Business Startups

Start-Up Spotlight: Chekkit uses this overlooked communication method to increase customer engagement

Chekkit

How often do you write an online review? For most people, not often at all. But for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), reviews can be the difference between success and failure.

Admit it, when trying to pick a new restaurant or choose a new doctor, you search the name into Google and read what other people are saying. However, the lack of customers who actively write reviews means that the number you see might not be an accurate representation of the company.

“People either have a super negative experience and leave you a one-star or they have a really good experience and it’s a five-star,” said Chekkit co-founder, Dan Fayle. “How do you get the 95 percent of people that still have really good things to say to give a true representation of that business?”

Chekkit, an all-in-one customer communication platform, helps companies increase their online visibility and reputation by harnessing the power of text messaging.

In addition to prompting consumers to review Chekkit-using businesses online, the use of text messaging for online customer service means that consumers aren’t sitting at their computer waiting for their turn in a queue or talking with an automated bot. It allows SMBs to talk with their customers in a personal, convenient way for both parties.

As a platform, Chekkit has many features, like texting a customer to open a video call and texting for payment. At its core, Chekkit utilizes a method of communication that people use every day, but has been overlooked in the business world.

The bootstrapped company founded in Winnipeg, Man. now helps SMBs across Canada and the U.S., and it doesn’t plan on slowing down any time soon. With 300% growth in the past year, they’re determined to help small businesses conquer the online world.

“From the review side, it’s like 40 or 45 percent of the Google algorithm,” said Myles Hiebert, Chekkit co-founder. “So if you’re not utilizing those, you’re not going to get those easy clients that are Googling your specific industry.”

For this week’s Start-Up Spotlight, Bay Street Bull spoke with Chekkit co-founders, Dan Fayle and Myles Hiebert, about starting a business in software despite having no prior experience and how their software helps small businesses succeed.

Q&A

You two started working together right out of post-secondary school and neither of you had experience in the tech industry, but here we are today. How did Chekkit get started?

Myles: Dan and I have known each other for about four or five years now. We started Chekkit by just going after an opportunity. We didn’t know each other. We were in different areas in the workforce: I had a Bachelor of science, Dan had a business degree. But, we met up in Northern Manitoba where there really isn’t a heck of a whole lot going on, and we thought of going into apps, websites and applications. What started off as a thought eventually turned into a hobby outside of work, which lasted probably about a year or two. Then it became, “Let’s just make this a business, lets us go full in.” And here we are today. Now, Chekkit is an online platform that’s helping businesses across the country.

It’s always nice to see businesses that serve more than themselves and lift other businesses up as well. What was the discussion around putting together this kind of all-in-one communication platform and what went into creating it?

Dan: We started with a wifi marketing product, which started within the hospitality industry and restaurants. Traditionally, marketing has been through email, but we engaged people through a new channel that was really underutilized: text messaging. We were able to get people’s phone numbers when they connected with wifi and then that business was able to send them things, like coupons or information about an event going on.

As you know, the hospitality industry is really big with reviews on TripAdvisor, Google and Facebook, etc. So, a couple of managers came to us and said, “We’re spending so much time just responding to all these different reviews, whether they’re negative or positive, is there a way that you guys can aggregate all those reviews to lessen the workload for us?” And we built a platform that aggregated reviews so they can respond to them. 

We were able to host all these different reviews on one platform, but how do we proactively go out there and actually ask for reviews? They are so polarizing, right? People either have a super negative experience and leave you a one-star or they have a really good experience and it’s a five-star. How do you get the 95 percent of people that still have really good things to say to give a true representation of that business? So, that’s really where we started as a product. Then, we built out all these other features that our customer base has really asked for and that’s how we moved into other verticals other than the hospitality industry.

Were there any big hurdles with bringing Chekkit to life or where it is today?

Dan: I would say just getting out there to be honest because we didn’t have the background or the knowledge to start a business. We didn’t have any background in software. We didn’t know how to sell. So, we literally just started door to door selling software in Winnipeg. When I tell people that, they’re always like, “What?” Cause that’s crazy! We literally started in Winnipeg, made our way to Calgary, and that’s when we broke into the dental vertical, which is another big vertical for us. And again, it was still door to door. 

I think that was the biggest hurdle: How do we sell this? Then we figured out that we can actually sell the product online. We didn’t have to get in a car and go drive to someone’s office.

