FrontlineSMS is an award-winning social enterprise that helps users harness the power of messaging to build better services. They work closely with companies, nonprofits, and governments to leverage messaging to increase the quality, volume, and efficiency of their work.
FrontlineSMS is a cloud & Android-based SMS management and automation software. The software started out as an open source, desktop-based SMS management app 13 years ago and has since evolved into a powerful, flexible and highly configurable cloud-based messaging automation platform backed by a mature rule engine with flexible APIs.
For 13 years, thousands of people, organizations, and companies have used the platform to save money and lives, educate children, lead communities and optimize hospitals.
We got to catch up with the Frontline SMS team, one of the companies based at theiHub, and here is what they had to say...
How did the idea for Frontline SMS come about?
FrontlineSMS was started back in 2005 by mobile technologist and anthropologist, Ken Banks. During his time in sub-Saharan Africa, he saw the wide use of SMS. He recognized that mobile was driving infrastructure yet there were very few organizations that utilized this channel. And so, the idea for FrontlineSMS was born - an SMS platform that was affordable and accessible for everyone across the globe.
Can you briefly explain what you offer and to whom?
We offer mobile messaging automation and management for global enterprises and social good organizations. We’re not just enabling people to send SMS messages anywhere in the world (with or without reliance on the internet) but also helping them understand and build the appropriate data infrastructure needed to support their unique communication goals.
How have you managed to build a successful customer base?
It may sound cheeky, but we credit a lot of our success to saying no.
We’ve been very selective with the clients we choose to work with. We’re not afraid to say when our solution isn’t a good fit or when a client ask isn’t in line with our product roadmap. Being able to say no, has allowed us to stay focused and continuously reinvest our time and resources into building scalable and high-quality products.
What is unique about Frontline SMS?
I’d have to say what makes us unique is who we choose to serve.
If you look around the world, the majority of tech products are targeted towards and built for the wealthy. But because we have chosen to build a product that is accessible and available for the masses, it really forces us to focus on quality and rugged engineering. Quality because we must continuously justify our pricing and rugged engineering because we need to be able to work wherever our users are in the world.
What kind of culture exists in Frontline SMS?
It’s interesting because we have a remote team spread across the globe (Nairobi, New York and Washington, D.C.) so there isn’t a standard “office culture” per se but more of an overarching culture. We all prioritize the growth of the team over the growth of everything else. We’re a group of people who value and emphasize continuous personal development and we support each other along the way.
What’s most exciting about your traction to date?
We’re proud to say we’ve hit a lot of key milestones over the years. We have users in more than 170 countries across the globe, our platform has helped reach tens of millions of individuals, and we’ve won numerous awards including being named the #1 Tech NGO in the world by the Global Journal.
But honestly, I think the biggest milestone we’ve hit is figuring out our product-market fit. Over the past ten years, we’ve tested various markets and are now at the point where can specialize our service offerings. We’re not asking “if” questions anymore, we’re asking “when and how”. And because of that, we’re looking forward to seeing 2-4x company growth in 2019!
If you had the chance to start the business over again, what would you do differently?
In the beginning, we set out to serve as many needs, for free, as possible. While well-intentioned, we couldn’t be all things to all people. Looking back we’ve realized our desire to take on so many different use cases made it hard to build a focused product roadmap, and we ended up spending more time than we’d perhaps liked, developing a scalable product.
All to say, we’ve learned the importance of focus and making strategic investments in your company (in your team and your tech) early on!
What will Frontline SMS look like in five years if things go according to plan?
I think success for us in five years would be enterprise adoption of SMS technology beyond blast. Right now, most SMS client engagement is notifications, but we think there’s a lot more to the channel - it’s the most powerful way to reach people. We’re working on ways to integrate SMS into multi- and omni-channel processes and maximize the value those interactions have. So, success in that market is also to move from lightweight use cases to core operational priorities.
How do you develop talent? How do you help your team grow to the next level and be their best?
We have a saying here, “We don’t need to be your last stop, but you should know why we’re your next step,” and we mean it. Working at Frontline doesn’t need to be your end all, be all. It’s more important to us that the people who come to work here, come out of a desire to learn to grow, so we invest in helping us all get better at the things that are important to us.
During our hiring process, we ask, "Why do you want to be here and what do you want to learn?" And then we continue that conversation throughout the course of one’s employment. Managers spend time nurturing their teams' personal growth and career goals. Whether that’s through encouraging one-off projects (we like to call them “10% days”) or investing in continued education, we see it as our top priority to prepare our employees for their next big adventure!
What do you love about the team?
I love that we’re an entirely unlikely group of people who have come together to chase an idea and solve a problem.
Everyone who comes to work at Frontline comes because they prioritize and value something different from the rest of “tech world”. Whether it’s our views regarding work/life balance, the clients we wish to serve, our or approach to problem-solving, we’re all brought together by our value of that “difference.”
I guess you could say it a slightly different way - the only way to discover how to do something better is to invest in the people and the ideas that are different than how things are normally done. We believe that better begins with different, so we start with the things that make us special and nurture them in the product, the team, and the culture.
To learn more about Frontline SMS, visit their website - www.frontlinesms.com or follow them on twitter@FrontlineSMS.