Make sure your customer support is GREAT. And I’m not talking about having phone support. Or even live chat. Solving the problem is more important (in most cases) than being available that instant but not solving the problem. Just make sure when someone has a problem, it gets fixed, or as close as possible to fixed, the first time around. Don’t mess around. Spend the time to go the extra mile to solve the problem. Retention is more important than acquisition.
As a part of my series called “Five Strategies I Used To Grow My Business To Reach Seven Figures In Revenue”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Adam Robinson.
Adam was born in Houston, Texas and graduated from Rice University in 2003 with a Bachelor’s degree in Economics.
In 2014, he launched Robly Email Marketing after working on Wall Street for ten years. The business grew to 5 million dollars in revenue in the first two years and by 2017 was awarded #1 in Customer Satisfaction across the entire email marketing space. After proving Robly’s viability, Adam worked to scale the business. After testing and scrapping a few ideas, he and his team launched GetEmails in 2019.
In GetEmails’ first six months it’s grown to 2.5 million dollars Annual Recurring Revenue.
Adam is now based in Austin, Texas where he lives with his wife Helen and their chiweenie, Bonnie Rosa.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I graduated from Rice University in 2003, then took a job in Manhattan trading real estate credit default swaps at the now-defunct Lehman Brothers. My first roommates were starting a company called Vimeo in the apartment I was living in. It planted the entrepreneurial seed, and I always wanted to do what they were doing. Starting a tech company seemed like a dream life.
After 2008 and the Lehman debacle, I lost everything, and decided that rather than try to go back into finance, I should try to get into tech.
Many years later, after trying and failing many times, I finally got something to work — Robly Email Marketing. That was my first startup. It’s a nice bootstrapped business, and it’s still running today by a group led by Sebastian Reingold. We have 5000 happy customers and have won #1 in customer satisfaction by G2 Crowd.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
One of the funniest stories was the result of me starting Robly in my apartment.
At first we were three, then six months later, four … and desk by desk, office chair by office chair we kept growing. At our peak, we had 39 people coming to my apartment every day to work.
It was chaos. At the time, most of our employees were in entry-level sales, and for whatever reason, for that position, the male/female ratio was about 10:1.
We only had two bathrooms, and everyone had the same break time. So, there were always lines, the girls didn’t have a restroom of their own … All things we wanted to solve.
How did we solve the problem?
I had a laundry room that had a lock on the door with a big sink in it. I had a plumber come in with the idea that we’d put a urinal and some hand sanitizer in there, and problem solved, the guys had another bathroom.
When the guy explained what a urinal actually was and what the process was to put one in, it seemed like a lot like a sink … when I asked him to clarify the difference between a urinal and the setup I had in there already, the plumber said “… about 3,000 dollars.”
So, we decided to save the cash, put a step-stool in the laundry room in front of the sink, put a soccer goal with a hanging ball for the guys to aim at, and put some hand sanitizer in the window sill. #startuplife
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
When we first started Robly, our original plan was to go after the customers of a defunct company called RatePoint that my brother was using for Email Marketing and customer review management. I made a video called “If you liked Ratepoint, you’ll LOVE Robly!”, and the founder of Ratepoint, Neal Creighton, saw it and wrote me an email. He said “if you try what you’re about to try, you’ll fail. If you do what I’m about to tell you to do, you will 100% succeed.”
The guy showed us how to find customer information from a vendor who was carelessly leaving it all over the internet. That trick alone got us to a mid seven-figure/year business in 18 months.
Even with that massive lead pool he showed us, we almost didn’t make it. If Neal hadn’t shown us that one thing, I would probably still be on a trading desk in Manhattan. He’s definitely been the most transformational relationship I’ve had. All the success I’ve had from creating things from the money that Robly made was only because he showed us how to get Robly off the ground.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My old man used to say one all the time that has stuck with me, and I plan to say it to my kids until they are sick of hearing it …
“A little work when you’re young can save you a LOT of work when you’re older”.
He couldn’t have been more right. Thanks for that advice, Dad.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. We’d love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?
