How We Bootstrapped A $23K/Month Email Marketing Platform From India
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello, my name is Varun and I am the founder of SendX. We are an email marketing company focussed on building an intuitive, affordable and feature-rich email marketing software.
You can use SendX for sending newsletters, drip sequences or automation ( cart abandonment, post-purchase followup, etc. ). We also have popups and landing pages that work very well for generating leads either directly from your website/blog or from paid ads.
Since the early days, our focus has been in helping our customers build better relationships and more revenue from SendX with them having to do minimal work. So you have software which is really smart. It can send emails at times when people are more likely to open it or act on it. It can have dynamic content based on things that people did in the past.
The other interesting thing about SendX is that you can actually see how much money you are making from every email campaign or every automation down to the very last dollar.
We launched our first public beta in January 2017 and are currently doing $23K+ MRR. We have bootstrapped the business and have remained profitable for our entire journey.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I am an engineer by profession but since the early years, I have dabbled with product, design, and business. After graduating from college I worked with a couple of tech startups as an early engineer. The first company where I worked got acquired for $25million in 12 months straight. That was my first brush with the entire cycle of building and selling startups.
During this entire time, I had been dabbling with some ideas once of which was ArtCurry - a creative marketplace for traditional artists and craftsmen. While working on it I got introduced to the entire world of email marketing and lead generation. I ended up using tools like MailChimp, SumoMe, LeadPages etc. Just the effort involved in stitching these products together, the complexity involved and the price was daunting for me.
So very naively I thought I could do a better job and that’s how SendX started in 2016 to essentially solve the problems which I faced myself. Once the first initial prototype was built I started talking to a few friends and colleagues and that’s how I roped in Mayank and Agni as my co-founders after a few months of starting the company.
Since all 3 of us were techies and had built software at scale handling billions of events so we knew we had the technical chops to build something like SendX.
We worked out of co-working spaces and other fellow startups became our initial customers. We would pretty much build something in a couple of days or a week and nudge our fellow entrepreneurs to test them out :) They acted as our testing bed and gave us a ton of high-quality feedback which helped us improve the product in fast iterations.
Coming from the bias of “best product wins” - understanding the importance, as well as building marketing and sales muscles, took us way longer. It is only in the last 12 months we have been able to build decent marketing and sales expertise. Cracking distribution is our current bottleneck which we are trying to solve so to scale our business.
Describe the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing the product.
So for our early version, we focussed on fast iteration speed.
Email marketing space is a pretty crowded and commoditized market. Even before building the product we had tried and tested a ton of products in the market. We knew a set of baseline features which we will need to have to compete in this space. This was also coming from our own experiences of trying to use email marketing & lead generation in the past.
We also checked out product reviews of the various email marketing players on G2Crowd, Capterra, etc. This gave us a ton of insights on what things people found useful in a specific product or what things didn’t work so well or even feature ideas.
We were designing our initial version with the mantra - “Keep simple things obvious, make powerful things possible”. We designed our first version of SendX using Golang which is a simple programming language that we could use for scaling our backend quite easily. We purchased some admin theme for our main interface and ended up tweaking it for our UI/UX.
We had integrated software like Heap, Hotjar and FullStory within SendX. They provided us insights on what our users were doing and how they were using the product. This helped us in improving user experience. We also had various alerts coming to Slack when a user got stuck anywhere within the product. These things were super useful in fixing major product bottlenecks quickly.
In addition, we would simply give our product to other prospective users and just see over their shoulders what they were doing or how they were using the product. Just the act of seeing how someone is using your product without telling them highlighted a ton of usability issues right from misleading helper text to a complicated UI.
Another thing that we focussed on was being able to deploy the latest version of a product with a single click to production. So if we had built a new feature or improved an existing one, within 2-3 minutes it will be live to production and we can start learning from whether the thing built is having intended effect on the user or not.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Well, there are two parts to this story.
From day 1 we knew we are building a global company and would need a mechanism to collect payments globally on a recurring basis. Since we are based out of India this was not so easy since Indian RBI regulations don’t allow this. Also until then, most global payments companies didn’t have an Indian arm.
Luckily Stripe ( a payments company which we love ) had launched a program called Stripe Atlas while partnering with Silicon Valley Bank.
They would help you set up a Delaware C-corp and a bank account with Silicon Valley Bank and a mechanism to collect payments via Stripe if you were a Stripe Atlas member. We were one of the first few companies out of India to get into the program. It took 10-12 cold emails that eventually got us in. This was a big thing since now we could have global customers and charge them recurring payments. So that’s how SendX got incorporated as a Delaware C-Corp.
The second part of it was our accidental launch or showcase to the world :) In November 2016 we actually got on Product Hunt by Charlie Irish who reached out to my co-founder Mayank on Twitter.
Product Hunt is a community where new and exciting products are showcased so that they can start getting early user feedback and traction. The time when we launched, we didn’t even have a way to collect money from our users!
We just decided to go ahead with it because getting user feedback especially ones who were not affiliated with us and were from US/Europe geo was super important. We got 370+ upvotes and had some super interesting conversations on chat with folks from Product Hunt. That gave us a very early validation of the market.
