Assistly.com was founded in 2009 to create a better customer service app for small businesses. The idea was to create a single interface that allowed business to respond to customer support requests across all channels -- especially social media channels. Those support requests were stored in a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) backend, which then allowed Assistly to provide its clients with data and metrics on case volume, response time, channels and segmentation, and customer service performance.
Despite strong technology and $5.7 million in venture funding, visitors to the Assistly.com domain today encounter a simple “Page not Found” error. This article explores the rise -- and eventual acquisition -- of Assistly.
The Early Days
In a Feb 2011 interview, Alex Bard, Assistly’s CEO talked about the company’s beginnings.
3 of the 4 founders had been good friends since junior high school. Prior to Assistly they had built and sold 3 companies together (two of which were also in the customer support space):
- eAssist Global Solutions: integrated all of the (pre-social-media) channels that customers used to contact businesses: phone, IVR (Interactive Voice Response -- “press 1 for sales, press 2 for customer support”), self-service ticketing systems, chat and email. They sold eAssist in 2004.
- eShare Technologies, which focused on providing chat and email for customer support. They sold eShare in 1999.
- Goowy, which was a widget analytics distribution company, acquired by AOL in 2009.
After the sale of Goowy, when they talked about what to do next as a team they were excited about social media. Social media gave customers control over when and where the dialog with a company happens. If you have a great experience -- or a terrible experience -- you can immediately share it with your 50,000 closest friends. They started Assistly in October of 2009 and launched an alpha version in January / February of 2010. (source),
“If you have a great experience -- or a terrible experience -- you can immediately share it with your 50,000 closest friends.
The company starts growing...
They started by integrating Twitter into Assistly. In April of 2010, they closed a $1.7 million Series A round of funding. In January of 2011, they closed a $4 million Series B round of funding, including funding from cloud CRM giant Salesforce. By early 2011 their most frequent feature request was to integrate Facebook, which they announced later that year.
When asked what differentiated Assistly from its competitors, Bard listed three features:
Happy Agents = Happy Customers. They invested heavily in improving workflows and reducing the number of clicks it took agents to complete a task.
Instant turn-around on their own customer support requests.
Transparent and flexible pricing
The Salesforce Purchase
In September of 2011, Salesforce purchased Assistly for $80 million.
At the end of January 2012, Assistly rebranded as Desk.com and released a set of new features, including a new mobile support app, a new website to track the product’s uptime, and new reporting features. Bard noted that Desk.com rebuilt their platform on HTML5, although it was still based on the processes and workflows from Assistly.
The Assistly API
By September 2010, Assistly realized the importance of publishing an API (Application Programmer Interface). Their API essentially gave programmers access to the data stored by Assistly so that they could provide deeper integration between their internal applications and Assistly’s cloud-based CRM database. The API also allowed users to update customer information on Assistly and create new interactions.
If you’re still not clear on why an API would be useful, let’s imagine that you ran an e-commerce company. Each time a new customer made a purchase on your website, you could use the API to create a new record for that customer on Assistly. Then, if that customer sent an email (or potentially Tweeted) about their purchase, your customer support agent using Assistly could retrieve the details of the purchase.
For the technically-inclined, Assistly offered a RESTful API with OAuth authentication. Desk.com continues to offer an API today. September of 2011, Salesforce purchased Assistly for $80 million.
How big did it get?
Although Assistly.com existed for only two years, its website and software capabilities greatly expanded during its short life. By the time Salesforce acquired the company, Assistly had provided services to over 25 major companies including Fitbit, DirecTV, Vimeo, Grooveshark, Bonobos, Disqus and Squarespace, and thousands of smaller companies.
What other applications or websites provide similar services?
Today, there are a number of companies that offer systematized customer service software in addition to Desk.com. Below is a short list of some of the most popular websites.
Freshdesk: Freshdesk provides customer service software that consolidates customer inquiries from email, social media, and phone all in one place. According to the company, they offer smart automation and packages that range from $0 to $89 per agent.
TeamSupport: TeamSupport offers customer service software for B2B companies with external customer service. According to the company, it’s customizable and scalable. TeamSupport’s enterprise plans start at $75/agent per month, and its support desk plans start at $60/agent per month.
Zendesk: Zendesk is a customer service software company that is used by over 200,000 companies including Uber, Airbnb, and Disney. It’s headquartered in San Francisco, California and has plans starting at $5/agent per month.
Zoho Desk: Zoho Desk claims to have the first context-aware customer service software. It offers a 15-day free trial and three packages that start at $0/per month for three agents, a professional plan that’s $12/per month per agent and an enterprise plan that’s $25/per month per agent.