GetEmails is a completely new technology, it allows businesses to identify up to 35% of anonymous traffic from already opted-in third-party lists, then sends you their names, emails, home addresses and more so you can follow up and drive more revenue. It’s 100% CAN-SPAM compliant and bounce-free, and fully legal.
What this means for Marketers is that instead of having to retarget someone with expensive PPC ads, you can now get their email and passively convert them over time, for free. It’s a total gamechanger.
It’s completely unique because we’re creating a new category, Email-Based Retargeting and we’re confident that it will become a new standard for Marketers.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
GetEmails uses video to establish a personal connection at scale in a way that no other startups are doing. We do weekly video ads which we promote on Facebook and Google. They’re short and funny and show the same two faces week after week — me and my wife Helen, who’s also our head of PR. We have a following of people that leave hundreds of comments on our videos, and we created a storyline around our two characters.
Away from the ads, we are faces-forward across the entire funnel. We recorded a podcast that answers every possible question sales could get that looks like this, and we send custom videos to people after they complete step one of onboarding to try to establish a human connection. On Zoom calls we always leave our video on, even if the customer has video off. Many times they will turn it on, and even if they don’t, they are connecting with us by seeing our faces.
All of this is working fantastically well. Yes, our product is great and we have zero direct competitors, but this unusual style of presenting ourselves has tens of thousands of people feeling like they know us as people, even before they think about buying.
When you first started the business, what drove you, what was your primary motivation?
My primary motivation was attempting to grow Robly, my first business, which is an Email Service Provider (like Mailchimp). The ESP space is a ridiculously competitive and very difficult space … I discovered Identity Resolution (what GetEmails does), loved it, and thought it would be an amazing feature to grow Robly. No one else was selling it.
When we launched the feature, we noticed the craziest trend …
People were signing up for Robly, using the Identity Resolution feature (we called it RoblyID), downloading the file, uploading it into THEIR email marketing program … and giving us a 10 NPS score!
We knew we had to spin it out and connect it to everything for it to be a great product.
Which is what we did in November 2019, and that’s how GetEmails was born!
What drives you now? Is it the same? Did it change? Can you explain what you mean?
I love creating startups. The satisfaction of taking something from zero to the millions of SaaS revenue is thrilling, creatively. Coming up with a product, brand, figuring out a go-to-market strategy … I love doing it.
Initially I wanted a remote business where I didn’t have to put a tie on and go to a skyscraper every day. With Robly, I got that. I live between Austin and Aspen, and during the winter, I ski every day, which has been a lifelong dream of mine.
I’m now interested in creating companies that sell to larger and larger customers. Why? I believe that sustained growth is what keeps companies (and life) interesting, and larger customers have lower churn and therefore make it easier to grow your business.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We think there may be an opportunity to create a new type of data company. From what we can see from speaking to our customers, the desire for data enrichment is increasing, and will likely increase in the future as AI becomes cheap and ubiquitous and data scientists become more available.
Specifically, we think there may be an opportunity to create a data company that is built for speed (API driven rather than batch processing), and initially focus on enriching data in Customer Data Platforms … where we also foresee a mass migration at the mid-market and enterprise level.
The topic of this series is ‘Five Strategies I Used To Grow My Business To Reach Seven Figures In Revenue’. Congratulations! Seven figures is really a huge milestone. In your experience what was the most difficult part of being able to hit your first million-dollars in sales revenue?
Product/Market Fit. Without QUESTION, it’s the months (probably years) spent hypothesizing, talking to people, testing, MVP-ing, pivoting, keeping money in the bank, people motivated … all WELL before the first 1mm dollars.
Then, once you even sort-of have that, figuring out the audience you want to reach and how you can reach them is the next hardest thing
Could you share the number one sales strategy that you found helpful to help you reach this milestone?
For GetEmails, it was the video ad strategy I mentioned … Which was kind of a lightning-in-a-bottle situation.
If you want to see the ads I’m talking about, check them out here …
My two favorites:
How is it legal?
