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How kissmetrics became a unicorn before cold emailing had a name or much of a following

by Abraham Verninac 2 months ago in startup
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How the company Kissmetrics became a unicorn (a highly successful startup valued at one billion dollars) before the term "cold email" existed or before many people knew what it meant

How kissmetrics became a unicorn before cold emailing had a name or much of a following
Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash

Before there was Salesforce, Sugar CRM, Zendesk, or even Hubspot — when the term “customer success” wasn't yet in the dictionary — my cofounder Bryan and I were cold emailing people to let them know about our software. Along the way we found that a lot of things have changed since we used this approach, but something very crucial has remained true: Simply put, if you want to grow your startup faster than you are currently growing, then you should be sending more emails to people — especially if you're interested in bringing them inside your startup's customer funnel as your customers or advocates.

0 to 15,000 paying customers in 10 months

The story of Kissmetrics is one of the most inspiring in the startup world. The company was founded by Neil Patel and Hiten Shah, two guys who were working in corporate jobs. They knew nothing about building a company, but they did have a problem to solve. Patel wanted to know what worked on his blog, and Shah wanted to know if his cold emails were getting opened or not.

So they built a tool that allowed them to track all of this information so they could figure it out. This turned out to be a big win for them, so they decided to go into business together and build more tools like it for other people who had similar problems.

They started with their free tool named QuickSprout (which has since been renamed Kissmetrics), which helped people track their blog traffic and find out which posts performed best over time. It was free because they didn't want anyone to turn away from testing their ideas because of cost concerns — they wanted everyone to be able to try it out first and see if it worked or not before making any commitments.

We sent over 700,000 cold emails and generated 100 million in revenue

When I started Kissmetrics, I had no idea what I was doing. I'd never even run a company before and now I was an entrepreneur. The only thing I knew for sure was that I wanted to make something that would help people understand and grow their businesses. That's pretty much it.

I had no idea how to do it and no clue where to start. So, I did what all entrepreneurs do: I started cold emailing people. And not just random people, but people who were influential in the startup community. I would send emails like this: Hi [NAME], My name is Hiten Shah and we're building a new type of analytics software called Kissmetrics that can help you understand your customers better so you can make more money.

We're still in stealth mode right now but if you'd like to learn more about us, please let me know!

How we cold emailed every single customer in order to get 15,000 paying customers

In January 2009, Kissmetrics was a two-person startup. We had just launched our first product and were trying to figure out how to get customers. Our first idea was to use cold emailing — the same technique used by many of today's top startups — to get our first customers.

We built a list of all the companies in our niche and started sending them emails. We wrote them from the perspective of someone who had recently completed an event registration form on their website and was looking for feedback on how they could improve their conversions. The subject line was: "How can we make it easier for you to convert?" Since we were targeting only companies that had already expressed interest in event registrations, we thought this would be a good place to start.

But after sending out 500 emails, we only got three replies from people who wanted more information about Kissmetrics or wanted us to come speak at their conference or meetup. The problem was that we hadn't done any research on these companies before reaching out to them. So we decided that if we were going to continue with cold emailing, we'd have to do some research first.

The only difference between a failure and success is getting lucky enough to have someone give you a chance.

When you start a business, you're not just building a product or service. You're building a culture. That's why the moment of truth for any startup is when it decides who it's for. In the early days of Kissmetrics, we had to make that decision quickly. We had just launched our product and hit our first big milestone — $1,000 in monthly recurring revenue (MRR).

We were also getting a lot of feedback from customers about how they'd like to use our product differently than we'd planned. That made us realize that we needed to make some changes. But before we could make those changes, we had to figure out who our audience was going to be.

So we went back to our earliest customers and asked them: "Who are you?" The answers were not what I expected at all. They weren't marketers or salespeople or even business owners — they were developers and designers who were trying to build products that people wanted to buy. And they wanted tools like Kissmetrics so they could do this effectively and efficiently.

To conclude

The idea for this article was born at the Startup Grind event in Palo Alto. For those of you who don't know them, Startup Grind is a community of startups from around the world that meet monthly to talk about their experiences and give advice. I like being able to attend and be part of this community because I am surrounded by founders and thought leaders in the Silicon Valley startup scene, such as Brad Feld, an early stage investor and co-founder of Foundry Group…not just because he's tall.

At one event someone asked Brad how he would describe the perfect first hire for a startup, that person whose attributes can make or break a company. He said something really interesting; there isn't necessarily one perfect characteristic or skill set that is a complete must-have to join your team.

It's more nuanced than that. He said the perfect person will be universally respected by all employees, even ones with whom they may not necessarily get along. Thus, every employee has a real chance to get behind this person. This is something I feel very strong about in my own businesses: when everyone works towards creating powerful positive outcomes together and learning from each other, success tends to happen on its own.

Often with no warning!

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About the author

Abraham Verninac

🤓 I am an entrepreneur who builds brands/influencer. And I want to chat with anyone that is interested in starting their own business/brand or who wants to take it to the next level! You can message me anytime!

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