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S5 Bonus: Adam Robinson, GetEmails

by Noah Labhart - Startup Founder & CTO
September 23rd 2021

Adam Robinson has had an interesting path into the tech world. He started out at Lehmen Brothers, and eventually Barclays, as a credit default swap trader. He spent 10 years doing the job that the ... More

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There was one big vendor who we were kind of poaching customers from from the email marketing app and they sent a couple cease and desists because we were using their oath to basically, you know, download people's contact files and make it easier for them to switch over ignored. It didn't care whatever. And then they filed a suit and I like heard about it from a random attorney who was like trolling this thing called the docket and it's like email vendor a versus probably digital marketing. My name is Adam Robinson. I'm the founder and Ceo of get emails. Mhm This is code story, the podcast bringing you interviews with tech visionaries who share in the critical moments of what it takes to change an industry and build and lead a team that has your back. I'm your host Noah lab part and today how Adam province figured out a way to capture 40% of emails from your anonymous website, traffic all this and more on code story.

Adam Robinson has had an interesting path into the tech world. He started out at Lehman Brothers and eventually barclays as a credit default swap trader. He spent 10 years doing the job that the movie, the big short was written about and he loved it back in the day. His first roommates in new york were the founders of Vimeo and he was inspired by what they built and by being a tech entrepreneur in general. Once he saved up some cash, he decided to jump out and give the tech world to try through lots of learnings and mistakes. He eventually retrained the way he thought to align with the way an entrepreneur thinks. Mhm Adam and his brother were eyeing an email marketing and customer review management tool After it shut down, they met with the founder who shared his secret sauce and how to collect data, specifically email addresses from anonymous website traffic. They took this and ran with it inside of their email marketing tool. After some time they realized email marketing is a tough space to compete him.

So they switched to an area they were intrigued by and had already built something to work with. This is the creation story of get emails. Yeah. Get emails, identifies your anonymous website traffic and we give you email addresses of 40% of the people who visit your website that don't fill out forms. My brother was actually using a technology called rate point, which was an email marketing and customer review management tool and they literally sent an email out. We're shutting down the website, download your data, the services over. So my brother was like, this is a really interesting product. I love that the combination of both this like email thing like mail chimp and then you know, this customer review tool, he was an entrepreneur told me he's like, well you're looking for something to do. How about we like go build this thing on the cheap and see if we can acquire this guy's customers because we knew he spent a lot of money acquiring them. The ceo of that company who's a very talented serial entrepreneur named Neil Grayton.

He saw a video that I made on Youtube attempting to acquire his former customers told me to come to boston. He said, uh, if you come and see me, I'll show you a way to make this work, what you're doing right now, won't work at all. So I mean if you can imagine as a first time entrepreneur hearing those words, he had basically built a spider to crawl other email marketing vendors websites, The guys explaining to us how to do this and I'm sitting there going, wow, this is amazing and ended up working, we kind of bailed on this customer review thing and just sold email marketing because that was much more, much more marketable. It's like this mail chimp type product. The thing about email marketing is male chimp dominates, that's in the type of customer that we were able to acquire. Is this very small business, you know, somebody who would be using either mail chimp or constant contact or you know, whatever. So it's below the sort of clavius and active campaigns. That's an unbelievably competitive market because mail chimp has this free product, it's great.

Their brand is amazing. They're spending a billion dollars a year advertising. Then you get to the point where you need to grow more and it's really hard, you really have to niche down against a beast like mail chimp, I kept trying to niche down. It was really hard. Finally, I I heard about this identity resolution space specifically uh website visitor identification and I was captivated by it, you know, having run in in an email marketing company. The biggest problem in email is getting more emails In this website visitor identification identity resolution, you know, technology, let's call it that um you can get 30-40% of your anonymous traffic tied back to plain text emails if you know how to daisy chain at all together by using anonymous digital identifiers in the advertising ecosystem and pairing that with basically massive databases of emails that are third party options from lead generation sites.

