Customer Lobby enables local businesses to collect, manage and publish customer reviews with its reviews management and syndication application. Using Customer Lobby, businesses can get more customers, build their online reputation and capture leads from automated outreach.
MO: How did you come up with the idea for Customer Lobby?
Ted: It was clear to me that comments from a real customer (reviews, social comments, etc.) are the most credible, and therefore most impactful, currency in marketing for almost all businesses. For example, a company that claims “choose us because we are the best” would sound ridiculous in the face of lots of negative reviews about its service or product.
But when I was looking for online reviews a few years ago, I noticed that reviews tend to be more common in those industries (dining and lodging most notably) in which a review is an implied commentary on the reviewer’s personal tastes and lifestyle. For example, there are lots more reviews of Thomas Keller’s latest restaurant than the Burger King a few blocks away because writing a review of BK is less cool than letting people know you went to a swanky place. So the opportunity I saw was to help businesses get online feedback from their clients when they otherwise find it challenging to get reviews.
MO: What influenced your decision to bootstrap the company instead of seeking outside investment opportunities?
Ted: Many start-up entrepreneurs that raise capital are unknowingly climbing on a hamster wheel of capital-raising: raise more money; spend money; show proof points around the idea that was pitched to investors; repeat until you exit (which is much less common than most entrepreneurs think), give up or become profitable. As a result, cash burn rates can limit discovery and innovation outside of your original idea and plan to execute on it. For every start-up that has successfully pivoted there are many more businesses that have pursued what they knew to be sub-optimal business plans because they felt they needed to raise the next round.
Having been a venture capitalist earlier in my career, I know that having capital and great investors can be a huge accelerator of growth. I also know that there are times when the incentives of the entrepreneur and VC are at odds.
We were fortunate enough to be able to bootstrap in the early days of the company. Since then, we have kept the expenses in line with our revenue growth.
MO: Can you break down how Customer Lobby works and some of the advantages of using it?
Ted: We first create a review page for each of our clients where their customers can read and write reviews. We work with each client to understand their business and design a review generation strategy that works for them. We then help businesses to get reviews using a variety of means including: phone-based reviews, comment cards, email invitations, web forms, etc. Our technology provides a variety of options to help businesses manage the entire review process and communicate with their customers. The reviews are then found by our clients’ prospects on their website, in all of the major social channels, in search results and on other 3rd party review sites to whom we syndicate our content.
By proactively asking their customers to review them online, our clients’ reviews represent a more accurate representation of consumer sentiment than if they simply waited for the couple of very happy or very unhappy consumers to write a review.
Customer Lobby also makes it easy to enable 100% of a business’ customers to leave a review. Most places on the web on which consumers can leave reviews require those consumers to go through the process of creating accounts to leave a review. In fact, less than 20% of the customers of a typical local business have an account from which they could write a review online. Very few customers are willing to go through the hassle of creating a new Google/Yelp/etc. account simply to write a review of your business.
The result: more reviews in more places more often.
MO: What happens if your client receives negative reviews and doesn’t want them posted?
Ted: They get posted. Negative reviews are part of the deal and are an important part of any review system. Handled well, negative reviews can be a fantastic marketing opportunity. Look, consumers expect businesses to mess up sometimes. Consumers are looking to see how it is handled after the fact.
Negative reviews are going to happen. It’s the context that matters and that is where we can help.
MO: What advice would you give to an entrepreneur whose main focus is to make a lot of money first and foremost?
Ted: First off, although I suspect that is the case with many would-be entrepreneurs, very few would ever admit that out-loud. I have two thoughts on how to respond. Part of me would want to let them go and learn a lesson. Pain is a great teacher and that is a sure road to pain. Another part of me wants to help them avoid the pain by saying: if money is your main goal, you will not make it. The reality is that building a business, even a very successful business, is harder and takes longer than you think it will. If all you have sustaining you through the dark times that will come is money-lust, you will most likely quit before you reach your goal and you will be miserable along the way.
If you can’t honestly say “I want to help (insert your target customer base) do (insert your value proposition)” then stop. That is a great litmus test. A real desire to help people will help get you through the hard times.
MO: What’s the most exciting thing on the horizon for you personally or professionally?
Ted: I am really excited about a new product we are working on that helps local businesses manage how they communicate with their customers. But right now the most exciting thing for me is just going to work each day. To start from designing a product alone at my kitchen table to working with a group of smart, motivated, capable people all trying to solve problems for our customers… I am not sure if it gets any better.
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