Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy where I interview real entrepreneurs, proven entrepreneurs, not the wannabes who just pose with stuff on Instagram, but the ones who are just sitting down at their desks, at their computers, working all the time and producing stuff that has a big impact. The type of people who we can use as role models, who we can learn from.
Joining me today is an entrepreneur whose post kind of went viral on Indie Hackers. The headline was phenomenal. It was, “How I hit $115,000 a month in recurring revenue with a Status Quo Improvement.” And to me, that’s just so fascinating. Somebody who’s not changing everything all the time, who was not doing things that seemed so revolutionary, but actually, just makes sense as a business. And he’s doing well with it.
I invited him here to talk about how he built it. His name is Ajay Goel. He is the founder of GMass. GMass allows you to send mass email campaigns with Gmail. I don’t really like that description, even though that’s like the one sentence description that my team put together. Let me tell you what it’s about.
You ever feel like you want to send out customized messages to a lot of people in Gmail and you can’t do it, unless you sit down and just kind of type out a message to each person? Even if the same body applies, you don’t want to put them all in the To field because that’s kind of weird and strong. You don’t put them all in the BCC field because then it’s impersonal. You want to send out customized messages to each person. And Gmail doesn’t allow it.
Well, Ajay says, “You know what? I think I could do that.” And he did it. And he coded it up. And it’s available. And it’s out there. And you can see it at gmass.co. And I invited him here to talk about how he built his business, why this was the right follow-up business to a previous email company that he had, that you ran for, what? Over a decade.
Andrew: Yeah. And what it’s like to bootstrap on your own. We can do this interview thanks to phenomenal companies. The first will, if you want to do like bigger email campaigns and target people and so on, you can use them, it’s called ActiveCampaign. And the second, if you want to host your website, if you’re like Ajay and you say, “I’ve got a small idea that can grow big. I want to launch it.” You can go to HostGator and host it.
And by the way, this is part of my live series of interviews. I have not done this in years, but I’m so excited that I’m doing it now because I’ve got people who are watching me live and participating with me live. Frank, I see you. Mary Catherine Johnson, I see you. Kelly Garrett, I see you. Everybody who’s out there, I see you and I’m excited to have you in here. Including the founder, by the way, of Indie Hackers. He was in here, Courtland was watching for a while. So I’m excited to see you guys. But I’d also love to hear from you in the chat now as we continue.
Ajay, it’s good to have you here.
Ajay: Thank you.
Andrew: What are you up to with revenue now?
Andrew: 140 a month?
Andrew: No outside funding?
Ajay: No, no.
Andrew: Wow. And what does that mean for profit?
Ajay: Well, it’s making a healthy profit right now but that’s not my goal. My goal is actually to spend that profit to fuel growth. And one of my weak areas has always been how to do that right. So my goal with GMass is not to extract a ton of profit for myself right now. I would rather grow it and have it be acquired by one of the larger email marketing players at some point. So, if I could figure out exactly how to plow that profit back into something, whether it’s Facebook ads or LinkedIn ads or better SEO or whatever the digital marketing channel may be, I would. Just that I’ve I always feel like I end up wasting money when I do that. And it’s probably that I’m just not very good at that stuff. And even when I’ve outsourced it, like I’ve had some success but some failure as well.
So, yeah, it’s making a good profit. Just because I haven’t yet started that initiative of plowing the money back into growth.
Andrew: But good profit . . . I mean, it doesn’t take a bunch of engineers to do this. We’re talking about over $100,000 a month, right?
Ajay: No, not quite that high, I mean, I am spending a ton on some SEO initiatives. I am doing a lot of development. I do have marketing and support staff. I have blog writing staff. So between my Amazon AWS bill, my SEO fees and my marketing and support staff, it’s less than $100,000 a month, way less.
Andrew: Less than $50,000?
Ajay: No, like in between.
Andrew: Okay. All right, all right. I’m not looking to push to get even more detail than you’re comfortable with, but I wanted to get a sense of it. I didn’t realize it was that much it goes into it, but it makes sense. I guess I felt like you were much more of like a solo operator. You definitely look like a boss and it’s partially because the photos that I see of you online, you’re always wearing a tie and it’s a guy who’s wearing a tie, right?
Ajay: I’ve been wanting to change that photo of me into something more like trendy and software developy. That picture is actually from a cruise that my wife and I went on or we did a photo session with the cruise’s photographer, and it’s like just what I always went with, but that photo is actually not a good representation of my personality.
Andrew: Yeah, I feel like what I’m seeing now is more of what I expected when I saw and read your story. But you were an entrepreneur going all the way back. I want to understand how you built up this business. But let’s take a step back for a moment. As a kid, you had a lawn mowing business. Tell me about that.
Ajay: Oh, jeez. It was for one summer. It was between 7th and 8th grade. I was bored and needed something to do. And I remembered that my dad took me to McDonald’s so that I could interview for a position there. And there was some loophole that allowed McDonald’s to hire someone at the age of 14. And I was 14. So I thought, “I’m going to try and make some money over the summer at McDonald’s.”
So I went and I interviewed with the manager at the local McDonald’s. He told me he would get back to me. He never did. So I called him a week later and he said, “Sorry, we just don’t have anything for you.” Shoot. That was my one chance to like fill my summer with something. So when that didn’t work out, I started Ajay’s Lawn Mowing Service, which consisted of me printing out flyers on like a laser printer. We were like the only one in the neighborhood that had a laser printer back then because my dad was a software developer and my older brother was a software developer so we tended to have high-tech things around the house.
So printed out a bunch of flyers, put them in people’s mailboxes, we’re talking maybe 75 houses. I got one phone call, it was from my immediate next door neighbor who already knew me. And they were going on vacation for the summer. So they hired me to mow their lawn every two weeks, and I think I made $30 every two weeks that summer.
Andrew: That was it?
Ajay: That was it.
Andrew: By the way, I’m watching as you’re gesturing, your arms are pretty built. Are you working out?
Ajay: Thank you for saying that. I used to work out when I lived in Chicago. I live in Milwaukee now and I’ve been living here for the last year, and I haven’t done a single weightlifting session in the last year.
Andrew: In the last year, and it holds up?
Ajay: I guess it’s lasted pretty well.
Andrew: That’s what sucks about running. I’m a runner. As soon as I stop running, which I have this last week because I’ve got a small injury, I just put on weight. You get no benefits that recur after you’re done. It sucks.
Ajay: Yeah. And I turned 40 about a year ago, and I definitely felt like this difference in my metabolism. So I need to do something regularly, otherwise this is going to go away.
Andrew: Year 2000, you started a company called JangoMail. What was JangoMail?
Ajay: So JangoMail is a web-based email marketing platform.
Andrew: This still exists. I was on the site today.
Ajay: Yeah. It’s similar to like a MailChimp or a Constant Contact. You log in, you upload your list, you create your campaign, you send it and you get analytics back. It has an API. I started that in 2002 and sold it in 2013.
Andrew: Wow. How much did you sell it for?
Ajay: Andrew, you ask very specific questions.
Andrew: I do, yeah.
Ajay: I’ll give you this. I sold it for about three times EBITDA.
Andrew: That doesn’t tell me . . . Can give me a sense of what EBITDA was?
Ajay: The revenues were $6 million when I sold it.
Andrew: Wow. Okay. So that’s why, as we go through the story, I’m seeing a guy who didn’t want to sell anything. You didn’t want to charge for anything for a while, right?
Andrew: Until you got it right. And now I understand how you were able to survive for a bit. Got it.
Ajay: Yeah, right. So I’ve had savings from my JangoMail days, both from just the income that the company made and from selling it. So I wasn’t in a hurry to have to make money right away afterwards, but my motivation is also different this time around. So JangoMail was a fairly profitable company, and like most of my competitors, most people in the email sending space, run pretty high margin operations with the exception of the people that are like pouring everything back into sales, which I wasn’t at JangoMail. At JangoMail my goal was to make profit.
But the one thing that always kind of bothered me about JangoMail is that it wasn’t like this highly respected name in the email marketing space, like MailChimp was, like iContact was or like Constant Contact was. And it just never had the name recognition that I wanted it to, even though it made a lot of money.
And with GMass, like my second go at a software as a service operation, my motivation is more about like the name and the legacy and having an impact on the software and digital marketing worlds.
