Chalkboard Launches Real-Time Promotions in U.S.

The appeal of real-time promotions allowing SMBs to add or update a sale or special offer on the fly is fairly apparent. It is a segment that’s been chased after by such players as Google, Yext and others.

Add Chalkboard to the list. The year-old, 12-person start-up launched with operations in Singapore and Malaysia, where it has 4,300 customers: mostly local retailers, shopping malls and credit card companies. It recently launched a beta in the U.S., setting up shop in San Francisco. It claims 7.8 million total users.

Business owners can run unlimited promotions sent in via the Web-based dashboard, Twitter or SMS for a flat fee, which starts at 99 cents per day. Services are also being embedded in apps, including Friendly for the iPad, a popular Facebook app.

The average business can make up to 11 changes a month (although we know from experience that most won’t make more than a few, at least initially). Mobile is a special emphasis, as consumers can be targeted to within one mile, or one kilometer, of their location — a feature that retailers have already gotten to know via JiWire’s NearByNow. The site enables promotions to run from 140 to 300 characters, letting businesses say substantially more than they can on Twitter, which is limited to 140 characters.

CEO and cofounder Saumil Nanavati tells us that the company is based on the idea that businesses “don’t need graphic designers,” they just need to focus on their promotional message. He says the company has learned there are interesting divides between users who come in via the Web and users coming in via mobile. The Web currently accounts for 60 percent of its traffic.

Categories such as restaurants get much more traffic from the Web-based dashboard, says Nanavati — a finding that surprised us, as the mobile-oriented Instant Deals sites, such as Groupon Now, are especially focused on restaurants for mobile. What does better on mobile are things to do when people are walking around, such as art galleries, he says.

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