SuperPhone is building a Salesforce for texting

The address book is the last, worst default app you rely on. It’s time it got as smart as the rest of our phones. That’s the idea behind SuperPhone.

Email isn’t how you build relationships anymore. Yet most business software sanctifies the spammy inbox when it’s the immediacy of text messaging that keeps people in touch today. Musician Ryan Leslie learned that when he earned $2 million by building a custom text management product to track, talk to and transact with his fans. Now he’s turning SuperPhone into a full-fledged CRM for SMS with a new app and round of funding.

Designed for entrepreneurs, entertainers and anyone juggling clients or sales contacts, SuperPhone tells you who you’re forgetting to connect with. Its Never Lose Touch feature can automatically ping lapsed contacts to keep the conversation and collaboration alive. You can monitor how your address book is growing, and sort people by location, title or how much they’ve spent with you. Next it’s adding analytics to show who messages who more and other communication health signals.

“SuperPhone is the first foray into personal relationship management,” says co-founder and CEO Ryan Leslie.

The Grammy-nominated R&B singer and producer made 2006’s top-five hit “M & U” for pop star Cassie, plus has created tracks for Usher and Britney Spears. But then he taught himself to program on Codecademy, realizing that the imploding record industry would turn being a successful celebrity into a game of who had the best tools for connecting with fans.

The result was SuperPhone — and Leslie giving all his listeners his phone number. The app let him see who had spent the most on his music and merch, and speak with them directly to keep them loyal. While other artists were counting their meager streaming royalty pennies, Leslie was finding out who would pay $1,700 for tickets to a private New Year’s Eve concert. SuperPhone turned his modest fame into massive revenue.

Hip-hop super fan and VC super star Ben Horowitz joined Leslie’s $1.5 million seed round alongside Betaworks and a slew of angels. Atlantic Records became SuperPhone’s top enterprise client, managing half a million conversations with fans of its artists, from Cardi B to Matchbox 20. Now the company has 22 employees and grander visions than equipping musicians.

The original product was centered around driving and tabulating purchases. The new SuperPhone (now available on iOS and coming to Android soon) focuses on the most common address book problem: connecting with someone important then drifting apart. Whether they’re buried by additional contacts, lost due to forgetfulness, or things just get weird because so much time has passed, accidental disconnection erodes the networks professionals try hard to build.

With SuperPhone’s patent-pending Never Lose Touch, you choose a time interval and create several custom reconnection messages. Anyone you haven’t talked to during that time receives one of the notes. That could be something simple and organic-seeming like “Sorry I disappeared. What have you been up to?” or more specific like “Hey, it’s Josh Constine. You have 10 minutes this week so I can get your thoughts on some tech trends and hear what you’re working on?”

SuperPhone costs about $0.10 per active conversation per month, so $20 for 200 or $100 for 1,000, that also comes with a Shopify e-commerce integration. That could be workable for small-business owners and professionals communicating with clients that make them significant revenue each. But at $1.20 per contact per year, SuperPhone might be too expensive for influencers or artists trying to stay in touch with a big audience. It will have to compete with other mass-texting tools and CRM systems that have expanded into mobile, including Hustle, Zipwhip, Teckst and Zingle.

New investors are betting on the idea of a Salesforce for the instant messaging era, putting another $2.5 million into SuperPhone to bring it to $4.7 million in total funding. Runway Venture Partners’ Marc Michel led the round, with participation from FYRFLY Venture Partners, Yard Ventures and Transmedia Capital. SuperPhone’s progress signing up customers hasn’t been stellar, though, so the raise is considered a “seed prime” round with only a slightly higher valuation than the 2016 seed.

The cash will go toward building out an API for connecting with traditional CRM software and the business texting tools mentioned above. That could bridge the gap between its pro-sumer product and true enterprise sales. The company has also struck a deal with a top phone manufacturer to develop its conversation health analytics. That could give teens a free or subsidized way to access SuperPhone’s forthcoming conversation metrics. “When we sat down with young people and said ‘would you like to know who messages who more in a relationship?,’ we’ve been met with overwhelmingly positive results,” says Leslie.

The risk of the product is that some users or their contacts might find it inauthentic or disingenuous to send pre-scripted reengagement messages. If it gets you legitimately talking, maybe that’s OK. And some people accept that it’s just business and it’s tough to keep up with everyone. I suggested SuperPhone send you a list of people with whom you’ve lapsed you might want to ping directly. Leslie says tests showed people just dismissed those reminders, so sending messages on users’ behalf worked better, but he’s still open to a less aggressive implementation.

Between all our notifications, emails, and message threads, there’s just too much for people to balance in their heads. We’re battling to break past Dunbar’s Number, a theory that says you can only maintain relationships with about 150 people at a time. Technology obviously should extend our potential for connectivity, but designing it to feel natural rather than an arduous chore is the real challenge.

The address book is one of the last manufacturer-made default apps we still depend on, yet the experience is reliably awful. Beyond searchability, it’s no smarter than pen and paper. Whether it’s reminding you to call mom, butter up that sales prospect, or coax a hiring candidate to leave their job, SuperPhone could become what our phones should have always been.

[Image Credit: Bard Kendall Foster]