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Candid Discussion of a Bootstrapper’s Journey through Failures to Success: Robly CEO Adam Robinson (Part 2)

Posted on Tuesday, Aug 13th 2019

Adam Robinson: My brother came to me, “I’m using this customer review management and email marketing product called Rake Point. I just got an email saying they’re shutting their website down and I need to download the data.”

He’s like, “As a really useful product, these guys raised $25 million. I know he spent a ton of money acquiring a ton of customers. Let’s see if we can build this software and go find his customers.”

For us to actually move on that, it probably took six or nine months just because we were both doing other things. That is essentially where Robly started. We copied this guy’s software. I was reading a bunch of books on content marketing at that time because in 2013, it was the early days and this was all the rage.

From the narrative that I picked up in these books, I was like, “I’ll just make a YouTube video. Customers will see it and they’ll sign up for my product.” I made this video. Lo and behold, the CEO of the company that folded found it. He was like, “Come to Boston and see me. If you’re trying to do what you’re going to do, I can guarantee that you will fail. I can show you a way that I can guarantee with 100% confidence that you will succeed.”

We show up at this guy’s office. His name is Neal Creighton. He’s like, “I’m not going to tell you too much because my partner is starting a data company. There is a company in Boston that does email marketing that leaves a massive trail of customer data that they’re not even aware of. Then once you do build a decent product, you will at least get a few million dollars in revenue. If you bootstrap, it will be super positive cash flow and then you can figure out what’s next. I know because I did it 18 months ago.” The short story is, way before product-market fit, he’d already raised $10 million.

By the time he figured this other thing out, he burnt through so much. The overhead was so high. We did this. I first got the product built in India and then my brother had worked with this developer – our CTO.

We wasted a bunch of time making this product in India which we just rewrote. A lot of people make that mistake of getting the product built in some foreign country for cheap and know nothing about what you’re doing. That took most of 2013.

In the beginning of 2014, we launched our first version of Robly email marketing. Neal was obsessed with this customer view thing. He felt like the world didn’t have it right yet. Our best versions were heavy with this customer view.

The product that he created, and that we tried to copy, was this merchant-side review management platform. It was so hard to prove its value to people. It took so long. Customers could argue with the merchants about reviews before they got posted. We built both of them and launched them.

Very quickly, we wound down the review portion of it. The email marketing part was very quick and easy. How we got the list of their customers is hilarious. If I read this on someone’s story, I’d find it interesting. This company, which shall remain nameless, was creating a community page for all their customers.

There was a six-digit, non-encrypted number in the URL of that community page. If you scaled that number by one, it was a dead link. If you scaled it by two, it was the next customer. That community page had a first name, last name, business name, and zip code on it.

Sramana Mitra: Oh my goodness!

Adam Robinson: We built this spider with a bunch of ToIP’s. Over the course of three months, we very slowly hit one of these URL’s, get the HTML, wait 18 seconds, and then hit another one. The list ended up being a couple hundred thousand records.

I just sent these files over UpWork to Bangladesh where this team was just Googling them and getting phone numbers. Over the next two years with one developer and a sales team that grew to 39, we called this list and got 5,000 to switch over with a very basic sales pitch.

I watched one of our senders send an email. He was sending and he waited a day. He sent it to people that didn’t open the day before. He made an automation tool out of that called Opengen. These customers we were going after happened to be very small businesses.

They’re unsophisticated marketers. This other company had trained them that the success of your email marketing program is contingent upon your open rates. The pitch just worked great.

This segment is part 2 in the series : Candid Discussion of a Bootstrapper’s Journey through Failures to Success: Robly CEO Adam Robinson
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