SANTA CRUZ -- A pair of tech veterans living in Santa Cruz plan to make Santa Cruz the home base for their latest startup, Tuul, which aims to give businesses a way to improve their customer service and give consumers a way to reach businesses without wasting time on hold on the phone or waiting for an email response.
They have $1.7 million in seed funding from Greycroft Partners, Raine Group and Streamlined Ventures to build out a mobile app allowing customer service staff to view and respond to inquiries via text message, and putting all those interactions in one spot for consumers accustomed to using their cell phone for everything.
Tuul's co-founders are Toby Corey, 52, and Wayne Tsuchitani, 51.
Both have deep roots in the tech sector and both surf.
Corey, the startup guy, was vice president at Novell's NetWare systems business before co-founding the Internet marketing company USWeb in 1997 and then incubator IntendChange, and recently spent two years with SolarCity as chief revenue officer.
Tsuchitani, the finance guy, met Corey at Novell in 1991, became an early employee at USWeb before it went public, then co-founded Intend Change before becoming a private equity investor. He was a behind-the-scenes partner in the Billabong surf shop run by Alistair Craft and Adam Replogle.
Sitting in a small office on the second floor of the University Town Center overlooking Pacific Avenue, Corey and Tsuchitani laid out their vision for building the company.
Corey said he expects to hire 25 to 50 people by the end of the year, mostly in engineering and sales and marketing, and grow to 100 to 150 people in 12 to 18 months.
He is certain there is a local pool of talent who would rather not commute.
One interviewee, currently commuting, said he can bring two guys with him,Tsuchitani said.
Tuul's software guy is Tom Harper, who lives in Orinda and worked with Corey and Tsuchitani at USWeb.
A patent has been filed for the software, Tsuchitani said.
Linda Keala, who was at USWeb and SolarCity, will be in charge of human resources, accounting and customer engagement.
Alistair Craft has come on to handle marketing.
"It's like getting the band back together," Corey said.
The inspiration for the venture was Corey's experience running SolarCity's call center.
He found the process of getting a solar installation was, to say the least, cumbersome, requiring chasing down the homeowner to get a half-dozen approvals.
In contrast, he found the Uber mobile app hassle-free.
His conclusion: Customer service is ripe for disruption.
He sees "magic" in automating the workflow and providing analytics on how the company is doing.
"We think we can fundamentally change it with the solution we're building," he said. "We've had more than 100 inquiries."
Some are Fortune 500 companies, according to Tsuchitani.
He said one potential beta customer has seven entities with differing business goals, all with different customer relationship and customer support systems, and an affiliation of independently owned companies trying to provide a unified customer support experience.
"Currently, it's a logistical and costly nightmare," Tsuchitani said.
For a wedding planner (or someone such as Corey's daughter planning her own) Tuul could make it easier to coordinate the venue, caterer, bartenders, flower vendor, music, bridesmaids, groomsmen and family, Tsuchitani said.
The Tuul team plans to launch the service in the fall with a handful of marquee accounts.
What: Tuul, new customer service app, hiring full-stack, DB, analytics, iOS , Android developers and business development specialists.
Where: Santa Cruz
Co-founders: Toby Corey and Wayne Tsuchitani
Information: Contact email@example.com
m ------ (c)2014 the Santa Cruz Sentinel (Scotts Valley, Calif.) Visit the Santa Cruz Sentinel (Scotts Valley, Calif.) at www.santacruzsentinel.com