I realized that there was a way to get email addresses of people on your website that do not fill out forms and that it was legal and compliance in the U. S. A. To do that. If I could get this feature inside of Rockabilly that is the ticket to growing this email service provider in a real way because it's just it's a differentiated feature. Most of the other large email providers couldn't actually do it because you can't be in the self regulatory deliver ability organization called Mauger if you sell data. So I was like man this is a feature that that the big guys can't copy that makes us so different from them. Surely we will be able to acquire customers for robbery with this. What ended up happening was we got people to sign up horribly for this feature called Robbie. I'd they would use the identity feature. This like pixel that identified their traffic and then they would download their C. S. V. And put it in drip or claudio or infusions after whatever they were using and not use our email marketing software.

So we did a bunch of NPS surveys and people are like this is the best product I've ever experienced. I was buying leads for like a dollar 50 until I found you guys and now I'm paying you a quarter and the open rates and click through rates. Conversion rates are comparable to these emails that I was paying a dollar 50 for. This is amazing. One day somebody said to me they're like you know what you should do. You should just spin this out, making its own product and connected to everything, making it super easy to set up, making the integration super smooth. You know, allowing this technology to be used by anybody and everybody in a soup in a really easy way. But like I didn't want to detract our whole team from working on roughly. So I loved this, the UI and onboarding experience of this company called drift. I literally just went into snag it, which was Photoshop for dummies, screen shotted their whole flow and there you, I, once you logged in and then manipulated it be what we needed people to do, which was virtually identical.

Got somebody on up work to actually make the Photoshop docs, got somebody else on up work to code the html and CSS. And all of that took like four weeks and then my Cto connected the back end to it, which took probably six weeks. We had a november 6th 2019 launch, spent five grand on ads in the ad dogs running was just an explainer video that had $10,000 mrr at the end of the month. I mean from second one, it was just like explosive. It was my first real experience. Like with product market fit, you know, it's this new novel thing that no one has heard of that everybody will want. You know, it's, it's a really simple product. We, we spent a bunch of time trying to optimize on the on boarding experience. And then since then we've just been focused on trying to discover and sell other periphery products that solve major problems in the email space that aren't really being addressed And what do I mean by that?

Well the number two problem for large email centers, if you send enough emails over long enough time in order to maintain list hygiene, you must sunset meaning you have to make people inactive if they don't open your emails after like three months or six months or something like that. If you don't do that gmail hotmail, these guys need engagement. They need high open rates, high click rates whatever. If somebody doesn't open your email for three months, the odds that they're going to open it again, it's like zero. So you got to pull these people off over time, Your dormant email list will be 10 times the size of your engaged email list. So we're we launched this product called get openers. People give us their dormant email file and we listen for opens and clicks in our network. When someone clicks on another email, we send that event to our customer so they can send a re engagement and say, hey we miss you or whatever and get that person to open again. And the open rates are ridiculous because you're actually sending it when the persons in their inbox they get back in your engage list there, back in your email flow.

That is the medium length story of get emails dive into the M. V. P. For me a little bit. So I know you you built it inside of your email service provider and then and then you extracted it so I don't know where you want to start in that. But the M. V. P. You already told me how long it took to build. But what sort of tools are you using to bring this to life whether it be processes or any anything you can say about without giving away proprietary stuff about how you build it. There's how how we figured out how to put it together on the back end and that took a really long time. But then let's just assume and that's proprietary also. But let's just assume we're starting this conversation from okay we figured out how to make this pixel work. We have this pixel that we know we'll do what we're what I'm talking about. It will identify your anonymous website traffic. I have gotten psychotic about MVPs meaning this thing was so crude and nasty in the form that we got our first round of beta testers on it.

Like literally it was just we added a tab to Rubley website and it just had text in a video on that page and then it was like click this if you're interested and it took people to a google form. We were basically just communicating with people over email, sending them the pixel to install. There were no kind of analytics? There was nothing but we were just like we need to get people using this as quickly as possible. And then we built out one very simple page inside of roughly which had everything meaning it had like the history, the context, click on and download. It had the different scripts that if they needed to like reinstall or change something they could get it, it had basic analytics where they could see the types of context they were getting. That was the M. V. P. It was terrible and disgusting. And then we saw that everybody was just downloading the files anyway and they weren't even using really to send. That was sort of the point at which it's like okay let's make this its own product and I mocked up a little onboarding flow that was again just like drifts which is pretty hacking M.

