HeyWire’s landline texting offers startup lessons in patience and adaptability

Four years ago, the folks at Cambridge startup HeyWire imagined a service that would allow business professionals to exchange text messages from their landline phone numbers. There was just one problem.

“The market wasn’t ready for us,” chief executive Meredith Flynn-Ripley told me. “When we knocked on the doors of these big companies, they gave us blank stares.”

History is full of great ideas that are so far ahead of their time that the innovators who come up with them never profit from their brilliance. The French inventor Rene Descartes designed contact lenses in 1632 — three centuries before they became widely used.

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Englishman Kane Kramer invented the pocket-size digital music player in 1979, but the patent on his gadget — which held three and a half minutes of music — lapsed before better technology delivered enough storage to make it commercially viable.

Fortunately for the folks at HeyWire, the market caught up a little faster. They unveiled HeyWire Business Messenger last May, and the 30-person company, which seemingly just moved into a bigger space, already is planning to knock down a wall in its Lechmere Square office to make room for more hires.

What changed in just a few years?

“The big thing is BYOD,” Flynn-Ripley said. “Everyone has brought their devices, their propensity for using apps, and the way they communicate into the business space.”

In other words, people who text message in their personal lives have started texting for business with increasing regularity. But they don’t like using their own mobile numbers for business communications, so HeyWire’s service is suddenly appealing. It allows a single mobile device to send and receive texts from two numbers — a personal cell phone number and a business landline number.

A key to the shift, noted chief product officer Bill Gianoukos, is that a generation of people who grew up texting is now part of the workforce. Texting with coworkers and clients just comes naturally to these young professionals.

There’s an obvious lesson in patience here, but there’s also a lesson in adaptability. Flynn-Ripley, Gianoukos and the rest of the HeyWire team didn’t sit around waiting for the winds to change. Sensing little demand for their business service in 2010, they launched a free, cloud-based texting app for consumers, instead — and amassed 3 million active users by the time HeyWire Business made its debut.

“When we built the platform four years ago, we always had the intent to primarily take it into enterprise and business communications,” Flynn-Ripley said. “We realized we could do a consumer play right away, but we kept testing the market.”