Andrew: Let me try something that I’ve never tried before, Seth here that we mentioned JangoMail and he said, “Hey, I was a JangoMail client. Ajay is the boss.” Seth, I’d love for you to just unmute yourself. You’ve got the power. I’d love to hear from you what it was like.
Seth: [inaudible 00:10:09].
Andrew: Yeah. Yeah. How long ago was this that you were one of his customers?
Seth: [inaudible 00:10:16 – 00:10:39].
Andrew: Like, what? You mean like spamming type of stuff?
Seth: [inaudible 00:10:41 – 00:10:47].
Ajay: The good spamming.
Seth: [inaudible 00:11:49 – 00:11:57].
Andrew: His new business.
Seth: [inaudible 00:10:59 – 00:11:08].
Andrew: What did you like about JangoMail? I want to spend a little bit of time figuring out how he built it up. What was it that made it so special? I have to be honest with you, I was in the email space at the time and I didn’t even hear about JangoMail until now. What was it?
Seth: [inaudible 00:11:20 – 00:12:00].
Seth: [inaudible 00:12:01].
Andrew: Okay. All right. Thanks. I’m going to just mute you. But later on when we talk about what he’s up to now, I’d love for you to come on too, if it makes sense. And frankly, anyone else who has been a customer of Ajay and it’s listening to us. Just drop me a note here, I’m watching the chat here. All right. I’m muting you Seth, but still you’ve got the ability to unmute yourself.
So you built this company from scratch, JangoMail, all bootstrap. You said it worked it made you profitable, that eventually sold but it was never sexy. It was impactful. You definitely didn’t want to be the sexy company, you saw what happened in the dot-bomb period right where all these internet companies went out and you said, “No, I’m going to do something that’s practical.” How did you get customers that allowed you to build a profitable business back then?
Ajay: So, with JangoMail, I had one and only strategy to attract customers. JangoMail was entirely fueled by Google AdWords. I was spending at my peak, I think one month, I spent $90,000 on Google AdWords. And my average towards the end when I sold it, was around $60,000 a month. Google AdWords.
So I think most people when they really dive into pay-per click ads, they take a very methodical scientific approach where they’re calculating their cost per acquisition, their cost per lead and their cost per version. I didn’t do any of that. None of that mattered to me. Because what I found was that most people that clicked on a Google AdWords ad, wouldn’t turn into a paying customer and I didn’t care what the average was.
All I knew was that every now and then, like every approximately four months, those ads would lead to a whale, kind of like if you think about like a Las Vegas casino host and how they want to attract people to their casino, every now and then that would lead to a whale of a customer that would spend $30,000 or $40,000 a month. So if I could keep that cycle going, then it made the spend on AdWords worth it.
Andrew: But then, there was no logic to what you were buying or was there? Where you’re trying to buy the cheapest words? Was there something else?
Ajay: No, we had something, you know, towards the end I stopped managing it myself because it was just too much work and we had a company that was employing some logic, in terms of optimizing click-through prices and the text and where the ads led to get a sign up instead of the home page and all of that stuff that goes along with it.
Andrew: You know what, I was doing, in the early days of AdWords was, I would just buy random words like . . . You like pizza? Guess what? We have an email newsletter that’s great for reading pizza with and then, boom, it would give you a $0.05 pizza. It’s was just . . .
Ajay: Hey, great. You should send an email campaign while you’re eating pizza.
Andrew: Yeah. Is that what you did? Was it like that random?
Andrew: To me, it was.
Ajay: We were buying specific words.
Andrew: Got it. All right. How many miles did you end up with? I ended up with like a million miles once we sold the company. I remember my wife and I even up to the time we went to Argentina it was all on miles, first class.
Ajay: Oh, like credit card?
Andrew: How many miles of Frequent Flyer Miles did you end up with because you you’re using credit cards so much?
Ajay: Oh, a lot. I remember that there was a period of time where I could like fly business class and not have to pay for it. One of the consequences of selling the company is that privilege all went by the wayside.
Andrew: You didn’t get to keep them after the company?
Ajay: No. After I sold the company, the Google AdWords spend stopped.
Andrew: Oh, yeah, yeah. All right, you used them up while you could and then that was it.
Andrew: So all of it was Google AdWords and you launched around the time that MailChimp launched, right?
Ajay: Yeah, yeah.
Andrew: What you watch that they did that that you wish you had done too?
Ajay: Well, I actually reflect upon this a lot because, like you said, MailChimp started around the same time JangoMail did and they just like took off like a rocket ship, and JangoMail grew most years. It eventually became stagnant. And MailChimp did some really smart things early on that got them a ton of users.
So MailChimp basically invented the freemium model. When every other email marketing service had a base minimum monthly fee that you had to pay to use a service, MailChimp said, “As long as you’re sending under a certain threshold, it’s free.” And so every startup jumped on board. That was like one big thing they did that separated themselves from the pack.
Andrew: And when you saw that they did that, before we move on to other things, I remember what I thought, I said, “How did they solve the spam issue?” Because the problem with giving away email marketing software for free is spammers will just jump in, and I still don’t know what they did.
Ajay: I’m pretty sure what they did is they built out some sort of artificial intelligence like system that helped them with that. So that would stop spammers in their tracks before they got too many emails out.
Andrew: That was the big thing. What did you think when you saw that they did that? Because you saw it, you could have jumped on it.
Ajay: Yeah, I just I was afraid, like I was living in fear of making that change because I had all these customers that were paying money and I actually, I remember calculating it, “Okay, what if I converted to a MailChimp like model and I told all of these customers of mine that were paying, ‘All right, now it’s going to be free.’ Like how would that impact on the bottom line?”
Andrew: Right, the existing customers who are paying.
Ajay: Yeah. And I just I didn’t like it. It just made me uncomfortable at that time in my life with how much money I felt like we needed to make to be a good company. So I was scared. So I didn’t do it.
Andrew: And that’s one of the big things that’s driving you today, like you saw an opportunity to go even bigger, but you played it a little bit too safe, right?
Ajay: I did. Yeah, yeah.
Andrew: All right. What else did you see that they did that . . . You know what? Let me pause here. We’re going to come back with the next thing.
I’m going to just talk about my first sponsor. It’s a company that kind of competes with both these businesses that we just talked about. It’s called ActiveCampaign. As a guy in this space, what did you know about ActiveCampaign?
Ajay: Not a whole lot.
Andrew: You don’t. Okay. I’ll educate you. ActiveCampaign is a company that for a long time I dismissed because they’ve been around forever, you know how those old legacy businesses, and I could tell you in private about some of them, never updated because they were just living fat off of the monthly fees, because once you put your email in the newsletter, you’re stuck. And I thought that these guys were the same thing and I dismissed them for a long time.
And then I started hearing these email marketers were using them, and I said, “Real marketers are actually using ActiveCampaign? Why?” And it turns out what ActiveCampaign does is, they’ve got all the marketing automation techniques that you need in the higher-end software. But they kept it simple, and they updated their design, which a lot of the older guys didn’t do. They just kept the old design because who cares? They think that people don’t. But people do.
And so with ActiveCampaign you could do things like watch what people are using on your site or if you’ve got different software, you can see when people who are on one software will go to another one of your software to check it out. And then you could start to use that to trigger different email. So if you see that somebody . . . What do you have today? You have GMass, but you also have a couple of other products, right?
Andrew: What’s the one that we were just talking about right now with Seth, just throw one of the other names.
Ajay: Yeah, Wordzen, it’s a service where we write your emails for you.
Andrew: Right. So imagine if somebody just keeps going into Wordzen or blog posts on GMass about how to write an email, and you just tag them and then you can go back and have a triggering email in ActiveCampaign that says, “By the way, I know that you’re already GMass user, if you’re ever having trouble writing your own email, we have this thing. We’re going to teach how to write a better email, but you can always hire us.” So you start targeting people based on what they do. That’s been really hard to do forever. ActiveCampaign said, “We can keep this simple.” And that’s what they got into the market for.
So if anyone out there wants to try out ActiveCampaign, you can try them for free. Just go to activecampaign.com/mixergy. When you do, you’re going to be able to write it for free. If you decide to sign up, second month it’s going to be free. What else do they have? They also will do two free consultations with experts who will make sure that you actually use all these features in your business. Go use one call, learn, use, come back again and say, “Here’s what work, here’s what didn’t.” Get more insight, more direction, go take more action.
