Andrea talks to us about how she gained mind share in a crowded market (email clients), and she discloses what they are doing to get people to upgrade to the MailBird pro account. This interview is a great glimpse into the earliest stages of a startup’s growth.
→ CEO and co-founder of Melbourne, an email application for Windows users
→ Aimed at making email less stressful and more efficient
→ Inspiration came from Sparrow, which was only for Mac users
→ Melbourne is a stripped-down, lightweight email application that is minimalistic and feature-rich
→ Launched April 2nd, 2013, and reached 30,000 users within the first four months
→ Growth attributed to persistence in contacting major influencers in the tech world and filling a gap in the market for a clean
→ The application is feature-rich but easy to use
→ And a whole lot more
Bronson: Welcome to another episode of Growth Hacker TV. I’m Bronson Taylor and today I have Andrea Luby here with us. Andrea, thanks for coming on the program.
Andrea: Thank you.
Bronson: Yeah. And you’re actually the CEO and co-founder of Melbourne. And we’ll get to that in just a second. But first, I want to mention how you actually got on this program. You emailed me asking to come on. And I think I strong armed you as like. Well, I don’t know. And then you came back again and I kept asking follow up questions and you were just really, really persistent. And I want to say that at the beginning, because being persistent works. You were nice about it. Your you know, your mean about it, but you were politely persistent. And now you’re on growth out of TV. So I think that’s a good example for people to to imitate right there. Please don’t bother me too much. But if you’re quite persistent, it’s a good thing. Now let’s talk about Melbourne. Tell us, what is Melbourne?
Andrea: So Melbourne is an email application for Windows users specifically. And the idea behind it is to basically make your life easier when it comes to email, because quite frankly, today, people suck at email and it’s very stressful for them. It all kind of started with Sparrow. The inspiration came from Sparrow for Mac, which was solely for Mac users. And we were realizing like this did not. This experience with email did not really happen or exist for Windows users. But you have Outlook, which is very corporate feeling, and it’s a solid email client, but it’s not so much for the current, like more upcoming work culture that you see today. More specifically, when you’re talking about like smaller teams and tech startups.
Bronson: So yeah, well, tell me a little bit about what makes it unique. Why is it good for tech startups? What makes it different than outlook so that people can get a handle on what it is?
Andrea: Yeah. Okay. So with Melbourne, it’s basically a very stripped down, lightweight email application. When you interact with the actual application, it’s very minimalistic, but it’s also not like you start it and you’re like, How do I send an email? So we make sure it is going to be very feature rich, but also very clean, modern and simplistic.
Bronson: Yeah. Yeah. And what did you guys launch? Melbourne.
Andrea: So we’re actually in beta right now and we launched April 2nd of 2013. Okay. Pretty recently, yeah.
Bronson: So just a few months even actually out there with users, people using it. What kind of growth have you experienced in your beta? What kind of feedback have you gotten through your beta period.
Andrea: In terms of growth? When we launched, it was kind of like a crazy rollercoaster of, you know, journalists contacting us both in Asia and the U.S. and Europe. So, I mean, we did our fair share, of course, of letting people know about it as well. And much similar to me being very persistent, getting on growth after TV. I also, along with our other team members, we were also very persistent with contacting kind of the major influencers in the tech world. So yeah, yeah, I think I veered away.
Bronson: Is there any specifics you can disclose about, you know, how many users or how many downloads or just anything that gives a ballpark idea of how big? Yeah.
Andrea: Definitely. Within the first four months of our data launch, we hit about 30,000 users. And of course, that’s growing now even more. And that’s that’s pretty organic. Like we did our fair share, like I said, of contacting blogs to kind of spread the word and do like our marketing for it. But we realized that there are a lot of people that were really interested that were looking for an email application like Mail Bird on the Windows platform. Yeah. So we had all these emails, people saying, thank you. Oh my gosh, Zaza, I’ve been looking for an email application like this forever. Yeah.
Bronson: So do you think that’s because of timing? Because, you know, Sparrow kind of educated the market about how good email could be and then the operating system that has the most users doesn’t have Sparrow is that it’s just a matter of timing for you guys, do you think?
