Screen Shot 2014-08-12 at 2.01.39 PMEver emailed an e-tailer about an order, only to have it ignored? Or figured out you can’t use that retailer’s live chat function via your wireless device?

That’s not a good thing for either party, say Taylor Trusty, CEO of Blackstone Media, and Pat Yates, CEO of Happy Feet, the Louisville-based e-commerce company that sells those big fluffy slippers.

So Trusty and Yates have collaborated for the last year to create ChatBlend, a texting technology that allows consumers to chat via wireless devices in real time with companies.

“Pat and I have known each other for years, and of course he’s been on Shark Tank. He runs an e-commerce company that doesn’t require a lot of his time,” Trusty says. “So we’d been looking for a way to do some business together.”

Trusty calls Yates “the perfect match” because of his 20 years of e-commerce experience.

The result is ChatBlend, which shows live chats from any platform along with phone text message chats in one interface. “That’s really what sets us apart from the competition,” Trusty says. “They blend into one interface.”

Happy Feet's Pat Yates on Shark Tank.
Happy Feet’s Pat Yates on Shark Tank.

Yates and Trusty say wireless devices including phones are rapidly replacing desktop computers and laptops as the platform of choice for online shoppers. More and more, phones and tablets rule from initial orders to resolving transaction issues. But smart phone and tablet users used to have to email questions and wait for replies.

In the age of instant engagement, if a consumer texts, but doesn’t receive an answer, “they’re gone,” Trusty says.

Taylor Trusty
Taylor Trusty

“Everyone has live chat (on their websites)” Yates says. “What we wanted to do was give people the opportunity to use their mobile phones and text us. People could use desktops and laptops, but not wireless. The thing about this is, it’s never been done.”

Blackstone created  ChatBlend to work with Happy Feet’s live chat function on its website so that it launches the customer’s SMS application and they can “talk” live to a Happy Feet operator.

The initial product was called “Hound,” and was built for Yellow Cab in 2011, Trusty says.

Trusty and Yates started building ChatBlend for e-commerce users last year. At the end of 2013, they realized just the chatting function is a product all by itself.

Then, they created the overall company, StarkNine, which becomes the overall brand for the various products that come out of the Blackstone/Happy Feet collaboration.

In June, the Louisville-based Yearling Fund invested in the technology, they say, declining to reveal the amount of that investment. Yearling Fund partners did not return calls for comment.

Yates and Trusty plan to monetize ChatBlend by charging e-tailers and other potential clients by how many operators use the service. Prices start at $79 per month for one operator, and rise to $299 per month for 12 operators, with a custom plan for companies that need to go big.

Obviously, ideal ChatBlend clients would be the mega e-commerce companies such as  Amazon. But Yates says the “low-hanging fruit” for ChatBlend is shopping cart integration with e-tailers who don’t even have live chat and need to better communicate with customers.

He sees taking a list of 13,000 big commerce customers and narrow that down to 1,500 that don’t have live chat at all, then show them they can’t live without ChatBlend. “That’s who I want to get to first. That’s the vision I have. Not that we would turn down Cafe Press.”

With HIPAA compliance, doctors’ practices and other health care providers could use ChatBlend for booking or changing appointments. “We found B2B as good an opportunity as B2C,” Yates says.

Trusty noted ChatBlend is part of a mini-tech boom in Louisville, joining efforts by QSR Technologies, which is moving into consumer dining reservation apps, and Red e App, which creates closed, secure messaging networks for health care companies and large corporations, to harness the potential of wireless communications.

Trust and Yates say wireless is the future because of mass adoption because it works. By giving consumers the ability to instant chat with operators via smart phones, Happy Feet increased its sales conversion rate 76 percent, Yates says.

Happy Feet, he adds, runs four-to-one text messages to web chat.

“People can’t believe that. People think the only way e-commerce customers communicate is by the web,” Yates says.

“But the reality is, mobile is going to become the standard.”

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Terry Boyd
Terry Boyd has seven years experience as a business/finance journalist, and eight years a military reporter with European Stars and Stripes. As a banking and finance reporter at Business First, Boyd dealt directly with the most influential executives and financiers in Louisville.