Eric Rea was working as a software engineer at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Austria when his dad called to ask for help. He wanted to give his tire shop in Calgary could use a jazzier online presence, including more reviews, he said.
The request led to an unexpected turn in Eric Rea’s career. He eventually quit his job at the famed international agency to launch Podium, a cloud platform that helps local businesses better engage with their customers.
Founded in 2014, Podium helps businesses, including mom-and-pop shops, talk to customers or would-be customers, and keep track of those conversations. The company, which is based in Utah, has raised nearly $100 million in funding, including from Accel Partners and Google Ventures.
The idea for Podium emerged from his Rea’s efforts to help his dad. Fountain Tire, Tom Rea’s tire shop, was a solid business, he said. “But they weren’t getting discovered online,” Eric Rea told Business Insider. “He didn’t have anything online.”
Cloud for small businesses
That led Rea and co-founder Dennis Steele to a bigger realization. “Nobody was building software for these businesses,” Rea said.
Podium initially sought to serve entrepreneurs who own small businesses with single locations, a staff of 5 to 20 people and which had limited or even no online presence — business owners like Tom Rea, who was one of Podium’s first customers.
One of Podium’s first offerings addressed his desire for more online reviews. The platform makes it easier for a local business to ask a customer, via email or text, to write and post a review on most of the popular review sites, such as Yelp and Google.
“Customers were willing to leave reviews,” Josh Penrod, Podium’s chief product officer, explains in YouTube video. “They just needed a more convenient way to do it. So we made it as easy as sending a text.”
He called it the “lightbulb moment” that led Podium to roll out other services that small business customers could access via mobile phones or text messages, from scheduling a dental cleaning to checking if a dealer has a car you’re looking for. Customers can use different platforms, including Facebook Messenger, Google business listings, or text, and all the communications are centralized in the small business owner’s inbox.
Managing conversations with customers
Podium later added a webchat feature for small businesses with websites. This week, Podium rolled out Teamchat, a feature that enables different staff members or teams of a business to communicate. For example, a customer’s question can easily be shared by one team member with other people in the company for quicker responses.
“Think of a car dealership or a solar panel company and they have a mobile app or a desktop app that every employee has and it pulls all those different channels into one place and the business can manage all that from one platform,” Rea said. “No more phone tags.”
Actually, Podium said it has already attracted bigger customers. One of them is the Utah Jazz which used the team chat feature “to bring all our conversation into the same place, making it easy to collaborate on how to best help our fans,” Ty Wardle, the basketball organization’s director of membership and sales services, said in a statement.
Rea said his dad eventually sold his tire shop and retired.
“If I could go back to the beginning knowing just how successful Podium would be, I would have told my dad to take as much of a share of our seed round as he could,” he said.
Got a tip about Podium or another tech startup? Contact this reporter via email at [email protected], message him on Twitter@benpimentel, or send him a secure message through Signal at 510.731.8429. You can also contact Business Insider securely via SecureDrop.