During this entire period, we had started doing blogging on medium and writing answers on Quora so to start getting some initial set of leads. It was only in January when we had a payment collection integrated and started working as a legit SAAS business.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Since launch, we have doubled down on SEO as a strategy for user acquisition. We have created a ton of alternative and comparison pages that drive traffic to our website and help us generate leads.
In addition, we have been reviewed by other bloggers and come in comparison as one of the upcoming top email marketing products. Our ratings and customer reviews on G2Crowd and Capterra are also very high. In addition, we have continuously been writing on Quora and creating long-form content which we distribute through various channels. So those are some of the other channels from which we drive traffic to our website or blog.
We have positioned ourselves as an intuitive, affordable and feature-rich platform. We also provide a 14 day trial period. This allows folks to try out our product with very little friction and test us out for themselves. Our conversion from MQL to paid customers is around 25-30%.
In terms of retaining customers, there are two things that help. One is a continuous investment in the product. Our product changes based on whether you are a Shopify customer or a professional blogger or a SAAS company - based on your goals. You will receive different on-boarding emails and different product features will be highlighted based on your persona. This is something that is super valuable and ensures that a high percentage of our customers succeed in accomplishing their goals with us.
Similarly, we have continuously invested in making SendX smarter and drive outcome/impact for businesses. That’s why we show revenue attribution and have features around geo/smart send or 1 click resend to un-openers or smart popups.
The other part is around great customer support/success. Our customer support/success team is always on top of their game. We provide support via chat, email, and phone. We realize how critical email is for most businesses and we don’t want our customers to be stuck.
We understand that when a company is buying SendX, they are not just buying a great software but what they want is a business outcome. This is what our customer support/success team helps us to deliver.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We know our software can out-compete the very best in the market both in terms of it being an intuitive and solid set of product features. We also have a very competitive pricing and great support. Our conversion rates are also pretty solid and for the most part churn is low.
Our current growth for the last several months has been around 8-10% month on month. We believe that once we crack distribution in either of these segments, we can grow much faster with much higher ARPU and lower churn.
So at the moment cracking distribution is the main bottleneck for our business. One reason for that is because we have played in the horizontal market where you have at least 10+ big players making $10M - $600M ARR. The brand affinity and ability to scale channels like Ad, SEO, Content becomes harder when you have such competition as a self-funded business.
We are trying to find a beachhead where we can grow our business by 5X-10X every year. So currently we are doubling down on two segments - Shopify and Professional bloggers. We are currently working with 5-7 big Shopify stores and professional bloggers and trying to validate our business hypothesis and value delivered to them.
In addition, we have been scaling the team. We have hired 3 team members in the last month and plan to hire another 2-3 in the coming 2 months. So ensuring they onboard and succeed at their respective roles is another top priority.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
So one thing which I have learned the hard way is thinking about the market - product - channel and business model as a cycle. The first thing is thinking about who are you solving the problem and what is the value of the problem ( market ). The second is does your product delivers that value ( product ). Have you figured out an inexpensive way to reach this market at scale ( channel ) and whether your business model math can sustain it (ARPU/Churn).
I think every entrepreneur needs to think about the cycle very deeply. Based on our background we may have a product or a market or a channel bias. That is something that may be stopping your business from going to the next level.
The other thing is more around “1% better mindset”. As an entrepreneur, you will make ton of mistakes which in hindsight would look really stupid. The ability to reflect back and continuously learn every day and improve will take you a really long way in the journey. It is a creative endeavor and since you are going to invest such a massive part of your life doing it, it better be interesting and joyful.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Software / Tools:
- Webflow ( website )
- Intercom ( chat, support and inside sales tool )
- Slack ( Office communication )
- Stripe ( Payment processing )
- Heap ( Product analytics )
- Airtable ( Sales CRM, Product / Feature mapping, User analysis )
- SmartLook ( Session recording )
- Zoom ( meetings )
- Calendly ( meeting scheduling )
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
- Atomic Habits
- MOM test
- Culture Code / Talent Code
- Seeking Wisdom
- First Round
- Tomas Tunguz
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Just get started on the journey.
Personally I had joined and worked at a couple of tech startups and thought that they made me equipped as an entrepreneur. But to be frank, nothing will get you started on this journey of learning and re-learning things as an entrepreneur until you start.
The other advice is to talk to your prospective users a lot earlier before you build anything. Understand their pains, goals, fears, and jobs they do. Understand the value they place on your product, the alternatives they currently use, the words they use to describe the problem. Think about the market, product, channel and business model as a cycle and iterate on it from the very beginning. Work on your product as well as traction channel to get the word out and think of them as yin and yang.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Yes. We are hiring. We are looking for 2 folks to be a part of our Growth team. The focus of the team is to drive traction in specific segments of our customers like the Shopify and Professional Blogger segment.
Someone who has a hacker mindset ( can cobble tools or workflows together ), is open to quick experimentation, has great ownership, drive, and perseverance are the traits which we want in a prospective member of our team.
Where can we go to learn more?
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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