V. P. You know the inside of the inside of that site there's just not much to it. There's still not much too because the products so simple, there's like five or six tabs. It's kind of like well here's what the onboarding checklist, you know, here's a dashboard that has analytics, here's all the data you know here's where you set up integrations, you know here's your account info. So so then tell me about when you yank it out of probably and you decided to make its own product. How did you progress it from there? And I understand it's still simple, it's still a tight core product that integrates, but how did you progress it from that point? How did you mature it? And what I think what I'm most interested in is how you figured out what was the next most important thing to build and essentially laying out your road map. We have a woman named Ann Vick men who does both our customer support and product and she actually was like the general, I mean you can call the General manager of reliably for like years, so her starting customer support but then was like running everything for a couple of years as I was trying to figure out how to grow it and and the customer type of rob lee was non e commerce, baby boomer, very non tech savvy.

So trying to build products that that type of user understands, it gives you this discipline in making things absolutely idiot proof. You know, just, you need to make things as simple and as clear as possible. Don't use words to describe it, like you just need to take people down the road that you want to take them with your user interface. My personal view is that when you're doing these early stage startups, those two roles, customer support and product really go hand in hand, we have sales and then we have a different person than on boards, people and that's kind of an even the onboarding is like an outbound ish role because it's the guy being very proactive about getting them set up and then we have a host of different ways people can contact us and all that inbound stuff goes to customer support. So the inbound stuff for the problems people are having and the suggestions that they have. So I am just a huge believer in the school of thought that the way that you figure out what to build is you talk to your customers, you know, figure out what a day in their life is.

Figure out the problems they're having with your product into in general products problems that are away from your product that you could build to help them solve very, very early on and and still does this. I mean, you know, once every month to, she just goes on a round of trying to set up customer diligence calls with as many people as well talk to her and then once we really figure out who our highest value customers are or were she would focus on people like that. But lots of customer interviews, lots of feedback from just people tripping on the same u I issue that was our fault. But yeah, really, it's just communication and respond, you know, trying to pull people's needs out of them and then responding to them. Yeah, well let's switch to team. So you mentioned a team member there. But tell me about how you built your team and what you look for in those people to show or to indicate that they were the winning horses to join you.

This was just such an interesting one because it's spun out of the other company. Everybody that was on the original team war was working on, trying to grow rapidly once. It was clear that get emails was like accelerating at a rate that was like, you know, multiples of what we were ever going to get this other thing in this other space to do. We started, I started pulling over the people that we wanted To work on it and then building the team of the other one to replace them. I was actually very involved in, in sales in the first thing in the first one. But um, we found a, found this incredibly talented woman who had been selling email marketing in her past life and was like running an agency and you know, she heard what I was trying to do and was very interested by its, she'd been working with us for a year, year and a half, she was sales, she's kind of outbound mid market, absolute total stud. And then, and you know, we thought especially if we could get away with only doing email support, which if you can, I would highly recommend that because it just frees up all sorts of time for, especially in the early days for the support person to work on other things and like uh, at a flow state and not just be responding to intermittent chats.

Um, Tate is our Cto engineer, builds everything that was kind of it in the beginning. And then we had a lot of success with facebook ads early on. Actually hired a guy a year ago to help me expand that strategy and a month after I hired him, it kind of stopped working and we realized it was bringing in the wrong type of customer anyway, so we moved him to an on boarding seat and it was the wrong seat for him, but we left in there because it was working so well for a year and then recently just like put somebody in that seat that actually was a lot better at doing that. I'm just so glad that I didn't have to like individually sourced all those people because competitive as hiring market is right now, it would have been terrible. You know, I was really benefiting from like a pre existing culture and everybody wanted to be there and they're all really excited about how well was going and all that stuff Right, right on that makes sense. That I imagine it made it a lot faster to like, okay, you guys are just going to come over here totally and I know you're good. So yeah, it was, it was what it was what we were all spending most of our time on anyway.

