Curt Keller is the founder and CEO of Benchmark Email, a global email marketing services company. After buying his first business in 2000, Keller grew Benchmark Email from a small operation with a handful of employees to a multinational company offering email marketing services for English, German, Chinese, Italian, Spanish and Japanese-speaking clients. Keller is also an outspoken advocate for good email marketing practices, and he currently writes on this topic for Allbusiness.com, Imediaconnection.com, and Recharge Asia Magazine.
Sramana: Curt, let’s go back to the beginning of your story. Where are you from? What is your background?
Curt Keller: I grew up in Southern California. I am a home-grown kid and I have been here my entire life. My entrepreneurial fever came from my father, who was not an entrepreneur. He was an engineer by trade, and when I was 12 or 13 we used to spend countless hours looking over real estate magazines. My dad was a dreamer. He would create all the plans and ideas for creating money through real estate. I developed an energy to do something myself.
I did not start on that right away; instead, I went to college at Cal State Fullerton and got a degree in accounting. I worked in public accounting for three years, and I realized that being an accountant was just way too boring. I started off in a partnership with my brother in law doing active desktop publishing back in 1980. That was when Mac PostScript was getting big with laser printers and the capability to image write to film. We were successful on the small side. That entire industry was doing well. I did that for four years before we sold the business.
After that I did not do anything for about a year. My wife was working for a large company, and she had just quit her job after our son was born. She started a small printing business, so I decided to go into the financial industry. I tried that for a couple of years and failed miserably. I did not make any money, and I learned a lot of lessons. That was in 2000.
We sold the small printing business and we then bought some small specialty printing businesses. They were enough to pay bills, but we were not making spectacular money. Around 2005 I decided I wanted to do something on the Internet, I just did not know what I wanted to do. I scratched my head and came up with the idea of going into the email marketing business.
Sramana: In 2005 there were other email marketing providers, so why did you decide to go into that business?
Curt Keller: I was not necessarily trying to blaze a new path. I did not want to take that risk. I could see that there were successful companies and I could see that they were growing in a market that was still big enough to allow additional competitors. I felt that if I could do a reasonably good job, I could be successful.