Jul 30, 2008

Atlanta Web Entrepreneurs Meetup Group

meetup_logo_1.pngMike Schinkel hosts a local meetup group called Atlanta Web Entrepreneurs. He called me up recently to speak about "Email Marketing Basics," but I told him that whenever I do that, attendees think I’m actually The Dude who sends all the email around here. And so what happens is 2 years later, people send me their logo files and customer spreadsheets, telling me, "Okay, I’m finally ready to do some email marketing, so here’s my stuff—put together a mockup of our newsletter, post it for approval, and I’ll send you the $15 check." Maybe it’s the way I dress.

I usually have to explain we’re kind of a "self serve" tool, with kind of a lot of customers, and I kinda have to do other stuff right now. But sometimes I just do everything they tell me, so I can test our product (our engineers tell me the technical term for that is "eating your dogfood").

ANY-way, Mike thought that was funny, so he asked me to come in and discuss the MailChimp entrepreneur story instead: how we started as a little web-dev agency, and became a software company with tens of thousands of customers all over the world (condensed version at /about/).

It was fun. Sandi Karchmer Solow gave a good lecture on email marketing best practices, and I got to jump in at the end with a few stats and case studies to support what she said. If you’re new to email marketing, and you’re not sure how to get your business started, Sandi’s a good consultant to go to.

I learned a few things at this event:

  1. 280slides.com is an awesome tool for putting together an online presentation. Works like Keynote, but it’s all done in your browser. For fun, make sure the projector is on when you type in the domain name to open the presentation, then listen closely to the audience ("Um, is this really gonna be 280 slides?" and "oh crap, where’s the door?"). When you tell them it’s really only 5 slides, they’re so relieved.
  2. Everybody can build a website now: Holy cow, people from all walks of life are building websites. There were people with some serious websites and e-commerce stores, but who also had normal day jobs. I’m talking about married couples, factory managers, and mechanics (I though this guy was wearing a gimmicky "web mechanic" kind of outfit, but he was an actual mechanic who knew web-design kung fu! How cool is that?). They’re setting up online stores and social networking sites. Many of these people were already using email marketing on their sites. One guy had hundreds of thousands of opt-ins (couponmom.com). Really awe-inspiring.
  3. Paid search can jump start your subscriber lists: People who are new to email marketing really want a "jump start" for building up their lists. The most common question I hear from new email marketers is, "But I’m just getting started. I don’t have a subscriber list yet. I understand permission email marketing and best practices. Now how do I make this go faster?" I normally give the standard, "You can’t rush permission, and email marketing is all about relationships, which take time, and blah blah blah." Sometimes I throw in a little, "Put a signup box on every page of your site, and place links to your signup page everywhere, like your email signature, your invoices, and tattooed on the back of your head." It’s true, and it’s good advice, but nobody listens to it. And I understand why: it just takes too long. I remember writing up my first few newsletters to all of 5 subscribers. It sucks. So when someone in the audience asked us that question, I really hated myself for giving the stock answer. Then I noticed that there was a group of people sitting in front of him from a local company called SnowCap Labs, who do Paid Search advertising. They were sitting right next to a Russian engineer who told me during the break that he was thinking about writing a whitepaper on the risks of offshore development. SnowCap Labs looked like chocolate. Russian engineer looked like peanut butter (I was hungry). Perfect combination. Instead of paying money to buy a dirty email list from somewhere, pay money to drive traffic to your website (perhaps linking to a nice whitepaper that’s chock full of your expertise) and build your list the right way.
  4. I need to brush up on our own features list. There were actually several people in the audience who were MailChimp customers. So somebody would ask, "What if I see my open rates declining over time. What kind of tips can you offer me?" Before I could formulate my expert answer on how "open rates aren’t 100% reliable, and there are so many factors to consider, and there is no silver bullet," another person in the audience (from Australia, no less) told him to "just click the A/B split button in MailChimp, and test a few different subject lines and send times. It’s free." Oh yeah, I forgot about that. There were a couple other cases where audience members knew more about MailChimp’s functionality than me. Kind of cool.
  5. I need to work on my posture. Mike posted some pics of me doing "jazz hands" and "Sprite can levitation tricks" over on Flickr. Thanks a lot, Mike.