TxtRoo Launches A Yelp For The Feature Phone Market

TxtRoo, a company that was invented and coded into existence from the Stanford StartupBus headed to SXSW in Austin, Texas last week, can best be described as a Yelp for the feature phone market. Like Yelp, which delivers user reviews and other local business information to both web and smartphone users, TxtRoo aims to do the same using SMS text messages.

What’s most interesting about TxtRoo, however, is how quickly it was able to sign up customers. The team had commitments from half a dozen local businesses before the prototype was even finished – about 6 hours into its development.

The company was one of the many teams on this year’s StartupBus event, a 72-hour hackathon that challenges entrepreneurs to design, build and pitch a business idea while traveling from their hometowns to SXSW in Austin, Texas. (Note: TechCrunch TV was covering StartupBus from the road. More here.) Although the company didn’t make the final cut in terms of finalists, there’s still an interesting idea here, and one worth watching.

According to TxtRoo co-founder Jesse Clayburgh, who built the company alongside Jesus Salas, Song Zheng, and Dan Tran (update: Dan is no longer involved), the team boarded the StartupBus on Stanford’s campus around 7 AM on Tuesday morning, and had split up into two teams by 1 PM that day. By 3 PM, they decided to focus on doing something for the non-smartphone market, and specifically, decided to target the Latino market in the U.S.

Before the service was even off the ground, the team started calling around to business in Latino neighborhoods, including restaurants, grocery stores, and clothing shops, starting first with a restaurant owner they knew in Berkley, CA and then were referred to others. The response, Clayburgh tells us, was very positive.

“The majority of Latino businesses we pitched to were so excited about our offering that then and there they decided to partner with us,” he says. “Three hours in to actually working on TxtRoo we had six solid commitments.”

The team also used the exploratory phone calls to listen to what the business owners said they needed, Clayburgh said, and then built accordingly.

Here’s how TxtRoo works:

Business owners register a free TxtRoo-provided phone number on the website at www.txtroo.com and then print out signs with their unique number to place in their store’s window. Customers walking by will then see the sign, which includes a message to text the the number for the three latest customer reviews and rankings as well as the current specials, if available. The service, built on top of Twilio, works with any mobile phone, unlike many other business review offerings, which are only available as websites and mobile apps.

After their visit to the business in question, customers can text the same number again in order to leave their own review. Since the reviews are tied to the same mobile number, customers cannot spam the service will multiple reviews, Clayburgh explains.

A few of TxtRoo’s first customers include Club Monteros, a live salsa dance bar in Easy Bay, and a couple of restaurants in Berkley, CA. For now, the service is free, while the product is being developed. More info and business sign up is available here.

Update: Jesse tells us they now have 10 customers as of today.