Growing A Cold Email Platform to $600K ARR in 18 months

$50,000
revenue/mo
3
Founders
2
Employees
product
lemlist
from Paris
started January 2018
$50,000
revenue/mo
3
Founders
2
Employees
59.6K
alexa rank
584
subs

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

Hey Guys 👋

My name is Guillaume Moubeche - I’m the co-founder of lemlist and winner of the most unpronounceable first name award! So… you can call me G.

Lemlist is a cold-email automation platform that allows getting more replies to your sales prospecting emails thanks to automation and ultra personalization!

We started working on lemlist early 2018 and we’re now at the $600,000 ARR mark (September 2019). We have 8,000+ customers worldwide and we’re growing at 30% Month over Month growth rate!

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

Before working on lemlist, I had a B2B lead generation agency for scale-ups and SMBs.

I was essentially doing a lot of cold emailing for my clients in order to book qualified meetings. Because we were testing tons of different approaches, we started seeing an increase in the number of meetings booked when adding ultra personalization on images or videos.

The more time you spend understanding who your customers are and what their main pain is, business will come automatically!

However, all the tools that we were using (Reply, Outreach, Salesloft, Mixmax, etc…) didn’t have such personalization features and it was really time-consuming to do it manually.

Because of all the great results we were having for our clients, I decided to sell my shares in the agency and started building lemlist with my 2 co-founders who are also tech geniuses.

One month after the first lines of codes, we were voted #1 product of the day on Product Hunter which helped us tremendously getting a lot of initial traction!

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

Since I had extensive knowledge of the market I knew from the start what I wanted. Obviously, we decided to look at all our competitors in order to figure out what we liked and what we didn’t like.

Since my 2 co-founders are actually tech geniuses, they actually built an MVP (Most Viable Product) within 2 weeks.

As most SaaS (Software as a Service) companies, the only costs were actually servers costs. However, since we were part of the AWS startup program we actually didn’t have to pay anything.

Describe the process of launching the business.

As most french cheap bastard 🇫🇷 🥖my goal was to acquire our first customers without spending any money.

The easiest way to that for us was to use 3 main acquisition channels

#1: Eating your own dog food.

lemlist is an email automation platform with unique personalization features such as dynamic images and dynamic videos. Hence, we decided to use lemlist in order to get in touch with highly qualified targets. The fact that we were using our own product was (and still is) a really good selling point.

#2: Leverage Facebook communities.

Facebook communities are literally a gold mine for any business. You can find your target audience and easily convert them when done right. For us, we found a community with founders and salespersons who are always looking for innovative services.

We decided to write a post showcasing all the positive replies we got from our outreach and we told people to comment on the post if they wanted to get beta access. In the end, the more people commented the higher the reach was. We got 200 comments and about 120 beta testers from one single post.

#3: Product Hunt.

As mentioned above, we leveraged the Product Hunt community really early to know whether or not our value proposition was resonating with our audience. We ended up #1 product of the day so it was a real success! It drove 100s of signups and 1000s of visitors.

#4 Appsumo

If you don't know Appsumo, it's a huge community of entrepreneurs & small business owners.

The platform works as a group buying service and the goal of Appsumo is to offer to their community exclusive lifetime deals at a very affordable price.

For every SaaS owner, a lifetime deal might sound like something crazy, but when you think about the exposure, it's definitely something to consider 🚀

Since I already wrote an article about that, I don’t want to go into all the details of this launch but essentially, we made $160K in two weeks (the offer was obviously limited in time).

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

Essentially, we divided our growth process into 7 pillars

1- Growing your audience, make friends and be kind

I know that some parts of this title might sound unusual and somehow intriguing, so let me explain…

At lemlist, we’re passionate about what we do — period.

I’m not gonna sell you a story saying that; when I was a baby I used to send a lot of cold emails without getting any replies so I realized that we had to build something great and that my only purpose in life became to build lemlist.

No… That wouldn’t be true and as I said, there won’t be any BS in this interview. We’re passionate about what we do because we love to help people be more successful in what they do!

