The Center for Data Innovation spoke with Roddy Lindsay, chief executive officer of Hustle, a peer-to-peer texting platform based in San Francisco. Lindsay discussed the benefits of text-messaging for advocacy, and how texting generates valuable data that other outreach methods do not.
This interview has been lightly edited.
Joshua New: Hustle is a peer-to-peer texting platform for advocacy campaigns such as political campaigns or nonprofit fundraising. Text-messaging isn’t a new concept in this space—what makes Hustle different?
Roddy Lindsay: Text messaging has been the go-to choice of communication between friends and family for several years. This is actually what inspired my idea for Hustle: as a volunteer at FWD.us, I started text messaging our members from my personal cell phone in an effort to more quickly build relationships with them by starting to engage them in back-and-forth conversations.
We built Hustle to be a platform that empowers organizations to have these one-to-one text conversations with their members and consumers, but extremely rapidly and on a huge scale. What we do is called peer-to-peer texting; it’s not broadcast messaging or “blast” texting.
Organizations upload their own contacts into Hustle, create campaigns—to invite people to events, fundraise, and so on—and then use suggested scripts to start personal conversations with each contact. Hustle is integrated with customer relationship management services like Salesforce and NGP VAN, so responses can be immediately synced back to the system of record. Hustle client success managers work closely with each client to provide guidance and best practices for how to keep conversations focused on relationship building, rather than spamming out a bunch of information.
New: What kind of useful data does texting generate that more traditional approaches like door-to-door canvassing or calling do not?
Lindsay: Peer-to-peer text messaging (P2P texting) enables organizations to reach more people in a shorter amount of time, sees greater response rates, and incites real-world action, whether it’s closing a sale, increasing event attendance, or getting constituents to call their representatives.
We recently worked with Temple University to sell tickets to an upcoming homecoming football game. They were able to reach 15 times more people per rep per hour, and ended up selling 8 times more tickets via Hustle than phone. Compared to door-to-door canvassing, Hustle reaches 129 times more people per hour.
But the really cool thing is that, in addition to the clear and measurable quantitative return on investment, there’s an enormous amount of incredibly valuable qualitative data generated through these texting conversations that enable our customers to truly listen to their contacts. Seeing these conversation threads live in Hustle’s dashboards really helps to humanize these contacts—they aren’t just IDs and phone numbers in a database, they are real people having conversations and expressing themselves in their own words.
New: How successful is your approach compared to these traditional methods?
Lindsay: Temple University is just one of the many organizations that have increased sales using Hustle. One of LiveNation’s sales teams, focused on selling premium seating to high net worth individuals and corporations, used Hustle to re-engage previous customers who had been ignoring their phone calls and emails. Within 30 days, they could directly attribute Hustle to 10 times more pipeline generated than by phone, $1.1 million in total opportunity value, and $48,000 of revenue from new customers.
In the political sphere, Hustle facilitated outreach for the Doug Jones for Senate campaign in Alabama and organizations working hard to get out the vote in that historic special election, including the Alabama Democratic Party, Vote.org, Human Rights Campaign, NAACP, and many others. Over 2.5 million messages were sent back-and-forth through our platform during that election, 1.4 million by the Doug Jones campaign alone. Together, these organizations used Hustle to personally engage over 708,000 Alabamians. In a race that was won by just 22,000 votes, it really made a difference.
New: Has this data revealed anything interesting about the different dynamics of how a political campaign might use texting compared to a university or labor union?
Lindsay: Different clients use Hustle for different goals, but the foundation is always the same: strengthen the relationships they are building with their members or consumers through personal, back-and-forth conversations. In a recent survey we learned that nearly 50 percent of our political clients were using Hustle for ongoing relationship building. This suggests candidates aren’t just using Hustle for getting out the vote, but actually leveraging these conversations to build long-term relationships and a strong foundation of supporters.
Universities have used Hustle for many different purposes: selling sports tickets to fans in the broader community, increasing donations from alumni, and engaging prospective students. Michelle Obama’s Better Make Room initiative used Hustle to expand their UpNext program, which connects high school seniors and current college students with peer counselors and college coaches across the nation via one-to-one text messaging. In just a week, they provided support to 28,260 incoming and current college students across the nation. And because they are reaching students in the medium that they prefer—their phones—they saw engagement rates as high as 30 percent.
Enterprise companies are beginning to recognize Hustle’s value as the new frontier in direct-to-consumer marketing. Let’s be honest: all of us are flooded with email. None of us want to pick up calls from numbers we don’t recognize. But Hustle isn’t about moving a marketing email from your inbox to your cell phone. It is giving these companies an opportunity to engage consumers in a personal, ongoing two-way conversation instead of a one-way marketing blast. It’s about talking with customers, not at them.
New: The value of data in political campaigns and advocacy is now widely recognized, but I imagine most people aren’t very aware of just how it’s used. How does Hustle use data in ways that might surprise people?
Lindsay: We use data science to look for macro trends to learn about how the platform is working best and how we can improve it for everybody: how our clients can use our platform more effectively, and how to improve the experience for the contacts who are being communicated with through the platform. Data helps to inform the best practices and guidance we provide to clients so they can make the most effective use of our tool. And client success managers give each client personal attention and helpful tips, as well as give general guidance on our blog.
For example, if an agent can cut response time from one hour to five minutes, their contacts will increase their own response rate by 80 percent. Text messaging is different from email in key ways, like the back-and-forth nature of texting conversation. The more responsive that agents can be in real time, the more engaged the recipient will be and have a longer, more productive conversation. Based on this data, we’ve actually engineered Hustle to optimize for these real-time conversations by placing these responses front and center in agents’ workflows when they come in, and making sure that someone else can quickly take over if an agent is unresponsive. Data-driven features like this make Hustle demonstrably more valuable than a “texting inbox,” which is what most of our competitors offer.
We also just shipped our brand new performance dashboard which helps our clients see trends in response rates, action rates, opt-out rates, and many other stats, and lets them drill down on specific groups, regions, and time windows. We’re really excited about the insights that our clients can start draw from their data in Hustle!