Interview with David Greiner of Campaign Monitor

August 2, 2005 in An interview

Cmlogo_1Campaign Monitor is one of my very favorite tools for entrepreneurs (our review here). Dave Greiner and the Switch IT crew have done for email list management what 37Signals did for project management with Basecamp. And they've built a successful company around it, penetrated the industry with sharp and very focused marketing, and generally created a entrepreneur's poster-child of a business. I asked Dave, the mastermind behind it all, to share a little with us about how he pulled (and is pulling it) all off.

1. First, you outline how you came to produce Campaign Monitor on your website. My question: once you had the thing built, how did you get word out about it?

I guess the first thing we tried to do was get the word around to the guys that already had a bit of influence. Initially this was just so we could get some feedback from the people whose opinions we already respected. The bonus was that a number of these guys were impressed with what they saw and were kind enough to spread the word to their readers.

CmbannerOnce the ball was rolling, we added the other standard ingredients to the mix like a monthly email newsletter, banner ads on a few key sites and offered our advice (and the occasional plug) on different message-boards.

Having said that, I think the only reason we’ve had some success with this approach is because from day one we decided to focus on a niche industry (web designers). The fact that we were already in this industry also made things much easier. 

2: You are obviously a savvy marketer. I notice that you're constantly leveraging word of mouth and testimonials on your site, chiming in on blogs when others sing your praises, and offering sincere and humble gratitude to your many fans. I don't want to call this a strategy because that makes it sound insincere, but this is obviously a very effective "creating customer evangelists" type approach. What prompted you to take that approach? How much of your success would you attribute to that approach?

Before you ask, yep, I've read that book ;) To be honest though, we genuinely get excited when a customer sends us great feedback or we discover a plug for Campaign Monitor on the blog of someone we've never talked to.

Making the decision to leverage these was a logical next step. Customer testimonials are often the first thing I read on a site. I think it's a great way to build a bit of confidence before deciding to give something a try.

Also, the guys who designed and developed the software are also the ones who answer support emails, post to our blog and answer the phone. Having a unified voice across all of these mediums makes it a lot easier to develop more personal relationships with a lot of our customers.

3: What advertising or marketing venture has been more successful than you anticipated, and why?

Definitely word of mouth, or should I say word of blogs and forums. A lot of our customers have been kind enough to recommend us to their peers in their favorite web design forums. I can also think of plenty of occasions where we've helped someone out with their campaign or quickly fixed a bug and the customer's immediately written about their experience on their own site.

I know that if I ever post a question to a forum and get a recommendation from an experienced member, I'm going to check it out. This really is just another benefit of being small and able to provide a really personal level of service.

4: What advertising or marketing effort has been less successful than you anticipated? Any idea why?

A lot of early reading I did sang high praises for getting your software reviewed both online and especially in print. We followed the formula; put together a comprehensive reviewer’s kit and contacted every web design publication we could think of. Of the small percentage that did get back to us, only one or two of them were mildly interested.

I think this option would have been more successful if our software related to a hyped technology like RSS or podcasting. As much as I try to make it so, email marketing isn't the sexiest topic in the web design world.

Reportingsmall5: When I first used Campaign Monitor I was blown away at how intuitive it was to use, how attractive it was, how darn well thought-out it was, the tool itself, the pricing structure, everything far exceeds anything else out there that I've ever seen. I've also referred non-savvy clients of mine to you and they all use your service without a hitch. Can you share a bit of your philosophy behind making something truly remarkable, how you did it, and what impact having something great has had on helping you grow?

Wow, thanks Carson. I think the task of making something 'remarkable' is a lot less daunting when you’re not trying to please everybody.

A lot of people turn to their web designer for help with email newsletters, but the majority of Email Service Providers slap an 'agency pricing model' on their site and the buck usually stops there.

SendingsmallInstead of focusing on what the competition was doing, we built something that we would want to use ourselves. We killed off loads of features that designers just don't need and added a few unique ones that we knew would make their lives easier. Those features are useless to anyone but a web designer and I really think that's the key.

Of course, it makes life easier if you are your own target market. By using early versions of Campaign Monitor for our own clients’ campaigns, it didn't take long to work out what the product required to be genuinely useful.

6: Are there any other businesses or entrepreneurs that you draw inspiration from?

Loads of them, but two come to mind that have had more impact on me than anyone else.

The first is Eric Sink. His articles on software positioning and marketing are like gospel. It was his thoughts on choosing your competition and "marketing isn't just telling the world, it's deciding what to build" that motivated us to start Campaign Monitor in the first place.

The second would have to be Jason Fried. You can probably see a lot of 37Signals in our design and marketing approach. Jason and the rest of his team pioneered the migration from a consulting to a product development firm and his countless tips on small teams and keeping things real are a constant inspiration to us. The day he gave us a wrap on his blog was one of my proudest to date.

7: Do you come by all your smarts naturally, or do you read any magazines/books/etc that you might recommend?

Absolutely not. I can attribute a huge part of the success we've had with Campaign Monitor to the much bigger brains of others. I've read plenty of books on developing and marketing business software, but the majority of my inspiration comes from the blogs of people like the guys I mentioned above. I'd also recommend checking out and staying on top of Joel's 'Business of Software' forums.

8: You aren't based in the U.S. you are in Australia. For other readers who may be trying to launch successful ventures from outside the U.S., what tips can you provide about how to integrate into the U.S. market, how to deal with support turnaround times with time zone problems, and other issues that I'm sure you deal with daily that I haven't mentioned?

Luckily for us, the Australian and U.S. cultures are very similar. Every now and then I might use 'customisation' instead of 'customization', but as far as a culture gap goes, that's about the extent of it.

The lag in support times is probably the biggest thing I'd like to change right now, but we make sure we never over promise on support turnaround times. I'm at a computer most hours of the waking day (which my girlfriend loves), so I can usually get an answer back within the hour anyway.

Obviously the reliability of our servers is a huge priority too, so if something goes bump in the night, we don't get much sleep.

9: Any other bits of wisdom you'd like to share?

Sure. I think the most important thing I've learnt from this experience is to have a go. Pick a niche that isn't getting all the love it needs and build something that's truly useful. It doesn't have to be incredibly innovative, just plain old useful. Then while you're not making it better, tell everyone in that market all about it. If it's useful, they'll listen.

If you're already running a consulting business, then you're in an even better position. Cut back your client schedule to 50% for a few months and see what you come up with. Even if you don't sell a thing, you'll learn so much from the experience.

Thanks so much Dave, great insights. I really appreciate your time.

My pleasure Carson, thanks for the opportunity.

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