I’m detailing this specific point because it’s part of our DNA and in my opinion, it was key to our success. But for now, let’s get back to our growth engine!

As mentioned above, right after our launch, we decided to start building a community called “The Email Outreach Family” on Facebook. The reason we chose that name is that we consider all lemlisters as part of our family. lemlist is our baby and we need to make it grow all together.

From the beginning, our mindset was to have a strong focus on the product and to be super close to our users. Thanks to Vianney & François we were able to implement changes in the app at a crazy speed and all of the community was super pleased to feel listened to and valued. Very quickly I understood that a happy lemlister was a lemlister who would get great results with lemlist (pretty obvious I know 😅).

From that point and because I was spending a lot of time either on the chat or on our community on Facebook, I started getting super close to many of our users. Since my goal was to help them become successful, I became friends with many lemlister’s all over the world! Every feedback we receive is always taken very seriously and we make sure to inform each lemlister as soon as something he requested gets implemented.

Because I know that saying things like “provide value” or “help people being more successful” can be a little abstract, here two examples of something we started doing to help our users:

A- Email warm-up and deliverability

The first one came directly from the community itself… essentially, when sending cold emails, your deliverability (meaning whether or not your email was delivered into the inbox) is key. One of the issues people face when their domain is new is that they need to “warm-up” their email domain before actually being able to send cold emails.

Essentially the warm-up process consists of sending manual emails to friends and increase the number of emails you send every day. If you’re interested in that topic, check out the most extensive guide about email deliverability and warm-up.

One of our power users decided to post something about that in the community:

growing-a-cold-email-platform-to-600k-arr-in-18-months

Based on the reactions and comments, we decided to have people join a waitlist for a new feature we wanted to develop to do that automatically

growing-a-cold-email-platform-to-600k-arr-in-18-months

In 24 hours we had 100s of people putting their email address on the Google Sheet to have access to that feature.

Knowing that we have thousands of users all over the world, our email warm-up feature would definitely be the best ever created because of the different types of email providers, locations and domain age from all the current lemlisters.

After having Vianney & François put their robot mode ON one more time, we shipped that new feature after a week and the results were simply amazing.

growing-a-cold-email-platform-to-600k-arr-in-18-months

All the comments and reactions we received were super supportive of the new idea 😎

growing-a-cold-email-platform-to-600k-arr-in-18-months

The great thing about building a community is to be able to get feedback instantaneously about what you’re doing. In that case, we managed to tackle a pain that no one in the industry thought of in years…

B- Getting more replies to your cold emails

Using the same user-based approach, we realized that a real pain for most lemlisters was to get more replies to their cold emails. Since I’ve been in that space for a bit of time and I’ve been testing things like crazy, I decided to launch every week a new successful email template that they could use and reproduce.

Since most cold emails are the same, lemlist allows adding an extra layer of personalization by adding personalized images inside your cold emails to make them stand out and get more replies.

Here is an example with some dynamic text on a cup of coffee:

growing-a-cold-email-platform-to-600k-arr-in-18-months

And another one using lemlist technology to take screenshots automatically based on a URL or on the domain of the email address:

growing-a-cold-email-platform-to-600k-arr-in-18-months

Those Gifs are essentially made to make people understand the power of image personalization while all the templates are fully available in our cold email template section. As mentioned above, finding out that those templates were successful, required a lot of testing so let’s start talking about the second phase.

2- Use your product, make love to it and tell everyone about it 🇫🇷 🥖

First of all, I’d like to apologize for that dirty analogy but well… I got to keep you awake as it’s a pretty long read. 😅

Giving you the advice to use your product is not something new yet I see a lot of founders who are not doing it for some weird reasons. Don’t be that person and use your product! Anyway, for us, I think that something that really pushed us to use our product is that I’ve always been a french cheap bastard. 😂

Having a tool that I can use for free to do my sales prospecting was definitely a no brainer especially since it’s also a great way to test many different things and see what’s working… or not!

I mentioned how important fast pace testing is and that’s exactly what we did with our platform. Thanks to email outreach we got in touch with enterprise account in Silicon Valley testing new approaches and verticals and also closed some really cool companies. Every time I was testing something new, and the results were good, I was writing about it.

