In a roundabout kind of way, this isexactly what Dr. Piet Streicher, managing director of BulkSMS.com has done. Akeen and active windsurfer in the late 1990s, Streicher – who holds a PhD inengineering – was up against the elements every day in his search for theperfect conditions. Given the capricious nature of the weather in Cape Town, saysStreicher, he decided with a colleague that an effective alert system wasnecessary to carpe the good diems. For enthusiasts, windsurfing is a seriousbusiness. A good day is really good – but a bad day is pointless. “Initially,we considered a pager system to send out proactive alerts to windsurfers,rather than relying on the existing system of calling in to a phone line toestablish conditions,” relates Streicher. “We soon realised, though, thatcellphones could be used as pagers.”
Back in 1998, cellphones were somewhatnew-fangled gadgets, so this realisation proved to be rather visionary. Itwasn’t long, says Streicher, before a pretty rudimentary system was in placewhich consisted of a modem and a computer linked into GSM networks. The alertsystem attracted the attention of the relatively small fraternity ofwindsurfers, who soon started to see the benefit of being notified as soon asthe surf – and wind – was up. “When the conditions are good, any windsurfer islikely to do his best to stop doing whatever he is doing at the time and getdown to the beach,” says Streicher. The effect of this system on the officeproductivity of these windsurfers is not recorded. Many of them, however, didhave office jobs; and as a result, the potential of an SMS alert system forfurther applications soon became apparent. “Some of the windsurfers getting ouralerts were working in the financial services sector and realised that an alertsystem could add value, such as notifying clients of closing prices [of stocks]at the end of the day,” says Streicher.
Adding the necessary perspective, sincesuch a notion today is hardly earth shattering, Streicher says that this was,at the time, revolutionary. “This was before the widespread adoption andavailability of the Internet. Prior to this, clients were completely in thedark and brokers could take advantage of that fact,” he explains. Success was soon to follow; the value addedby a simple SMS has many contexts and BulkSMS.com as a company began to takeshape around this realisation. There is little question that SMS provides anideal platform for targeted communication, but Streicher says it should be usedwith some strategic insight. “Today, the applications for SMS communication arenumerous but it should be targeted rather than simply broadcast,” he says. It’s a point well made. Since an SMS isquite a personal thing which comes straight to your attention, it can also beintrusive and annoying to receive messages with no relevance or value. “Peopleexpect SMS to be targeted,” Streicher confirms, “With marketing efforts, peoplelike to be asked first and also to be given the opportunity to opt out.”
His advice is to examine contexts in whichan SMS adds value to business processes, such as progress reports and updatesfor anything from repairs to a car or your telephone line, to the progress of yourpooch at the parlour. “Usually such communication is either done by phone ornot at all. As consumers, we all know how annoying it is to be kept in thedark; SMS is simple and inexpensive and in this context adds great value.” Just about any business can take advantageof keeping customers happy with SMS; depending on the volume, the cost is from25c per message to 42c per message. BulkSMS.com’s customers don’t pay foranything but the messages sent. The cents make the Rands, the Rands makethe hundreds and the hundreds make the thousands. That SMS can add value isprobably best reflected in the status BulkSMS.com enjoys today – it is a R60million per year concern. All that from wanting to harness the elements betterfor a good day out in the surf. “It has turned out to be a great business,all in all. We are very happy doing what we do, it adds substantial value toour customers and as a result, we have enjoyed massive growth,” Streicherconcludes. Contact: +27 21 552 6321; www.bulksms.com
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