And then finally if you are with any other email provider and you want to switch over, they will switch over for you. They will migrate you. All you have to do is go to activecampaign.com/mixergy. And I should probably say how to spell Mixergy because, Ajay, I was just talking about GMass and somebody in our live chat here said, “How do you spell GMass?” And I realize, “Oh, maybe I’m mispronouncing stuff or it’s not clear enough.” So I’ll say, Mixergy, M-I-X-E-R-G-Y. So activecampaign.com/M-I-X-E-R-G-Y. And I really appreciate it when you guys use my URL.
For those of who you don’t know, GMass if just G for Gmail, Mass for mass like mass mailings within Gmail.
All right. The first thing that you wish you had done that you wish you’d learn from them was, “Hey, to have a freemium or something like that.” What’s the next thing that you learned from them?
Ajay: Well, the other big thing they did that got them a ton of attention, and I remember reading this in the news when I got up one morning thinking, “Oh, crap, they’re going to demolish me with this strategy.” And most people probably won’t remember this, but they launched this thing early on called “The Million Dollar Integration Fund” where they said that they were setting aside $1 million to pay developers that wanted to build an integration of some other software with MailChimp. And so that’s what started them on this track of building out this whole ecosystem of every CRM tool and every tool that’s stored somebody’s contact information integrated with MailChimp.
Andrew: I didn’t know that.
Ajay: And that also caused them to take off like a rocket ship.
Andrew: Did they really need to spend that much money? It was just like, “Hey, developers, I know that you’re going to have to spend . . . ” They didn’t, right?
Ajay: Yeah. No, I mean, I don’t know that they ever actually spent . . . I mean, now they make so much money that . . .
Andrew: It doesn’t matter.
Ajay: I think they at the time they probably just said, “It’s the million dollar integration fund.” But you don’t actually have to spend $1 million right away to claim you have the spot.
Andrew: Right, right. But it was enough to get attention. That makes sense. Was there something you could’ve done with that?
Ajay: I could have. I just got complacent. JangoMail was making money. It was getting new customers every week. And at the time, I would see that like maybe we got seven or eight new customers every day. I’m like, oh, that’s like 50 or 60 new customers a week. And I would think, “Wow, I’m doing pretty well here.” And I think I just didn’t have the perspective. Like the [inaudible 00:22:56] perspective to know that other companies were adding like 1,000 new customers a week or 5,000 new customers a week. And I was content with where we were.
In retrospect, I mean, I tell people the story of JangoMail and that I sold it, I made X amount of dollars and it’s all fine and it turned out well for me. But I think I’m always one to kind of look at what I could have done better, and when I compare myself to . . . So the CEO of MailChimp, his name is Ben Chestnut, when I compare myself to like him and like what he did and the decisions he made, it’s kind of like it’s a kick in the gut for me. But I’m also like trying to apply those learnings to GMass now.
Andrew: I can see that. And so what do you do now with GMass to know that there’s a bigger possibility?
Ajay: Well, so there’s a lot of things I’m doing differently. So I’m certainly not relying on pay-per click ads for my leads. But let me just tell you one thing that I’ve noticed that’s different between JangoMail and GMass. So Seth who you had on just now was, he’s kind of the exception, not the rule because with JangoMail . . . So I’ve always had a bunch of like entrepreneur friends, especially in the tech space, and with JangoMail, I would offer JangoMail for free to my entrepreneur friends. “I know you need an email marketing solution, whatever you’re using right now, MailChimp, ExactTarget, SendGrid, whatever it is, Constant Contact, use my tool for free. You’re my buddy. You can use it for free.”
So then they would tell their tech guy and they’d be like, “Hey, my friend Ajay says you can use JangoMail for free. Go check it out.” And then their tech guy or their marketing guy would explore JangoMail, and then a few weeks later I would notice that my friend’s company, like never signed on or they signed on but they didn’t stick and I’d be like, “Yo, what happened?” They’d be like, “Oh, sorry, like our guy preferred this other platform.”
So my own friends who had companies, preferred to pay for another platform versus using my product for free because they found my product, the UI to be complicated or just the workflow to be difficult. They didn’t like it as much as another product that they rather pay for.
Andrew: Go ahead, keep going with the story because there’s something that I want to learn from that.
Ajay: Yeah. So that was always kind of like a punch in the stomach. Like, “Man. I said they could use it for free and they they’d rather pay for something else.” And with GMass the opposite is happening.
So I have a bunch of friends, just people in my network that are entrepreneurs, that are email marketers that I’ve offered the same deal too, “Feel free to use my product for free,” and people love it.
So I feel like the fact that my friends actually like it and want to use it as opposed to something else, is a sign that we’re kind of on a different trajectory now.
Andrew: I feel like when that happened in the past I might have thought, “They might not be in the right market.” Maybe developers are kind of persnickety or whatever it is. Today, I would want to go into the office and be so embarrassed but do it anyway and say, “Tell me what you’re using. Can I see how you using it. Can I see you use JangoMail?” Or maybe even, “I will let you use my software for free. I just need to watch you as you set it up,” or I wouldn’t even say, “Watch you,” because that’s kind of creepy, “But I’ll be there to walk them through it if they have any issues and then see where they get stuck.” What do you think?
Ajay: That’s a great point. And if I had the confidence in myself back then and like the confidence in my product and my general way of operating, that would have been the right thing to do, to go sit down with them and figure out why they chose this other product over mine.
But I think I was too afraid of my ego being hurt, that would have resulted in me feeling bad at the end of the day and I was so protective over my own ego back in those days, I just didn’t have the self-esteem, the self-confidence to do that.
Now I feel like I do. Now if somebody said, “Oh, man, GMass is a pain in the ass, I’d rather use something else.” I would totally dig into that and figure out why.
Andrew: Did you know at the time that it was a self-confidence thing or was it just, “I don’t have time.” Were you actually noticing it or were you distracted by all these other issues?
Ajay: No, I think I’ve always had a high degree of self-awareness so I would always . . . My self-esteem was low and [inaudible 00:27:36] high.
Andrew: Wow. Okay. Yeah, I think I wouldn’t be aware enough of that being an issue, somebody in my life would have to say, “Stop, this is the thing.”
Why’d you sell the business?
Ajay: So I sold it in at the beginning of 2013 and I had actually been trying to sell it for a couple of years. I had gone through like eight failed acquisition attempts before like the ninth one came and stuck. And the reason I sold it was because, one, I was burnt out on the business. I was burnt out on marketing and I stopped finding ways to innovate and so I was kind of bored with what I was doing. And even a bigger factor was probably that I felt like I was being a bad leader to my employees.
My employees were like clamoring for leadership. They wanted to know like where was JangoMail going. Are we ever going to expand beyond email? What can we do to grow? And I ran out of answers.
So I felt like I was a bad leader. I felt like I didn’t know how to innovate anymore. I didn’t have any new strategies to fuel customer acquisition, and I just felt like somebody else, who had more like energy and was hungrier than I was at the time, could take it and make it grow.
Andrew: And so after the sale, did you go to Hawaii?
Ajay: No. Well, contractually, I had to work for the new owner for a period of time. I think I worked for about a year and a half for the new owner. And I’ve always traveled, the whole company, JangoMail and my current company have always been set up to be a virtual operation. So I do work when I’m on vacation.
Andrew: So Hawaii was not the next step. Did you get to do anything fun? By the way, if you saw, I had to move my Chromebook over here to plug it in and I’ve kept it here on my side all day. I thought Chrome books were all day. It turns out, they’re one hour short of all day. But man, they’re so good.
I’m watching us on the Chromebook to make sure everything’s working out okay. So but did you do anything fun after you sold? I mean, you finally had a chance to go and . . . What did you do?
Ajay: Sure I did, but I mean, I didn’t feel if the stereotypical thing to do after selling a tech company is to go like buy a Ferrari or to go buy any high-ticket item or go on some lavish vacation, I mean, I didn’t do anything differently from how I’d been living my normal life.
Andrew: Really? I’ll tell you what I did. After I sold my company, I just gave everything up, all my stuff and I went and I lived on the beach of Southern California with no worries. The thing that I tried not to do is buy a car, I rented and that became a real pain in the butt and so I finally gave in and did that, said a couple of little worries, but it was insignificant compared to . . .
But you didn’t do that. You didn’t just disconnect?
Ajay: I didn’t want any of that. For me, the greatest pleasure in selling was the burden of like trying to fake being a good CEO was lifted off my shoulders. So suddenly like I didn’t have to like try to infuse leadership and motivation into myself to be a good leader. I could kind of just [sail 00:30:53]. Now I’m here to help with the product, I’m here to transition things. But now you’ve got this other leader who’s excited about the growth of the company. That was like the greatest gift for me.
