11 Elkins Street Residents Pingup & Rick Polio Beta Test Text-Based Innovation

Younger customers take to Pingup’s text-based ordering Service has new ring to it

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By Gary J. Remal |  Article Courtesy of:  http://www.bostonherald.com

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Photo by Chitose Suzuki

Frustrated, angry and stuck on hold with his cable company more than a year ago, Boston tech entrepreneur Mark Slater came up with an idea that could just turn out to be the next big thing.

He calls it, Pingup, a text-based system that allows businesses to communicate with their customers without the hassle and waiting times associated with today’s corporate phone trees.

And if pilot trials in South Boston over the last eight months are any indication, his confidence may be well-founded.

“We looked at the way people communicate today with their friends and family, which is predominately texting,” Slater told the Herald. “All the data shows people are texting more and calling less, and we asked, why can’t they communicate this way with businesses. They never miss a phone call ever again. They never miss a customer.”

Rick Polio, owner of Rick’s Sandwich Shop in the same Seaport District building where Pingup is being developed, was one of the first of the two dozen South Boston businesses to take on a beta version of the system, largely because the Pingup staff wanted to text in their own lunch orders.

“It was a new medium for me. I have to fix the meals and answer the phone. Now it’s just another venue, using a keyboard,” Polio said. “I cook, I do everything. It took some adjustment, but it’s just a daily habit now.”

Pingup even lets him chat and make personal connections with his customers, Polio said. “They’re upper-20s, early-30s young professionals and they live on their phones.

They come to the window and they’re texting,” he said. “They don’t know anything else. And I think that’s why you have to adapt to the technology if you want to keep up with what’s going on.”

A group of Army recruiters who also share Pingup’s office building began using the system to order their own lunches and have already come up with a plan to use Pingup to communicate with prospective soldiers, said Slater, 40, who came from his native Britain to attend BU. “We’d never have thought of that in a month of Sundays.”

He expects much more of that kind of use of Pingup as more businesses see its potential. The company plans to make money by providing additional contacts with the system, which they call “seats,” and extra applications and services such as publishing menus or receiving payments. The first “seat” for each business will be free, Slater said, and individual use is always free. Users may also piggyback on the system to build their own applications.

The software for Pingup was developed by talented programmers under contract from Eastern Europe, he said, then patented and readied for use, all for about $500,000.

New investors are joining now to provide the funds to expand and promote the system in other parts of the country.

But Slater says businesses from elsewhere can jump in as soon as they wish. He already has indications that nightclubs from Miami and Las Vegas are lining up to use the new service, along with more than a dozen Hub clubs, because their businesses all have a common problem, responding to hundreds of calls each Friday and Saturday night.

He expects much more of those kinds of contacts to lead to new customers as word of Pingup goes “viral.”

“We’re getting them as customers because we’re solving that problem,” Slater said. “I’d say we’ll be nationwide in the summer, that’s certainly our expectation.”

But Slater isn’t the only entrepreneur hunting in these waters.

Other companies are looking to make use of text-based communications in commercial applications, including some in Greater Boston, so competition may heat up.

Article URL: http://www.bostonherald.com/jobfind/news/technology/view.bg?articleid=1061126373

BOSTON-HERALD-NEWS-LOGO

By Gary J. Remal | Article Courtesy of:  http://www.bostonherald.com

11 Elkins Street Residents Pingup & Rick Polio Beta Test Text-Based Innovation