There’s a new unicorn in town, with the $2 billion SMS-based communication and payments platform Podium officially launching Down Under, and opening an Aussie office.
The move follows a period of considerable growth for the startup since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to a shift in the way consumers want to interact with businesses.
But what is it, and what does this new startup on the block mean for Australian small business owners?
Where did it come from?
Podium was founded in Utah back in 2014, after entrepreneur Eric Rea’s father found the online reviews for his tyre shop did not reflect what he was hearing from customers.
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“He literally had no tools to help him,” Rea said in an interview with Forbes.
So, along with co-founder Dennis Steele, he set out to bridge that gap.
Since then, the startup has raised more than US$218 million ($295 million) including a US$125 million ($169 million) Series C round closed in April last year, which gave it a US$1.5 billion ($2 billion) valuation.
It now has more than 90,000 businesses across the US, Canada and now Australia.
At the time of the Series C, it was reportedly turning over more than US$100 million ($135 million) in annual revenue.
“As we set out to solve the same problem for local businesses everywhere, we realised that messaging with customers wasn’t just the better way to get reviews,” Rea said in a statement.
“It’s the better way to do business.”
How does it work for small businesses?
Designed for use by any business with customers — so, any business, Podium is intended to help small businesses manage their customer relationships, primarily through text messages.
It also allows business owners to consolidate customer interactions and online reviews into a single dashboard. From that, they can respond to reviews, for example, or send and receive text message communications with clients.
Businesses can also access day-to-day updates on things like customer sentiment and benchmarking, allowing them to keep track of how their customers are feeling, and areas for improvement.
The local team will be headed up by country manager Dave Scheine.
In a statement, Scheine said text messages have a 98% open rate. Some 75% of consumers also say they would prefer to interact with a business via text, he added.
“What this demonstrates is that mobile communications is more than a ‘nice to have’ today, it’s essential,” he explained.
“Consumers also rely heavily on online reviews to discover businesses, so it’s not an exaggeration to say that businesses who rely solely on foot traffic and physical location are in danger of being left behind.”
While Podium has had Aussie businesses reaching out since 2016, the business has seen particularly strong organic growth here over the past year or so, with its customer base tripling since March 2020, to more than 3,000.
According to Podium, Aussie businesses have sent some 6 million messages through the platform and received more than 20,000 reviews already, without the business making any significant marketing push here.
“Australia has always felt like a significant market for Podium,” Rea said.
“Establishing a presence in such a rich, vibrant small business market has always felt like an incredibly important step for us.”
The startup currently has 65 Aussie employees — a number expected to almost double over the next 12 months.