Andrew: Yeah I get that. All right. And so, I get that. People do expect so much from entrepreneurs, which is fantastic when it draws the better part of you out of you. But it could be draining when they’re putting all their hopes and all their other leadership needs on you. It’s almost like they’re looking for almost a parent. In addition to their ideal teacher, in addition to the boss that they needed, the mentor that they wanted and all that. And sometimes it is draining.
Ajay: It is, it is, yeah. But I mean, I wouldn’t pin that on the employees. I mean, I don’t think my team was asking anything from me that I should have been able to offer. I think their demands of me were very reasonable. I was just having a tough time.
And it was like a weird time in my personal life as well. I was kind of depressed over some weird stuff.
Andrew: About, what? Be open. Let’s have a real conversation. About what?
Ajay: I was lonely. I think I had like a bad breakup, a couple of like breakups in that period of running JangoMail. And I just kind of felt isolated. I didn’t have a good like network of entrepreneurs to kind of talk to about this emotional stuff with. I don’t know. That kind of all tied into my low self-esteem.
Andrew: You were making enough money. You didn’t have enough like to at least distract yourself from that, to buy nice clothes, to go into interesting places? You did?
Ajay: Yeah, I did all that.
Andrew: You would what?
Ajay: But that wouldn’t like fill me up, that wouldn’t fill my soul. I could go have some retail therapy but that’s like a fleeting moment of like distraction.
Andrew: How’d you get to be so comfortable with yourself?
Ajay: So I’ve done a lot of work on myself. I’ve seen a lot of like therapists and life coaches and there was a particular coach that I started working with in probably 2014, I think, who was based in Milan, Italy. I was introduced to through another entrepreneur friend. And we like kicked off our work together by me flying to the Milan and spending like three days with her. And then there was a bunch of like work afterwards that we did via video chat for the next few months. But basically, her approach is to kind of get you to understand what your core values are and then get you to understand how you can live your life according to your core values. And by doing so, it allows you to kind of reframe the events that happen around you.
Andrew: Really, like what? What’s the core value of yours that allows you to reframe your events?
Ajay: Well, one of my core values is building a legacy.
Andrew: I see that.
Ajay: So making a mark so that by the time I die, there is something that represents me on this earth.
Andrew: So Ajay, when you look back at your previous company, it’s not just this nebulous “things didn’t work out” thing, but it’s, “I didn’t think about the legacy, which is important to me. I looked for the quicker profit because I didn’t have a vision of the future.” And that’s a lesson that you’re taking away from it only because you know your core values. Am I right?
Ajay: Right. But I couldn’t have even done the proper thing at the time because I didn’t know what my values were. I hadn’t done the work to know what I stand for.
Andrew: That’s a hard one, to know what your values are. I feel like for me one of the hard parts about listing my values is, it feels like it has to stay like solid forever and I can’t change it, when I should really give myself space to have a bad first version of my values list and then improve it as I hate the first version. You know what I mean?
Ajay: Yeah, well, so under this under this model that I kind of went through, there’s like four core values about you that never change and then there’s a bunch of other values that kind of change over the course of your life.
But one of the other things that I learned to do, in terms of like reframing things, was understanding through this model. This model, if you’re interested in knowing, it’s called the Demartini Method. So this practitioner that I met in Italy, was a practitioner of the Demartini Method, and that’s kind of turn around my perspective on my own life.
Andrew: You do feel very comfortable with yourself today. Are you in your bed?
Ajay: No, I’m in my office. My office is in my home.
Andrew: Yeah, I was wondering maybe you got me in a really personal environment. What’s that thing that’s so right over your shoulder? Let me see if I can . . .
Ajay: Oh, that’s a 3D printed GMass logo.
Andrew: Got it. I saw that. That actually looks really crisp on my Chromebook. It was the floor now that I see. It’s floorboards that I’m looking behind you and noticing.
Ajay: Oh, you thought that was the bed. Oh, okay.
Andrew: Got it. Said, man, it has his bed. All right.
We’re going to find out where the first version of GMass came from. I’m sorry, I’m taking more time with you than I expected, but I got to keep going with this. I needed details.
Second sponsor is a company called The HostGator. You guys are listening to me interview entrepreneurs all the time. They have a bunch of really good ideas. You’re listening around and you say, “Hey, you know what? Why am I not more creative?” Here’s the thing that you should do. I’m going to suggest this Ajay. You tell me if you disagree. Feel free to disagree, even if it’s a sponsor. They they’re not paying for my words, they’re paying for my time.
I really like the idea of going to hostgator.com, signing up for the Baby plan, getting unlimited domains and any idea that you’ve got, just go and put something up there, just to see what it’s like. Not because it’s a business, not because it’s going to be the thing that you get customers with, but there’s something about actually creating that inspires more creation. There’s something about publishing that inspires you to think differently about your creation much better, I would even say then journaling it. Just go put it up on a clean website. What do you think of that?
Ajay: I think that’s a great idea. I mean, the first step to like growing any business is getting something really basic out there. And with GMass, the very first version of the product was a pretty crappy way of sending an email campaign through Gmail.
Andrew: You know what? I thought it was really brilliant your first version. We’ll get into that in a moment, but if you need a website hosted and hosted right, go to hostgator.com/mixergy. Yeah, that Baby plan cost a little bit more than a Simple. The names of their plans are kind of, they’re so in keeping with their thing, with their brand but it’s kind of silly for me to say, “The Baby plan is what I recommend, the Hatchling plan is a little bit cheaper. Yes, you will pay a little bit more for the Baby plan.” I don’t get any extra money for promoting it, but I do think you’ll like it better.
And frankly, there are more options beyond what you see on their websites. So as your business grows, they will scale with, you don’t have to stick with these Baby plans when you’re giant. You can do what we’ve done. What WPBeginner has done, which is a huge site and so many others, just scale up with HostGator. But start off small, hostgator.com/mixergy will get you the lowest price that they have available and will help me because you’ll be tagged as one of my listeners and will help you because we’re always going to take care of our listeners, hostgator.com/mixergy.
The idea came to you. You were in Hawaii. You were trying to send messages to a few people. What were you doing in Hawaii trying to send messages to people? What was this thing?
Ajay: I was living in Hawaii for a month because my girlfriend at the time was doing a yoga teaching certification. We were camping out, and this was also the time for me where I was like trying to figure out what I want to do next. And I had been dabbling in like the Gmail ecosystem because Google had just launched an API for Gmail in 2014, in the summer of 2014.
So I had taken an interest in that and I had taken an interest in Chrome extensions. For my other product, Wordzen, I needed a way to like send out a really simple email campaign to 10 people with some personalized information. And I just assumed that there was already a Chrome extension for Gmail that did that.
So I thought like, “I’m going to be done in 10 minutes here.” I was going to download the right extension, send off my email and I’m done for the night. And I was like really surprised that that didn’t exist, because it seemed like such an obvious need. But the reason it didn’t exist, I’m assuming is because the Gmail API was so new that no one had really built it yet.
And so when I saw that it didn’t exist, and given my own background in email marketing with JangoMail, kind of this fire was created inside of me where I felt like, “I’ve got to be the guy to do this and I’ve got to be the first guy to get it done.”
Andrew: I can’t believe it didn’t exist before too. But you know what? When I saw that it didn’t exist, I thought, “Man, Gmail kind of sucks in a way that Office was so good back then,” instead of thinking, “Hey, there’s an opportunity here.” How did you know it would be a big enough opportunity? I guess, I kind of thought for a long time that Chrome extensions, Gmail extensions were always going to be tiny. How did you know this was a big enough opportunity to spend your time on?
Ajay: I didn’t. I just built it because I knew that I needed it. And I assumed that there would be at least a handful of other people out there in the world that could benefit from this. You know what? There are some Chrome extensions that are like huge, like for example, like Grammarly is a Chrome extension that has over 10 million users.
At the time, when I started GMass, probably the most popular Gmail specific plugin was a product called Boomerang, which is still a pretty popular Gmail plugin that most people have heard of, I think.
Well, I didn’t have any expectations. I’ve always been bad at predicting the future. I wasn’t doing any modeling or forecasting or thinking about how many users . . .
Andrew: What about the legacy? You weren’t even thinking that? You weren’t saying, “Hey, is this really going to get me a legacy that I need?”
