Entrepreneur Bratton Riley is political royalty in his hometown of Charleston — he is the son of Joseph P. Riley Jr., the former mayor of the city of Charleston for 40 years, making Joseph one of the longest-serving mayors in the country.
“When I was kid, I literally grew up in City Hall. Now as an adult and engaged citizen, I really appreciate all that local government does for citizens and the relationship of proximity between local government and its citizens,” says Riley. “I grew up with a lot of privilege, which included being able to get a quick phone call back from city government because of my last name,” says Riley. “Your average citizen obviously has not been afforded that privilege.”
Upon discovering chatbot technology a couple of years ago, Riley knew this was his opportunity to share the same connectivity he grew up with, with other citizens.
“That was my thinking when I started the company — let’s make local government more accessible and responsive to everyone by enabling anyone to send a text message to them and AI-driven technology can respond to them in real-time, anytime.” The technology has the capability to be connected to SMS and Facebook Messenger, as well.
Text-based chatbot Citibot allows citizens to connect with their local government, both city or county, report issues and ask questions in a conversational manner.
“About 60 percent of communication that local governments receive are citizens asking questions,” says Riley. “Citibot runs a search of the keywords on the city or county’s website for the answer, from picking up trash to getting a business license and permits.”
If the bot is unable to find the answer, the citizen can send more details on their inquiry along with a request to talk to someone.
To share the tool, the city or county client first selects a 10-digit number to provide to their citizenry. The bot creates a work order and sends it to the city’s existing work order system; if they don’t have one, Citibot auto-populates the orders in workflow management platform Trello.
Once the work order has been completed, the citizen will get a completion message thanking them for reporting the problem they needed addressed.
“We want it to be efficient and easy to use so we can build trust and confidence in those relationships between citizens and local government, especially in current times,” says Riley. “With Citibot, we can enable local governments to use the newest technology that’s out there to help them scale their customer service game — all without having to hire more people to do it and for a low cost.”
The platform also runs data analytics in the back end to track popular questions and issues and collect data to better serve the citizens.
The South Carolina startup launched a year ago with the city of North Charleston as their first paying customer, and have been incorporating their feedback into the current iteration of the product. Their revenue model is SaaS revenue model, with an initial setup fee and pricing based on population and expected volume of communication.
“This year we’re aiming to move out of this early-stage and move into aggressive customer acquisition. We signed up Charleston County last month as our first county customer. We’re targeting cities and counties at this point,” Riley says. They also have customers in Virginia and New Jersey
As a first-time founder, Riley continues to learn the balance between encouraging organic growth and strategic scaling as he moves forward with Citibot. “We’re trying to be very mindful of our monthly churn as we onboard key additions to our team in marketing and sales, and scale at the right rate while not overspending,” says Riley.
The team is aiming to have 15+ paying customers by the end of the year, and explore the option of text-to-live-chat technology as an add-on to the platform. In the meantime, they’re also in fundraising mode, looking for $400,000 to add to their staff and ramp up customer acquisition.
“Once we close that round, we’ll be shifting our focus to sales and product development. We’ll be closing a major Texas city in the next few weeks that will be put us in the map in a big way and we’re currently in talks with several metro Atlanta cities,” says Riley.