Myles: To add on to that as well, we’re also a bootstrapped company too. It’s not like we have amazing budgets to get out there and sell a product. We had to grind. It was the only way to get it off the ground, which obviously is not the case now, but that’s how it was in the beginning.

With being bootstrapped and having to go door to door, what was the reaction from your family and peers when you said, “Hey, we have this great idea. We’re going to go sell it door to door and it’s going to be awesome!” Was there any hesitation from friends and family? 

Myles: For my family, I got the questions of, “What are you doing? Why? That’s not a safe route.” It’s not the case anymore, but you know, you have a mortgage, you have expenses, you have bills. So, it wasn’t a good reaction at first, but down the road, they saw the bigger picture. 

Dan: I would say the reaction from the people I’m closest to was probably similar to Myles’s experience. It wasn’t like, “Oh, that’s great!” I had a cushy commercial banking role that paid well and was super secure. So to go and do something that I had no background or education in, it was kind of like, “What are you doing?” 

Having gone through that, what kind of advice do you have for people who might have a great idea and who have that passion, but might be facing that negative feedback from people around them? When’s the right time to take the risk and follow through with what you want to do?

Dan: Maybe it sounds cliche, but I think it’s just intuition. If you’re really passionate about something and you want to just get out there and do it, why not? Right. Especially in your younger years, your 20s, 30s, why not take a chance, right? There’s a lot of people that don’t like their paths these days or don’t like what they’re doing. So, why not take that opportunity? Even if it’s just once, take it once. That’s the approach I took: Take it at least once and if it doesn’t work out, you can always go back to your old job. I would just say, make the jump at least once.

Myles: And to add to that, when Dan and I both had full-time jobs, it was really tough to get the business off the ground when working on Chekkit part-time in the evenings. I think it was a realization for both of us that we needed to flip it around and work full-time during regular hours towards what we want with Chekkit. Then, if we needed an income, get a part-time job in the evenings or weekends. There was a year or two of us having full-time jobs and having that cushion of income coming in, but Chekkit wasn’t going anywhere and it wasn’t going fast enough. I think that’s when we both realized we’ve got to just make it happen, which was extremely tough for both of us. I think that’s the realization most people need to have.

Dan: And Myles was working part-time for at least a year while we were full-time Chekkit too. That’s the thing, you’ve got to make some sacrifices.

Given the hard work you’ve both put into Chekkit, what has it been like seeing the business grow, especially as so many small businesses shifted to online?

Myles: It’s been very surreal to see that much growth from where our company started to where it’s gone during this time. We had a bit of a hiccup, specifically with dentists, because they had to close. But you know, everybody had to go online, whether it was to get new customers or communicate with existing customers. So, to see our growth like this, we’re extremely thankful. 

Chekkit allows companies to communicate with customers in a very authentic way. They can truly just text them, talk to them and make it very personalized. Why is it important for businesses to go that extra mile to have those genuine conversations with their customers?

Dan: When we built our webchat, we made the decision to make our website textable. Everyone knows what live chat is, but when you have those automatic messages and you’re talking to a bot, you’re getting very generic answers. I think a lot of people are annoyed when they go to a site and they’re getting the same response and it’s not really helping them. So, with Chekkit we’ve created that human touch where you know this number is going to text you back. It’s going to be a local number and there’s going to be a human that’s behind it. 

The second thing is that as a customer you don’t have to be waiting beside your laptop for an answer anymore. You can just send a quick message and it will go right to text messaging. It’s on your phone and you can text back and forth. It’s super convenient for the customer and it’s also super convenient for the business.

You’ve previously mentioned that you guys are bootstrapped and I’ve heard that you guys plan on staying bootstrapped, at least for the next little bit. Can you touch on that?

Dan: The decision came because we’ve always been bootstrapped and because we work on such a personal level with our customers. Just last week, I had customers from the U.S. texting my personal cell phone wishing me a Happy Thanksgiving—that’s how personal we are with our business. In staying bootstrapped, we always want to be customer-centric, be nimble and be able to take customer feedback. That’s where the majority of our new features come from: customers being like, “Hey, do you think you can add this?” 

All of the small little features that make Chekkit really valuable for our customers and their businesses have been around what our customers want. I think staying bootstrapped goes hand-in-hand with that. We’re not focused on investors or shareholders. We’re focused on our customers and we want to stay like that. The model has always worked for us and I think for the long run, we’re going to stick that way.