Ajay: No, not at all. I saw an opportunity to build something cool that I thought would solve a problem that I had, that I assumed would also solve some other people’s problems. The whole legacy thing, I only ever really start thinking about that when something’s like working, when something like has some traction. When GMass started to get some traction then I started thinking about, “All right. How can I get this in the hands of as many people as possible who are like genuinely happy with how it works and what it does for them?”
Andrew: The first version of GMass was written with the help of a freelancer, I read on Indie Hackers. How’d you find the freelancer?
Ajay: A high school friend of mine who’s a software developer, far superior software developer than I.
Andrew: And it was just, “Here’s what I have in mind. I’ll do the backend. You do the frontend.” Is that what it was?
Ajay: Basically, yeah.
Andrew: And then how long did it take you to build it?
Ajay: Two weeks. I had a working version of GMass ready in two weeks. And the first version was just a really simple interface, simple model. We basically added a button to the Gmail interface, and as you said, you could put a bunch of addresses in the To field, put in your subject, put in your message, and if you hit my button instead of the Gmail Blue send button, you get an individual email would go out to everybody in the two line, rather than like one single email to everybody in the two line.
Andrew: To me that seems beautifully elegant. But I could see the confusing part. Some people would know if I put a bunch of emails in the two, if I hit this GMass button, is it actually going to send an individual email or are they all going to get the same? I get that that could be a little bit scary at first, but it makes a ton of sense. Was it more embarrassing than it should have been as a first version?
Ajay: Well, it was embarrassing in the sense of like how it kind of worked on the backend. So for example, like let’s say you wanted to send an email to 100 people. The elegant way of doing that from a software development perspective is when the user hits the GMass button, you display like a nice message, “GMass is sending your campaign. We’ll let you know when it’s all done sending. Feel free to work on whatever else you want to.” But the first version of GMass, you hit the button, and we basically had our code written as a loop and it would loop through sending those 100 emails, and basically the whole Gmail screen would hang while those 100 emails are being sent. So you might have a frozen Gmail screen in front of you for five minutes before you could do anything.
Andrew: Oh, got it. Wow. All right.
Ajay: That was just like the first version because I just wanted to get something that worked out there.
Andrew: You went to Startups subreddit and you promoted it there.
Ajay: Yeah, yeah, I did. The rules are different now with the Startups subreddit, so back then when I was first launching GMass, you were allowed to do a post about your startup and name your startup. They’ve changed the rules. And since you’re actually not allowed to do that.
Andrew: Except for like once a month, I see, they’ve got their share your startup post and only in there you’re allowed to comment and respond.
Ajay: Yeah, but you get lost in there because you get like thousands of people replying to that thread every month. So you’re not really going to get any visibility from that.
Andrew: Okay. But that’s where you’re able to get it. And frankly, before Product Hunt and before a couple of other sites, it made sense. BetaList, I think, was around and really strong at the time. But you wanted more of a community. So you posted it in there and you got people to try it.
Ajay: Yeah. When I just posted about what I was working on, that ended up being the number one thread on the Startups subreddit for a couple of days, so that got me some initial attention and traffic.
And then I think we were on Product Hunt maybe a couple of weeks after that, and that was that was exciting. I remember like refreshing this console I have that shows me user sign ups and I think like every three minutes there was a new user sign up. So that was that was pretty exciting to see.
Andrew: And then also you got some articles written about it, right?
Ajay: Yeah, yeah. Just some tech bloggers that have kind of niche followings, wrote about GMass after the Product Hunt launch. And then as more people installed it and started to use it, my rankings in the Chrome extension store started to climb. So then that kind of added some additional traffic. Those are the things that got me my initial traction. And then I’ve just been kind of building out our strategy to attract users since.
Andrew: To go beyond that. Do you guys do, like on the free version, a send with GMass thing?
Ajay: Yeah. You can use it for free to send up to 50 emails.
Andrew: But you don’t brand it on the emails that go out.
Ajay: No, we don’t. No.
Andrew: That’s intentional.
Ajay: It is, it is. So we don’t actually force anything onto your emails, even like an unsubscribe link or a CAN-SPAM footer. And that’s because just the people that we’re trying to serve are different from the people that an ordinary email marketing company is trying to serve. So for example, I’ve got teachers who are using it to keep in touch with parents of their students, or like a tennis club instructor using it to keep in touch with members of the tennis club.
Andrew: But they wouldn’t use it if people knew that they were using this mail merge tool?
Ajay: No, they would still use it but the point is that like a MailChimp or a Constant Contact would like automatically apply a footer that has CAN-SPAM compliant, that has an unsubscribe link but there’s a lot of purposes where an unsubscribe link doesn’t really make sense.
Andrew: No, I feel like you’re right. For this, and unsubscribe link doesn’t make sense. You’re basically just removing their time of using Gmail, and Gmail has their restrictions and their spam issues, spam protection so on.
But the footer of “Sent with GMass” for the free version, it seems like that was an intentional decision because you could do that, right? People who are using . . .
Ajay: Yeah, I wanted people to have a good first experience, and I think when you see that, when you send your first campaign and you see that footer, you’re like man like, “Oh, man, like really?”
Andrew: That’s what I’m getting at. You really are now at a point where you say, “I want this to be pure, I want this to be good, I want this to not be maximizing virality over experience, maximizing profit over experience,” right?
Ajay: Yeah, I want to maximize virality and a user base . . .
Andrew: Virality through word of mouth, not virality through a link on the bottom of the message.
Ajay: Well, actually, that’s not entirely true. So let me clarify one thing. So this actually, does kind of anger some people sometimes and I haven’t addressed it yet. But on the free version, there’s no footer. We add nothing. And then we have like three paid plans, like a minimum, standard, and a premium.
On that minimal plan, we actually do add a footer.
Andrew: Oh, okay. Got it.
Ajay: The idea is that if you want the features but just want to pay less, then let us add that footer. But people get really confused, because they’re like, “Wait a second, on the free plan there was no footer. Now I’m paying and there is a footer?” It does lead to some confusion, but actually that footer for people on that very minimal plan, attracts a ton of clicks. I haven’t checked on it recently, but probably over 100,000 people lifetime have clicked on a Powered by GMass footer.
Andrew: Got it. And does that lead to significant number of new customers?
Ajay: Yeah, yeah. I don’t know exactly what that number is, but it’s definitely led to . . .
Andrew: It’s natural. That’s like the father of virality to put it on a footer on an email, that’s where it came from.
So that’s the first set of users, you’re still in the free version only. What’s the next thing that you improved about the software now that you’ve had some users at this stage in the story?
Ajay: Yeah. I mean, the next phase was to like build out some of the more traditional features of an email marketing system. So, like letting you schedule a campaign to be sent at a later date. Adding some basic things, like open tracking and click tracking. After that, came like an integration with spreadsheets so that you can have like your columns of data and then personalizing your subject and message with any column of data you have in your spreadsheet. And then making it also work fast.
So I had mentioned in that first iteration, your screen would hang. So kind of improving the synchronicity of the whole system.
Andrew: What you did you do to improve that?
Ajay: Well, that’s just kind of a software development programming problem where you have stuff kind of happen asynchronously rather than having the UI wait on an operation to take place.
Andrew: I want to get into how you started charging too. Let’s move into that. At some point you said, “All right. It’s time for me to charge.” When was that point?
Ajay: I decided to start charging about a year after I launched the product. So this was September of 2016 when I monetized.
Andrew: And you went back to your current customers and you said, what? What was the offer that you made? Current users, they weren’t customers at the time.
Ajay: Yeah, I set an email campaign to all of my existing users. There might have been maybe 50,000 at the time, but I just said, “Starting on this date, if you’re sending beyond a certain volume, I’m going to ask you to pay a small fee to use it. I hope you’ll come on board.”
And I was disappointed in the reaction. So I sent out this email campaign and then I’m monitoring responses. There were a lot of just like, “F yous,” and, “You tricked us,” and, “You said this was going to be free, and I can’t afford this.” And just so you know, like our pricing plans range from like $7 a month to $20 a month. And the goal at the time was to make it affordable so that people didn’t see that as the barrier to subscribing. So it was disheartening.
And I remember the night that I flipped the switch, were like suddenly to send the campaign to more than 50 people you got a popup asking you to pay. I remember flipping the switch and like waiting for that first subscriber to come in. And like I thought it was going to be nearly instant, because at the time, I mean, GMass had pretty much become a system were like every minute campaigns were being launched, like literally, every minute of the 24 hour day campaigns were being launched.