We just had to basically get them get all the stuff that they were still doing for the other company onto other people's plates. This episode is sponsored by Radical. Are you interested in joining a team that encourages intellectual curiosity, problem solving and openness? Not only that, but one that provides the support and mentorship needed to succeed, learn and grow meat rideable. The team Intractable has built a world class platform for modern bill payments, payouts and invoicing rattle helps companies speed up their business payments using a secure invoice and bill payment system and not just for accounting groups. The company is solving problems for the CFO controller, the accountant and the developer Rattle is engineering lead and fully remote. They're looking for the best engineers and operators to join their team and drive forward their mission of removing the burden of business payments to apply today. Go to Rattle dot com slash about and click view open roles. That's R O U T A B L E dot com slash about.

Check out Rattle today and join a team who is changing the face of business payments. This episode is brought to you by cto dot ai You guys know that I interview a lot of great builders on this show and one of the most important aspects of a great code story episode is how a team works together to continuously deliver a great product and not only just a great product but one that will scale to meet growing demand? It's easy for growing teams to get overwhelmed, but you know, it complex tools, complex tools can be a major source of frustration across the team to spend all of your time managing tools instead of building great products. Mhm. Meet cto dot ai C T o dot ai is a workflow automation platform that simplifies developer operations. So you're growing team can improve their delivery velocity and hit their launch states, what I love about the platform is that it doesn't matter your experience level, you can be a junior dev, you can be a senior dev.

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We did not really build it to scale that efficiently, but probably by, you know, we launched november six, I said probably by january of 2020 which was, you know, eight weeks in or something like that. We had to make a tech decision on whether to sort of go the inch or go the mile with scalability and we went to mile because we're just like this is gonna work so pretty early on. We, we got it to a place where all of the systems that we were using, we thought even with really, really strong growth it would be good for at least a few years. Well as you step out on the balcony and you look across what you've built, what are you most proud of? This is kind of weird answer, but I'm the most proud of how quickly and efficiently we were able to spin out a completely new product relative to the speed and efficiency of creating our first business. You know, like it's so rewarding to look back and be like, wow, like from the time we decided to do this to the time we were making money on it, It was like 12 weeks, you know, which like it was 24 months or something with the other one, you know, from being like, oh we should do this to like ring the register on dollar one and you know, knowing well at least feeling like I know that I'm looking for the right things in terms of product market fit when I'm building stuff.

It gives me the confidence that I can continue to do this and I want to because I just think it's the most fun thing you could be doing building stuff and throwing it out in the world. Let's flip the script a little bit. So tell me about a mistake you made and how you and your team responded to it. This was pre get emails. But probably the biggest mistake that that sticks out to me is uh there was one big vendor who we were kind of poaching customers from, from the email marketing app and they sent a couple season desists because we were using their o off to basically, you know, download people's contact files and make it easier for them to switch over, ignored. It didn't care, whatever. And then they filed a suit and I like heard about it from a random attorney who was like trolling this thing called the docket and it's like email vendor a versus Rubley digital marketing and adam Robinson. I'm just like, oh my God, what does this even mean?

You know? And that like ended up being just an agonizing 12 months in like 300 grand, you know, so that was a huge mistake. Just not, you know, being like, okay, I'll stop doing that right? Like I'm glad I went through it because I had now take things like that much more seriously, you know? So, so what does the future look like for the product and for your team? So I really enjoy this phase that we're in right now. Um, we're still growing a ton, but our teams tiny, we did 500,000 top line, 3 25 bottom line in june and we have five full time employees. So this is like kind of an unheard of sort of revenue profile for our team size, but I just love it because there's no drama. Everybody loves what they're doing. You know, we're all doing great. I don't want to get an office hire, a bunch of people expand the team, you know, it's just probably my last company got to a point where it had a big team and just the things that results, I'm just not interested in it.

