Software developer and entrepreneur Chris Dix founded Thoughtpost five years ago as a vehicle to market his software consulting work. He worked with entities across a large range of industries ranging from NASA to vending machine operators to finance firms.
Then last year, he had an idea for his own product and went through some customer discovery during the Charlotte Venture Challenge. Though he uncovered some weaknesses in his initial idea, the customers that he spoke with during the process shared that they had two major concerns they were trying to address.
“They wanted to be able to provide more unique features to their customers and engage with them better. However, the cost of software development, especially mobile application development, for their small businesses was too expensive and too risky,” says Dix
“[We shelved the previous idea] and looked for a way to combine those problems into one solution.”
The team launched Thoughtpost’s first software offering, ChatStyle, later that year.
“What we’ve created is a way to build conversational agents, or chatbots, to work over messaging platforms and provide the same kind of features you would get out of a mobile app,” says Dix.
ChatStyle lets a small business use a template or customize their own conversational agent, without any code, and speak to customers through their preferred messaging platform, like Facebook Messenger, Twitter direct message, or SMS messages. ChatStyle also supports Amazon Alexa for voice chat, if that’s a better fit for the business.
The chatbot agent can answer simple questions, make appointments, and even allow customers to upload documents for review.
“They don’t have to convince their users to download an app, and they don’t have to make a big investment upfront for development costs. Instead, they can try out our product and reach their customers where they are,” says Dix.
Thoughtpost is currently working through a few paid pilots with service companies in the HVAC and fleet management industries to assist them with service call capabilities and appointment setting. They also have a pilot with a social media management company. The SaaS platform operates on a B2B2C model.
“While there are a lot of similar products in this space, we want to learn what the gaps are between what we built and the products that are already out there,” says Dix.
He attributes the success of the platform so far to that initial customer discovery process, something he recommends that startup founders keep in mind before launching.
“The original idea we had, while it provided us with the technology building blocks we needed to create what we have today, it was a solution in search of a problem. That’s not a good way to start a business.”
The Charlotte-based team is bootstrapped and not currently looking for funding. Instead, they’re looking for strategic partnerships. “We want to be the universal pipeline for business messaging solutions,” says Dix. Those solutions could include archiving messages, content moderation, and compliance.