Andrea: Absolutely. And like you even see kind of emerging other smaller email companies coming up because they saw an open door and we’re like, let’s do this. So, yeah, definitely that. And in email news, Google acquired Sparrow. So that was pretty big. And you have these alternative email applications for Windows like POSTBOX and Thunderbird and people. They liked it and it worked for them, but they were still seeking something else. Just the best experience. It wasn’t. I feel like email is a pretty big challenge to take on and that’s part of that is what makes it really fun to work on also. And it being a consumer product. Yeah, it’s I would definitely say it’s more challenging, especially when we’re talking about growth, but also more fun to work on. Yeah.
Bronson: Let’s talk about your website a little bit. The Melbourne website, I don’t know if it could possibly be any more minimal than it is right now. I mean, you go there and it is really minimal. Has it always been that simple?
Andrea: Well, we of course, what branding like, you know, we wanted to keep our app really clean and minimalistic so it would be easy to have a website that was, you know, action packed with tons of information thrown in your face. So we’re actually doing a big redesign with the website right now because we feel that it could actually be even better. But, you know, we needed to get something out there so people could kind of find out more information about Melbourne. So we put that out. But yeah, we, it was very intentional and keep it very minimalistic and simple.
Bronson: Yeah, right now they have kind of more info button or learn more about Melbourne at the bottom there and it shows you kind of features and benefits. Did that used to be there without having to click that button? Did it, you.
Bronson: So it’s always been hidden.
Andrea: At a way start. Let me phrase the answer to the question. Okay. So before I didn’t have that very simple any page. And you look at websites like I guess like Dropbox, for example, even they have it very it’s a video. This is what it is. Sign up if you want it. And then, of course, if that piques your interest and there is a button to click on to get more information. So so we’re still experimenting with that and testing that out because before we just had one column that just had all the information. Yeah.
Bronson: So that’s all I think about is have you seen any differences between that as opposed to the really minimal version because that’s was going to interest. Our audience is like, Oh, this one converted better than that one or has more great modes.
Andrea: If you have.
Bronson: Any stats on that.
Andrea: And I don’t have hard stats in front of me right now, I wish I did. But we did definitely see a peak in downloads when we launched the landing page, the simple landing page, which was just a video and just the login. And I think we even cut it even more because before you had to put in your first name, your last name, what email services do you use? And we’re like, okay, this isn’t working. So we cut all that out, obviously. And yeah, so since we did that, we definitely saw a spike in downloads. No, that’s great.
Bronson: And that’s what we also thought would happen. But I wasn’t sure.
Andrea: Yeah, we got the timed it also the new landing page with our beta launch so that along with the launch of the actual beta going public with the big impact had a big impact on our downloads.
Bronson: Yeah, absolutely. Now, you all actually charged for the pro version of your product. Yeah. Tell us about the pricing plans a little bit, because I want to talk through pricing because it’s unusual and yet you guys are finding a way to make it work. So what kind of plans do you have right now?
Andrea: So there’s there’s three options here, really. Well, we can get even more technical is more options, but we definitely are going to have a free version out there because of that that very nature that people that have been getting email for free for so long, they don’t want to pay for it. Yeah, but we have found this very niche market of people, much like the Sparrow users for Mac that are willing to pay a little extra for a service that that meets their needs. And that is something that’s very simple and helps them be more productive. So yeah, so with the pricing plan, we’ll have a free version and then we’ll have this, this pro version which right now in the beta we’re still developing and using whole lean startup method to kind of test to see what people are looking for. So we have pro version, which is the 999 right now if they preorder. So we’re in beta and we’re actually getting the people that are wanting to support us and pay for it and that one. So it’s going to be $12 once we’re out of beta and then we have the business pricing plan. So that’s more targeted for these small businesses because we started getting we weren’t planning on doing that, but we started getting approached by people saying, hey, you know, I really like your service. We’re actually looking for a more clean, stripped down email application. Do you have any bundle pricing or anything of that nature? So like, okay, well, this obviously is something that people are interested in, so let’s let’s test it out. So it’s actually still in testing. So we still haven’t come to a final decision, but I’m more amazed that people are paying for it, considering we’re in beta and it’s missing some of those key features that they’re looking for. And that’s where the whole Lean Startup approach definitely plays a big role.
Bronson: Yeah, the conversion numbers are you see into the pro accounts. Is it just like the vast, vast majority is free and like whenever a million people pay or are there actually a decent, you know, chunk of people paying for right now?
