Text Any Business: 5 Questions with TalkTo CEO Stuart Levinson

In case you’ve ever wondered why you can’t text stores and businesses the way you text your friends, well, you can.

TalkTo, a Cambridge, MA-based startup, has been working on the problem for a couple of years now. And this week the company rolled out a Web app that works similarly to its mobile apps, letting consumers send text messages asking businesses whether they have a certain item in stock, say, or book an appointment or order takeout. TalkTo works behind the scenes to contact the business via SMS, chat, e-mail, or phone call, and then makes sure the consumer gets a response via text.

TalkTo came out of stealth mode at TechCrunch’s Disrupt conference in San Francisco last year. It raised a $3 million Series A round from Matrix Partners in early 2012. The big idea is to change how people communicate and interact with businesses—no more phone calls, for starters.

I caught up with TalkTo’s co-founder and CEO, Stuart Levinson, to ask him about the business of texting businesses. Levinson (pictured below) previously founded Venetica, an enterprise content integration company, back in the 1990s and sold it to IBM in 2004 (where he served as vice president of content search and discovery for a couple years).

Here’s a transcript of our chat via e-mail:

Xconomy: What was the genesis of TalkTo, and how has your product evolved to this point?

Stuart Levinson: We spent almost a year brainstorming ways to make communication more spontaneous. At first, we thought about the challenges of communicating with people around us when something surprising happens. It was a fun and interesting challenge, but we began to realize that communication was evolving in very different ways.

Communicating with friends was simple: type in a name and send a message. But getting answers to daily questions like “Do you have it?”, “Can I book it?”, and “Are you open Saturday morning?” most often required phone calls and waiting on hold. So we were no longer talking on the phone with our friends, but we’d hold to talk with strangers! So we had this crazy idea that we would make it possible to send a text message to any business in America, as easily as you text your friend.

X: How big a business is this? How do you make money, and do you see expanding into other services (marketing, rewards, etc.)?

SL: Every time someone calls a business is … Next Page »

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