Hello everyone! Today our special guest is Janis Rose, CoFounder and CEO at Mailigen — email marketing platform that powers online businesses of different sizes through automation and innovative solutions in email marketing. Having the university background in IT business and multimedia design, Janis has been leading web-development companies for over 5 years; his experience as a business founder, team leader and person who has lived in 8 countries over the last 12 years is really exciting to hear! So let’s start!
Thank you Janis, thank you for finding time and coming for the interview. Let’s start with your experience. Could you please tell us in a few words about your background, what were you going to do back then during your study and how these plans changed then. And, finally, how did the idea of Mailigen come up?
Hi Elena, it’s really nice to be here and actually having a chance to talk about these kinds of background stories, because I think they’re very interesting to a lot of people to hear about how entrepreneurs start their business and how they actually make it success. So what I can tell about myself — I’ve been always interested in computers. In two words what Mailigen is, it is an email marketing software, with it we are moving towards integrated marketing solution and marketing automation.
I’ve always been interested in computers, not that much in computer software or applications. At the age of 12 I crashed my first computer and since then I kind of fell in love with thetechnology thing. After business high school that I graduated, I moved to a Computer Network and System Administration College course, which while I was taking at, I was offered to go and study abroad, actually to Denmark for multimedia and business higher education. So I did that and I had my first web design company, a team of four people aged of 19 which was a result of this kind of moving shift. And I found a new passion which is more a creative side, which was design and, actually, creating games on flash-based and just getting more familiar with the coding and stuff.
Then at the age of 21 I moved over to Asia. I spent 10 years in Asia traveling around, living in Hong Kong and Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and China. In last 12 years I think I’ve been living in eight different countries including Italy and Sweden. So kind of I’ve been around the world, and there have been different cultures and industries. At the age of 23 I joined the company and started climbing my corporate ladder using my background as an IT specialist. At the age of 27 I became a CTO of a foreign international business development company, so IT has always been a part of my life and my passion.
In late 2009, I think, I sat down with my team. At that time I had a web development company already running for a couple years, and we did a lot of web project, and those projects, they were just didn’t cut anymore, they were from month to month, and we know we had to pay salaries and it was a kind of difficult to always restart every month with new clients. So we satdown with my team and we were looking for something that really resonates with all of us and that’s building web products. And then we looked at the industries that are actually lucrative and growing and always will be growing. We came to email marketing that kind of SaaS (Software as a Service) subscription-based business to bereally the angle we want to take.
In 2010 we launched our beta product, I think, that was three or four months after we started. So since then we have been just growing as a team, growing as the company and brand, and I think in 4 short years we established ourselves among some world leading competitors. And in some reviews we are in top ten. And the technology, we advanced, we invaded and we are just growing now a lot. It was interesting that we started as a business incubator that did help us to get to way we wanted in the first year. They helped us with some financing with some book keeping and office space, etc. But everything started also with an angel investor, that came in very early and believed in idea and was was willing to invest a certain amount of money that would keep us going for at least 3-4 months to get the prototype ready. So this is how 12 years of my life was in 3 minutes.
You listed multiple fields of your expertise: web development, multimedia design and email marketing. And now you’re engaged in the email marketing field. So what area interests you the most?
That is funny, that all my skills from past, from education, my work experiences is directly relevant to current day-to-day tasks. I’m still developing web, which we have to do to track clients and actually serve the clients. We still design creative things and working on the email marketing strategies for Mailigen and our clients. So everything that I’ve learned is actually very relevant today. My new passion I found is I enjoy running a company; I enjoy being a leader and consciously working with myself to grow as a teamleader and entrepreneur. But definitely my strengths are in web product development and user experience design, that’s something I’m presenting speaking at some conferences and talking about user experience, which is something of a very broad topic. But at the same time, it’s something not that many people understand what lies behind user experience thinking that it’s only design. But its a lot of processes and systems have to be put in place, so the user experience through out working with the company is actually enjoyable and driving results. So what I’m really passionated about is working with the clients and getting results, and then working with my team to get those results for my clients.
I still enjoy sometimes installing software, just managing some computer, you know, hardware issues; it’s just something that runs in my blood. At the same time, it’s not something I do. Even a couple of days ago I had to snap at somebody nuts, because I have to run a company, not to look for bugs. So things like that this is the way the people have to go around me, and I have to be myself, I have to acknowledge that I’m already at the different level where small issues can take too much time which is very precious while we are growing as a company.