Andrea: Honestly, it is the majority are free users, of course, because it’s in beta, but without doing any active marketing in that sense in terms of conversion, because we’re so in beta, we just really want people to use it and tell us what they think. It’s converting at about 1.5%. Yeah.
Bronson: Which is not bad at all.
Andrea: Yeah. And pricing software like this, of course. Right, exactly. That’s what I said, too. It’s like 1.5%, not as much as what we wanted. But again, we’re still developing. We’re someone beta. We’re doing the research now before we can really put the foot down on like, okay, this is, this is how it’s going to be in the pro version and this is what it’s going to be this version.
Bronson: Yeah. And right now I know you’re in the process of learning this, but how are people being kind of pushed over the edge to upgrade? Is it you guys are educating them about the features or is it just because they find that they can pay and they want to like what’s actually triggering them to do that at this point in time?
Andrea: Okay. So I think it’s really how we’ve positioned and branded Malverde and it is being positioned as a productivity tool. And if I had to say honestly, right now what we’re doing with email, like are we innovating email right now? I would say no. So, I mean, I’m going to put that out there. Like, there’s not that much, you know, else that’s so crazy about it. But, you know, people choose things because they like the experience. But what I can say is that we are building kind of the platform to innovate email. Mm hmm. So I think that’s going to be really interesting to see what happens over time with development. Yeah. In that.
Bronson: Sense. And you’ve mentioned kind of methodology a couple of times already. Yeah. And one of the things that I know you have mentioned is just how fast you guys actually got to market. So how quick did you get to market? I mean, between, you know, from idea to development, actually getting it out there, what kind of timeline are we looking at here?
Andrea: It was less than a year. It was about nine months. And yeah, so the idea came about we started figuring out let’s let’s try to put like a really rough skeleton version of what this could potentially look like and discuss what what we want the final version to look like. And yeah, within less than a year we put the UI and the backend development together. We have an awesome development team and they’re fast and they’re good at what they do. So you have to have really good developers, I think, to, to be able to be quick. So I mean, that’s also a learning experience in itself. I mean.
Bronson: So from the people and let them use it throughout that nine months. Or did you say, look, it worked for Sparrow, we can do something similar and it’s gonna be fine?
Andrea: No, we definitely we definitely put it out there because we, we started seeing some interest because we, we started off with the original, original landing page, which is like a short I think it’s funny to think about now because we call it the magical email application and or whatever. It’s like. Like, what is that? But I think it intrigued people. People started asking questions. We started getting emails from people. And so with that, we were eventually starting to decide on what we really were were building with.
Bronson: Yeah. And with that landing page, were you capturing emails even then. And so. Oh yeah. Yeah. So you were kind of like a beta sign up.
Andrea: Oh, yeah. Mm hmm. It was more like, get notified to know when. When we launched the beta.
Bronson: Yeah, that’s great. Now, remember your site. It really was beautiful, and it looked good, you know? And so I can, you know, see people coming and putting their emails there. Now, right now, you guys do a lot of content marketing, all kinds of content are you are creating to generate awareness about Melbourne.
Andrea: Right. Well I mean it’s, it’s what you would think which is we try to keep our blog pretty active and we updated it about once a week and then it kind of came down to once a month and then we’re like, okay, maybe that’s not enough. So we’re now averaging about publishing content, which I still think maybe we can even do more about twice a month. Yeah.
Bronson: So where do you get the content ideas from? You know what to write about, what to put out there, what to do, because it’s email, you know, I mean, it seems like it’s like we can actually write about where are you going to actually say and this is good because a lot of people watching this, they’re in businesses that not to say this is boring, but it’s kind of boring. It’s email. Right. Exactly. And they’re wanting to produce content. So maybe you can help them out a little bit.
Andrea: Of course, yeah. No, I mean, Jessica is like, of course, if you put software out there, that’s like it’s not like you’re not there’s only so much attention or, you know, I don’t know, fluffing up. You can do it. Talking about something that is is a tool that people want to use. It’s not something that’s like, oh, this is exciting. It’s not like, you know, the new Hyperloop that you must use. It’s not I mean, that’s exciting stuff. So it’s like, obviously that’s easy to just be content about, but you don’t have to write just about email. You know, you can write about communication because a lot of what email is used for is of course, communication is used for file sharing more so, and it’s used for productivity in the modern workflow. So yeah, I mean it’s that and we also get the content ideas from our users because when they ask a question it’s like, okay, well we should probably and form or educate them about it. And you know, we’re, we’re always staying up to date on what’s going on with the email industry. So we try to engage that as much as possible. And then of course, we like to talk about like developmental updates with malware because that’s what people want to hear about as well. Yeah. But yeah.
