What would have happened if United Airlines baggage handlers in Chicago had not broken Dave Carroll's $3,500 Taylor 710 guitar in 2009?
Mr. Carroll, a Halifax-based musician and songwriter who plays with the band, Sons of Maxwell, would never have written United Breaks Guitars, which went viral after being posted on YouTube. To date, the video has been viewed 11.5 million times on YouTube.
He also would never have become a popular public speaker about customer service and social media.
And it is unlikely he would have become an entrepreneur who recently unveiled a new startup called Gripevine, which gives consumers a new way to post their issues, while giving brands a way to respond to and resolve them.
"It's been an interesting three years," Mr. Carroll said during a recent interview. "When United Breaks Guitars became viral video, I received 10,000 e-mails from people who were mostly saying 'congratulations,' and also, 'this is what happened to me.' It became a conversation starter about really bad customer service stories."
Recognizing he had tapped into a major source of pain, Mr. Carroll launched a startup called Right Side of Right in early 2010, that had a mandate to "make the world better through customer service." Mr. Carroll said it failed to gain much traction because Right Side of Right did not have the team or expertise to make it work.
The upside is that the work led Mr. Carroll to Richard Hue, an investment banker with an interest in startups, and Chris Caple, a website designer.
"We share a passion for customer service, we talked about where we could go with it and the whole notion of Gripevine came about," Mr. Carroll said.
"We share the understanding that customers and companies need to come together. The fighting doesn't help; the resolutions do. If we can help consumers and help companies manage their reputations, it would help both sides."
Gripevine works by letting consumers post a private message, aka a "gripe" about a problem they have experienced with a product, service or brand. The company is notified about the problem, and given an opportunity to resolve it. If the company doesn't respond or fails to provide a satisfactory solution, the user can post a rating on Gripevine's "customer satisfaction index," which is publicly available.
Mr. Carroll said the service, which launched last week, has attracted a lot of positive coverage and interest. For the first six months, Gripevine will be free for consumers and brands to use. After, consumers will continue to have free access, while brands will have limited free service, as well plans starting at $100 a month.
Mr. Carroll said the response from brands has been good as well because it provides them with a new way to address problems and manage their reputations before they become bigger issues. He said Gripevine is already talking to several large companies about using the service.
While Mr. Carroll continues to tour, he is also spending a lot of time supporting and promoting Gripevine.
"I am not just a paid endorsee, I am an owner of the company," he said. "I have an ownership responsibility, and I'm putting in a lot of hours trying to understand the technical side and bringing awareness to it. I'm doing a lot of speaking at customer service and social media events, and I introduce them to Gripevine.
"I'm still a musician but everything comes together. I talk about everything no matter what I am doing. I bring music to speeches, and I bring Gripevine to speeches. At first glance, it may not look like it's connected but I have found a way to make it all work."
As he's made he transition from musician to entrepreneur over the past three years, Mr. Carroll said he's seen many similarities in the two roles that have made it a smooth process.
"As an independent, self-employed person, you never work harder," he said. "As an independent musician, you are wearing all kinds of hats, always going and building the business one fan at a time. With Gripevine, we will build it one person and enterprise at a time. It's all about building relationships, and that hasn't changed."
Special to The Globe and Mail
Mark Evans is the principal with ME Consulting, a communications and marketing strategic consultancy that works with startups and fast-growing companies to create compelling and effective messaging to drive their sales and marketing activities. Mark has worked with four startups – Blanketware, b5Media, PlanetEye and Sysomos. He was a technology reporter for more than a decade with The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg News and the Financial Post. Mark is also one of the co-organizers of the mesh, meshmarketing and meshwest conferences.
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