So you described Mailigen software in short. Now could you tell us the most advantageous features this software has and what key benefits it provides for online business owners?
We recently launched and I’m not scared to say, one of the world’s best and functional responsive email template drag-and-drop editor. That allows you to create stunning mobile-friendly emails with no tech skills or what so ever, and I’m pride our team for personal approach to client management and integrated system that allows you to do more than just an email marketing but create surveys and SMS text messages, automate email campaigns, etc. We provide web forms that allow you to actually collect your subscribers on web forms your CRM systems, etc. And as I mentioed earlier, right now, during the next six months are very interesting to us, because we are coming out with some really fundamentally important features that are for any business that has some knowledge of the email marketing already and I’m looking to improve and increase the conversions and return on investment that will be related to more triggered behavior or email automation, so that is something which is coming up this year.
And what user tracking and reporting opportunities does Mailigen software provide?
Right, today where are focusing on reaction on the emails, so if the company decides to do a bulk email sending or very-very segmented, so we can actually look for behavior within those emails and create different segments or groups of people that actually react to different offers and react differently to emails they opened and didn’t open and on what devices in which geo-locationand which browser they used, etc. That allows you to segment everything more accurately. And because we noticed everybody’s talking about mobile today and the email is not an exception, so you have to actually know what your audienceis like. We see that in average it starts from 25 to 40 percent of mobile readers and in the US it even higher and is up to 50 percent of mobile email readers. So it’s important that you actually focus your message or create your email in a different way that it easier to read or perform an action on mobile device or a desktop. That’s very important.
I know that Mailigen can be integrated with Magento and Shopify stores, and since there are a lot of online shop owners among our audience I would like to ask you about the details of this integration. Could you talk a bit about that?
Yes, sure, and it’s not just two systems that we integrate, it allows to be a go-to platform for email marketing and to be integrated with as many business tools as possible. So along with Magento and Shopify we’re launching Salesforce integration Bitrix24 and we already support the integration with 300-400 different online platforms and Zappier. And these integrations allow you to synchronize contacts and customer base data between your CRM system, CSM system, ecommerce platforms. And Mailigen where you can segment them and prepare beautifully email templates to see in the reports and these integrations are at this point we have created a basic integration which allows you to merge and synchronize and we’re moving towards built-in plugins that would work inside Magento or Shopify with the reporting tools. And we might be coming out with a built-indrag-and-drop email editor, and that’s something we’re discussing with Magento, Shopify and Sales force individually.
Let’s talk about about email marketing. Email marketing is one of the oldest marking insutrments and at the same time it remains one of the most effective tools even today. Do you have explanation for this?
Number one thing. I think it is the most personal channel of communication. If you think about your personal space and what’s the closest to you. It’s usually the mobile device that you have and what ninety percent of people on mobile devices or smartphones have at least one of their mail accounts connected and if somebody sends you an email, they know it reaches you immedtiaely. It is similar to text messaging. Text messaging, SMS is losing its effectivity because a lot of people already receive emails on their phones and react as quickly. We see opens and click rates for emails being in seconds or literally minutes from the moment you sent it out after business hours or on weekends. So it is because people have their emails right in that pocket and it is the most personal channel of communication because it allows you to personalise the content and give you time to actually consume it. When you’re browsing the web when you are bombarded with advertising and banners and everything you really just go past and don’t even pay attention, but your inbox it’s like your personal back log or personal to do task. A lot of people use email for planning their work. So it is your personal space that you pay attention to. And you always scan, everyday I scan around 700 emails a day, I know it’s not very effective but for me it takes about 10 minutes, because I know what I’m looking for. But if I see something uncommon that really pulls out my attention I do spent a minute, trying to browse it.
And it’s funny that the email for the last a couple of years receives speculations that it is dying and social media is taking over. But this is the one channel where you can deliver a decent amount of information actually serve it in an effective way and that will never change because email is not leaving your personal space, its always there it will stay there for I don’t know next 50 or 100 years.
In your opinion what trends we should be expecting in the nearest future apart from mobile audience growth?
