Houston-based alive5 has over 800 customers using their chatbox services — and has found a special niche in sports team's websites. Photo via alive5.com

It seems like every other webpage nowadays has a virtual assistant that pops up via a chat box. A Houston startups is hoping to ride the wave of this digital marketing initiative.

Houston-based alive5 has created a platform that allows small-to-medium-sized businesses to engage customers using Chatbot Technology, from their websites, apps, SMS text-message, and social media pages.

"What we do at alive5 is really simple," says Glenn Gutierrez, COO and co-founder of alive5. "We help your business make more conversations."

Gutierrez and his co-founder Dustin Yu started out in 2017 as Alive Chat System and they were one of the first chat systems in Texas.

"Our chat system was kind of a common system that you might see on a website that says, 'Hey, how can I help you today?" says Gutierrez. "And when you press that button, somebody on the other end sends a message and says, 'Hey, how are you doing today? How can I help you?"

After exploring how to take the company, which was initially a lifestyle product, to scale, they added new products and found new ways for their clients to have more conversations with their customers.

"We had to create as many channels as possible outside of web chat," says Gutierrez. "We talked about the live chat system, moving into SMS text message, moving into social media and interestingly enough, we started moving into business cards with QR codes where people can actually scan a QR code or text a phone number and we can automatically build a relationship with a customer at an event, in person or from a billboard.

"And that activates pretty much all the rest of the system for businesses to be able to engage a customer. So we think about ourselves as the best way to help you create more conversations, not just on your website, but pretty much anywhere you would engage a customer."

The platform enjoyed a meteoric rise in the chat space due to its participation in Capital Factory's accelerator program. From there, they were placed in another accelerator program in Philadelphia, the Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs Accelerator, powered by Techstars.

"Because of the boost from the accelerator programs, we developed relationships with a lot of great organizations," says Gutierrez. "Today, we service over 800 customers, including 200 of the top college sports teams and pro teams like the NBA, NFL and NHL."

The platform's collaboration helps teams sell more tickets, especially premium seat tickets, by facilitating conversations with VIP clients and allowing fans the opportunity to go to the team's website to use the automated chat solution.

"A good example of one of those is the Jacksonville Jaguars website," says Gutierrez. "You can go there and see one of our chat boxes available to assist with inquiries or questions that you may have before, during or after a game. And our solution is built for organizations with a high volume of customer interactions to automate some of those tier one questions."

Alive5 also services customers like Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, major hotel brands and other companies in the hospitality space. They are also now collaborating with Spectra Venue Management, which manages hundreds of venues throughout North America, to pilot alive5's messaging and concierge services.

Outside of their inroads in the chat space, the platform is creating AI-powered strategies to help companies maximize their communication opportunities at personal touchpoint events such as conferences and trade shows.

"With our A.I. powered business cards, we're able to take an engagement that happens at a conference, an event or at a networking session and turn that into a prospect that's now part of a company's digital lead funnel," says Gutierrez. "What we're proposing is to give them a laser-etched metal business card with the QR code. That is better than just giving them a paper business card that they will take and may or may not call you and that's it, that's the end of the interaction.

"With the QR code, a potential contact can scan it and it will send them a demo of our product to their phone and it will give them all of a client's contact details so they can reach out to that client anytime they're ready to buy. The best part about that is that now you have something that no other system can do and you have that customer's phone number available to you at any point in time."

Moving forward, the Houston-based platform wants to do everything within its power to be one of the most successful chat companies nationwide.

"I like to think about our product like a Lego set," says Gutierrez. "It's up to you to choose what package you want. I've been in the startup space for a long time and to finally see that ecosystem starting to mature to the point that businesses are more open to digitally transforming their organizations, where they're understanding the need to take risks, to try new things, that's great for us.

"When you think about a company that can help you with your communication, I want alive5 to be the first company on their minds."

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Houston SaaS startup closes $12M series A funding round with support from local VC

money moves

A Houston startup with a software-as-a-service platform for the energy transition has announced it closed a funding round with participation from a local venture capital.

Molecule closed its $12 million series A, and Houston-based Mercury Fund was among the company's investors. The company has a cloud-based energy trading and risk management solution for the energy industry and supports power, natural gas, crude/refined products, chemicals, agricultural commodities, softs, metals, cryptocurrencies, and more.

"We led the seed round of Molecule upon their formation and are excited to participate in their series A," says Blair Garrou, co-founder and managing director of Mercury, in a news release. "Molecule's success in the ETRM/CTRM industry, especially in relation to electricity and renewables, positions them as the company to beat for the energy transition in the 2020s."

The company will use its new funds to further build out its product as well as introduce offerings to manage renewables credits, according to the release.

"In 2020, we realized that electricity — the growth commodity of the 2020s — represented over half of Molecule's customer base, and we decided to double down," says Sameer Soleja, founder and CEO of Molecule, in the release. "We were also rated the No. 1 SaaS ETRM/CTRM vendor. With this fundraise, we have the fuel to become No. 1 SaaS platform for power and renewables, and then the market leader overall.

"Molecule is ready to power the energy transition," Soleja continues.

Molecule's last round of funding closed in November 2014. The $1.1 million seed round was supported by Mercury Fund and the Houston Angel Network.

Houston-based afterlife planning startup launches new app

there's an app for that

The passing of a loved one is followed with grief — and paperwork. A Houston company that's simplifying the process of afterlife planning and decision making is making things even easier with a new smartphone app.

The Postage, a digital platform meant to ease with affair planning, recently launched a mobile app to make the service more accessible following a particularly deadly year. The United States recorded 3.2 million fatalities — the most deaths in its history, largely due to the coronavirus pandemic.

After losing three family members back-to-back, Emily Cisek dealt first hand with the difficulty of wrapping up a loved one's life. She saw how afterlife planning interrupted her family's grieving and caused deep frustration. Soon, she began to envision a solution to help people have a plan and walk through the process of losing someone.

The Postage, which launched in September, provides a platform for people to plan their affairs and leave behind wishes for loved ones. The website includes document storage and organization, password management, funeral and last wishes planning, and the option to create afterlife messages to posthumously share with loved ones.

"Right now, as it stands ahead of this app, end-of-life planning is really challenging. It's this daunting thing you have to sit down and do at your computer," says Cisek. Not only is it "daunting," but it's time-consuming. According to The Postage, families can expect to spend nearly 500 hours on completing end-of-life details if there is no planning done in advance.

With more than 74 percent of The Postage's web traffic coming from mobile users, an app was a natural progression. In fact, Entrepreneur reports the average person will spend nine years on their mobile device. Cisek wanted to meet users where they are at with a user-friendly app that includes the same features as the desktop website.

"What we wanted to do [with the app] is make it so easy to plan your life and the end of your life using one click — as easy as it was for posting and commenting on social media," explains Cisek. "People are so used to reflecting on those behaviors and clicking one button to add a picture ... we wanted to make it that simple," she continued.

Cisek and her team focused on providing a "seamless experience" within the app, which took approximately four months to build, which mirrors the desktop platform.

Though The Postage's website had mobile functionality, the app includes the ability to record and upload content. Whether snapping a picture of their insurance policy or recording a video to share with loved ones, The Postage app allows users to capture photos and videos directly within the app.

After snapping a picture, "the next step inherently is sharing it with your loved ones," says Cisek. Photos, family recipes and videos can easily be shared securely with loved ones who accept your invitation to The Postage so "that legacy continues on," she says.

Since The Postage's fall launch, the company has grown a steady base of paid subscribers with plans to expand.

"We're really starting to change the way people plan for the future," says Cisek.