SendHub, a Y-Combinator startup, offers an SMS marketing platform for small businesses, sports leagues, faith groups and teachers.
When SendHub was getting started – before it evolved into a full-fledged SMS marketing app – co-founder Garrett Johnson had a mission: to give teachers at his nephew’s public school a better means to communicate after class with students and parents. The majority of the students came from low-income families and either lacked consistent access to email or just didn’t use email at all. Even if they did have email, teachers had no great way to collect their addresses. But almost all of them had mobile phones. The answer, Johnson realized, was text messaging, also known as SMS.
Powered by Twilio’s SMS API, SendHub’s platform enabled teachers to reach any student or parent on any mobile phone. It also offered a powerful way of collecting contact details: all students had to do was send a text message with a keyword like “Math101″ to a Twilio-powered virtual phone number. SendHub would add them to the group and teachers could then use SendHub’s web interface to broadcast homework assignments, appointment reminders and any other information they could fit into 140 characters.
From SMS for Teachers to SMS Marketing For Everyone
But, as Johnson points out, “teachers are underpaid and overworked, so building a sustainable business with them alone wasn’t going to work.” Johnson realized that SendHub’s core functions – essentially an SMS-based customer-relationship management app – could easily be extended to support SMS marketing, too. Instead of just targeting teachers, SendHub would now go after small businesses, faith groups, sports leagues and other groups that could benefit from the app.
Johnson, along with co-founders Ash Rust and John Fallone, set about building an SMS marketing app with a twist: real-time feedback on every message.
“SMS is a really clean channel right now,” says Rust, who previously was the Director of Ranking at Klout. “We feel it’s really important to maintain the channel’s clarity, so we added a way to rate the quality of every message.”
Whenever SendHub sends a text message, it appends a shortened bit.ly link at the end. When recipients follows the link, they get taken to a mobile-optimized website where they can vote a message up or down or block all messages from that sender entirely. According to Rust, the clickthrough rate on links delivered by SendHub is about 8% – notably higher than the 1.5-4.8% response that email marketing gets.
With the feedback data in hand, SendHub’s customers can determine which messages resonate most with their audience and tailor future messages accordingly. Rust says that businesses and faith leaders have used this feedback to grow their lists by orders of magnitude.
As for Twilio’s role, Rust had this to say: “Twilio made everything super-easy, especially the Python library we used to get started. As our usage has grown, we’ve noticed pressure points on other parts of our app, but never on Twilio. Twilio just scales and scales.”