Although customers were used to texting on their smartphones, Gary Brandt, co-founder of Ten Digit Communications, found that it was much more difficult to transfer the concept to landline users.
This issue of a landline texting service cuts across the various markets Mr. Brandt was targeting, including large telecoms, enterprise accounts like call centres and companies with toll free numbers.
Landline texting would benefit companies and customers alike. For example, the ability to text message would mean that customers could connect with service representatives asynchronously and not have to wait for an agent to come online to listen to their issue. In addition, the problem would be self-identified by the customer allowing for the call centre to direct the call promptly to the appropriate agent. Most importantly, it would help reduce staff as it was easy for one agent to conduct multiple text conversations simultaneously, instead of one-to-one voice calls.
With over 230 million landlines, including 50 million toll-free numbers in North America, the potential market for his service was huge. Mr. Brandt and his team had to find a solution to bridge this conceptual challenge of using landlines for text messaging in an effective manner.
Mr. Brandt was born in Toronto and raised in Montreal. After earning a commerce degree from Queen's University in 1980, he spent four years in public accounting with PricewaterhouseCoopers. His interest in technology companies led him to Nortel where he started in their internal audit group in Mississauga before transferring to the U.S. In 1994, he was recruited by MFS Communications which was subsequently acquired by MCI WorldCom. With the fallout from the tech bubble in 2001, he started looking at other opportunities and joined Hydrogenics Corporation, a clean energy technology company, in Mississauga.
In 2005, he started his consulting practice and did a couple of executive stints as CEO/CFO for technology companies in the U.S. In 2013, while working as a consultant, he came upon a new technology which allowed for sending and receiving text messages via landline and toll-free telephone numbers. Recognizing the potential, he and some colleagues formed Ten Digit Communications LLC in Nov. 2013, to take this innovative technology to market (ten digits being the standard length of any telephone number in North America and some Caribbean countries). The technology worked by connecting the landline phone number to a ten digit address in the cloud which could be accessed, from any web-enabled device.
Reviewing the customer feedback to the texting via landline service, Mr. Brandt realized that the best approach was to do an on-site demonstration of the process to customers via a qualified and well-trained sales person. Given the short time available for a sales pitch, he and his team created a package that would allow the sales person using a laptop to demonstrate the entire process of texting using a landline number within five minutes, right in the customer's office or over the phone. They developed electronic contracts and agreements which could be completed on-site, allowing the customer to start using the service within a matter of hours. The strategy started by targeting landline telecom companies and enterprise customers in the U.S. and Canadian markets.
The on-site demo and targeting big customers strategy was rolled out in 2014 and worked well, with a number of clients signing up to the service. Users have experienced increased productivity and customer satisfaction. In addition to going after the telecom companies and enterprise customers, Mr. Brandt is now moving into targeting call centres, municipalities, universities, hospitals and charities both in the U.S. and Canada. The introduction of keywords for marketing purposes has been beneficial for real estate professionals, as an example, linking keywords with listing information through the use of auto-response and hyper-links to existing content. The company plans on introducing value added services such as multimedia messaging and "is-typing" in the near future.
Nauman Farooqi is a professor in the department of commerce in the Ron Joyce Centre for Business Studies of Mount Allison University.
This is the latest in a regular series of case studies by a rotating group of business professors from across the country. They appear every Tuesday on the Report on Small Business website.