I thought, “Maybe 5 minutes, maybe 10 minutes my first subscriber will arrive.” But like an hour went by. And like nothing came in. And so when that happens it’s like, “Oh, shit, maybe it’s not working. Maybe the code is broken.”
So then I went in and I subscribed myself using my own credit card. I had to charge my own credit card. Yeah, it worked. So I’m like, “All right. It’s working.” And you know what it was is I flipped the switch at midnight, like midnight Central Time, and around that time is when most of the active users are overseas like India, China, South Asia, East Asia, where I think the currency difference made it kind of a bigger jump to subscribe than it would have been for like an active U.S. user. I didn’t realize this until I kind of went to bed in frustration and woke up the next morning.
And by the time I woke up the morning, there were a handful of subscribers. Most of them that had subscribed in like the 8:00 a.m., 9:00 a.m. like U.S. time hour, just because of how the Indian rupee is against the U.S. dollar it makes it a lot more difficult for someone in India to subscribe that someone in the U.S.
Andrew: Yeah, I find that a lot, people in India are really eager to participate in a lot of what’s going on online but they’re priced out of it. You know what? This is actually an interesting problem, it’s the kind of problem that I would have ignored. But the more interviews I do, the more I realize I should pay attention to problems because that’s the solution. That’s the next big idea.
It would be helpful if, you know, there’s college versions of The Wall Street Journal or Spotify where you get to pay a lower price if you’re in college. And everybody understands, college students don’t have money, Spotify is going to make it easy, the Wall Street Journal’s going to make it easy. I feel like somebody needs to create that for India. We’re going to make GMass available for you in India at a lower price, but we just need to make sure you’re genuinely in India. And I don’t know what that is, but that Indian verification would be huge because I got a feeling, I don’t think you’re going to charge nothing for it for people in India, but you charge a lower price and there’s enough of them that it would make up for it overall. How do we do that? That would be really helpful.
Ajay: Well, I think some companies are already starting to experiment with that. I can’t remember for certain but I feel like I read an article that Netflix was starting to experiment with charging different prices for people in different countries.
Andrew: Yes, it’s a little bit different for them and I’d like to see it being done. They’ve been doing this type of thing forever. I’ve actually gone into Canada at a time with them and then I can’t use it.
I went to Mexico, just crossed the border and suddenly I get access to the TV show “Suits” on Netflix, but I don’t get access to “Suits” on Amazon Prime. And come back to the U.S. is vice versa. I get it.
But for you to be able to plug that in the way you can for Stripe, the way you can other stuff, “If you’re in India, here’s what we’re going to charge. If you’re in other countries, here’s we’re going to charge.” That little bit of like simple code, plug it in, you got it. That’s huge. So [forget about 00:54:18] the profit.
Ajay: That could be the next wave of growth for me. That’s been something I’ve been thinking about, I haven’t . . .
Andrew: Going to India?
Ajay: Yeah. India as one example, but just country-specific pricing based on what the affordability is in that country.
Andrew: Right, right. And I think that some Americans are going to get pissed off. Some are going to try to find ways around it, some obviously will. I’m okay with all that.
Ajay: Yeah, me too.
Andrew: What I still want to say is, there is an addressable market out there and I get emails from Indian all the time who are dying to participate but they can’t. And what do you do? You send them substandard stuff? That’s not the answer. There’s got to be a better answer.
Well, you just got me in a hole other tear that I think is really worth talking about and thinking about.
But frankly, anything that’s a problem. If there is a problem, we have to be sensitized to it and not say, “The world sucks,” which is complaining or be blind to it and say, “Okay, I wish it was this way,” but do what you did and say, “There should be a way to send multiple emails. I shouldn’t have to sit here and type all 10 of my emails out to 10 different people.” You now had it, a lot of, “F yous,” a lot of people who were starting to sign up, things are starting to go. What did you do to grow even further?
Ajay: So that’s when I started focusing on my blog. So I kind of noticed that there was a lack of content that taught people how to do like very specific things in Gmail. And I feel like, you know, there’s this whole gigantic content marketing industry where people teach you how to write content that attracts organic traffic. And when I read a lot of content on my competitors’ blogs or just even like a lot of content on even sites like Medium sometimes or just digital marketing blogs, you can tell, I can tell when content has been written not to like really teach the reader something, but has been written for SEO purposes. And I think absolutely the majority of content. I think majority of content is a bunch of crap.
And I wanted to take a more genuine authentic approach with my blog. So, we’ve written a lot of content that is meant to teach you how to do something very specific that would be like a valuable technique to have in your marketing arsenal. And most of my content has not been written with an eye for SEO. What I found is that our content started to rank well, not because I was strategically placing keywords that I wanted to rank for in the content, but just because people, you know, I don’t know how Google’s algorithm works, but I’m assuming that it probably takes into account how much time somebody spends on a page or whether they, you know, I don’t know. I’m really not an expert . . .
Andrew: You just know, if it’s good, they’re going to figure it. You know what I did notice about you? You will write, I don’t know if you still do this, but I remember seeing an old article where it was a genuinely written piece, and by the way, on the bottom there be links that say, “If you want to know more about Google inbox, here’s a Wikipedia link and here’s something else.” And it was almost like you said, “This is really good. But I do need some SEO links, and if I link out to highly ranked pages like Wikipedia, it’s going to be useful.”
Ajay: Oh, you know, yes, I knew exactly what we were talking about.
Andrew: [inaudible 00:57:26] add on.
Ajay: What was that?
Andrew: I feel like the reason I remember that post is because I feel like you think about the content first and then SEO is like an afterthought. If it works, great, if it doesn’t, I have done no harm, I had linked to Wikipedia. That’s the way you think about it?
Ajay: No, I know exactly what you’re talking about. And I absolutely have done that. But even that wasn’t an SEO strategy. What I do at the end of my articles is I have like a resources section, because I just want to make it easy for someone to have all the resources that I’ve mentioned within the content in one neat and tidy place at the bottom of the article.
Andrew: So there’s not a plan to do that?
Ajay: Yeah, I don’t know that that’s adding any SEO value like linking to one of Google’s domains or linking to Wikipedia. I’m not sure if that does anything.
Andrew: All right. I was wondering about that. So you started writing about a blog posts that’s leading to traffic toward your site. And then let me see, what else did you do? Did you change the way that you’re asking people to convert? Were you able to get to grow your subscriptions from free to paid in any interesting ways?
Ajay: I haven’t spent a lot of time optimizing the funnel from free to paid, but what I have spent a lot of time is building out tools that I think would be attractive to email marketers where they then like use this other tool for free and then they learn about GMass and what they can do from inside their Gmail.
Andrew: Like, what?
Ajay: Like one of our popular kind of side tools is this thing called Inbox, Spam, or Promotions and it’s free tool that any marketer can use to test out . . .
Andrew: gmass.co/inbox. Sorry, I was just showing how much of a know-it-all I am instead of letting you finish it. What was it? Inbox, Spam, Promotion, was what?
Ajay: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s called Inbox, Spam, or Promotions. And what that stands for are the different tabs in Gmail that your email campaign might end up in. And so it’s a free, easy to use tool. And so you can use this regardless of whether you’re using MailChimp, Constant Contact or ActiveCampaign, your sponsor. Did I say that right? Was it ActiveCampaign?
Andrew: You said it right. So I’m actually testing this right now. So I’m on that site. What do I do if I go to this?
Ajay: Yeah. So you send your campaign to the addresses at the top and you’ll almost instantly see where they land.
Andrew: Got it. Just go into my . . . Before I send an email using my email software, I pop all those emails in and then it’s going to tell me where it lands. How are you doing this?
Ajay: It’s a pretty high tech solution to a pretty common problem. We’re using a technology called WebSockets. WebSockets is what a lot of like chatbots use to make it so that like messages appear in real time in your web browser. So we’re using a combination of a very specific API that Gmail has called the Pub/Sub API plus WebSockets so that you get this dashboard in front of you where the emails like slide in in real time.
Andrew: And you’re sending it to real email addresses on Gmail, on your domain, etc.
Ajay: Yeah, yeah.
Andrew: Got it. Wow. All right, I got. So you’re saying, “Hey, here’s a tool that I’m using for people who are in my audience.” How do you come up with these tools, like the SMPT tester?
