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Candid Discussion of a Bootstrapper’s Journey through Failures to Success: Robly CEO Adam Robinson (Part 3)

Posted on Wednesday, Aug 14th 2019

Sramana Mitra: Can you pause a moment there and explain why you were able to deliver these enhanced open rates? What was the trick in that?

Adam Robinson: It wasn’t actually the rate. We just aimed for 50% more opens. We built an automation tool where we sent your campaign out. After sending the mails, a little window comes up where you can change the subject line.

One to five days later, the tool would send the campaign out to people who didn’t open the first one. That delivers 50% more opens anytime. If somebody doesn’t send daily emails and they’re not doing that, you’re just shooting yourself in the foot.

We were the first that got a product like that. That value proposition resonated incredibly well with these people we were calling.

Sramana Mitra: Is that still the situation with all the other email marketing providers? Is that still the situation or do they have this kind of algorithmic procedure to run the same campaigns?

Adam Robinson: Most of the vendors over the years copied it. It’s been five years. Even the guy we were poaching from ended up doing it eventually. It’s not a great value proposition for more sophisticated marketers. 

Sramana Mitra: Basically your bootstrapping focus was served with that positioning, messaging, and with that list.

Adam Robinson: Exactly. I like to say I make almost one catastrophic error every year. In that particular year, came this horrible catastrophic error. There was this one source of contact information from this company.

We had another source that we were getting from another part of their website that wasn’t as good a data source but it was much larger. It was a million contacts. I had tested it with our best salespeople. It looked like it was going to work. I built this whole internal recruiting operation and we got 35 people on this list. It just doesn’t even closely convert.

There’s this horrible situation. Me and my co-founders were like, “This is unbelievably uneconomic.” The decision was to chop everything until we figure something out. It was so hard. In my mind, the momentum was so strong. We had the path to keep doubling a couple more times. It was just like, “How do I fire 25 people at once?”

They all understood. Some were bitter about it. My Glassdoor rating took a hit after that. We scaled down then from 39 to six people. There’s this interesting thing that I learned about how the world works. That was just a really good product for that channel.

The product that we built for that channel was not good in any other channel. MailChimp was basically destroying every other vendors in all the other channels that were not the channel we had.

Then began two years of throwing spaghetti against the wall and see if it sticks. We wanted to see if we can pre-sell a product and then build it after. It’s agonizing to be in that position. Your expectations are so different. I had read a bunch of Rework and Tim Ferris.

I loved this idea of having a small remote company even when I started. We were in this position where we can go remote. We were like, “Let’s go remote for a month and see if anything changes.” All the employees were so much happier. It went  from being this characteristic of high-growth type of company even though we weren’t venture-funded, to one of the quintessential lifestyle businesses.

Our core group of employees were just fantastic. We were in that stage for two years. I’ll tell you what I tried but didn’t work. There’s valuable lessons in that.

This segment is part 3 in the series : Candid Discussion of a Bootstrapper’s Journey through Failures to Success: Robly CEO Adam Robinson
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