Spirit of Innovation finalist: Text Request sends personalized messages to the masses

Staff photo by Tim Barber/ Text Request founders Brian Elrod and Jamey Elrod, left, and Rob Reagan talk about the growth of the Chattanooga company over the past six years.
Staff photo by Tim Barber/ Text Request founders Brian Elrod and Jamey Elrod, left, and Rob Reagan talk about the growth of the Chattanooga company over the past six years.

Since 2001, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce has recognized local companies launching innovative products, practices or processes with its annual Spirit of Innovation award. The award's announcement during the city's annual Startup Week moved online this year, highlighting three groundbreaking businesses that have found creative ways to thrive during a challenging time. Here is one of this year's finalists:

Brian and Jamey Elrod are self-described serial entrepreneurs who previously started both Educational Outfitters and Jock Sale in Chattanooga. But the couple wasn't thinking about ways to make more money when they came up with the idea for their latest and most successful business venture.

In fact, they were simply eager to spend some of their money by more quickly paying a restaurant tab when their screaming toddler was ready to leave the eatery. The Elrods couldn't get the attention of their server and wished they had a way to send a text to communicate their need.

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

The Elrods teamed up with software developer Rob Reagan to launch Text Request in November 2014 and over the past six years the company's text messaging software has helped connect more than 7 million people through business texts - all without a penny of outside investment. The Chattanooga-based company has doubled sales every year and has grown to 21 employees, 19 of whom are in Chattanooga.

"We're not only helping businesses, we're helping the consumer by making it easy for them to communicate the way they prefer to communicate," Elrod says. "And since COVID-19 forced many businesses to communicate and sell virtually instead of in-person, we've seen businesses that usually take a real long time to adapt to change adopt new communication strategies almost overnight."

photo Staff photo by Tim Barber/ Text Request Founder's Brian Elrod and Jamey Elrod work inside the Text Request headquarters on Gulf Street in Chattanooga.

Through a series of new products, Text Request has capitalized on the direct, personalized and responsive appeal of telephone text messages and currently works with over 2,000 business clients.

Texting has become the favored way to instantly reach people, and texts are more than six times as likely to immediately be read compared with an email message. On average, 99% of texts are read, compared to only 15% of emails and 20% of phone calls that are answered. Texts are also usually read within just a few seconds, which makes texting perfect for scheduling and confirming appointments.

Elrod says most customers don't immediately read or respond to emails, and many actively avoid phone calls. But those same customers read and respond to texts almost instantly. Text Request provides the software and other tools for businesses to use texts for both one-way and interactive messages.

While many businesses were forced to shut down or slow down this spring, business surged for Text Request during the pandemic as organizations scrambled to move more communications and operations to serve remote workers and customers.

"Fortunately, we were able to move our staff to work at home almost seamlessly and handle some record sales months in March, April and May," Elrod recalls.

The same texting software sold by Text Request, combined with a host of other virtual technologies employed by the company, allowed programmers to work from home even before the pandemic "so nothing fell off for us on the programming side" during the closings.

The company also is benefiting in 2020 from its newest offering - peer-to-peer texting first introduced in 2019. The new offering empowers personalized conversations at scale, and is particularly appealing for political campaigns trying to send out individualized text messages to mass audiences. Peer-to-peer texting helped Text Request become a finalist this year for both the Spirit of Innovation award in Chattanooga and the 2020 SaaS [Software as a Service] Awards Program.

Before peer-to-peer Texting, Text Request offered two ways to text,:either a one-on-one conversation, or a mass blast sent to many people. For compliance, Reagan says many organizations needed a way to immediately reach many people while ensuring every message is sent one at a time, from one peer to another. The latest product was created in response to a specific customer need.

"We understood the need from organizations, how regulations and compliance fit, and the technical infrastructure needed to make it happen," Reagan says in a company report. "We saw the potential growth for Text Request if we could solve this problem.

"Political campaigns and getting out the vote are the easiest examples today, but it's also powerful for the financial and nonprofit sectors, among others. So we built it."


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