Interview with John Hanger (Contact At Once!)
Contact At Once! is a SaaS proprietary chat software that embeds in websites and landing pages.
I interviewed John Hanger, Contact At Once! CEO to find out more. This is the hundred and forty eighth in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to John!
How would you describe Contact At Once! in under 50 words?
Contact At Once! pioneered the use of live chat software in advertising, enabling instant connections between online shoppers and businesses through online marketplaces, merchant websites and social media.
What industries does Contact At Once! currently work in? Any plans to open up to new industries?
Contact At Once! currently provides industry-specific solutions for automotive, apartments and Real Estate. The company will continue development in markets where demand exists for solutions that can connect online shoppers from multiple advertising channels with businesses who sell high-value or complex products and/or services face-to-face.
Who uses Contact At Once! and how does it work?
Contact At Once! provides industry-specific chat and text solutions for online marketplaces, merchant websites and mobile devices for automotive, apartments and Real Estate.
Contact At Once! chat and text solutions draw out more online and mobile shoppers, enabling instant connections between them and sellers with a non-threatening communications tool. Our chat and texting solutions typically increase the number of sales opportunities companies drive from websites and advertising by 25% or more.
Contact At Once! has two pending patents related to its exclusive ability to provide live chat in online advertising and “presence-awareness”, the attribute that allows the software to dynamically change advertisements, depending on user availability. Contact At Once! recently launched Mobile Text Connect, new features that allow advertisers to enable texts or chats from any advertisement, including digital and traditional promotions.
You are US based but also have a strong UK customer base. Has this always been the case?
Our UK presence continues to rapidly expand as we develop relationships with key advertisers and motor dealerships. We expect our UK operations to grow in a similar trajectory to the US market, as the basic value proposition is the same, regardless of geography. Whenever shoppers are spending a good deal of time researching a complex or expensive product online that they will ultimately purchase face-to-face, Contact At Once! provides an opportunity for businesses to generate better customer relationships and higher sales.
What is your background? What was your first big breakthrough?
Contact At Once! is my fifth technology start-up and I enjoy the energy and innovation of high-growth technology companies. We work fast and are constantly evolving, so every day brings a new challenge. I’m an engineer by training, so that experience not only helps me problem-solve in a fast-paced, fluid environment, but I also have a natural love for how disparate systems, technologies and people can be brought together to solve problems in all-new ways. I knew I would always work in technology when I was fortunate enough to be at the forefront of the e-business revolution and see how we were able to transform companies by changing the way they did business with partners and suppliers.
What brought you to Contact At Once!? How did you meet founder, Marc F. Hayes?
In mid-2004 I had just sold the last company at which I was CEO and I was looking for a new company to invest my talents in. I was introduced to Marc by a friend-of-a-friend. Marc was at Accenture, had a cool idea, and itched to start a company but he wasn’t quite ready to pull the ripcord on his very successful 18 year career there. I guess you could say that I helped convince him to jump out of the plane, and we’ve enjoyed a great working relationship ever since. Marc has a rare combination of technical and business skills, and an amazing work ethic.
What technologies have been used to build Contact At Once!?
Contact At Once! is a software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution built with technologies including .NET, jabber/XMPP, and HTML5 for our mobile solutions.
Contact At Once! has grown by 693 per cent over the last three years and was named by Inc. Magazine as one of the 500 fastest growing companies for 2011. What are the main factors that have led to this success?
The way people shop for high-ticket products has fundamentally changed in the last few years and opened the door for a product like ours.
Let’s take cars, for example. Consumers do the majority of their information-gathering on the Internet but are using traditional “lead forms” less and less because they provide such a bad experience – there’s no immediacy yet personal information must be provided. Contact At Once! chat in advertising and dealership websites provides consumers a new way to connect with dealerships and ask questions at the very moment their interest in a given car is highest. It also gives the dealership’s salespeople an opportunity to build rapport and relationship with a consumer earlier in the sales cycle, and because Contact At Once! chat is scalable to many sites, the dealership can be “present” in all the places consumers are looking for information. It reinforces their brand and creates impressions early in the buying cycle before, or while, preferences for specific products and merchants are developing.
Congratulations on recently securing $3m in equity funding from Fulcrum Equity Partners. What do you intend to use the funding for?
The additional funding is being used to accelerate growth into new markets and to allow product development to more rapidly address innovations for existing markets, so that we can maintain market leadership and dominant market share.
Did you expect the feedback and rate of growth that Contact At Once! has experienced?
We expected the company to do well because we believed the fundamental value proposition was sound. We’ve been very pleased with the growth we’ve achieved, but more importantly, that we have been able to sustain it year over year in some of the toughest economic times in decades. It is testament to the fact that the product provides measurable benefit to our customers, and to the great team we’ve assembled.
What is the biggest hurdle you have faced or are still facing?
Always in high-growth technology companies, the biggest challenge is projecting when the market will transition from an early-adopter phase to a mainstream adoption cycle and ensuring you’re just ahead of the curve with sales, marketing and product investments, so you can ride the wave. There’s some science to it, but also the art of being able to read market trends and anticipate customers’ needs, oftentimes before there are clear signs of where a market is tracking.
What are you most excited about at the moment?
Empirical data about how our solutions are helping businesses increase sales. The more we learn about how consumers use chat to connect with buyers, the more we are able to apply that knowledge to create better products for our customers. Being able to apply what we’ve learned in automotive to other markets is also a very exciting prospect.
Can you convince the reader to start using Contact At Once! in under 50 words?
Contact At Once! helps you connect with more online shoppers and sell more of your product or service. It’s that simple.