ChekkitDoes either of you have a favourite customer review or story from a customer about how Chekkit has helped their business?

Myles: I remember Craig from Deer Valley Dental Care out in Calgary. We ended up getting them a few hundred Google reviews in a year. They started with an extremely low rating with their reviews and brought it up to a 4.6 with Chekkit. That’s huge when it comes to the Google algorithm and local SEO. He said that we were seeing 20 to 30 new patients a month, which is huge for them. He talked about the amazing reviews they were having and said when you Googled “dental” they were popping up more. So, reviews can go a heck of a long way compared to some other tactics that have been used in the past, like backlinks and the SEO game. 

Dan: And Chris from Time Machine Hot Tubs recently left us a great review. He said Chekkit has been tremendous for his company. In the past seven months, he was able to sell 18 hot tubs as a direct result of interacting using the Chekkit platform on his website. So, just through our web chat alone, he was able to text back and forth with customers and he’s had a record year. It just goes back to being personal with your customers and being able to text in that convenient fashion works.

One thing you touched on previously was the new features that you bring out thanks to customer recommendations. Do you have any other things down the pipeline for Chekkit?

Dan: That’s a tough question. We’ve built out so much in the last little while. We came up with payments, so the ability to send a text and get paid from a customer with any credit or debit card, Google pay, or Apple pay. Right now you can send a text and hop on a Zoom call, which is really nice to have face to face interaction with any local business. In terms of new features that are coming out, we don’t have any major ones right now.

Myles: We have Chekkit as a whole, but we have another piece to the puzzle where we’re also white labeling Chekkit. 

Dan: Yeah! That’s actually something I totally forgot about. White labeling has been huge for us in the last five months specifically. Essentially it’s the ability to use our technology, but any digital marketing agency or marketing firm can slap on their logo or their branding. The customer doesn’t see anything to do with Chekkit, but they get the benefits of all the features we have.

Canada as a whole is up and coming in the tech scene, but people usually think of Toronto, maybe Waterloo. You guys are based out in Winnipeg, so what was that like? Do you guys plan to stay Winnipeg-based and stick to your roots there?

Myles: Interesting question. From the tech side, there’s not really a heck of a whole lot happening in Winnipeg these days. But due to the pandemic, a lot of us aren’t even at our offices anymore, we’re all working from home. When it comes to having a head office or having a hub somewhere, I think Winnipeg is a great spot to be. Our customers are throughout the United States, Canada, Australia, we’re kind of all over the place these days, but I can’t see us office-wise going outside of Manitoba. If we do, it would potentially be somewhere in Canada, but it doesn’t seem to be on the top of our priority list right now, mainly due to COVID-19.

Dan: To add to that, we have an office downtown Winnipeg that’s fantastic. I definitely miss it. But when being fully remote, I think Winnipeg is a perfect spot to stay because we realized that the talent pool isn’t just Winnipeg. We can hire someone from Toronto and they can work remotely. We can hire someone from Vancouver or from Texas. We’re not going to hire the best in Winnipeg, we’ll just hire the best for that role. So, I think Winnipeg is a fantastic place to be, but if you’re not based here, that’s totally fine. 

And what would you say to someone who is a potential customer? Why should they use Chekkit?

Dan: I think the one thing that really hits that point is modernizing the customer journey and experience. I know a lot of local businesses, in general, have underutilized the online space. They’re doing a lot of traditional advertising, whether that’s bus benches or whatever. I think COVID-19 is accelerating people making that digital transformation online. If you have a storefront, that’s great, but can consumers access your products easily online? People are always doing those Google searches for your products, but what comes up? That’s the first thing to do. Then when they get your website, how can you make that communication more accessible? 

Myles: Totally. And just to add to that, from the review side, it’s like 40 or 45 percent of the Google algorithm. So if you’re not utilizing those, you’re not going to get those easy clients that are Googling your specific industry. Once you get the reviews and once they find your website, you need to have a way that they can connect with you right away. If you don’t get back to them within 10, 15 seconds, they’re gone. They’re going to your competitor because that attention span is just not there anymore. So, being found online and being able to communicate with your customers is key these days. Once you have them in your door doing business with you, then you have all those other features that Chekkit offers like video chats, payments, and messaging your customers back and forth. It’s an all-in-one tool that’s going to help you from an online standpoint.