In the world of Yelp reviews and receipts decorated with online survey links, Fresno tech startup Benchmark Intelligence has found another answer for businesses yearning to learn what their customers think: texting.
Benchmark’s founders hope their technology will revolutionize the way restaurants and other businesses gather information on customer satisfaction. CEO and co-founder Eric Santos said the team has spent more than a year and a half building the idea, developing a product and gaining customers.
Now they are expected to hit a growth spurt with the help of $500,000 from a local venture capital firm, San Joaquin Capital.
The funding comes at an integral time for Benchmark – the six-person startup already has a dozen businesses using its services, but expects to increase its staff and look for other opportunities to expand.
“It’s cool to tell my mom that we’re working with Me-N-Ed’s and have her actually know what that is,” Santos said. “But it’d be even cooler to tell my grandma in Manhattan that I’m working with a restaurant that she’s been to there.”
“At least, it would be if I had a grandma in Manhattan,” he laughed.
I want Benchmark to become a titan in the industry.
Eric Santos, CEO and co-founder of Benchmark Intelligence
So far, Benchmark’s clients range from mom-and-pop local restaurants such as The Lime Lite to chains like Me-N-Ed’s Pizza and Slapfish. Its services have also been adopted by other types of businesses, including Xcelerate Fitness gyms.
The system works by assigning phone numbers unique to each location, which allows patrons to text comments and reviews quickly, easily and privately. The messages are then available for the company to use internally.
This way, restaurant owners can track how customers feel at different locations in a format the customers are comfortable using.
“Restaurants are getting more data from text messages than they are from surveys or review sites combined,” Santos said. “Texting is something we do every day, and users are more likely to send in feedback when it’s private and so easy.”
Deli Delicious, a sandwich restaurant that began as a family-owned chain in Fresno, recently began using Benchmark’s platform in its restaurants. Since it started offering franchise opportunities, Deli Delicious has grown to have 39 operational stores, and expects to have 60 by the end of the year.
“You want people to come in and get the same sandwich, the same service, the same things that make us Deli D,” franchise developer Nathan Gilbert said. “The ability for people to report back to us with feedback is great, and beyond that, this provides a tool where we could just jump on a tablet and have that data.”
Gilbert said that although Deli D’s work with Benchmark is relatively new, the company is looking forward to seeing how customer satisfaction can be monitored and improved using the data gathered.
We have a lot of respect for the people at Benchmark and the software they’ve developed.
Nathan Gilbert, Deli Delicious Franchise Development
The startup also monitors social media for its clients and provides internal management a way to conduct field surveys on a phone or tablet.
Co-founder and chief technology officer Ken Kootz described himself and a third co-founder, Brandon Reid, as the “hipster-hackers” of the trio, while Santos was the “hustler.” He said it has been rewarding to decipher and watch their vision focus into what it has become today.
“The funding represents, to me, that we’ve created a product that people like to use,” said Reid, the chief product officer. “It’s validation.”
The startup has an office in Bitwise Industries’ downtown tech space and credits the tech community there as a valuable support system. Bitwise is a hub of tech resources and opportunities in Fresno, and CEO and co-founder Jake Soberal saw Benchmark’s funding as a sign of growth.
“They really have honed in a product that serves a niche market, but its a really big niche market,” Soberal said. “It’s been a long time coming – we have every resource for a technology company to be successful here.”
This sentiment was backed up by the fact that San Joaquin Capital, the venture capital firm funding Benchmark, was also a local company started by entrepreneurs interested in supporting the tech industry here.
“At a community level, it’s really thrilling to see folks who have been successful in other areas say, ‘How can we empower tech folks to do the same?’ ” Soberal said.