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An MVP Story

Eric Ries recently asked for favorite MVP stories on his blog, The Leadership Guide.  Here is what I submitted.

Back in 2002 I was involved with a company that had some interesting Flash technology around which we built an Email Marketing Agency.  In 2002, Email Marketing was not the Juggernaut it is today, and we were able to build small, one-off, rich-media email campaigns for our customers.  However, the agency model was not very scalable and we found ourselves in need of a pivot to survive.  

Our biggest client, a large cruise line company, did most of their own creative work and was beginning to think that maybe they were spending too much money with us since our fees were primarily for our creative services.  We began to wonder if we could sell our email services separately as a SaaS offering.  We had a pretty good backend for sending and managing email, but in order to sell it as a Service, we needed to answer a couple of questions:

  1. What kind of UI would be needed to allow customers to be totally self-service?
  2. How fast did the system need to be?
  3. And, how much would customers pay for such a service?

Remember, this was before Email Marketing was a thing.   Before MailChimp, ExactTarget, StrongMail, or Constant Contact even existed.  So, we had 1 potential client and a handful of questions to answer.  MVP time…

So in short order we built what you might call a “man behind the curtain” solution.  A very simple web page – an HTML form actually – to collect all the data necessary to set-up an email campaign.  The customer would need to give it a name, tell us when to send it, what the subject line would be, etc.  They could then upload a csv file of recipients, and an HTML file for the email itself.  

The web form, when submitted, would send all the data via email to our lead Engineer, who would immediately grab all the data, upload the file of recipients, manually transform the HTML into a multi-part email document, rehost any images, manually create any landing pages and redirect pages (for tracking clicks) and fire the whole thing off.  We used a simple ASP script to fire off the emails 1 at a time.  We tracked the opens and clicks using our web server and could upload the stats daily to our “app”.

We showed our app to the customer and they agreed to use our software to send their next campaign to a list of 3 million of their customers.  If I remember correctly, we charged them a $3 CPM (cost per thousand), for a total of $9000. Considerably cheaper than the Agency fees we would have normally charged.  

The campaign was a success and we were able to get answers to our 3 basic questions.  From that first campaign we knew that at a minimum we had to automate the process, provide an Email content editor, provide image hosting, proper reporting, and basic CRM capability. But our idea was viable, and people would pay for it.   We used that MVP, and the lessons learned, to build out one of the industry’s first Email Marketing SaaS platforms.  

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