We interviewed the co-founder to find out about smoope. “We believe that the future of customer service is mobile“, says Eleftherios Hatziioannou (Lefti), co-founder of smoope. The smooth operator – short version smoope – will give businesses a way to stay in touch with their customers via mobile.
Who are you and what is your startup all about?
Hi, my name is Eleftherios Hatziioannou. Most people know me as Lefti though. I am the co-founder of smoope – an instant messenger for customer service. We connect business with their customers in real-time. We believe that the future of customer service is mobile. We launched the app in Germany first mid-October.
How did you come up with the idea and why did you decide to make a business out of it?
Halil, my co-founder, called me up and told me about his frustrations as a retail business owner. He complained about how hard it is to stay in touch with his customers once they left his store. He was looking for a way to stay in touch with his customers and to extend great customer service beyond the POS (point of sale).
What does smoope stand for?
smoope stands for “smooth operator” – one night while brainstorming for names for the business I happened to listen to Sadé. One of her songs has the title “smooth operator”, and it made click – this is it! We both loved the new word creation because it’s sticky (“smoope it!”) and it also says a lot about what we’re up to. Our mission is to enable “smooth” customer service experiences by providing the tools the “operators” need. We make great customer service easy.
What are the core beliefs and values of your company?
That’s a great question that should be asked more often in an early stage company. It’s so important to know the reason why you’re in business and what you actually stand for. In this regard, everybody should check out Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle and his book “Start with Why”. He said: People don’t buy what you do, people buy why you do it. In our case, it’s about solving a huge problem. Just think about your own customer’s service experiences in the past months. How often did you talk to a voice computer? How long did you desperately hold the line only to speak to a clue-less call centre agent? smoope wants to solve this problem by providing tools which help business owners to give excellent customer service to the mobile consumer. We believe that customer service is the no 1 USP in any market and industry.
Who are your biggest competitors?
There is no competition – if you ask me. We’re are building something completely new. Think of smoope as a new and additional customer service channel. We call it “Service To Go”. Customer service 1.0 was about call centres, 2.0 was about email/social media and other internet-based channels. 3.0 is about the mobile consumer and his smartphone/tablet. Of course, there are partially similarities to other concepts, e.g. live chat support on websites or customer service via social media (Facebook, Twitter), but you cannot really compare them to us. We’re bridging mobile and local in real-time – something nobody has done so far the way we do it.
Where will smoope stand three years from now?
smoope will become a synonym for great customer service. Let’s “smoope it” will be used like “google it” today. We will be the new standard of customer service being more than just a mobile app provider. Businesses using smoope will beat the market regarding customer satisfaction and respectively revenues. Our solutions will be used by millions of consumers who look for answers to their problems and thousands of businesses who understand the importance of great customer service.
How do you drive adoption and growth for your product/service?
Right from the beginning, we embarked on a customer development journey. We’ve built a basic prototype fast to validate our key assumptions and then we started adding companies who could use our service for free. We observed them and asked a lot of (stupid) questions. We’ve learned a lot through this and considered the real market feedback in the next releases. Now, with all the input we’ve received based on our Android-based prototype we’re rolling smoope out onto iOS. This saved us a lot of time, money and hassle. In terms of growth we’ve entered a strategic sales partnerships within the niche industry, we want to serve first.
One thing every entrepreneur must know?
It’s a people business! The most important decisions you have to make as an entrepreneur have to do with people. You better choose your co-founder wisely, hire the best team players, pick the right investors/partners. You should take your time and use your network to make the right decisions. Don’t look for great people only when you have to offer a job or need something. Always build long-term relationships with talented people and partners. Help them become great and achieve their goals first. If you look at the most successful businesses in the world – they are all driven by some amazing individuals who managed to gather the best teams around them.
Which other success stories of startups inspire you?
Any idea turned into a business inspires me. Many people have ideas, but they are worth nothing if they don’t become alive. I love to see how people go from an idea in their head or on a napkin to a prototype and eventually a business model. It takes a lot of passion, discipline and determination to keep going – especially in the early days. Just dig a little bit deeper into the stories of successful entrepreneurs, and you will find a lot of sweat and tears.
The most amazing stories in the past years for me are Dropbox which started with a very simple tutorial video which showed the benefits of cloud-based data storage, Airbnb which was built on a simple blog which offered affordable accommodation in cities where big events happened. Last, but not least I am impressed by Mark Zuckerberg who built the world’s biggest social network, resisted an offer of USD 1B at such a young age. Nobody could stop him in the pursuit of his vision of a more open and connected world.
What’s the next step for smoope?
We’re very happy with the progress we’ve made in the past few weeks/months. I mean it took us about nine weeks from idea to prototype and another three weeks until we incorporated our baby. Our main focus at the moment is to gather a great team (we’re hiring!), successfully launch our product publicly and simply have fun and kick ass year.
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Editor’s note: Smoope still appears to be going but no active news on them since 2014. (1 April 2017)