Cybersecurity / Marketing

How Paloma turned a hobby project into a funded business

Kelsey Hunter and James Ayres think chatbots will be the new email for brands trying to reach customers.

Paloma cofounders Kelsey Hunter and James Ayres. (Photo courtesy of Paloma/Andy Sheffield)

When Kelsey Hunter and her partners set out to make an easier way for concerned people to affect politics, she didn’t anticipate that it would become her next job.

After the election Hunter and a group of friends built CallParty, a chatbot that lives inside Facebook Messenger. When users say hi to the bot it provides them with all the information they need, including phone numbers and even scripts, to call their reps.

“All these things came together and we were like, ‘Oh, we can prompt people through Facebook Messenger. We can hook up to open government data and geocode their district ID,'” Hunter explained in a phone call this week.

Sounds good. But what happened next was unexpected.

Companies and nonprofit organizations began contacting Hunter and her partners asking about using their software. It turns out that their bot was getting engagement rates that were astronomically high when compared to email marketing. For regular email marketing, click-through rates are as low as 3–5 percent. But within Facebook Messenger, CallParty was getting engagement between 30–80 percent.

Audiences want to have a personal connection with brands.

So Hunter teamed up with one of her partners, James Ayres, and they decided to take the same idea from CallParty to build out similar end-to-end marketing software to sell to companies, called Paloma. She’s raised $100,000 from three angel investors led by Nicholas Reville, the cofounder of Fight for the Future. The team is building out a beta version of the software and hopes to launch it in October.

“Basically, what’s happening is audiences want to have a personal connection with brands,” Hunter explained. “That’s how they make their purchase decisions and the things that matter most in having a relationship with brands is having one-on-one contact.”

One-on-one contact is obviously impossible for mega corporations trying to sell products, but chatbots are able to approximate the feeling much better than emailing does. For one, chatbots can listen to consumers, even if the consumer is just telling it to shut up.

“With us you can say, ‘Do you want to know about this? Do you want to book an appointment?’ and if they say no, that’s good data or you can ask them why. And if they say yes, you have a much more qualified lead than you would otherwise,” explained Hunter.

Paloma is a very Brooklyn product. Hunter says she works out of her East Williamsburg apartment and nearby coffee shops and bars. Ayres does the same in Bushwick and their engineer is in Bed-Stuy. She says the group’s favorite spot is Bearcat Cafe, by the Montrose stop.

“It’s one of those coffee and breakfast turns into beer and tacos spots,” she said. “And there’s a gal who works there who’s building her own startup and I like to check in with her.”

Series: Brooklyn

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