One of my articleseven got featured in a Medium blog with 40K followers called Noteworthy — the journal blog.

growing-a-cold-email-platform-to-600k-arr-in-18-months

Detailing the step by step process about how I used lemlist to achieve some great results was one of the best ways to illustrate to our users what they could do. At the same time, it was also a great way to generate traffic and have people signing up for lemlist.

Using our product and experimenting with new things was also key to build new features bringing a lot of value. At lemlist, we strongly believe that personalization is key especially when you’re trying to build relationships with people who have probably never heard of you. Based on our assumptions we started to implement personalized videos and landing pages very early in our process.

Since we can generate personalized images based on the person’s email address (adding automatically company logo, website screenshots, first name, etc…) we tested this process of adding a personalized video in an email driving to a personalized landing page:

Personalized email with dynamic clickable image

growing-a-cold-email-platform-to-600k-arr-in-18-months

Dynamic and personalized landing pages

growing-a-cold-email-platform-to-600k-arr-in-18-months

Based on some crazy results we had, we decided to implement it for Zendesk and their success was huge as well!

The reason I’m saying that is not to brag about it but more to explain that we started doing something in a semi-manual manner as a test and once we saw the potential we started testing it with some other companies.

Based on some great results and success story, we decided to entirely automate that process and build within lemlist a feature allowing to generate personalized landing pages. Which was also a game-changer and has been very much appreciated by the community. 😍

growing-a-cold-email-platform-to-600k-arr-in-18-months

3- Give birth to a baby product, teach him how to walk and talk like a real human being

After using the product like crazy, I clearly realized that our baby was missing a soul. When you look at most B2B (business to business) companies, you quickly realize that most of those companies tend to be “boring”; however, a lot of boring companies are full of super cool and fun people!

So why is that? I think that most people think that business, is by definition not meant to be fun. At lemlist, we believe the exact opposite!

B2B doesn’t have to stand for boring-to-boring

And because it’s also part of our DNA we decided to give a soul to our product.

A- From “leads” to buddies-to-be:

We’ve all been there… Talking about contacts, prospects, leads, qualified leads, etc… For us, all this terminology is totally dehumanizing the relationships you want to build with the people you’re reaching out to.

Because we believe that we do business with people we like value and trust (a bit like friends in the end), we decided with my friend Charlie (who actually came up with that idea) to change the terminology to buddies-to-be.

B- Making stats human and sexy

growing-a-cold-email-platform-to-600k-arr-in-18-months

We all know that each action (opens, clicks, replies, etc…) has an impact on the success of your campaigns. In order to make your buddies to be more human, we’ve decided to associate each of their action to a specific emoji showing an emotion. 😍

C- From Unsubscribe to Graveyard

growing-a-cold-email-platform-to-600k-arr-in-18-months

Well… It’s Okay… You can’t become friends with everyone… That’s actually why we’ve renamed the unsubscribe section… Graveyard 😱 I know it’s a bit scary… But well… You know… If they don’t want to hear from you it’s cool ❤️

D- Creating a 100% human onboarding

In order to make every single lemlister feel welcomed and in good hands we created an onboarding sequence using lemlist including videos and personalized images.

growing-a-cold-email-platform-to-600k-arr-in-18-months

The results of this onboarding campaign were a key factor in improving our activation and conversion rate.

growing-a-cold-email-platform-to-600k-arr-in-18-months

Which such a high click rate we were able to drive more traffic to our website while at the same time building a relationship with our users. At the same time, we decided to add automatically each user who would sign up to lemlist on LinkedIn with a custom script (Thank you, Francois 🙌❤️). Adding people on LinkedIn with a friendly welcoming message is the best way to get insights for us.

The message:

Bonjour {{firstName}},

  • I’d like to personally welcome you to the lemlist family ❤️*

  • How did you hear about lemlist?*

The type of insights we get on a daily basis:

growing-a-cold-email-platform-to-600k-arr-in-18-months

With such messages I’m able to start daily conversations with a lot of new lemlisters all over the world and to be honest it’s been one of the best ways for us to really get to know our users and their needs 😍

4- If you don’t write content you’re dead…

Well… This one might sound a little bit harsh and I know companies that are doing 0 content and that are doing really well!

