Today’s businesses are greatly impacted by online reviews and social media interactions. From restaurants to doctor’s offices to auto dealerships to plumbers, every type of business must have an online reputation—customers expect it. Moreover, customers are now researching details about businesses long before they ever step a foot inside (or buy online). Online reviews make it so every single consumer now has an inside person telling them whether or not to buy a product or service. It’s the new word-of-mouth, and everyone is talking.
Enter Podium. Co-founded by Eric Rea and Dennis Steele, the Lehi-based company helps local businesses take control of customer interactions by helping them manage online reviews, messaging, customer sentiment and more. “It’s not enough to hear about a business from your family member—you now want to know what 150 people have to say about it,” says Rea. “That’s what we help businesses do. We help businesses communicate with customers through text messages or Facebook Messenger and we help businesses tell their authentic stories online.”
Rea remembers the day he got the idea for Podium. His dad, who owns a small tire shop in Canada, called him to vent about how online reviews were hurting his business. “It didn’t have a bad online reputation, it just didn’t have a reputation at all—there was no one talking about it, which meant it didn’t look legit,” says Rea.
The wheels immediately started spinning in Rea’s head: could he create a way for small businesses, like his dad’s, to communicate with their customers in today’s modern tech era? “We got the idea that we wanted to help businesses generate an authentic story about their business online. We wanted to help them communicate with their customers.”
Like many successful entrepreneurs before him, Rea saw a big problem and began working to solve it. Armed with little more than an idea and determination, Rea recruited Steele and together they began working to build a solution. They worked nights out of a spare bedroom, perfecting their product. During the day, they hit the pavement, walking door to door, pitching the product to anyone who would listen. It turns out, they weren’t the only people who thought they were onto something.
“We sold to just about everyone we talked to,” says Rea, who credits their door-to-door selling as one of the keys to Podium’s success. “That was the reason we were able to build something great—we were in front of business owners every day, and we were able to figure out what they needed.”
As their product gained momentum, Rea and Steele received funding from Peak Ventures and Kickstart Seed Fund. With cash in hand, they moved above an old bike shop and hired some engineers. “We had about 15 people working for us in this 100-year-old-building,” recalls Rea. “The winters were freezing cold and the summers were so hot. People were so irritated from the heat that we had to cancel meetings. But, we kept at it.”
Podium got another big break when it was one of a few startups selected to participate in the highly competitive Y Combinator, a startup incubator that has helped launch the likes of Airbnb, Reddit and Dropbox. Rea and Steele spent three months in Mountain View, Calif., learning how to take Podium to an even higher level. “It was an amazing experience that taught us so much.”
Today, Podium is growing beyond what Rea ever imagined. The company recently broke ground on a new headquarters and is slated to add 400 new jobs over the next five years. And though still a relatively young company, Podium is making big waves across the online reputation management industry. “We see ourselves tackling every touchpoint along the customer experience with businesses, from scheduling payments, updating referrals to tons of different things that need to be done,” he says. “If we want to boil down what we do into one sentence, it’s trying to power the modern relationship between businesses and customers.”
To entrepreneurs just starting out, Rea has two pieces of advice: “The first is to be hyper, hyper-focused on making sure everything you build is something people actually want. It sounds simple, but it’s true. In the early days, we didn’t worry about making T shirts or speaking or anything that didn’t help us focus on what we were doing,” Rea says. “The second piece of advice is to hire incredible people. People really are the secret sauce to any successful business.”
When Rea thinks of Podium’s future, he’s excited to know the company will have a key role in building lasting relationships between businesses and their customers. “When I think of how local businesses communicate with their customers—it really hasn’t changed in 50 years, since phones were installed. Podium has the opportunity to change that—we are changing that. It’s exciting.”