Chattanooga startup helps businesses succeed with Text Request

Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / As fellow co-founder Jamey Elrod looks on, Rob Reagan speaks to the Times Free Press at the Text Request office on Monday, June 4, 2018.

Brian and Jamey Elrod had built a couple of successful business startups when the idea for their latest venture hit Jamey during a particularly stressful time.

While sitting in a restaurant with a screaming toddler, Brian and Jamey were eager to get their bill, pay it and leave the restaurant. But they had trouble getting the attention of their server to settle their account and wondered why there wasn't a way to quickly text a message to the server or to the big screen that displayed when food was ready.

photo Co-founder Brian Elrod speaks with the Times Free Press at the Text Request office on Monday, June 4, 2018 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

"Finally, when we were able to leave and drive home, I thought that the texting idea really could be a good one," Jamey recalls.

Texting has become the favorite way to instantly reach people, but most businesses are only now starting to tap into texting and its potential.

Text Request, which the Elrods started along with veteran programmer Rob Reagan, began in November 2014 to help businesses tap into the potential of texting with their customers for orders, shipments or just general information.

On average, 99 percent of texts are read, compared to only 15 percent of emails and 20 percent of phone calls that are answered. Texts are also usually read within just a few seconds, which makes texting perfect for scheduling and confirming more appointments.

"You can finally reach who you need when you need to," Eldrod says.

But for most businesses, especially small and medium-sized companies, managing all of the texts, making responses and sending appropriate messages at the right time is a bigger task than they can manage. Text Request was created as an online business texting service to easily manage these messages.

Trying to figure out the programming and technical features for their business idea led the Eldrods to the Mill on East Main Street where they met their other business partner, Iron Horse Software founder Rob Reagan, who is now the company's chief technical officer. The Elrods started two previous Chattanooga-based companies, Jock Sale and Educational Outfitters, but Eldrod said Reagan provided the technical expertise needed for their online business to succeed.

Text Request, Reagan says, "is like putting wheels on a suitcase" to propel and make easier what everyone was now doing with their phones and iPads.

photo Rob Reagan of Text Request demonstrates how the technology works in a presentation at the Imax Theater on Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014 in downtown Chattanooga, Tenn. The new company has developed a system that enables customers to send text messages to businesses.

"It was a blatantly obvious idea that was hiding in plain sight and hadn't been well implemented yet," Reagan recalls.

Text Request's technology doesn't reveal customers' phone numbers. Instead, customers appear as random numbers and businesses can take those identifiers and rename them. That's useful because the communication threads gets archived.

After more than 14,000 hours of software development time, Text Request has developed what it claims is one of the most sophisticated yet user-friendly, cloud-based applications of texts to easily allow its nearly 1,000 clients and their tens of thousand of customers to use the Text Request platform.

"On a typical day, we probably have 5,000 to 8,000 users of the system and we expect that to continue to grow," Elrod says, noting that the company's biggest share of clients come from California, Texas and Florida.

Texts can be forwarded to pass along service requests, schedule changes, pricing information or a host of other business needs and services with automated responders and tailored service options. Text Request has mechanisms to alert businesses or organizations when texts have not been addressed, and mark when they have.

In June, Text Request added a new Google Chrome extension, allowing users to text directly from email inboxes or to customer relationship management software like Salesforce. For every web page that is loaded, the Chrome extension scans and finds any phone numbers and puts a text request icon next to each number to allow clients to immediately use the Text Request system. Text Request also is able to send text messages to all open browsers affiliated with land-line phones, not just cell phones.

The business began primarily as a customer service tool for restaurants, hotels and others in the hospitality and service industries to field requests and complaints. But while customer service remains one of its services, Text Request is generating the most business with sales, marketing and scheduling services that help their clients get more business and revenue.

photo Co-founder Brian Elrod speaks with the Times Free Press at the Text Request office on Monday, June 4, 2018 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

When Google added its AdWords and "My Business Listing" options with texting capabilities, businesses using those Google services needed a software platform like what Text Request provides to handle all of those text messages.

Text Request customers include Nissan, Girl Scouts of America, Ticketmaster, People Ready, Ronald McDonald House, Midas and Service Master, among others.

Elrod and Reagan said they have built the business up with their own funds and by plowing back revenues and earnings into the business.

"We tried for two years to market ourselves to outside investors to entice new money into the business, but at some point we realized that rather than spending our time and effort trying to sell our business concept to investors, we should be building up the business ourselves," Elroad says.

Ultimately, the success has generated sufficient revenue to pay for the initial startup software investments and to grow the business to profitability and sustainability for much higher future growth. The company became profitable after the first couple of years in business and now has about a dozen employees.