This month ‘Branch Out’ chats to Tracy Surkont, Managing Partner and co-founder at Cape Town based start-up BrandChat. A platform that integrates multiple messaging platforms (including WeChat, Facebook, Telegram and Kik), BrandChat enables brands, and their agencies, to talk to customers in a highly personalised manner and across multiple messaging platforms. She tells us more about this exciting new venture and how it can help businesses and brands.
How did the idea for BrandChat come about?
My co-founder Pete Matthei and I met while we were both at MXit. Shortly after our MXit days we had an opportunity to work together on some WeChat projects. We identified the need to have a platform that made developing and managing Official accounts fast and simple, without requiring a developer and so BrandChat 1.0 was born.
We have since extended the platform to include other chat platforms such as Facebook Messenger, Telegram & Kik .You can now easily create and manage your bot across these platforms on BrandChat.
What was the toughest part about starting a tech venture?
Nothing ever goes as planned, your highs are high and your lows are low. Sometimes it’s not starting and running the business that is hard, but staying inspired through the uncertainty that lies ahead. Pete and I firmly believe in our product and use our passion to keep us going when things inevitably don’t go as planned.
Why should businesses use BrandChat?
We want to make it as simple and natural to get in touch with a business as it is to get in touch with friends. Starting a chat is quicker than downloading an app, more immediate and cheaper than making a phone call, and simpler than figuring out a complex website.
Businesses are becoming more accessible to their customers – imagine a customer being able to open their favourite chat app like Facebook Messenger or WeChat and start a customer support conversation with your business right there. No hold times, no transfers and it uses little or no airtime.
We have built a unified dashboard that allows businesses to create and manage a bot as well as do their customer support across all supported chat apps in one place. We have also developed tools that enable businesses to create engaging additional content inside chat apps. This could include broadcasting special offers or the latest news, or getting feedback via polls and surveys.
Can any type of business use the platform?
Most definitely – we have a wide range of features that cater for a number of scenarios ranging from customer care, to closed user groups for internal communication to on-content platform creation.
How does a business gain access to BrandChat and what are the costs involved in using the platform?
You can sign up for a 14- day free trial on www.brandchat.social. We have packages ranging from $20 – $149 per month depending on the features you want to make use of.
Are you planning to add other Social Media platforms to BrandChat?
Definitely – we’ll add Whatsapp as soon as they make their business API’s available. We are also exploring opportunities with Viber and Slack.
Since inception in 2015 you’ve managed to attract 1.9 million users. That’s pretty impressive.
Our strategy was purely acquisition for the first year so we opted to offer our platform for free. We wanted to demonstrate the value of the platform first as WeChat official accounts were a new concept at the time. We have managed to attract some big brands by helping them build their communities and showed them the value in having a tool that they could use to quickly create content and communicate directly with their clients using our customer care dashboard.
These days the talk is all about ‘big data’ and the challenges businesses face in consolidating their analytics across various platforms into something meaningful and useful. How does BrandChat deal with this challenge?
We help businesses communicate with their customers. One of the biggest sources of customer dissatisfaction when interacting with businesses is that businesses can sometimes appear to be a bit of a black box from the outside. By streamlining these points of engagement, we can help a business better gauge customer satisfaction (which benefits the customers) and also highlight frequent queries and areas of feedback from customers (which benefits the business).
So the areas of Big Data that we can help with are the “outward-facing” ones: customer satisfaction, customer profiles, customer needs, levels of engagement, and process efficiency and satisfaction across multiple channels.
Any good business needs a leader with a vision. What type of leader are you?
In a start-up, a steady stream of small victories rather than the occasional huge win maintains motivation and momentum. Leadership in a start-up is about being hands-on and enabling those small victories. Pete and I believe in giving the team the space for input and creativity, but also pull them back from getting lost in the woods.
Any advice for aspiring tech entrepreneurs?
Find the right business partner: not only someone who shares your vision, but someone with a complementary set of skills and traits, someone you genuinely enjoy, like and trust and lastly someone who wants to grow and support your growth.
Growth is much, much harder than the tech! “Build it and they will come” doesn’t work in the real world; it may start with a good idea, but it all hinges on relentless, passionate execution. Keep the product as simple as possible from day one, and put in the leg-work. Talk to as many people as possible. Get constant feedback. Spend more time selling than building.