April 29, 2014

Making each and every customer review count: Chris Campbell of ReviewTrackers

At the debut of coworking space Patchworks (see my photos) in Chicago, I met Chris Campbell, who co-founded ReviewTrackers. In a digital society where everything is increasingly remarkable, this tool piqued my curiosity. Here, Campbell relates more about his customer review-tracking software platform, his team, their toolkit, and what makes Chicago a vital place for digital makers:

On being a product-based business founder:

What is ReviewTrackers?

ReviewTrackers is an online review monitoring and reputation management platform for multi-location businesses. It tracks, analyzes, and facilitates consumer-generated reviews from over forty major review sites (e.g. Yelp). Powered by proprietary data collection technology, the ReviewTrackers platform helps enterprises and multi-location businesses listen to, manage, and respond to what their customers are saying online.

ReviewTrackers sends alerts to users (via E-mail notifications) whenever their business receives a new online review. The platform also includes a really cool reporting dashboard where users have all their online reviews and ratings from multiple review sites collected and centralized. Here, users can view, sort, and analyze all their review data. They can measure customer sentiment across all review sites. They can apply filters and check out advanced analytics and export their data into downloadable reports. They can even create E-mail templates to make the process of requesting customer feedback faster and more streamlined, with the view of generating more positive online reviews.

What sparked the idea for ReviewTrackers?
When I was still working as a marketing and digital strategy consultant, one of my clients came to me with a problem they needed to solve. They were trying to track their online reviews. They realized it was critical to their business, particularly in terms of gathering business intelligence, managing their online reputation, tracking customer feedback, and identifying problems in their different stores nationwide.

After testing and demoing a lot of the solutions that my client and I had researched on the Internet, we realized we needed to build something new: a better mousetrap, if you will. So we developed a prototype, with core features that I knew our business users would need, and this is the foundation of what ReviewTrackers is today.

Are you the sole founder of ReviewTrackers?
I work with co-founder and COO Kevin Kent, who joined the ReviewTrackers team at the start of 2013. Kevin finds revenue and provides financial analysis for our team, and his extensive investment management and accounting experience is extremely crucial to the growth of the company.

How did you connect with your team? And what made—and still makes—your working together work?
I’ve known Kevin before founding ReviewTrackers, and before he joined the team we’d been keeping up on each other’s entrepreneurial exploits. I feel like my background in digital marketing, product development, and tech entrepreneurship is complemented well by working with someone with his skill set, financial expertise, and capability.

What was the first thing you did when you embarked on getting ReviewTrackers real?
When we were developing the prototype, the priority was to build a solid core product that would resonate with our clients and address their review management and reputation monitoring problems. So, to make it real, we had to make the technology real. The features we aimed to provide were the features that clients needed and, more importantly, were willing to pay for. We also conducted interviews, did a lot of tests and demos, and had a beta trial for a select number of clients. Unlike others trying to create social media monitoring tools and dashboards, we were focused on changing the industry by working on our vision of being the default provider of all review data, which our proprietary data collection technology has made us equipped to do.

When did ReviewTrackers officially launch and became available? A tremendous journey since then. What were essential activities/steps taken to start and establish ReviewTrackers? And why were these activities/steps important?
We launched ReviewTrackers in early 2013. After the launch, we worked on ways to scale our sales team, systems, and processes in order to continue to expand and grow our client base. (An example of this was establishing partnerships with online review sites. The partnerships we have right now enable us to secure more efficient and cost-effective ways of collecting review data.) We also took steps to raise capital and gather the resources we need to improve the product, develop new feature enhancements, and acquire new customers.

Who and/or what keep(s) you going to keep ReviewTrackers going?
We have a great team at ReviewTrackers and that’s what keeps me going. It’s always very exciting and rewarding to work with a group of smart, talented, and dedicated people who believe in what we’re trying to do as an organization.

Receiving great feedback from ReviewTrackers clients also keeps me going. We have several competitors in this space and that number continues to increase, but we are lucky enough to have clients who have called or E-mailed us to say that our platform, and the service that comes with it, is so valuable to their business. It doesn’t get any better than that, and their words serve to affirm the work that our team has been doing, and will continue to do.

Who and/or what are your design and/or business-related influences?
I love checking out other SaaS tools and watching how they design landing pages, websites and products.

I’ve had the privilege of seeing your coworking space of Patchworks (above). How would describe the work culture at ReviewTrackers? And why is it important?
We foster a culture that allows team members to innovate every day by working with new methods and ideas; to collect feedback, then iterate to deliver value to customers. The nature of our company makes this necessary: it is innovate or die.

How does your workspace contribute to doing the quality of work you want to do?
Our coworking space at Patchworks reflects the kind of work culture we have at ReviewTrackers. It’s a fun, creative environment that’s designed to inspire the entire team to produce and deliver, and to do so in resourceful ways.

What is the size of your team? Do you have remote team members? And what size of company do you prefer?
Right now, we have thirteen members in our team, with about half in Chicago, and the rest scattered around the world. Our team hasn’t stopped growing: we recently hired awesome account sales reps, and we are currently looking to hire even more interns, sales reps, and an interactive designer.

What is your definition of growth, as it relates to business?
As far as ReviewTrackers is concerned, growth can be measured by traction. With double digit growth every month since we launched, we have a great growth curve that will not be slowing down anytime soon.

How do you get the word out about ReviewTrackers? How do you attract customers?
We focus on inbound marketing to sign up new customers. We make sure that when business owners, marketers and executives can find our products. Then it’s up to us to convince them that no other platform and team matches our relentless focus on the customer.