Ajay: Yeah, exactly. Well, a lot of these are things that I needed myself and I kind of just assumed, “All right. If I need it, maybe somebody else will need it too.” And that’s been a good model for us. I mean, I think that’s probably also the way of thinking of an earlier stage startup. I mean, the more sophisticated thinking would be to like really dig into the user mindset to know what they need. I think if I want to grow to the next level, I need to stop thinking about like the shiny thing, the shiny idea that’s in my head and building that. And like, doing a deep dive with my user base and figuring out like what do people really want.
Andrew: How do you do that? How do you come up with stuff like this? How do you do a deep dive into a user base? What’s your process?
Ajay: I don’t know. I haven’t done it yet. I’m going to be making my first like foray into that world.
Andrew: Finding your users, contacting them and saying, “Hey, what’s going on, what do you doing? Talk to me.” And you’re going to try to figure out.
Ajay: Yeah, I started something a few weeks ago that I found kind of cool. I invited my most active users into like a VIP Slack group. So I have like 30 of my most active users in a Slack group that I host, where I kind of tell them what I’m working on in advance of like a feature launch, I solicit feedback from them. So that’s like my first step into making better, like more data driven decisions.
Andrew: Hey, you know what? This idea of creating software as a way of getting people in, it’s something that I see occasionally, and it turns out it’s not as hard as it seems. And then it survives longer than a good blog post, because it doesn’t go out of date.
I think about this tool that I use for mailto, if I ever need to create a mailto URL that when somebody clicks it, it automatically populates all the information in. Somebody created it a long time ago and it’s gone, but that kind of thing is super helpful.
Ajay: Oh, yeah, yeah. Those are pretty easy to create on your own as well. I could teach you how to do it.
Andrew: Oh, I know how to do that even just using a standard form. I’ve thought about just replacing it, but then there are other people who do that too. But what you’re doing here with your tools is also not that much harder. You can get someone on Toptal, or frankly, you could even go to a cheapo freelance site and get somebody to create some of these tools. Not all of them, but a tool.
Ajay: But I like to think what we’re building isn’t easy to build. And we try to build tools that other people haven’t already built that I think would be useful. So, like actually, there are other tools that will analyze your campaign and tell you where your emails are landing. I think we’ve built it in like the easiest to use way.
Andrew: Which one is that?
Ajay: That’s the Inbox, Spam, or Promotions tool.
Andrew: Oh, got it. I see what you mean. I’m actually now on deliverability to Gmail. And so you’re pulling in all the information? The domains, gmass.co/domains.
Ajay: So you stumbled upon my deliverability public database.
Andrew: Yeah, sorry, tell me about this.
Ajay: Yeah. I just launched that like two months ago. And the idea is that you can see our open rates and our bounce rates to any domain and then you can compare them to what you’re getting already with your existing email marketing tool.
So if you’re a MailChimp user or an ActiveCampaign user, and you have a lot of Gmail addresses on your list and you know that your open rate to Gmail is 10%, you can look up what ours is and kind of make your decision as to whether we’re a good fit or not.
Andrew: But then, are you looking to help people who have hundreds or thousands of emails send it out?
Ajay: Sort of. So GMass has evolved in the last year, where now we can send high volume campaigns. We have people that send campaigns to 100,000 people through GMass.
Ajay: Yeah, yeah. My own user list is 250,000 people. So I use GMass when I communicate with my own . . .
Andrew: And they subscribe and unsubscribe, how?
Ajay: So what we’ve done is now with GMass you can send natively through your Gmail account, which was the original goal of the product. But you can also hook GMass into like a third-party service, like a SendGrid or like an Amazon SES. So you can use your Gmail interface to launch and send campaigns but now you can send high-volume campaigns by tying into another service.
Andrew: And Ajay, you will actually then, at that point, you’ve got to attach the unsubscribe, you do have to have some kind of subscription process.
Ajay: You should. Yeah, we still don’t force it on you but we tell you that you’re probably in violation of something if don’t . . .
Andrew: And you have a way of doing that of like adding an unsubscribe feature?
Ajay: Yeah, that’s a native feature to GMass.
Andrew: Got it. So you don’t force me to use it, but you do allow me to add an unsubscribe.
Ajay: Yeah, yeah.
Andrew: You know what? I didn’t notice that. What I saw as I went through your site is, you’re starting to add a lot of the stuff that other email, like tracking software has. You know, the do people open, do people click, etc. Got it. The schedule for later. You mentioned Boomerang earlier. You’ve got a lot of their integration already.
Andrew: Oh, I see it here. Unsubscribe link is one of the features in the feature link. Got it.
Wow. All right. So you’re really starting to think of this as maybe a competitor to, at some point in the future, ActiveCampaign. Right now it’s just for individual use, but the individuals are growing.
Ajay: Right. I’m building it out into, hopefully, like an enterprise email marketing platform with this like one unique angle that I hope attracts people. And that unique angle being that you’re managing everything from the Gmail interface, which most people are like already familiar with. And so the learning curve is a lot smaller.
Andrew: Where do you imagine they’re going to keep their subscription list, in spreadsheets?
Ajay: Yeah. So our data store right now is Google Sheets.
Andrew: And that’s what you’re thinking you’re going to keep doing? Maybe not forever.
Ajay: Yeah, because there are some other things we could do. So like this year, I want to launch a salesforce.com integration. So you’ll be able to pull from your contacts and your leads right in Salesforce. There’s probably some better things I can do in that regard.
Andrew: I see. You know what? There’s something, it’s less than a newsletter business that you’re going after first, people have a lot of messages to send, they want it to be customized but it’s fewer than an email newsletter. Am I right?
Ajay: You lost me there.
Andrew: I feel like for an email newsletter, there are lots of options. You mentioned ActiveCampaign, MailChimp, etc. Once you’re managing an email newsletter, there’s software for it. But what about all those people who have a big group of people they want to message, but it’s not really a newsletter that someone would subscribe to, it’s their contacts that they’re trying to reach. It’s like our school that might want to reach all the parents and they don’t want it to have a different email newsletter where a parent would have to subscribe when they sign their kids up, unsubscribe when they’re gone. Just pull it out of whatever CRM that they’re using. It’s not necessarily for my email newsletter, but I do have a need sometimes to contact thousands of people who are all connected to me. That’s where you want to play, it seems like.
Ajay: Right. Yeah, sure. Or it could be like a university that is sending a giant email campaign to just all of their students, and that could be 20,000 people right there.
Andrew: And you don’t want the students to sign up, they’re in CRM anyway, they obviously have permission to connect with them. That’s what they’re supposed to do. And you want to be that person who powers that up.
Andrew: So I’m looking at the subject line that caught my eye, “How I hit one $115,000 a month with a status quo improvement.” What is the status quo improvement? Was there any one or is it a collection of them?
Ajay: Well, man, now that you read that headline out loud, I’m having to think about what they must have meant by it.
Andrew: You basically, I think, were saying in the article, “I don’t make giant moves. People keep thinking that the next thing that’s going to make them successful is going to be an ICO. I don’t think that way. Here’s where I am. I’m just going to keep making small . . . ” I would say, not even status quo, “Incremental improvements over dramatic news article chases.”
Ajay: Well, I think what I’m most proud about GMass is that email marketing has been around forever. Not forever, but a fairly long time. And I think with GMass, I was able to figure out a way to innovate in an industry where things are pretty much like set now, like there’s not a whole lot of innovation happening in email marketing. And we like found a way to do something that was like pretty cool, that added something to the ecosystem.
Andrew: One more thing, I’ve been thinking about this a lot. One thing that you did was, you were really showing up high in Google Chrome store, number four. You saw there was a guy who was number three, I think, but his thing was defunct too. His tool wasn’t used. And so, you should tell people what you did. I’ve got a follow up question.
Ajay: Yeah, well, one of the terms we try to rank for is mail merge because GMass is essentially a mail merge tool. I mean, there’s a lot of ways of saying it, mass email, email marketing, mail merge was one of them.
But anyway, there was a guy that had also developed a Chrome extension but he only had like a couple hundred users. I could tell that he hadn’t updated the code in like over a year. And he was like one spot above me. So around when I launched GMass I tracked him down, found an email address for him. And I just wrote him and said, “Hey, would mind just removing your software because I’m pretty sure you’re not actively maintaining it anymore. And it would allow me to move up a spot, which would be really good for me.” And he was like, “No problem.” And he did. He removed himself. And that allowed me to have this greater degree of his ability.
