We’ve acquired TinyLetter. For those of you who don’t know, TinyLetter is a beautifully simple email newsletter app created by Philip Kaplan and launched late last year. We’re pretty excited about this. Sure, we think TinyLetter fills a gap in the MailChimp offering and all that, but more importantly, we think it has the potential to fill a significant gap we’ve seen growing in the social conversation.
First, The Cruel Irony of Freemium
MailChimp has grown organically and profitably since 2001. We didn’t launch our freemium plan until 2009 (here’s the old announcement), and so far it’s done very well for us, because we’re adding about 3,000 users per day right now and we’re days away from hitting 1 million active users (if you’re interested, we posted a 1-yr update on the freemium model here).
Our "bass-ackwards" approach to freemium is very important here, because it gave us a lot of advantages, but one really unexpected disadvantage.
Unlike many freemium offerings, we didn’t launch with a free "barebones" app, then try to figure out which direction to take while also trying to monetize. Over the years, we just took our time building an unbelievably flexible, powerful, yet easy-to-use email marketing app that businesses would truly want to use. With MailChimp, you get enterprise power for SMB prices. Plus we built an API that opens up the door for all kinds of crazy opportunities and useful integrations.
Then we made it all free.
Here’s the ironic part. Now that it’s so easy to get found and build a following via social networks, there are tons of new people out there who want to send email newsletters to their contacts. People who otherwise might not have ever had the need to send email newsletters. And since MailChimp is the most powerful free email marketing app out there, we’re kinda the obvious choice. The deal’s so good, it’s almost as if we’re *forcing* people to use MailChimp. And for a lot of those people, they actually resent us for that. If you’re a business looking for email marketing solutions, MailChimp is the best, easiest-to-use app out there (ahem, imho). But if you’re not a "business," MailChimp can seem like overkill.
Anybody Can Be An Influencer Now
We’re living in a world where the average teenager has almost 500 network friends, and the average 22 year old has more than 1,000. I don’t know about you, but when I was growing up, I had about 3 friends in my close "inner circle" (and by "circle" I mean the real — er, figurative circle, not the Google+ kind), and outside of that, I had maybe 10 friends total. Granted, I was a weird kid.
But social networks have made it easy to grow a following and gain clout (or is it spelled "klout" now?). Forget about the Ashton Kutchers and the Justin Biebers for a minute, and think about how brands like Gatorade are setting up social mission control rooms and talking to influential sports mom bloggers. You can now win friends and influence people just for being a stats nerd, a parent advocate for families dealing with autism, a coffee aficionado, or a swiss designer (yay!).
The social web has made it easy to tweet, poke, post, friend, follow, like, and chat with your network.
But When It’s Time to Have an Engaging Conversation?
How do you send a simple email to thousands of followers, though? Most personal email services like Gmail have a limit of a few hundred recipients per day (in order to prevent abuse). So you’d have to use an email marketing service.
Naturally, something like MailChimp. The problem with that is we’re built to help businesses send out emails, manage their customer databases, track ROI, perform A/B testing, send QR coupons, integrate with survey tools, and on and on.
But if you’re someone like Kevin Rose, and you need to send quick notes to your fans, you can either a) setup a MailChimp account and spend a lot of time de-activating a bunch of features in order to strip it down and send a simple letter to your fans, or b) use TinyLetter.
You could think of TinyLetter as a "MailChimp Lite." A more directionally accurate analogy would be, "Gmail on steroids."
Basically, TinyLetter is for people what MailChimp is for business: we help you have engaging conversations with your followers.
What Makes TinyLetter Special?
Well, besides being created by the legendary Philip Kaplan (if you’re over 35 and were laid off by a dot-com you know who @pud is, and you know how great his email newsletter was), we think TinyLetter is a unique take on email marketing newsletters because:
- It was built from the ground up by someone who is NOT from the email marketing world,
- It’s utterly simple (because of #1),
- Being utterly simple will make mobile app development for TinyLetter really easy,
- TinyLetter lets you read replies, so you can continue the conversation with your contacts.
- The signup process is very simple and personal. It’s less like a formal survey (where you’d enter your title, select interest groups, etc), and more like an about.me, or flavors.me page.
- There are no templates. It’s all about your content letter.
What’s Ahead for TinyLetter and MailChimp?
We’re trying really hard not to make things disruptive for existing TinyLetter users. Our first task was the re-branding (done) and our next task will be to replace TinyLetter’s current email delivery engine with our own (this will be the first implementation of MailChimp Embed, an API-driven email delivery engine for web apps). There will be subtle-but-powerful differences between TinyLetter and MailChimp. For example, you will not "Create Campaigns" in TinyLetter, like you do in MailChimp. You’ll "compose a message," and you’ll do it in a distraction-free interface. You won’t have "subscriber lists" like in MailChimp. You’ll have your "contacts." Moving forward, TinyLetter will be all about getting back to the art of writing good letters from "people who matter" to the people who matter to them.
or to my own at: tinyletter.com/ben