Nick Hughes, the CEO of Seconds, has the best VC pickup line I've ever heard: "Last year, 2 trillion SMS messages were sent in the U.S., and not one reached a local business."
That's a lot of cheddar.
He continues: "Texting is becoming the predominant mode of communication, but we cannot send or receive short messages with local merchants." Hence his business, Seconds, which opens up the SMS channel between merchants and consumers.
Running on the Twilio communications platform, Seconds gives merchants SMS numbers and a console that lets them manage communication with consumers. In addition to handling run-of-the-mill queries ("Are you open now?" or "Do you have the Canon S100 in stock?") it will also handle transactions (forthcoming), and it keeps a database of customers that use it. It's lightweight CRM that's based on the new world: Texting, not phone calls or e-mail.
Since it's SMS-based, anyone with a mobile phone can use it. There's a mobile Web site for users who want a richer experience. Apps will come later.
On the merchant side there's a Web interface and an iPad app. Multiple merchant reps can be online at once, handling the message traffic, since all the data lives in the cloud.
I think this is a blindingly great idea, but I haven't used the product so can't comment on its actual quality. I will say this, though: Recently I visited a restaurant and had to wait for a table. They told me they'd text me when it was ready, so I went out for a walk.
The text came in, and I replied back, "Be right there." But the message bounced back as undeliverable, since the system the restaurant was using was one-way. It wasn't the end of the world, but it was a less-than-optimal customer experience. Seconds could have made it better. (I'll have a story on the company that ran this restaurant's messaging platform next week.)
At the moment, Seconds charges business a dollar a month per consumer user, no matter how many communications the merchant has with that user. It has about 80 merchants using its product.
The company is embryonic: It is self-funded and has six employees. See also its potential competitor, TalkTo.