Andrew: The thing I was wondering was, what if you would have asked him if you could buy it and maintain it, even for a small price, then you get to rankings in the store.
Ajay: Yeah, I didn’t think of that. I think that would have been kind of like gamey and I think . . . I don’t know if I would have been punished for that at some point down the road.
Andrew: I was interviewing Nathan Latka recently about how he bought a plugin.
Ajay: Yeah. No, I understand.
Andrew: Now I’m thinking these plugins are something, these plugins are something.
All right. Congratulations. You’re really building something that just continues to grow. I like following your progress. The website is G for Gmail, mass for mass, like it allows you to send out more than one mail at a time, gmass.co, right?
Ajay: That is it. And by the way, if there are any listeners out there who are like experts in buying domains, I’ve been trying to get the .com for like years unsuccessfully.
Andrew: I see it’s dead.
Ajay: It is.
Andrew: It’s worse than dead. It’s like a security like a . . . What’s it called? A safety violation. [inaudible 01:11:44] . . . yeah. Okay.
Ajay: Anyway, if anyone knows . . .
Andrew: You’d love if somebody can help you get that.
Andrew: Oh, look at this. Oh, man. It’s asking me for my pad . . . This is nonsense. Yeah, gmass.com should be yours, for now it’s gmass.co for anyone who wants to go check it out, of course in the Chrome store.
And I want to thank my two sponsors who made this interview happen. If you want to do email marketing right, at the high level with a lot of tags and keep it simple, go check out activecampaign.com/mixergy. And if you want to host your website right, go to hostgator.com/mixergy.
And finally, I’m running marathons all over the world. I’m trying to meet entrepreneurs, especially in Eastern Europe. But I’ll go anywhere in Europe. My goal by the way, Ajay, it’s a little convoluted the way I’m expressing it, I want to run seven marathons on seven continents in one year. I just did the first one. Next one’s going to be in Chile. I want to go to Eastern Europe, ideally, but I don’t want to just go run a marathon there. I want to interview entrepreneurs. And if I’m going to interview entrepreneurs, I need a partner, somebody who has access to a lot of entrepreneurs, someone who runs an event in Eastern Europe or venture capitalists in Eastern Europe, somebody who’s listening to me who can help give me access to at least two interviews and maybe even as many as four that I could record and get to know what entrepreneurship is like outside the U.S. I cannot be restricted to U.S. only, right, Ajay.
Ajay: No. Go global, go big.
Andrew: Global? Go run with Andrew. So here, if you want to follow me as I do this all over the world, even if you don’t know who I should be interviewing and you just want to follow along, go check out this website. And of course it’s hosted on HostGator, it’s runwithandrew.com.
Ajay, thanks so much.
Ajay: Nice, thanks, Andrew.
Andrew: Cool. So it was great day of live interviews. It’s like a total [eight 01:13:20] hours of me sitting down, but the payoff it’s great.
Ajay: You must be exhausted.
Andrew: You know what? I’m kind of invigorated. It was helpful that I went out and I got lunch. It was really helpful. I’ve got a little checklist of what I would do differently. Here’s what I’ve got. Number one, lunch break. I definitely need to have lunch up here. Number two thing that I would do is, and we should keep this in the interview, let people watch it even afterwards, I should have somebody who is listening to me be our co-host.
So when I take a break, I don’t want it to just be dead here. Just have a co-host. I want experiment with doing this live on other platforms. Can we syndicated out to YouTube, Facebook, etc., and Twitter and still keep all the chat in a place where I can keep up with it? Because I don’t want people to respond and then go into dead air.
The Q&A was distracting. So I saw Helen just says, “That was awesome, Andrew.” Thank you, Helen. But I also know that you were trying to reach me at one point using the Q&A feature here, which is not a good feature. I can’t have people chat and Q&A. I just got to just close that off.
Oh, I should probably have started earlier and ended early. I realized, I don’t know what time it is where you are, but for many people it’s 8:00 p.m., that’s a lot.
Ajay: Yeah, it’s 8.00 p.m. for me.
Andrew: So what I should probably do is start it. I can start at 10:00. I can’t start at 11:00 the way I did today, 09:00 is too early for me, my voice needs to like wake up, my body needs to be fully ready to talk to people. Maybe start 10:00 next time and then end it by 3:00. And at some point maybe we’ll get to 9:00 a.m. starts.
But I’m invigorated. Also, I don’t need as much space between interviews, maybe 15 minutes tops.
Ajay: Yeah, it’s like when you’re interviewing candidates at your company, you need like 15, 20 minutes take your notes, recharge.
Andrew: Right. And I’m invigorated by all this. So it’s worth it. I shouldn’t wuss out of asking guests to tweet, that little bit of wussiness this, I brought it up originally and it helped. You tweeted out, you brought people in, like Seth, who were customers of yours. Others did it and then they brought in people from their community. It energized things. It made things interesting, right?
Ajay: Yeah, totally.
Andrew: And it helped grow the list. I wonder what else. Is there something else that comes to mind?
Ajay: So I wish that in the, like I’ve got my background here and like you can see my printer and like in the notes that Meghan . . . Is does too?
Andrew: Yeah, Megan.
Ajay: Like she gave me like all this preparatory information, making sure my audio and video is right. I actually wish she would have said something about, “Oh, make sure like your background is something that you want to be seen.”
Andrew: You’re lucky that it did work out well. But, you’re right. And we usually do. So one thing that I’ve realized is you’re right. Let me say that, “Tell guests about the background, while we’re at it and all the other stuff we usually tell them.” I always keep a list. If I do something, I want to improve it next time. So we add it.
Usually, what we do is, we send guests a list of things that they should do, like watch the background, maybe reboot their computer, I forget what it is, and we didn’t do it this time.
Ajay: Oh, okay.
Andrew: But you didn’t get that. And then what I didn’t get that I always get is, people’s phone numbers in my calendar. In case there’s an issue with you and I can’t connect, I need to be able to call you.
Ajay: Oh, no. Megan asked for my cell phone number and I gave it to her.
Andrew: Oh, so she maybe didn’t add it . . . Or maybe she did add it, not the way that I’m used to so I didn’t see it. Okay. But I saw she was on live here for much of the day to make sure things were going okay. We also have one other person recording, Marisela recording from New York to make sure that it’s okay, that we have backup on backup. That helps. Oh, and then Helen G. is saying, “Check out restreamer.io. That’s really helpful.”
I wonder if you would do something like this, Ajay. Would you like say, “There are a handful of people who are really good at email marketing. I’m going to bring them on to do a session the way Andrew does. We’ll do like a four set of interviews.” Would you do that? This the kind of thing you’re into.
Ajay: At some point. I’ve kind of shied away from being like a consultant for email marketers, in terms of like how to best send your campaigns. Just because like our strengths are the technology, so like we build the technology to allow you to do it but we don’t tell you like what your subject line should be to get the best conversion or whatever. I’d have to feel like really confident that I had my data and, like I knew what I was talking about so . . .
Andrew: But what if it wasn’t you? What if it was a handful of people who are especially good at this stuff, like you think about it maybe . . . ?
Ajay: Like just coordinating that? Yeah, that would be something fun to try.
Andrew: Like you think about Steli Efti, he’s a killer presenter. He’s great at talking to sales people, who are essentially your customers. You know him from close.io?
Ajay: Oh, yeah. No, no. I know close.io. I just didn’t recognize that name.
Andrew: So Steli is a killer presenter, good list. Imagine if you had him on to talk about what would you do send out, what are you sending out for people, what do you recommend to sales people. You kind of have them do his presentation or you do a Q&A style, and then before it, he emails his people out or he tweets it out and says, “I’m going to be on here.” Or maybe you buy some ads against his name or something. There’s something in there.
I was against all this for a long time but I thought, “Let’s just give it a shot. It’s been pretty exciting.”
Oh, look at this Pro View. Actually, that’s got be your device name.
Ajay: Yeah, I just saw that.
Andrew: It said, “Ajay, you were awesome. Thanks for being so transparent.” Ajay, I’m going to echo that. You really were freaking awesome. Thanks.
Ajay: Thank you. Thank you.
Andrew: And Helen, I’m checking out restream. The only thing I’m wondering is, can I get chat back from them? I could see that restream is good for taking content and putting it on all these different live platforms. I’m going to make sure that I can also check back in with people. But I’m going to go read them.
Thank you so much everybody. Thank you. Bye, everyone.
Ajay: Yeah, thanks.