However, in our case, writing content has been key for 3 reasons:

  • It was a great way to educate our users on some complex topics such as email deliverability, account warm-up etc…
  • We were able to write highly valuable and ready-to-use content such as our cold email templates collection.
  • Each content was also repurposable on many different channels

When I meet with other founders, a very common issue I see people facing is to find the right content to write about. In my opinion, I think that the best way to find content was to listen to our users and the market. It sounds difficult but if you spend time talking to your users on the chat you’ll quickly understand that some common topics often come up.

Let’s take one example here:

People were always wondering how to find email addresses or even how to get the best deliverability possible. After spotting these topics we decided to spend some time finding the best keywords to use (using tools like Ahrefs, Ubersuggest, etc…) in order to create an article that was optimized for search.

More than just optimizing the content for search we also decided to write the best content out there with some unique and undiscovered techniques.

growing-a-cold-email-platform-to-600k-arr-in-18-months

As you can see, this article is 16 minutes long so we wanted to detail the step by step guide on how to find anyone’s email address. If you look at the article, you’ll see that the goal is to only give value and actionable tips. You’re probably wondering why we want to rank for such keywords when our tool is actually a cold emailing platform? Well… people who want to find email addresses for sales prospecting often need a tool to send emails in a personalized way, hence lemlist!

In every industry, you can find topics that will bring benefits to your users while at the same time position yourself as a thought leader.

That’s also what we did with the deliverability topic.

Since our combined users have sent 10s of millions of emails across more than 10,000 accounts, we had a lot of data to know what was working or not. Based on that we analyzed all the best practices and decided to write another in-depth guide about email deliverability and account warmup. However, content creation is only 20% of the work, the 80% will come from content distribution and repurposing and that’s actually our 5th pillar.

5- Sharing love and knowledge everywhere

Another intriguing name for a growth pillar you might say! Worry no more my friend, this part is about repurposing content. In the early days, it was just 2 technical geniuses (Vianney & Francois) and a random French guy (me 👋 🇫🇷).

However, this content strategy of documenting every single thing we were doing attracted a rising star… Vuk.

growing-a-cold-email-platform-to-600k-arr-in-18-months

After giving him a shot, Vuk directly showed me his thirst to strive and I really liked his hustle mindset. A few months after that we were meeting in Paris to build this 5th pillar:

growing-a-cold-email-platform-to-600k-arr-in-18-months

The concept is pretty simple. We’re a small team with great ambition. Being small means that we wouldn’t be able to produce hundreds of articles every single month. However, each article can be repurposed and share in many different communities or media.

We divided our strategy in 2:

A- Repurposing content on multiple platforms

This might sound pretty easy yet most companies forget about it. For example, let’s say that you record a video about 10 tips about cold emailing, you can now transform this one video into 10 and write posts about it on LinkedIn.

growing-a-cold-email-platform-to-600k-arr-in-18-months

That’s actually what we did. Giving weekly tips around a specific topic. By dividing into pieces a content you usually make it much more digest, especially on social platforms.

Another example where Vuk really killed it was to repurpose some articles on Quora by answering a lot of questions related to our area of expertise.

growing-a-cold-email-platform-to-600k-arr-in-18-months

After repurposing each and every single piece of content, we were able to drive traffic from various sources and define what was working or not.

I know that most people would advise focusing on one channel but in our case, we did the opposite and it worked pretty well so… sometimes you just have to do you 😊

B- Sharing content everywhere we could bring value

This part is often called content distribution and that’s exactly what it is in the end. There is no secret as you need to find Facebook communities where your audience hangs out and give them the content they like. It can be on Facebook communities, Slack groups or even online forums such as Growth Hackers were we got featured in their newsletter a few times already:

growing-a-cold-email-platform-to-600k-arr-in-18-months

Based on the great results of those test, we decided to implement a much more thorough process when it comes to content that I will probably detailed in another article 😎

6- If you want more money, simply ask for more

As a first time founder, I think that was the scariest thing to do: Increase the price. Everyone talks about it and it sounds pretty magical… ‘You want more money? Well… increase your pricing! It’s obvious’.

