Don’t look now, but there’s a new game in town looking to help businesses link in real time with customers via online and mobile. Called Chalkboard, it’s bringing its Southeast Asian experience to the U.S. market, where it aims to bring in more business for small and medium-sized enterprises.
Founded just over a year ago, more than 4,300 businesses already have adopted Chalkboard to share real-time updates and offers sent to people who are near their business locations. CEO Saumil Nanavati, who started his career in wireless at Motorola, says it’s a simple system designed to appeal to business owners and managers who aren’t necessarily keen on using the lingo of the online and mobile ad worlds – they don’t have to become rocket scientists to figure it all out, he says.
Chalkboard is based on the simplest of messages that businesses have used for years: the chalkboard listing daily specials. It sounds ideal for delis and other restaurants, but Nanavati says businesses of all stripes have found it useful, including doctors and art galleries. Businesses can update their messages via Chalkboard as quickly as it takes to erase a chalk board and write a new message.
The B2B system looks similar to an ad network but it’s more like a content network, he says. In summary, here’s how it works. The business creates an offer or update on what they want to tell customers. They send an update to Chalkboard via SMS, Twitter or the Chalkboard Dashboard. It takes less than a minute to send updates and they show up immediately to people nearby.
Businesses’ information is displayed on mobile applications and websites within the Chalkboard network. Chalkboard says it also can automatically update feeds to existing social networks like Facebook and Twitter. “We do think privacy is important and what we try to create is an entire social element,” Nanavati says. “We want to basically interconnect between the small business and consumers themselves.”
It doesn’t require businesses to offer steep discounts to get customers into their establishments, he says. It’s also less expensive than a lot of other marketing options out there. Chalkboard costs less than $1 per day with an annual subscription of $360.
The company is working with an unnamed handset manufacturer to get Chalkboard installed on phones and tied to the navigation system.
Nanavati says it’s growing four times faster than Foursquare, which has been around longer. Chalkboard was founded in February 2010 and currently reaches more than 4.8 million active monthly uses through third-party applications and websites.
Chalkboard, with offices in San Francisco, is in the midst of raising a Series A round of funding. Existing investors include Neoteny Labs, whose investment advisors include Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn. Neoteny Labs is managed by Joi Ito, who is director of MIT Media Labs and a board member for Chalkboard. Ito previously invested in companies like Flickr and Twitter.