Bronson: I think that’s a great insight you had of, you know, it’s email, but email is a part of a bigger ecosystem. It’s a part of productivity, it’s a part of workplace environments. There’s other things that it touches upon. It’s not something good when people think about creating content is don’t just think too narrowly about your product. Think about the universe your product is situated in, and then all of a sudden it’s not that boring because of workplace productivity we could talk about forever and you know, the environment that you get most things done you could talk about forever. And so I think that’s an insight that a lot of people could take away from right there. Now, when you’re actually writing this content, producing this content, are you like consciously thinking about SEO? Like, I want to rank for these words. So let me make sure I write blog articles about these words. Or is it just kind of, look, if I create a content, the long tail will take care of itself. And maybe we’ll have a few big words as well. How do you guys kind of handle that?
Andrea: Well, I mean, again, let’s bring it back to, you know, how it all was in the very, very beginning. We’re like, okay, we don’t really know. Let’s just try and let’s experiment and see what happens. So at first, no, absolutely. We were we weren’t consciously thinking about, yeah, what words can we put in here that will get us a lot of backlinks and, you know, will increase start page rank on Google’s search engine. But of course, now we are a lot more conscious about it. And, and I think SEO is very complex. I, I even in light, there’s a lot to it that I’m still learning as we go through this project. And I think over time it will organically grow. But you have to put the content out there and you have to engage with the users. So I mean, that’s something that I, I feel that I’ve learned is the most valuable thing to really just like engage with the users. And then based on the talks that you have with them, they get more interested in what you’re doing and they feel a part of it. And then you can also get some great ideas of what content to put out there.
Bronson: Yeah, you know, whenever I teach SEO, I teach kind of there’s two avenues to do it. There’s the two CS, there’s content and there’s code. And so some people come at it from a very code, heavy point of view, like, all right, let’s get the right, you know, code base. Let’s make sure we have our, you know, our hierarchy, you know, our sitemap exactly up to date. And it’s very much like a programmer way of thinking about it. They’re doing keyword searches on what’s ranking well. They’re seeing what the competition is. Other people, they just produce content and they think, you know, on shake out the way it’s going to shake out. Right. And both of those ways are valid. If you can do both, do both, but you can just create good content and do well at SEO, even if you don’t get into the real nitty gritty of it. And that’s what I tell people is you can pick one or the other and it seems like you guys are picking content and just putting out stuff and trying it, and that’s what you should do. If people just produce content, good things will happen and they don’t even have to know why it’s happening. Right?
Andrea: Yeah. All right. But I totally agree with you there, too. Like, you can’t it can’t just stand on its own. You do have to have someone from a technical background as well to kind of marry the two things together to really make a bigger impact. So yeah, I mean, we have a kind of like our offline marketer or silent marketer, which would be like a graphic designer. And also, I mean because we’re, we’re actually working on an infographic right now, we haven’t published it yet. So that’s been kind of an interesting journey for us as well. But I think, yeah, you have to have really good content as well. Not just, you know, random stuff you just put out there that isn’t exciting people don’t care about. So you have to do your research and see what’s currently active. But then yeah, like definitely you have to have someone that knows how to code as well so that you can marry the two and and make it, I guess, maybe cover more ground. Yeah. Yeah.
Bronson: Let me ask this. How much right now would you say your traffic comes from content from the blog, from things like that? Is that the majority of your traffic right now or are there other things that are really getting you the most downloads?