I think that email and there is already some great technology out there where one particularly email could be dynamically presented to you with different content depending on your interest and your behavior in real time. If you think about it, it is quite crazy, that I will be able to show you different content within an email based on your activities within a day or your move mentor your web behavior. Of course, email is pushed down on your your inbox a lot of times and a lot of times people return to e-mails that are relevant for a long period of time like your flight booking or some rentals, something where you come back to email more than one time. And the content in the email could be dynamically presented. But personalization of email content is where we going, that’s 100 percent, and that’s not talking about mobile or desktop. But the fact that we serve you we give you the information that you are really interested in and it’s happening on a web already and an email already as well we need just to fine-tune the information you’re seeing.
You have great experience in developing business in B2B field and it’s quite a challenging thing. So what obstacles did you company face on early stages of development and how you manage to over come them?
For SaaS product, Software as a Service product, we are often challenged by technology. We provide fast and reliable service while managing billions of records of emails, etc, that is has been a challenge. In B2B it often takes longer for a customer to make decisions, but then we partner hopefully for life! And supporting local business in already over the 110 countries, it is also a challenge.
Could you share some tips on the first sales to B2B clients? Your personal list of things companies should do and should avoid making their first sales?
I think if the product is new or innovative you will never be able to land your dream client right away. So you need to define your early adapters, like-minded people. Because behind each B2B there is a person you know that could be as crazy as you, ready to try something new. When you ironed out your bugs and have a proof-of-concept it will be much easier to approach the dream client and look for companies that are interested in investing some time in you, because in early-stage you will you need to spend a lot more time actually talking to the client understanding the irreal problems. Okay, it might be that you already come from that industry and you know 100% what are the problems and you are just developing a product solution for that. But I have not seen products like that, that hasn’t gone through certain amount of iterations and pivots, things like that. So you have to start from the early adopter, people that are crazy like you to try new things and are ready to invest time in you to help you out to build a better product. And then you go to your dream clients with a list of already users and proof-of-concept.
You are a very creative and inovative person. So do you apply creativity in everyday business processes some how because there is a lot of information and how do manage to cope with this information and task over load and do you have any case wen you applied creative solution in marketing?
Yes and yes. There are two sides of creativity, right? The visual side, when you come up with some great ideas and try to present them to the world or creative ideas for problem solution. I don’t like to call problem a problem, because problems are challenges and you need to be creative to overcome these challenges. And thinking about creative side and a marketing we try to look for different groups of customers that are interested in different things. And we have tried out a lot of GIF-animated offers or GIF-animated invitations, you know, calls to action, and then already given GIF-automations we’re trying to do some movie-like scenes where there is a story, there’s a beginning, there’s an action and there’s a call to action. I think that is something a lot of companies are looking to do or interested in the video or animation through GIF. So that is on creative side of visuals. And for problem-solving I read a lot of books on process, on system implementation and I look for ways to present in visual way, ways to deal with certain challenges. In my office we have walls full with the screenshots from the actual platform. If you will come in the development office, we have the full application layed out on the wall, piece by piece of papers, screen by screen so you can see how the application looks like when you walk in the room. This gives you the way to visualize the experience of every user that comes in your system. Because when you are looking from outside, say you’re a developer, you’re marketer or you’re the salesperson, you really see just the front, you know the logo and maybe once in a while you look at the product. But when you live in that spacewhere you actually see the product every day, a lot of times you notice little challenges, I call them tripper hooks that people trip on when they can finished the required or desired action. So we can pretty much draw on the wall and then try to implement that as soon as possible and try to fix things. So similar to email marketing side of things, we have an automated drip email campaigns that are going to our clients moving towards a desired goal of a purchase or an upgrade. We have placed all the email designs and the flow of email on the wall as well. So it’s just live on the wall and I can see what people are seeing and think of better ways to design that experience. It’s part of the user experience challenge.
Was it your idea to put screenshot on the walls?
It’s an iteration I saw from Atlas team, the company that develops GRM confluence and development issue tracking which we are using as well. And I saw that there are working on personas, and personas is the other thing we have, we have developed and placed in the office, so that everybody can see the virtual personas that we are working for and with. I saw how they do an application development, they actually do user stories for individual features, but not for the whole platform. They had an idea of showing a particular feature, the way it interacts with people at the time of development.
From your words I understood you continuosly upgrade your level in many fields which you are working in, so what thought leaders and business development specialists do you look up to? Also, what specialists talking about team leadership do you look up to and probably you could advise our readers the books which have impressed you the most lately.