So we're going to, at some point, look for a home for this inside of either another company or A private equity firm specializes in scaling things from 5, 7, 8, whatever, a million to 2030. And yeah, that's, that's the plan and everybody's excited about it. It's really good to have that like focused goal. Like I don't want to be this, I don't want to be this, but I want to be this. Yeah, I mean, I just like think it's just starting creating a product in brand and team from literally nothing, like I just can't think of anything more rewarding than like, Oh my God, it's five people, this thing is doing six million in revenue and it was not around 19 months ago. you know? Like our brains created this. Alright, let's switch to you adam who influences the way that you work? Name a Ceo Cto architect. Really any person that you look up to and why I share an office with a guy named Dave Rogan Moser, who's the ceo of a company called proof there a y Combinator startup.

And um our first companies running similar trajectories and these guys in january, they were kind of stuck and in january they launched a new product called conversion dot ai and they're doing like 1.9 million mrr. And it's like five of them, wow, like it's great. It's just insane, you know? And like, they were kind of in this like, like we got this thing, it's it's a nice business but like, it's it's not what we went to y Combinator for and you know, they're trying everything throwing stuff up against the wall, it wasn't working. And then like, they just got this thing, it turns out to rocket ship and like, it's so inspiring as somebody who's doing stuff like this, you know, to hear stories like that, like man, just keep trying stuff, you know? Uh And they're great marketers. I love watching you know how they sort of get the word out and so so there I'm talking to them every day. I just like love seeing what they're up to and how they're growing and stuff.

Well if you could go back to the beginning what would you do differently or is there any place where you'd consider taking a different approach? So as I mentioned the first customer that we tried to sell a $15 a month email marketing subscription to like these leads that we had if I could do anything differently I would have a actually had disciplined on the M. V. P. At that point but I didn't even know what that meant and be I would have tried to create a product that was more expensive than the people that we were poaching from rather than a discount pitch because just higher priced sas in particular compounds. And it's not harder. It's strangely it's in my experience it's actually easier to sell 1000 $2000 a month guy than a $15 month guy. Different type of person, different type of buyer different type of experience. So figure out how to get into higher priced sash products as quickly as possible. Would be my advice to myself when I was starting this adventure.

Last question adam. So you're getting on a plane and you're sitting next to a young entrepreneur who's built the next big thing. They're jazzed about it. I can't wait to show it off to the world. I can't wait to show it off to you right there on the plane. What advice do you give that person having gone down this road a bit? Read why Combinator blog posts, make sure you understand their description of product market fit and don't try to spend a ton of money on social or salespeople until you see those signs. That would literally be my advice. Well, adam, thank you for being on Code story. Thank you for telling the creation story of get emails. You're welcome. No thanks for having me in. This concludes another chapter of coat story. Code story is hosted and produced by Noah lab Part be sure to subscribe on apple podcasts. Spotify or the podcasting app of your choice. Support the show on patreon dot com slash code story for just 5 to 10 bucks a month. And when you get a chance, leave us a review. Both things help us out tremendously.

Thanks again for listening. This episode of Code Story is sponsored by cloud Ways. Cloud Ways is a managed hosting platform, ideal for small to medium businesses e commerce and agencies because with Cloud ways, they don't have to worry about managing or maintaining servers and can instead focus on their business. Cloud ways offers peace of mind to business owners with reliable 24 7 support and manage backups. Their custom stack has integrated cash and performance boosting tech. That will improve page load times, which is super important with cloud ways. Customers have the freedom and flexibility to deploy PHP apps from a list of five cloud providers in just a few clicks. Those providers are A W. S. Digital Ocean Len owed google Cloud and Voltaire. They can scale their servers up or down anyway. They want Cloud Ways has a lot of features that makes development and deployment on the cloud much easier and faster features like integrated.

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S5 Bonus: Adam Robinson, GetEmails
S5 Bonus: Adam Robinson, GetEmails
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