Andrea: Okay. I would say in terms of content, I would split into two things. Like I would I would say that content is probably 80% of it, whereas the remaining 20% is referrals and just organic growth from people that are using us and are like, Oh, this is great. And they tell people about it, which is awesome. We love that. We want more of that, but definitely it’s content and it’s not just the content that we publish. We’ve had a lot of people. Of course, this happens when you launch, you know, a new software product and beta people are like, Oh, we want to write about you that kind of question. So they contact you and you answer all these questions like 20 million times, so. So it’s content to other people published as well. And I think the biggest impact, of course, is going to be your bigger tech influencers, like the big blogs, like Lifehacker, like TechCrunch. So I would definitely say like building those relationships is pretty important, but it’s not the only way to do it. Yeah, so I would say 80% is content that drives the traffic to us. The remaining 20% is just organic referrals.
Bronson: Yeah. Which you know, when you said, you know, you have what, 30,000 downloads and growing. I mean for content to be the majority of that, I mean, that’s that’s saying something, you know, that’s a lot of activity coming inbound. Yeah. Now, talk to me about analytics for a minute. You know, because I’m used to tracking analytics for, you know, Web software. You know, you’re in the browser, right? How do you guys track analytics? What kinds of things are you all tracking? Does it look the same as if it was a web product only instead of it being in the product? It’s just a download. I mean, talk to me about the analytics a little bit.
Andrea: Okay. I mean, we use Google Analytics like and we have been able and this is this is kind of more on the technical side that our developers handle. But we have been able to track the events that people use, the actions that people take in the app within the analytics. So that’s been really valuable. We can kind of see like what specific things in the app they’re clicking on the most. Yeah. So we know what people really like, what they’re they’re not even aware about. So that, that also helps us in that sense like, okay, no one’s using our quick reply, you know, shortcut. Why not? So, so that helps us realize like, okay, maybe we should publish the content out there about it. So it helps too. But the analytics, yeah, it’s we use Google, we use Google Analytics.
Andrea: Okay. So again, that’s probably going to be more like the the.
Bronson: Word for the engineering.
Andrea: Of growth hacking. Yeah. But yeah, one of our developers, they set up Google Analytics to track any time someone sent an email from the app. Any time someone uses a particular shortcut. So all of that gets filtered and through Gmail. And it’s really nice for me because I can just look at it and see what happens in the app and what people are using the most. It’s it’s just that.
Bronson: Yeah, yeah. Do you get that email once a day or once a week? How often do you get that kind of update email from it?
Andrea: I just check it like weekly once a week. Yeah.
Bronson: And I think that’s a best practice that I, you know, encourage people to do is have at least a weekly email that you can just get in your inbox automatically, especially if you’re the founder CEO. It just gives you a high level view of everything that’s going on inside your app, right?
Andrea: Absolutely. Yeah. And we also track kind of just our general downloads the activity there and how many people are actually, of course, conversions as well. But we do that through a different system that our other super awesome developer put together, which is our license management system, and that’s on the web. And we can see software activity in that sense. So we can see whether it’s decreasing or increasing. And a big part of that is our retention numbers. So that’s another place that we really and that I would say I actually check more than just once a week because that’s that’s pretty important stuff that I like to see what’s going on.
Bronson: Yeah. Have you found that it’s hard to retain people in a new email software because you’re asking them to make a big change in their life? I mean, this isn’t like, hey, add this to your workflow. It’s like, hey, change the fundamental thing you used to communicate with the entire world online.
Bronson: Do you find that it’s really hard to retain them and they want to go back to their old ways? Or are you satisfied with like, you know, they’re coming over and they’re really enjoying the experience here and they’re staying.
Andrea: I would say a mix of both. I think anytime you put a product out there, people are going to try it and some people are going to realize, okay, that’s not for me. I’m just happy that people are trying it, even though they’re not necessarily sticking around for that sector of people that don’t stick around. I’m just like, okay, there’s some interest there. And then of course, we do follow up as well with those individuals that that don’t stick around to say, okay, tell us why. But what I’m even more excited about are the people that say, like, yeah, I left my email application that I’ve been using for years since I was like 13 years old to come to you guys because I’m sick of it. It doesn’t work and you guys are giving me what I’m looking for.
Bronson: So, no, that’s awesome. Now tell me again, where are you guys based out of? Where does the startup actually based?
Andrea: Okay. I actually work out of Bali and we have a pretty international team. So I’m in Copenhagen right now in Denmark and I actually haven’t met one of our like All Star. It’s our CTO essentially who is based in Copenhagen, and they work out of a co-working space called the Founder’s House. And so yeah, I am in Bali and that is where I would say is the hub for Melbourne. But we all work remotely and we meet with other team members that are in other parts of Indonesia as well. So yeah, I would say Bali is the main hub. I don’t know why that’s such a hard question to answer because I’m like, Yeah, we’re kind of all over the place.