I like the direct nature of your product-business’ name. When and how did you arrive at this? If there were other iterations of the name, are you willing to share?
I chose the name, because I wanted us to be easy to find. My background is in online marketing, and before I worked on ReviewTrackers, I served as a search consultant for numerous businesses and retail organizations. So very early on, I understood the importance of establishing and improving our visibility in search engines. Also, marketing a B2B platform is, in many ways, very different from marketing a B2C product: sure, it’s cool to drop vowels or be creative with puns or use an exotic domain suffix (“.me”), but if I’m reaching out to business owners who are likely to use ReviewTrackers, it’s important to be able to establish our authority and capabilities from the get-go, i.e. by mere mention of the name of the company.

Design writer Alissa Walker wrote an article called “Women in Industrial Design: Where My Ladies At?” Where are the Ladies in Design/Development/Strategy at?
Funny that you mention this, because I recently interviewed Jamie Wong of Vayable for a story on Tech Cocktail. I do think that women in tech have made great strides, and for me, personally, this ongoing gender-politics conversation in our industry is eventually going to become less and less of an issue, if only because smart, talented tech entrepreneurs like Jamie are already actively establishing and strengthening the presence of women in tech.

As far as ReviewTrackers is concerned, we’re making a commitment to strike that balance and bring more diversity to our team. Our Customer Happiness director, Crystal Shuller, has made major contributions to the success of ReviewTrackers, and every day she brings a fresh perspective on how to improve our product and engage with our clients more effectively.

Was there a part of your work that was particularly trying, and how did you deal with it?
I guess the most trying part, so far, has been raising capital and finding the means to scale the business. But we’re very active in terms of pitching ReviewTrackers to investors, and we have also been fortunate enough to have been selected for programs like Gener8tor, SXSW Interactive Accelerator, and Start-Up Chile. These opportunities help ReviewTrackers gain visibility not only among our target market and customers, but also among members of the press as well as the investor community.

What tools do you use and recommend to work on ideas and make them grow, to collaborate and get things done?
At ReviewTrackers we use a lot of team collaboration and productivity tools like Basecamp, Hootsuite, Google Docs, and Salesforce. Recently, I’ve also turned my attention to tools like Rival IQ (a competitive intelligence tool for tracking competitor activity), Bitesize PR (for crafting media pitches and attracting press attention), and Zapier (for connecting multiple APIs and automating everyday business tasks).

How do you stay creative? What are some of your sources of motivation/inspiration?
I read a lot about what’s going on in the industry, because I think it’s extremely important to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening. Also, with the right information, you develop the ability to come up with unique ideas, and to identify which ideas can be built on in order to solve real-world problems. As far as staying creative is concerned, I’m a firm believer in achieving balance, be it in diet, mind, or focus. Balance has a huge impact on my performance, and it’s something I have stuck to and relied on in order to work as efficiently as possible.

How important is it for you to follow your instincts?
It’s very important for me to follow my instincts. Of course it’s crucial to receive mentorship or advice and get feedback, but at the end of the day, I’m responsible for the decisions I make, for the opportunities I choose to capitalize on. And part of bearing that responsibility is honing and trusting my instincts.

What is your definition of bad design?
Design means different things to different people. As a tech entrepreneur, I think of a well-designed product or service as something that works efficiently and fulfills what it’s intended to do, instead of something that merely has great visual appeal. Design also has to be sustainable, and by that I mean the process, the materials, and the technology needed to deliver the product or service can be maintained at higher rates or levels. So for me bad design is when you’re lacking any or all of these qualities.

If a person approached you and said, “I have this idea for a Web-based product/service, but I don’t know where to begin. Where do I start?”, what’s your response?
I think that when you’re trying to bring your ideas to life, you’ll require a few key components in order to be successful. One is having a clear vision. Do you just want to build something for the sake of it? Or do you see something in your idea that will help solve problems? A second component is focus, the kind of razor-sharp focus needed to realize that vision. And three: you have to have the ability to execute.

What is a must-experience place that must be on everyone’s bucket list?
Travel the world. I am currently working through my bucket list.

How does the city of Chicago contribute to your work? And what makes Chicago special for startups/business/creativity-at-large?
Chicago is a city that has a lot going for it, in terms of having the business climate and infrastructure to attract top creative and entrepreneurial talent. The ecosystem in the Midwest, in general, may not be as sexy or get as much of the share of the spotlight or media buzz as its Silicon Valley or even New York counterparts. But there’s no shortage of experienced people willing to help entrepreneurs, invest their time, share their network, and provide advice.

Some might say that Chicago is still at that nascent stage, but just because the local startups are not making as much noise as the Bay Area does shouldn’t be taken to mean that we don’t have companies that experience explosive growth. And it doesn’t mean that there’s no environment to nurture and foster entrepreneurship. Chicago is actually a major center for corporate IT and B2B tech. Plus, you have places like 1871, for example, which is a great community-based space where a lot of digital startups get their start. Other communities include Built in Chicago, Technori and TechStars.

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All images courtesy of Chris Campbell.

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A shortened version of this interview was previously published at blog of Built In Chicago.

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Typeface of quotation is Univers (1957) designed by Adrian Frutiger.

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Big thanks to Ryan Evans (read my interview)—of Bitesize PR, Source Sleuth, Lift Marketing—for the invite to Patchworks’ launch event.

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Read more from Design Feast Series of Interviews with people who love making things.

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