From Inmate to SMS Marketing Success Story

Formerly imprisoned for selling drugs, Todd Matherne today is revolutionizing the digital marketing landscape
From Inmate to SMS Marketing Success Story
Image credit: Courtesy of Todd Matherne
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In 2007, Todd Matherne hit rock bottom. Arrested for selling steroids, Matherne was given a seven-year sentence, even though he was a first-time offender. But what changes a decade has wrought since then.

Related: 6 Stories of Super Successes Who Overcame Failure

Today, Matherne is a successful entrepreneur and the founder of Extreme SMS, a text-message marketing platform that connects companies directly with customers and generates six-figures in monthly revenue.

Matherne's digital-marketing mission has always been straightforward: Help companies generate leads. His path as to entrepreneurial success, however, has certainly been unconventional. His journey, in fact, is a powerful reminder that we can create our own success even in the most challenging of circumstances. As Matherne himself ikes to say, “Our success stems from the success of those we help along the way.”

From inmate to entrepreneur

Before Matherne went to jail, he focused on what he didn’t have in life: money. Struggling financially, Matherne ooked for a shortcut to make a little extra on the side. The resulting jail sentence served as a wake-up call and transformed his outlook on life. Rather than focus on what he didn’t have, Matherne focused on what he did and how he could share what he had with others. In prison, he served as a GED tutor for dozens of inmates.

“When I went to jail, it felt like a death sentence,” Matherne told me. “To survive, I had to change my attitude. I started focusing on what I could give people and how I could help them. I’ve carried this attitude forward in everything I do. It’s what led me to found my own company and empowered me to be successful: I succeed only when I help others to succeed first.”

Related: 8 Great Entrepreneurial Success Stories

Matherne's commitment to bettering the lives of his fellow inmates earned him a reduced sentence, but he still faced an uphill battle upon release. Few companies were willing to take a chance on a former inmate. With limited options, Matherne worked offshore on a Louisiana oil rig while teaching himself digital marketing.

“I knew that if I made earning money my sole focus, I would be back in a dead-end situation,” Matherne said. “Instead, I focused on how my skills could benefit others. The more I learned about digital marketing, the more I realized just how ineffective most digital communication channels truly are. I challenged myself to find a marketing channel that would work. That’s what led me to text messaging.”

Open rates and spam filters

Text messages have an average open rate of 98 percent compared with email marketing campaigns, which average closer to a 20 percent open rate, according to MailChimp. Text messages also generate a response in an average 90 seconds. Compare that to the 90 minutes it takes to get an email response, and Matherne knew text messaging was a clear winner.

“The smartphone is where your prospects make all of their biggest life decisions,” he said. “So, why aren’t companies marketing to customers there?”

Matherne put his money where his mouth is by starting to manage SMS marketing campaigns on behalf of companies, using a well-known SMS (short message service) marketing platform. He also ran a small mentoring program, helping other entrepreneurs get started with online marketing. As his business grew, he kept his focus on empowering other small business owners and organizations rather than chasing money himself.

“I absolutely hate the ‘make-money-online’ marketplace,” Matherne said. “It’s usually full of people buying one shiny marketing object after another. My approach is different: I put out real offers that help people. You have to ‘show up’ with undeniable value and a message that connects with people before they’ll ever even remotely care about anything you say. You have to add value before you try to sell anything.”

The more Matherne focused on text-message marketing, the more success he brought to his clients, slowly growing his customer base from small businesses to major corporations, including a well-known auto insurance agency.

Eventually, though, his success hit a glass ceiling. His problem: getting text messages past carrier spam filters. Each mobile carrier has a set of spam filters designed to prevent spam messages being sent to its users. Even if your business is not sending spam, the mobile carriers still prevent your text messages from reaching people.

Matherne said he realized that hese complex filters were making it nearly impossible to send marketing text messages to a large number of people, limiting the number of leads he could generate. None of the text message apps on the market could get past these unique filters set by mobile carriers, so in true entrepreneurial fashion, Matherne developed his own app: ExtremeSMS.

“ExtremeSMS virtually guarantees text messages will be read by circumventing obstructionist filters,” he said. “It’s completely TCPA-compliant and currently the lowest cost in the industry.”

For businesses that are struggling to cut through digital in-box clutter or stand out in a sea of social media spam, SMS marketing is a revolutionary communication channel. While Matherne's success stories include companies of all sizes, he says some of the biggest impact he's had has been for small business owners.

That’s good news for small business owners looking to invest in new technologies to expand their leads. According to Wasp Barcode Technologies’ State of Small Business report, 32 percent of small businesses are looking to invest in new customer acquisition activities and 21 percent plan to invest in tools to improve employee productivity. ExtremeSMS does both.

Bottom line:

Matherne's journey to entrepreneurial success may be unconventional, but the result -- a company that generates six-figure income each month -- is truly life-changing. While Matherne is proud of what he's accomplished, he’s quick to remind his business clients that SMS, like any communication channel, can only do so much.

Related: What's Behind a 10-Year 'Overnight' Success?

“Being able to get your message in front of people is half the battle, and that’s the part I help with,” he ssaid. “But at the end of the day, you still need to be saying something of value. Bringing value to every interaction is the key to professional and personal success.” 

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