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5/29/2012
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SendHub Manages SMS Like Email

SendHub lets you send messages to groups within organizations to evoke a faster response.

People respond faster to text messages, but SMS mostly has been used to communicate with friends. A startup called SendHub might change that. It gives organizations a tool to manage text messages as they do email.

Garrett Johnson was motivated to cofound SendHub when he realized that SMS was especially useful in low-income communities, where access to the Internet or owning a computer is not as common as owning a cell phone. He said businesses use SendHub to reach their customers, which range from churchgoers to restaurant customers to students in classrooms.

BYTE: How are companies using SendHub?

Garrett Johnson: We've been incredibly lucky to have a variety of companies use us. We've seen everything from doctor's offices sending out SMS reminders of upcoming office closures/vacations; church organizations sending out daily Bible verses, upcoming church functions, and other general information for all congregation members; and restaurants/breweries sending out daily specials to their customers or what beer they have on tap for the day.

Teachers use it to keep parents informed on class updates--tests and trips. Sales teams use SendHub for internal communication with colleagues in the field, such as realtors and property managers. Distribution companies use us for coordinating movements in their supply chain. Making SMS a serious communication channel disproportionately impacts minority/low-income communities, because of their access to and reliance on SMS.

BYTE: What stage is the company in?

GJ: We recently moved into our first office, so SendHub feels like a proper company in some regards, but really I would say we're definitely still in small, scrappy startup mode.

BYTE: What inspired you to start SendHub?

GJ: We built the first version of the platform for my nephew's charter school. It's in a low-income community in Tampa, Florida, where I grew up and many of the families don't have a computer in their home and limited interaction with email. But everyone has a text-enabled phone.

I knew the teachers did not want to give out their personal cell phone numbers, but were also frustrated with email as the only communication so we started to look into options to fix this problem. When we realized there really was no platform that they could afford, or could solve this problem, we built it.

BYTE: Can you walk us through how to use SendHub?

GJ: Using SendHub is really simple--you can sign up in a few steps, from our website or iPhone app.

1) Either download the iPhone app or use the website to create an account. Sign up with your phone number and choose your SendHub number as well.
2) Import your contacts, or manually input contacts, and you can create a group to start a conversation with.
3) Create a keyword for the group (e.g. BYTE for the BYTE group)
4) Give people your SendHub number, and ask them to send a text message with the keyword to your SendHub number, so they can join. After they do that, they are part of your SendHub group.

BYTE: How are you seeing it open up communication in organizations?

GJ: I think one of the big things that sets SendHub apart is that the people you want to communicate with don't have to be members of SendHub. All they need is a phone that can receive text messages.

This is also the main reason we have seen so much success with education and healthcare. It gives people a way to communicate with people who don't have a smartphone, and may not be super techy (teachers, parents, children, elderly people) because everyone has an SMS-enabled phone these days.

BYTE: You have an API? What are people building on it?

GJ: When we released the API a little over two months ago, we really just wanted to make it easier for other startups to integrate SMS as a two-way communication channel.

Here are a few interesting uses:

-- A startup focused on energy conservation is using our API to text consumers when their utility consumption increases during the week. Utility companies love it and it's good for the environment.
-- Companies are using SMS to communicate with their customers. We make sending SMS reminders about billing/offers super simple, plus we enable two-way communication.
--An education company is integrating our API to communicate with students/parents into their existing education programs.

BYTE: Are there any security issues with using SMS for business? Especially as employees use their own device?

GJ: Not really, it's about the same as an employee looking at their work email from a home computer. So, the same concerns that exist for popular email clients (Gmail) certainly apply for SMS as well, but we don't think there is any added risk to using SMS for business.

BYTE: Tell us about SendHub's fee structure.

GJ: SendHub operates on a freemium model. A user gets access to all features for free each month, but the message allotment is capped at 1,000, and contacts at 150. For only $10 per month users get unlimited messages and 1,000 contacts. The $50 plan is popular and offers unlimited messages and 100,000 contacts, and we also have a $150 and $500 plan, which scales respectively.

BYTE: How do you think SMS will be used in businesses?

GJ: We think that SMS is the future of active engagement within businesses. Think about group emails that are sent in most big companies about team events and news. Most of the emails are not read, but they also never get a response.

We've seen research on SMS, and 97% of text messages are read within the first 4 minutes of delivery, with 80% of them receiving a response. If you want to ask all of your employees what they want to do for the 4th of July party, or tell them that tomorrow is jeans day, SMS will actually reach them, and most likely get a response.

BYTE: Will we use SMS the same way people use emails to do businesses?

GJ: We think that SMS will be used the same way businesses use bcc: email. When you need to communicate one message to a big group of people, SendHub is the most effective.

BYTE: Tell us about you.

GJ: I'm originally from Tampa, Fla., and generally like warm climates, so I'm loving the Bay area. I met one of my co-founders, John, as an undergrad at Florida State and the other co-founder, Ash, at Oxford University where I received my masters degree as a Rhodes scholar.

After a few years in the UK, I moved to D.C. and worked on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee. I covered places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India and got to travel a lot. I also covered immigration policy and wrote the Startup Visa Act, which was inspired by Paul Graham's essay advocating the creation of a "founders visa." I was fortunate to work with people like Brad Feld and Eric Ries, who were the driving force behind the Startup Visa Act, within the tech community. After going through Y-Combinator with SendHub, I realized that my energy drink consumption is not up to par with the rest of the valley (I never drink it!) which makes me wonder if I should've started an energy drink company instead.

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