Our Trump Video
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you or your team made during a sales process? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
We had one customer that we were REALLY friendly with whom we were talking about our podcast — The Permission (Sh)Marketing Podcast … and he hung up the phone and bought permissionshmarketing.com, then told us he did it.
Kind of funny … Kind of like … Wow, guy, you’ve got a lot of nerve.
Does your company have a sales team? If yes, do you have any advice about how companies can create very high performing sales teams?
It is 100% about the PEOPLE you have in the seats. It all starts with recruiting. You CANNOT motivate people. Period. What you CAN do is hire very motivated people and put them in an incentive structure that makes them want to succeed even more.
Once you have a product, having great people = 95% of sales. All the rest = 5%.
Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Strategies I Used To Grow My Business To Reach Seven Figures In Revenue”. Please share a story or an example for each.
- Find product market fit — we used our Email Marketing app’s customer base to test the performance and demand for the product.
- Figure out how you’re going to reach people, and what’s the “hack de jour”. We thought that a weekly Facebook ad that was amusing was unlike any other ads that we were seeing, so we tried it, and it worked.
- Go upmarket, relentlessly. We’re trying to, and doing that … It’s much easier to sell to one customer for 10k dollars/mo than 1,000 customers for 10 dollars/mo, and your churn on that 10k customer will be MUCH lower or even negative.
- Make sure your customer support is GREAT. And I’m not talking about having phone support. Or even live chat. Solving the problem is more important (in most cases) than being available that instant but not solving the problem. Just make sure when someone has a problem, it gets fixed, or as close as possible to fixed, the first time around. Don’t mess around. Spend the time to go the extra mile to solve the problem. Retention is more important than acquisition.
- Go upmarket, again. That’s how important I think it is. No kidding. Just figure out how to sell to bigger customers. Period.
What would you advise to another business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth or sales and “restart their engines”?
I’m going to sound like a broken record, but in my business, SaaS, literally the easiest way to grow revenues is to go upmarket. You can shrink your customer count and if you are dropping 5 people for every 1 person you add, but that person pays you 10x, you are growing.
Sell the same thing to bigger customers would be my advice.
In your specific industry what methods have you found to be most effective in order to find and attract the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?
You just have to go talk to people. There’s no shortcuts. I’m a big fan of throwing up a website before you have a product — a substantial site — and prospecting people with outbound email and on LinkedIn.
We’re about to start doing that with the data company I mentioned earlier … It’s called CDP.id.
The goal is to try to sell — and I mean SELL — like get someone ready to give you money — a product that doesn’t exist yet before you start writing a single line of code.
If you want more details on the process, read the best startup book of all time — The Four Steps to the Epiphany.
Based on your experience, can you share a few strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?
Hire the right person, with the right personality type. They need to be warm, but firm … extremely detail oriented, and be fascinated with solving problems … Like Sherlock Holmes style.
And they need to be someone who never leaves something unfinished. Like they can’t sleep at night if something is unfinished from during the day.
Hire those people and you’ll have great customer service. The idea is to hire people who know no other way of being than that which I described. They are out there.
As you likely know, this HBR article demonstrates that studies have shown that retaining customers can be far more lucrative than finding new ones. Do you use any specific initiatives to limit customer attrition or customer churn? Can you share some of your advice from your experience about how to limit customer churn?
Limiting churn is more about your product and product/market fit than anything else. It all starts with how much value your product is delivering to the customer. If that number is through the roof, and way higher than what they are paying in time and attention, your churn will be low. If it’s not, your churn will be high.
Keep striving to improve your product and deliver value that your key avatars care about. 1% at a time.
All of the rest of the churn-prevention tactics are just band-aids.
Wonderful. We are nearly done. Here are the final “meaty” questions of our discussion. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would try to add two subjects to K-12 education that I think are very important for living life:
- Mindfulness, emotional self-regulation, and navigating your internal psyche
- Personal finance — specifically, why you should avoid accumulating credit card and student debt, and how to do that
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
I’m very interested in meeting Auren Hoffman, the Founder and former CEO of LiveRamp. He’s an incredible innovator in the data space, and since I’m interested in starting a data company, I think modeling him could leap me ahead in my journey months if not years.
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!