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Bootstrapping To $1 Million, Then Growing to $40 Million: iContact CEO Ryan Allis: Chapel Hill, North Carolina (Part 7)

Posted on Thursday, May 12th 2011

Sramana: How do you see the competitive landscape evolving?

Ryan Allis: Microsoft left the market in 2005 and sold their customers to Constant Contact. They came back into business in 2007 and then left in 2008, that time selling their customers to us. Today we are the largest private company doing e-mail marketing. Our largest competitor is Constant Contact. MailChimp in Atlanta is our next largest competitor, followed by VerticalResponse in San Francisco. There are probably 20 other companies that do e-mail marketing, but they are not above $20 million in revenue. We also do mid-market e-mail marketing. In that sense we compete against ExactTarget and companies like that.

Sramana: How do you view the newer, more integrated solutions such as Infusionsoft?

Ryan Allis: Sometimes if you try to do a lot of different things then you may not be great at any one of them. Infusionsoft is a great company, but they have struggled with e-mail delivery.

Sramana: Where does your business go from here? You own a good chunk of the company and know how to scale. What is your ambition?

Ryan Allis:We have expanded our mission from making e-mail marketing easy to making online marketing easy. We bought an event marketing company last year, and we do surveying as well. We are doing down the path of adding a social media marketing company. We see a single platform for businesses to manage their marketing. Today we have 700,000 users and 70,000 paying customers generating a $50 million run rate. We have 300 employees today. Sometime in 2012 or 2013 we will look to go public.

Sramana: You represent the profile of the kind of entrepreneur that America needs very badly. What are you doing in terms of entrepreneurship development?

Ryan Allis: I invest in companies in North America and East Africa as an angel investor. In 2008 I wrote a book, “Zero to One Million,” that shares what I had learned about bootstrapping a company. I have been hosting events at my house for three years called Social Entrepreneur Meet-Ups. We get 60 to 80 entrepreneurs come over and have four present. We try to get two commercial startups and two nonprofits to present and then we just talk about what they are doing.

I stopped doing them about six months ago because of time, but I did at least 35 of them. I am very excited that the research triangle area of North Carolina is taking off well. I am passionate about using entrepreneurship as a tool around the world. We became a B corp, which is a third-party certified non-profit which is certified as socially and environmentally profitable. There are very few of them which are venture capital backed. We are one of the first. I am passionate about socially responsible business and the social good entrepreneurship can be used for.

Every six months [I] go to Kenya, Rwanda, and east Africa to learn about what the emerging technologies are in that part of the world. I see tremendous business opportunity in east Africa. Mobile phone usage is high. Broadband internet access is just coming. We are now seeing lower cost access to fast internet. We are seeing BPO firms starting up in Nairobi. We are seeing software development shops for Samsung and tertiary handsets. It is an amazing opportunity for mobile, Internet, and solar companies.

Sramana: This is a fantastic story. I look forward to following your success.

This segment is part 7 in the series : Bootstrapping To $1 Million, Then Growing to $40 Million: iContact CEO Ryan Allis: Chapel Hill, North Carolina
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Truly inspirational story! From the humble beginnings of helping senior citizens with computers, Ryan has come a long way with the great startup with sound revenues, simple but excellent product, great insights.

Must read for young entrepreneurs!

Ashok Monday, May 16, 2011 at 3:35 AM PT

I am impressed.

sri Monday, May 16, 2011 at 8:35 AM PT

whoaaa ! and now that was SOME story, truly inspirational and Ryan made the whole thing sound so simple and like a cake walk. his humility is quite well expressed here !

Ashish Tulsian Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at 12:41 PM PT

Allis has followed the path that he new where it will take him to, Allis had the power to wait only because he was aware of this future, and because is very hard to convince others to follow your paths knowing that they will give up you have to wait. You have to pass the path only with people that believe the same. The same did Aaron.
One of the only stories I have ever read and has inspired me to continue to believe that there is a shiny light at the end of every dark tunnel path. BRAVO Allis.

Stathis Monday, November 21, 2011 at 12:32 PM PT