? It’s this intimate, preferred, priority medium that consumers turn to first in most cases when they want to communicate something important, right?
John Lauer: Yeah, exactly. And look, I think here’s the crazy thing. Smartphone revolution has created the texting medium as this brilliant thing. That smartphone sits in your pocket being warmed by your human blood. It is effectively an extension of the human body. And we have a way of tapping into it via a text message. And it’s the number one way to tap into it. And we get the pleasure of being able to sell access to that texting capability sitting in their pocket to all of these businesses. And that’s some of the incredible uniqueness about it.
Scott Heimes: You know, we talk to a lot of customers, and one of the things they value the most about our service is the fact that customers will actually respond to them, whereas via phone, via email, it’s hard to get them to respond. What do you attribute that to? I mean, it’s obviously … It’s a preferred medium. It’s a primary medium. It’s with them all the time. But there’s something even deeper about it, right, that makes consumers actually be willing to respond to a business via the text medium versus an email.
John Lauer: Totally agree. And I think there’s a few of them, but I think the number one uniqueness item is that texting is short format, therefore it’s high priority. And you’re willing to open up that text and read it the moment your phone beeps. By knowing it’s short, you’re not loathing opening it and reading it. You start to loathe opening your email inboxes. You’re like, “Somebody wrote me a novel,” or it’s got a heavy attachment I have to open up. I have to go through some two-factor authentication process.
There’s actually something so beautifully simple about texting, it’s like bite-size. It’s like popping a little piece of popcorn into your mouth and chewing it. It’s just super easy.
And then you also look at other aspects, like the fact that it is a curated medium. And what I mean by that is that the industry, the carriers, even companies like us, try to make sure you don’t get spam. If you started getting spam to your texting inbox, you would stop using texting. And, predominantly, we don’t get spam on our phone to our text inbox. We do to our email inbox. We even get a lot of robocalls these days. And so it’s actually almost the only remaining medium that we have that’s 100% ubiquitous that’s clean.
Scott Heimes: Yeah, it’s spam-free. Why is that, do you think? I mean, there’s obviously there’s forces in the industry that have helped us maintain the purity of the medium, right? And there’s things that we do ourselves to maintain the purity of the medium. But the danger of pollution is large. How do we make sure that it doesn’t happen?
John Lauer: It is a cat and mouse game, actually. And I would say that even Zipwhip, as we go out there selling businesses texting software and giving them access to this medium, they, too, could almost start to send too many messages that are unwanted and ruin the medium. So I think we have to do a beautiful balance of making this accessible to businesses but also not having them abuse it.
We do a lot of work to monitor that. We do a lot of machine learning type intelligence to look at the content of messages, make sure all of our customers are behaving, all of our downstream customers.
And then I think that we as an industry … What a lot of people don’t know about the texting industry is we all come together at different trade shows, like Mobile World Congress. We have different regulatory agencies, like CTIA, where we come together to try to set rules for each other so that we don’t have one bad actor ruining the medium. And I think we’ve done a pretty good job, which is why you don’t really see a lot of spam hitting your phone. And so we’re going to keep plugging away and doing a good job there.
Scott Heimes: So what’s next for the texting medium for business texting? What do you see coming down the road?
John Lauer: There’s some really exciting stuff happening in texting, in particular, RCS, which stands for Rich Communication Services. We actually, today, have about five million RCS capable handsets in the United States. These are Android phones out there on the Sprint and AT&T network. And RCS is kind of like when email went from plain text to the HTML format. We’re finally getting more of an HTML type format with text messaging. And it’s going to just make it an even richer medium for businesses to talk to their customers.
You’re going to have things like payments built into your native texting app. So you finally can be sitting there on the couch on Saturday night and order your pizza without getting up, and even pay for it right over a text conversation.
Scott Heimes: Yep, it’s going to facilitate other more interesting things, too, like directories of businesses that are RCS enabled, so you can find different businesses inside that experience, right? It’ll facilitate other experiences like video, and enable more international expansion as the market becomes more interoperable around the world.