Yeah, just recently I wrote a review for a book called “Collective Geniuses”. It is a really interesting book and it talks about the fact that no genius has been an individual success, the same with Antenien or Edison, they had teams behind them and they were working in labs with 50 or 100 people and they were chosen maybe as thought leaders, but there’s no successful company like Pixar or Folkswagin or Google that was made up by one person only, It was always collaboration, it was always a team working on the challenge. So the book is called “Collective Genius” and the art of practice of leading innovation”. It is by Linda Hill and …. and it is a new book that came out this year. The way I see the leadership, it’s almost like planning the three parts of it. Think about a basketball tournament or ice hockey tournament, there’s somebody who is organizing the tournament, so they have to make sure that there’s an arena and there are players there’s drinks, and there are people watching, and entertainment, etc. And there’s a coach that actually works with the team before the game, during the game, and there is a referee and referee makes sure that everything goes by the rules and if they see that somebody starts fighting, they are flying off, takes care and then he just stops the game and brings back everybody to the the sides. So a real leader is like those three people: an organizer, a coach, and the referee. Aand it’s really important. I think one guy that has really impressed me in last few years is Gary Vaynerchuk. That crazy guy, called social media self-talk guru. He has become a massive figure that talks about how important it is to do social media. But one particular word that he uses in his speeches and presentations is “hassle”. You need to hassle to achieve what you want, means you have to wake up every day and start hassling from morning to the end. If you want to achieve your goals you have to hassle. There is no other way. You can’t wake up and just dream, oh I wish I would have this and that and it just drops from the sky. To get it you have to hustle with business partners, with vendors, with technology, with yourself. So Gary Vaynerchuk has been an influence for me as well.
And what is your credo in business and life?
Simple – live your life with arms wide open. I have a background picture on my screen on my phone that actually says the same, that I designed myself. So live your life with arms wide open, I will be happy to share that with you. And when I look at the phone, ansd I am one of those guys who look at the phone 150 times a day, I can live without it, but it’s part of my business and the way I communicate and everything. And everytime when I look at it, it inspires me to be open to new ideas, to be open to new challenges and when even the challenge, you just have to accept that and not resist, because as soon as you start resisting something it is actually creating more track friction and you lose more energy. But if you invite it you live your life with arms wide open and live your life with heart wide open and it has brought me some amazing moments in my life, personal life or business, so live your life with the arms wide open.
The last question I would like to ask you is about Asian part of your travels, what languages you learnt while leaving in those countries?
Almost 9-10 years I spent living in Thailand, it was in and out, but almost like maybe six years of those I actually lived in Thailand. And when I first moved to Thailand and then I went off to Hong Kong for one year and other countries. But Chinese never stuck to me, but Thai did, and after 10 years being there, six years of which I spent in Thailand , there is no other way to be able to hold a conversation with the local person, not to be totally alienated to them and just integrate, I loved to understand different mentalities and integrate with communities. And Thai, actually I think it is quite easy, it doesn’t have genders and plurals, times, nothing, it is just pure words, and intonation and pronounciation of each word is very important.
Would you build business in Asian countries? Or in which countries would you advise people to build business?
Defintiely Asia is very hot right now. We have our headquarters in Hong Kong and representatives in Beijing and the offices around the world on the west side, but we definitely see a lot of pontential in Asia.
Singapore is super hot, Singapore or Hong Kong, their governments are investing millions and millions of dollars in IT sector and startup sector, even countries like China, they have never done this but now they are open to innovation, they have a lot of incubators, a lot of angels, a lot of investment. And Thailand I think in last five years as well has become a very hot country for IT startups, because initially the infrastructure wasn’t that interesting for foreign companies, but they have proved themselves they actually have some innovative people, and they have wona lot of international competition for startups. But I would be looking at Singapore or Hong Kong, because they do a lot of support, in Singapore you can get up to half a million dollars and financing from the government if you have your startup in Singapore. So Singapore I think is number one, and then Hong Kong and Thailand that if I wanted to start a startup – access to resources, access to funding and to market.
Thank you Janis for such a useful and insightful interview, I enjoyed it a lot. Thank you very much for finding the time and coming to us, that was a great talk.
Thank you and everybody have an amazing and productive day!