On Creating A Gmail Mail Merge Add-on And Getting 400K Users

Published: March 28th, 2020
Jean Dubrulle
Founder, Mailmeteor
from Paris, Ile-de-France, France
started December 2018
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Bonjour! My name is Jean and I’m the founder of Mailmeteor.

Mailmeteor lets you send hundreds of personalized emails from Gmail. With Mailmeteor, you can email a lot of people quickly, track email sent in real-time and increase your answer rate dramatically.

A year ago, we started working on Mailmeteor as a side-project with my associate Corentin. The goal was simple: generating just enough money every month to go on a holiday weekend or have lunch in a nice restaurant with friends ($200).

One year later, we now have 150,000 users in the world and counting. Our users range from corporate companies to individuals, among them you can find large international groups, Ivy League universities, booming startups, NGOs from all continents but also candidates running for the US elections, the Banana Split Festival, and other wonders.

All of our users had a common pain: how to send personalized emails at scale?


What's your backstory and how did you get into entrepreneurship?

Back in December 2019, I was working as a partnership manager in STATION F, a giant startup campus, based in Paris. The job involved lots of email discussions with a great number of partners.

Don’t let yourself be fooled by shiny articles about overnight success. Running a business requires a lot of patience, resilience and hard work.

At some point, it became impossible to keep a close relationship with each of our partners. But I still wanted these people to feel special when reaching out to them by email.

At that time, I was learning to code by building small automation tools to help my teammates. Fortunately, I had one colleague, Corentin, who I could ask any dumb questions about coding whenever I was stuck writing a script.

Corentin is a legal counsel turned into a developer, pretty cool, isn't? Working together on building these small projects, we started thinking about crafting a project of our own. Hence the idea to build Mailmeteor: a tool to send mail merge from Gmail.

At this point, you may wonder why the heck we’ve decided to build yet another mail merge? The market is so niche and crowded with competitors.

In fact, I really craved a tool like Mailmeteor myself. I felt the existing mail merge solutions took advantage of their historic domination on the market: their user experiences were poor, the customer care inexistent, the permissions required invasive. There was no intuitive, affordable and privacy-first solution.

We wanted a dead-simple emailing tool integrated with Gmail, that didn’t require extensive permissions to read or modify your personal data.

Starting from an existing idea that has proven to be market-fit (mail merge add-on for Gmail), we applied an outsider recipe:

  1. Provide a way better user experience than what’s available
  2. Be more generous & affordable than competitors
  3. Fill the gaps of existing solutions: we’ve managed to build Mailmeteor so that it never requires access to your private email data contrary to all other add-ons

Besides making a tool of our own, we wanted to build a constant source of passive income.

It is important to mention here that we’ve designed Mailmeteor as “muse” from the start. Amuse is the contrary of a startup. A muse will never generate millions of dollars, it is not aimed at dominating a market. A muse is fully bootstrapped and can be scaled without large resources.

With Mailmeteor, we have built a human-sized business that can be run on the side while keeping our full-time jobs. While we are happy in our daily jobs, it is also amazing to have a project of your own where you can experiment with things. I can’t recommend more to all readers to start their own muse right now.

Take us through your entrepreneurial journey. How did you go from day 1 to today?

It took us only a couple of weeks to build a minimum viable product. Since Mailmeteor works as a Google add-on, we had to go through Google’s security audit which took a few weeks more.

At the time that we published the addon, the validation process was getting way more strict and harder than it used to be since Google ensures that all applications listed on their marketplace comply with both their new data policy and overall look and feel of G Suite.

For us, the whole process lasted more than 2 months. We have been officially reviewed and published by Google in April 2019, after several back-and-forths with the team in charge of approving add-ons. From that date, Mailmeteor was officially distributed on the G Suite marketplace as an add-on for Gmail and Google Sheets.

To get our first 100 users, we basically jot down a list of a hundred friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. Then, we ran a Mailmeteor campaign to send them a personalized email inviting them to try the solution.

Our strategy to get more users was methodical, almost didactic. We’ve built a persona of the users that would benefit using Mailmeteor and listed all the channels we could experiment, literally speaking. We’ve been pretty active on forums such as Indie Hackers or Reddit, referenced Mailmeteor on websites like Betalist or 10words, and so on.

We’ve tested and measured each action. My advice here is to keep an organized list of every action you’ve implemented and followed your roadmap thoroughly. It is more efficient to focus on a few channels of acquisition rather than trying a bit of everything.