John Lauer: You got it. I mean, I think that today, when you receive a text from a business, you just see a phone number. You don’t even see their name. You don’t see their logo. And yet in any social network, you expect, if somebody messages you, like on LinkedIn or Facebook, you’re seeing who they are. You see a picture of them and, really, a validated identity.
We haven’t had that in the texting industry. We’re going to finally get it with RCS. That bodes really well for our business and onboarded businesses because we’re going to make sure your identity is perfect out there. You will have access to the directory that you’re talking about. You’ll finally be able to go right to your messaging app and search for businesses. And you’re effectively getting a filtered list of people who are willing to receive texts, so that you as a consumer almost have a cleaner way of getting in contact with them.
Scott Heimes: So one of the hot buzzwords in the market today is artificial intelligence, AI, right?
John Lauer: That’s right.
Scott Heimes: And it can mean a lot of things to a lot of different people. Obviously, in the texting world, there’s a lot of connection to chatbots and their kind of automated experiences. And of course we offer automation inside of our solution today in the form of auto replies and keywords and those types of ways that can automate the experience. What’s your general take on the application of artificial intelligence to business texting? Where do you think that’s going to weigh in?
John Lauer: Well, what the nerd in me wants us to do as much AI injected into text messaging as humanly possible. The practical side of me wants to make sure that we don’t start having my chatbot talk to your chatbot, where it’s just these conversations are no longer relevant to getting to what you really need to get done.
But I think that we’re up against some interesting stuff, where in the next couple of years we’ll hit an inflection point where you’d rather talk to a chatbot because it’s quicker and faster to get you your pizza or get you your appointment scheduled.
And so Zipwhip’s going to help facilitate that entire shift. But we’re going to do it in the right way, where consumers love talking to the business over the texting medium. And whether it’s to a human or a chatbot, it’s going to be this beautiful thing.
So we want to do it the right way. And there’s a lot of other areas to solve it. I mean, why shouldn’t things like payments be completely automated through artificial intelligence or scheduling the valet service to bring your car back down from the hotel. I mean, you probably … Most of that will be AI driven, and Zipwhip is going to power most of those experiences out there.
Scott Heimes: But when we talk about innovation, you, personally have invented some pretty cool pieces of technology, including a text-enabled espresso machine and a text-enabled Kegerator. Any other ideas up your sleeve? What are you going to text-enable next?
John Lauer: You forgot to mention the text-enabled sign on the outside of our building.
Scott Heimes: Oh right [laughing].
John Lauer: Look, anything I can text-enable, I need to do it. Sometimes when you go into your weekend and you’re looking for ways to relax, some people play golf, some people go out on their boat, some people play with electronics. I happen to be the more the play with electronics type of guy. And then, of course, you still want to make it relevant to your day job. And so those types of things just come together beautifully. And let’s just keep texting the world.
Scott Heimes: There you go. All right, so as we close out here, tell me a little bit about advice that you might have for other CEOs that are trying to scale SAS software companies. When you look back at some of the things you learned or mistakes you’ve made … What kind of advice would you give to a CEO?
John Lauer: Oh, boy. Scott, I think that list is about 86 items long and we don’t have time to go through all of it. But, you know, if I look at the top one or two things, I do think SaaS software, to be successful, has to solve a real problem out there in the business world. And if you’re solving a real problem, you’re creating real value, and people then will pay you money in the form of revenue for your company to solve that problem.
And so I think that’s what we’ve tapped into. And I think that’s what a lot of SaaS businesses that have grown so beautifully have tapped into. Even if I just look at your legendary SalesForce out there, who kind of almost helped define the SaaS industry … A lot of people didn’t realize that a business needed an operating system the way a computer needed an operating system in the form of Windows or the Mac OS. And that SalesForce has turned into an operating system for a business.
What a fascinating notion. But there are so many of those narrow problems that can be solved out there. So go solve a core problem, and the world will reward you.
Scott Heimes: That’s great advice, and a great way to end the show. And thanks so much for joining us, John. We appreciate it.
John Lauer: Thanks for having me, Scott.