SMS Masterminds expected to grow

When Alex Minicucci founded SMS Masterminds, a San Luis Obispo technology company specializing in mobile marketing for small businesses, the ability to “wear a bunch of hats at once,” he said, was critical to his initial success.

Minicucci and his vice president of operations, Luke Wallace, had to build the product, sell it, improve it, and then support it.

“We had to do everything,” recalled Minicucci, who started SMS Masterminds in 2009. “We were in a one-room office in downtown SLO, and he (Wallace) had to walk into the bathroom to make a call if I was already on the phone.”

With the goals of keeping costs down and working smart, the company grew quickly. In its first year, SMS Masterminds generated $350,000 in revenue and is expected to “do almost eight times that in 2012 with a healthy profit,” he said.

Minicucci, 33, refers to SMS Masterminds as a “loyalty marketing business,” providing a means for small- business owners to better connect with consumers.

“Our system combines the features of an old school punch card (buy 10 items, get one free) with marketing tools like text messages, email and Facebook to help businesses engage with their customers.”

Through its Loyalty Rewards Kiosk program, the company can target customers based on their habits, such as how frequently they visit a business, and if the consumer has not checked in after a few weeks, SMS Masterminds’ automated system can send a personal message asking them to stop in again.

The company employs 10 people — eight in the San Luis Obispo office and two programmers who work from home.

But Minicucci said the company is helping to create new businesses and jobs elsewhere because his model is to license SMS Masterminds’ technology to “entrepreneurs around the country who want to provide this service to small businesses in their market.”

“We currently have 70 markets and are growing quickly,” he said.

While selling continues to be a challenge, as well as the ability to find innovative ways to handle customers’ needs, in the next five to 10 years Minicucci anticipates expanding into more than 500 markets, with each market supporting more than 100 merchants.

“We’ll broaden our services to include more mobile website, app and social media development and integration,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll become the ValPak of the mobile marketing world.”

Minicucci, who grew up in Arroyo Grande and studied engineering at Cal Poly for a year, is confident that San Luis Obispo is where he will continue to grow.

“I get annoyed when I hear people say they need to move to L.A. or S.F. to be in the middle of things,” he said. “There are smart, talented people here to work with, and a well-balanced environment for having fun and raising a family.”

He added: “I have found other local business owners to be incredibly innovative, supportive and accessible. I have been all over the United States, and I’m always happy to come home.”