The path to a hundred million text messages. A short history of Burst SMS
In January this year Burst SMS achieved a huge milestone, one hundred million messages sent. We are very proud of the business we have created and on reaching this mark, so we decided to reflect back and share a short history on why we started out, and how we got here.
2005 - 2006
Brad Down and Alex Macpherson, two friends who met in London in 1999 started Known Pty Ltd, a boutique graphic and web design business.
Brad’s background had been in advertising, design and internet and Alex had previously worked in the investment banking sector in trading, systems and project management.
After being somewhat disillusioned by the agency model, and inspired by the tech startup scene happening in Silicon Valley, Alex and Brad along with another friend Tim Murray-Leslie, decided to have a go at their own tech startup.
We first self-funded and created an early prototype of a list based system for managing contacts. This was the foundation of Burst SMS, however we put this aside temporarily in favour of another start-up we had been working on called BeamMe, that we decided to raise capital for.
The tech VC’s and incubators in Australia had not yet begun supporting the local startup community, so we raised capital through private angel investors and started BeamMe.
BeamMe was a widget that allowed the sending of text messages from any point on a web page. It was useful during this time as people could not surf the internet on their phone and were mostly writing info from the web on post-it-notes to take it with them, Addresses, confirmations, etc.
We developed partnerships with the likes of Fairfax & Newscorp which had BeamMe enabled websites such as Domain & Cars Guide. Other large clients included Honda and Bunnings Warehouse.
As BeamMe was developed during the pre-smatphone era, the opportunity really was as a bridging technology, and thus quite short-term in nature.
Several key ‘first time start up’ errors were made on this note: Firstly, keeping the project in stealth mode for almost 12 months which removed perspective and feedback from the outside world; Secondly, the assessment as to what smart phones would bring as far as viewing internet content on mobiles.
By the time we had our first production version working with clients, the iPhone had started to get traction in the US and grew faster than we could possibly forecast.
The GFC then struck in 2008 which, in short order, killed off all subsequent investment and business opportunities for the product.
BeamMe continued on vapour funding during 2009 and we continued persisting with developing the product longer than we should have. This taught us another valuable startup lesson, namely “Don’t waste time flogging a Dead Horse”.
During 2008-09 we also took a stake in Digital Ministry, a community contribution industry ‘rag’. We oversaw the operation and growth of business, until our exit in 2012. This was a fun and new experience.
It opened a lot of doors in networking and publishing and really helped us to get in touch with the digital community, giving us exposure to the new social media movements emerging globally.
Burst SMS during this time, had been worked on periodically in the background. Various back end infrastructure additions were trialled and front end iterations had also come and gone. We had also taken on some early stage beta clients, most of which are still with us to this very day.
Rather than write off our experience with BeamMe, the lessons we learned and the technologies we were exposed to led to us re-focusing on Burst SMS, pivoting the technology to become a broad ranging SMS platform for business.
During the development of BeamMe we found there was no SaaS SMS Service that had an easy to use self serve front end and that was cost effective for low volume users.
We started to aggressively develop a full feature set for Burst SMS and began to acquire clients at a faster rate. It was at this point we decided to set it up as a fully operational business.
We launched Burst SMS to SME users as our primary target market. As none of the larger more traditional SMS companies were catering specifically to them, we did not really step on anyone’s toes or appear on anyone’s radar until sometime later.
Burst SMS went through a couple of different iterations before settling on the application style you see today. Many evolutions were made and many lesson were learned, but the thing we took on board the most, was the utilisation of feedback from clients using the system.
We responded to every request and carefully considered every suggestion for inclusion, and this fundamental value stays with us till this very day. Our development methodology changed to one of sharing everything and getting feedback immediately and quickly discarding ideas not widely accepted.
We had modest growth at this point and began looking for ways to expand our client base. By mid 2012 we began to invest more significantly in marketing and advertising, which further transformed our business. We happened to time this investment with a resurgence in the tech sector and a higher marketing spend for businesses at large.
Post GFC people were still hesitant to spend a lot of money. SMS gave them a low cost and highly effective method to engage customers and our growth exploded. In fact from mid to end of 2012 our growth tripled.
We moved into our new offices in Pitt Street and started hiring more people in development and support.
During 2013 we went through growing pains. As BeamMe had never experienced this phase, we found ourselves in new territory. Thankfully we were building a good team around us and we began scaling successfully.
Another lesson we were fast learning was “Do not build what somebody else does better than you”. So many great SaaS products were starting to appear on the market so we started to invest in services like New Relic, Beanstalk, Basecamp, Keap (formerly Infusionsoft) which helped us streamline, organise and grow.
Steady growth continued through 2014 and half way through the year we realised our existing infrastructure was in need of scaling and optimisation.
We hired ex-Yahoo! engineer Mike B and tasked him with creating a scalable platform and enterprise level infrastructure which was completed in October last year.
This freed us up to concentrate further on customer acquisition. We integrated sales processes, marketing automation and formalised structures around CRM, Support and Sales. We also began work on third party integrations with software like Zendesk, Woocommerce, ZohoCRM, Campaign Monitor Mailchimp and more to grow through these channels.
Our team has grown to 8 staff locally and 5 in global locations. We have supported services in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, UK, USA and Hong Kong.
This is going to be our biggest year yet. After successfully passing the 100 million message mark we now have the platform power, industry knowledge, low overhead business model and the innovative drive to create an even better experience for our customers.
This year we plan on developing and releasing new features that will blow the competition away. We have been planning these along with our clients and look forward to sharing them with you.
We would like to thank all of our clients and suppliers for helping us achieve this great milestone and have loved every minute of the experience. We hope to continue helping your businesses grow and see nothing but a bright future for SMS on the horizon.
Brad & Alex