INNOVATORS VS COVID 19
SaaS Startup Text Request Excels Amid the Pandemic
We talked to Brian Elrod of Text Request about its powerful text messaging software.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Brian Elrod: We’re fine, thanks. We’ve known a few people who’ve caught it, but they’re okay now, and so are we.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Text Request
Brian Elrod: My wife, Jamey, and I were eating at a restaurant. Our two-year-old was having a toddler moment, so we tried to get our food boxed and paid to leave, but we couldn’t get our server’s attention. Jamey said, “Why can’t you just text them?” and the idea started from there. We’re both serial entrepreneurs, we’ve started several businesses together, and we began brainstorming how businesses can text with customers professionally. It was crazy to us that you couldn’t just text a business when that’s the only way a lot of people communicate! We teamed up with software consultant Rob Reagan to be our technical co-founder and launched Text Request in November 2014.
Before starting Text Request, Jamey and I founded and ran Educational Outfitters, a school uniform franchise system.
How does Text Request innovate?
Brian Elrod: Continually. We have great people on our team and great customers. Text Request employees are talking to customers every day, learning what problems they have and what they need. Then we’re talking internally constantly, too. A lot of great ideas spring from that, and we have no outside investors or stakeholders, so we’re able to move very quickly on decisions large and small.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Brian Elrod: We’ve definitely felt it, but we’re ultimately better off as a company, believe it or not. We’re very thankful for this. We provide communication software, so when the pandemic first hit the States, and many businesses were scrambling for reliable communication tools to get updates and promotions out to their customers. We had a big surge, and that’s mostly continued through the summer. People are doing less face to face communication, and they need another way to connect.
Our team moved entirely remotely for several months. It was a challenge not seeing each other every day, and we missed the office – we were named one of the Best Places to Work, after all. Now we’re back to about half capacity in the office.
Our customers are other businesses, and even though we’ve been doing well through the pandemic, we’ve watched many of them close their doors. That’s tough. We’re close to our customers and hurt with them, and it’s a good example of how the pandemic is hitting small businesses all over.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Brian Elrod: We said from the outset that our main goal was to protect our employees, ensure their job security, and work was as unaffected as possible. We’re again thankful that we didn’t need to lay anyone off – we actually hired another 25% in our Chattanooga headquarters.
We learned we could make going fully remote work, but we prefer to at least be partially in the office. That time with other people is invaluable for innovation and daily growth.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety, how do you project yourself and Text Request in the future?
Brian Elrod: I coach for our youngest son’s sports teams, so even when things are stressful, there are hours almost every day where I’m able to reset. It’s interesting, though, when your spouse is also your business partner. You never get away from work! Over time you just adapt; it becomes a part of who you are. We’re always thinking about work, but it’s rarely stressful. We enjoy it.
Our team’s great at ongoing planning and continuing to push us further, but we really propel our growth and innovation by focusing on the basics. We talk about the “blocking and tackling” a lot (can you tell I coach?). Do the small things consistently and continually improve at them? That’s how you win.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Brian Elrod: Our products are in step with anyone in the market, if not better. We have a rockstar team that continually talk to our customers and work to solve their problems. And we provide a truly needed solution that’s improving every day. It comes down to doing the small things well and putting the right systems in place.
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