The Smile Peddlers

A few local creatives have started SmileDials, a web-based service that allows you to send audio greetings to friends and family. More than just the latest in a string of tech startups to call Richmond home, SmileDials hints at the growing market for unique online services

A few local creatives have started SmileDials, a web-based service that allows you to send audio greetings to friends and family. More than just the latest in a string of tech startups to call Richmond home, SmileDials hints at the growing market for unique online services. Below, the guys at SmileDials patiently answer my questions about their new business.

What the heck is SmileDials?

Roger Yelvington: Imagine a greeting card — but as a live phone call — and you’ve got a SmileDial.

David Der: As a service, SmileDials is aimed to be light-hearted and fun. I think that all would define success for the company as putting our service in front of as many people who will find enjoyment in it as we can. My primary role in the project is the development of the software, from what the user sees on our site to having the system report a daily queue of calls that we will be making each day. SmileDials has been one of the most fun software systems that I have had the opportunity to develop. When someone has the chance to use their professional skills without any creative restrictions to work on a project that they are truly passionate about, it’s pretty rare.

Kenny Shultz: Everything that a greeting card is: cute, kind, thoughtful – but now we add creative. It’s a completely new way to send a sweet message to someone important to you.

How are people using it?

Roger: Our most popular greeting is the “Just Because.” People love to send these calls as a random reminder to people in their lives that they’re thinking about them. But birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays are on the top of the list as well.

Kenny: Some of my favorites are the “I love you Mom / Grandma” calls — you can just hear the smile all the way from the other side of the phone.

What was the inspiration for SmileDials?


Kenny: Roger was sent an Awesomeness Reminder by a friend. They sent him a call every day for a month. It was fun at first, but 30 days of the same message gets old. We offer our members the ability to schedule calls whenever they want, to as many people as they choose. 10 SmileDials calls can be sent all to one person, or to 10 different people — it’s up to the customer. We also offer custom personalized messages that our call agents will say during the call. We’ll even sing “Happy Birthday.”

How did SmileDials come together? What are the roles of each guy?

Roger: Collaborative brainstorming from a base idea from each key role. Roger focuses on marketing and the customer experience, Kenny focuses on marketing, operations, and some technical aspects, and Dave is the programming guru. Really the whole team comes together collectively on what SmileDials is and how to get it there to deliver the best experience

David: SmileDials is what I hope will be the first of several projects that I take on with my partners Kenny and Roger. In my professional career, the greatest lesson I’ve learned is to surround yourself with people of talent and people that you respect. Kenny and Roger are two of the most driven and talented gentlemen that I know. It’s been a real pleasure to partner with two very good friends in this way. Through the process, we have also tapped further into our circle of friends.

Franklin, aka “the voice” of SmileDials, we wanted to bring on board strictly so that he could be himself on the phone with our targets. He’s one of the most socially graceful guys that I know and has a strong background in customer service. I think for all of us, he was a clear choice for our operations manager. To strengthen our dot com media presence, we knew that we had to be as visually captivating as we could. Within this vein, we spoke with West Grace Productions about producing some videos to engage our audience. They hit a home run with it, as we expected they would.

That’s cool that you guys knew people who could produce a video for you. Any other supporters to mention?

Kenny: VCU Ram Nation has also recently been a huge supporter of SmileDials. They supported the Smile-For-Charity drive by donating ad-space on their website, which is pretty awesome of them to do because they get as many as 500,000 page views every month.

Tell me about some of the pitfalls / learning experiences you’ve gone through thus far with SmileDials.

Roger: We wanted to have one million customers in the first month, but we missed our mark.

David: Our struggle so far has been defining the service in such a way that it is easy to understand what we are offering. I think now that we have redefined SmileDials as more of a greeting card, we are closer. The original implementation was an anonymous phone call. My brother signed up to schedule calls with a few females with some flirtatious context in his calls. I think that’s a really great way to use it, but it also has the potential to be off-putting for the person we are calling. It’s very difficult to establish trust in a 25-second phone call. We are a small group and have the ability to adapt quickly. If we have new ideas or Franklin gives us some feedback from his experience with our customers, we can turn around changes to the service in just a few days or even hours (depending on how lazy or motivated I’m feeling). We all have full time jobs and try to keep something resembling an active social life, so SmileDials truly has been a side project for us. For me personally, it’s been a lot of fun and I hope that we can get it to catch on for people. It really is fun to use!

How do you see the functionality of SmileDials expanding in the future?

Roger: Adding a 12 month calendar to expand greeting call scheduling, branching out our charity initiatives and streamlining our service even more. Also, employing stay-at-home moms to be our call agents.

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Tess Shebaylo

Tess Shebaylo is a freelance writer, crafter, history geek, and compulsive organizer. She works at Tumblr and lives in Church Hill with her husband, Dan, and their two cats.

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