Bronson: Yeah, I mean, we’re everywhere to have a guy in Phenix, someone in Kentucky. I’m in Florida. We’re all over the place. Right. But you guys, you’re, you know, completely outside of the valley. You’re outside of America. Yeah. How has that affected growth? Has it in any tangible way? Has it did you have to think differently when you’re there as opposed to somewhere else? How do you see that?
Andrea: Okay. So I think it’s awesome that we’re not in Silicon Valley because it is so oversaturated there. And it gives us another angle, I think, to people would never think that you’re developing an app that gets mentioned, you know, on Lifehacker or TechCrunch or PC World. You know, no one would ever think that it’s coming from a little island in Indonesia called Bali. Like some people are like, where is that? You know? So yeah, I think it gives us a different edge. And in terms of affecting our growth, I think it’s pretty dependent on the product that you’re working on. Like email is such an international product. So to me it gives us more leverage because I mean, our team members, we have such an awesome international team that we get a lot of different insights and also different networks to tap into. So like on our team, you have me, I come from the States in Cincinnati, Ohio, and then we have our guys that are from Indonesia. They’re awesome. We have a guy from Canada and then we have our Danish guys as well. And then also one of our other team members who’s our project manager. She’s Colombian, but she is also working in Copenhagen. So it’s kind of like the first time I’ve actually worked with a team from from all over the world like that. And I think it really makes us thrive a lot faster and it helps us stay motivated. We really inspire each other all the time because we come from so many different backgrounds and experiences. So I think that’s really, really valuable and what makes it really work for us.
Bronson: Yeah. So if you had to do over again, you would still be distributed. You wouldn’t bring it all together in one location. I mean.
Andrea: I would love to be able to sit with with the whole team all the time. But I think nowadays you don’t have to do that and you can make it work. But I mean, it’s not like we never see each other. We all we always try to make an effort to kind of get everyone together at some point in time or visit with each other. And we have regular meetings to, you know, weekly that we we meet with all team members. And so that’s really conducive to our efforts to really develop and move the project forward fast.
Bronson: Yeah, well, this has been a great interview, Andrea. It’s been fun kind of seeing Melbourne because it is so early on in the process, it’s still in beta. You’ve just been out a couple of months and I think it’s healthy for people to hear interviews like this where it’s not, hey, we’ve been out ten years and we’re looking back at the good old days about how it happened. It’s you’re in the middle of it. You’re right in the center of trying to figure things out. Here’s what we know. Here’s what we don’t know. Here’s what we’re going to try. And I think that’s good because there’s a lot of confusion early on in a startup and there’s a lot of let’s try stuff, and then there’s some like, Hey, that’s working, let’s just keep doing it. So I think it’s healthy to be able to kind of see this aspect of the world as well. I do have one last question. Given kind of what you’ve experienced so far, what’s the best advice that you could give to someone else that’s trying to grow a startup? What would you say to them if they’re watching today?
Andrea: Wow. Well, that’s actually a heavy question.
Bronson: Just might be the best answer ever. Don’t worry.
Andrea: Okay. The best answer ever. No pressure at all. No big deal, I would say, to really as soon as possible, put it out there and start engaging with the first users that that touch base with you because those. These people are pretty important and you’re going to learn a lot from them. They’re going to help you actually grow the business the most. My biggest thing that I’ve learned is to engage with your potential customers as soon as possible. Yeah, that’s it. And then that means finding out who those people are. So.
Bronson: Yeah. And if I could add something to that, if you think about it logically, if you launch months ahead of when you were going to launch, all that growth that happens in that time period is added. You would not have experienced it if you hadn’t got out there that early. And so that’s a lean methodology, getting something out there quick. It is a growth hack in and of itself because you get to experience real users quicker and that’s always going to you always to be ahead of where you would have been. So all I can mentality of get it out there quick and then really work with the user, sort the product kind of develop from, you know, the input they give and the way they use it. Again, Andrea, thank you so much for coming on Growth Accuracy.
Andrea: V Yeah, I appreciate it. This is awesome. Thanks, Bronson.
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