The G Suite marketplace, where Mailmeteor is listed, is pretty similar to the App Store for iOS apps or the Play Store on Android. The advantage of such platforms is that it generates a constant flux of inbound for your app. Up to date, it remains one of our strongest acquisition channels.

This is why we have always cared deeply about Mailmeteor’s reputation in the review section of the marketplace. We answer every single request or feedback as fast as we can. Over time, caring about our users brought us more than 1000 positive reviews and contributed heavily to Mailmeteor’s organic growth.

Months after months, Mailmeteor’s user base grew steadily. It is only after we reached 100k users that we launched on Product Hunt. That is precisely 9 months after the official launch.

After a stressful day, Mailmeteor was featured as the top Product of the Day. A week later, it was promoted as the Product of the Week. If you’d like to read more on why we launched so late compared to other products, we have written a blogpost on IndieHackers.


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

Having your own side-project is liberating, it allows us to experiment with entrepreneurial ideas while not facing all the risks associated with entrepreneurship (especially the financial risk).

Mailmeteor has now reached a really stable phase. We are able to shift our focus from product design to growth experiments that will allow us to grow to new circles of traction.

In 2020, our main focus is on onboarding more and more corporate clients. Large international groups now trust our solution, with companies like Pinterest, Twilio or Universities like Stanford & Berkeley. In the meantime, we plan to remain the most affordable and privacy-first mail merge solution available.

The second focus is on scaling the support, which so far has been a real challenge. We’ve always answered every single message from our users but it gets harder and harder as the user base tops 150K users.

Being just two in the team, we have put a lot of effort into building exhaustive documentation with detailed guides and solutions to common issues. But that was not enough. So we are adding more and more automation. We have eased several steps in our onboarding process. For a long time, we did things that don’t scale and eventually ended up automating tasks when they became impossible to bear manually.

Last but least, we launched a new muse a couple of weeks ago. After a year working on Mailmeteor, we want to reinject our newly acquired knowledge into another side-project. It’s still early to disclose it officially but I can tell you it already has more than 100K users!

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

  1. Distribution is key. One of the most valuable lessons so far: the hardest part is not about building the product but finding efficient channels of distribution. We're now able to shift our focus to 80% distribution / 20% building. It's always hard to find the balance, especially at the very beginning. Up to now, we haven’t run paid marketing campaigns, we try to rely on organic growth and turn hacks into sustainable demand. When it comes to distribution, try to adopt a methodical approach. List all available channels, experiment things, measure and iterate.

  2. Always be prioritizing the tasks, time is a constraint. I have a full-time job that I want to keep because the mission is fulfilling and the perspectives are great, same for my co-founder (who is also the father of a newborn baby). The only way to maintain a decent work-life balance is to be extremely picky when it comes to task prioritization. We try to dedicate an evening every week to call each other or to organize a working session so as to keep a good rhythm.

  3. Ship early, but keep quality high. You will get precious insights discussing with users and customers. And for that, you need to get your not-so-perfect product in the hands of real people. When you are a perfectionist like I am, it really helps to have an associate being able to push things. However, your different versions of a product should always be a clean ground to build new iterations upon.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

All of this tool can be used for free. Using these, you can start your own muse:

  • Streak: our CRM inside Gmail to track all interaction with our users
  • Telegram: our main communication channel & control center thanks to Telegram bots
  • Gitbook: build a complete documentation like Mailmeteor’s docs (an amazing French startup)
  • Crisp: online chat for your website (another amazing French company)
  • Google Apps Script: unlock the power of the Google Suite with homemade scripts
  • Google tools (Analytics, search console...): measure your audience on website & app, track conversions rate, get behavior insights
  • Trello: we use Trello to keep track of the roadmap, manage our features & bugs backlog and store our growth experiment ideas
  • Stripe checkout: the fastest way to start accepting payment, no code required
  • Selfcontrol: avoid distracting websites to focus on your project
  • Mailmeteor: send hundreds of personalized emails from Gmail 🌠

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

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

You don’t have to hold one revolutionary idea. It is okay to get inspiration from others, only execution matters in the end.

Start by outlining your plan of action. Be methodical and just ship it. You don’t need a lot of resources to get started.

Don’t let yourself be fooled by shiny articles about overnight success. Running a

business requires a lot of patience, resilience and hard work.

If you can, associate yourself with someone. Or join entrepreneurs' communities. Entrepreneurship is a lonely path, it is always better to be surrounded throughout

your adventure.

Don’t forget to have fun running your business, celebrate every milestone. Party is a serious matter.

Where can we go to learn more?