Every time I had that conversation I felt stupid… I even recommended to many other founders to increase their price! But when it comes to lemlist I chickened out.

What if people don’t want to pay that amount of money? What if people find it too expensive?

In the end, it’s only a matter of perceived value. A higher price means more value. Because we postponed for a long time that price increase, we decided to increase our pricing by 50%.

Yup.. 50%… But guess what? In the end, it was our best month! Our growth increased and our conversation rate stayed the same. So if you feel scared right now, don’t be… We’ve all been there and it will be fine!

7- Know your users better than you know yourself

Being user-centric is something any marketer has heard of. To me, it’s not only about being user-centric. It’s also about getting to know your users even better than yourself!

To do so, we decided to run some user surveys using lemlist. The goal was to get to know our paid users who have been supporting us since the early days and understand what they liked or disliked. Regarding the survey, we decided to use what Rahul Vora did for Superhuman.

4 questions to get the best insights:

1. How would you feel if you could no longer use lemlist?

  • A) Very disappointed

  • B) Somewhat disappointed

  • C) Not disappointed

2. What type of people do you think would most benefit from lemlist?

3. What is the main benefit you receive from lemlist?

4. How can we improve lemlist for you?

Getting enough replies to a survey can really be a pain however, we decided to apply the exact same best practices when it comes to email outreach — personalization at scale!

growing-a-cold-email-platform-to-600k-arr-in-18-months

Let’s say that those results were beyond our expectations!

growing-a-cold-email-platform-to-600k-arr-in-18-months

Once our users clicked on the video, they would be redirected directly to a personalized landing page including the Typeform survey.

growing-a-cold-email-platform-to-600k-arr-in-18-months

Each landing page was automatically personalized using lemlist technology. In total, we had an almost 100% conversion rate from click on the video to survey completion. It was also a great way to illustrate some of our latest features with lemlist.

In the end, we had the following results to the first question “How would you feel if you could no longer use lemlist?”:

growing-a-cold-email-platform-to-600k-arr-in-18-months

Based on those results we were able to really split our customers into buckets and understand two things:

1- Who are those users who would be “very disappointed” if they couldn’t use lemlist anymore.

→ Essentially you want to focus on that segment in order to find more people who will find your product indispensable.

2- Why are some users only “somewhat disappointed”.

→ For that segment, the goal is to understand how you could move them towards the bucket number 1 of your power users.

Having such insights was really of huge value to keep getting to know our users even more and that’s definitely a survey that needs to be run multiple times each year.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Only a few months after launching lemlist we became profitable. As our business is fully bootstrapped and our costs are extremely low (like most SaaS businesses, our margin is >95%).

We do not spend any money on acquisition at the moment and our growth rate is between 20 to 30% MoM (Month over Month).

Since our business model is fully automated, people signup for a free trial and then become paying customers at the end of their free trial, we do not need to have a big team. We’re currently 5 but we don’t need to be much more at the moment.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

I think that most entrepreneurs are looking for quick wins like “How to make $1m overnight…” but In real life, it doesn’t work that way, you need to be patient and focus on the value you bring to your customers.

The more time you spend understanding who your customers are and what their main pain is, the business will come automatically!

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

We love Google Analytics for everything related to tracking funnels on our website.

We love Slack when it comes to internal and external communications.

We love lemtalk to manage all our external conversations from slack.

We love lempod to get more views on LinkedIn.

We love Zapier to automate repetitive tasks.

We love Notion to keep all our documents, and processes in one place.

We love Phamtombuster to automate most tasks on the web.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

Podcasts:

Books:

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Just do it! I know that this tagline might sound overused but the difference in business is execution.

The more you do things, the more you will fail but also learn and get better!

The better you are at execution the bigger your business will become. 💪

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

-  
Guillaume Moubeche,   Founder of lemlist

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