Atlanta Web Entrepreneurs learn Email Marketing

Ben Chestnut of MailChimp taking Q&A

This month at the Atlanta Web Entrepreneurs meetup group I organize we hosted two sharp email marketing professionals: Sandi Karchmer Solow of I Send Your Email and Ben Chestnut, co-founder of Mail Chimp, a successful Atlanta-based Email Service Provider. Sandi presented Email Marketing 101 to the group, and Ben regaled us with his story of how MailChimp came to be.

Sandi Solow on Email Marketing

Sandi gave us a really great base level of overview of the email marketing landscape and explained how its critical to correctly opt-in your subscribers and to give them exactly what they asked for, and only what they asked for. Otherwise you loose trust and the fallout is worse than anything you could gain. Oh, and Sandi was a real trooper to speak this month because she’s about seven months pregnant. So good luck to her and her soon-to-be-newborn.

As for MailChimp, evidently it was a side project that Ben and his partner’s web consulting company implemented to keep a client who wanted them to manage his email broadcast from hassling them, but they didn’t fully embrace it as their primary offering until many years later. And the month after they fully embraced it their revenue exceeded every prior month’s revenue they’d seen life-to-date for their business! Ben told us how MailChimp has a focus on simplicity and when we reviewing his prices we found MailChimp to be very price competitive, especially for email lists of less than 100 which they send for free!

Details count!

Now most marketers have heard of ExactTarget before but many may not have heard of MailChimp, and based on MailChimp’s low pricing, it simple-to-use interface and its fun and irrerevent name, many people might think that MailChimp is only for businesses with tiny email lists. But most in the audience including myself were shocked to learn that they have successfully delivered some of the largest email broadcasts in the industry!  Ben told us about a major software launch announcements where they sent out millions of of emails in just about 30 minutes! (Ben said the client asked never to be named but believe me, it was major!)

What was especially interesting was when member/attendee Jason Prance mentioned during Q&A that he’d been using both MailChimp, for personal projects, and ExactTarget for a 100,000 name work mailing list, and that he loved the former and really disliked the latter. He then said if he had his druthers he’d be using MailChimp for work but couldn’t switch without re-opting in and loosing probably half his subscribers. To this Ben replied that all he’d need to do is provided his ExactTarget reports showing them being a responsible emailer and then he could easily move his 100k list to MailChimp. Sold!

Email Marketing for Atlanta Web Entrepreneurs

Anyhoo we had a great time, enjoyed learning about email marketing, and look forward to future Atlanta Web Entrepreneur meetups. Oh, and I want to thank both Sandi and Ben for taking the time to make such a memorable evening for us.  It really is great to have such nice people who are willing to help their peers and who are offering such worldclass services so reasonably priced, all here in our hometown of Atlanta GA. Go Atlanta!

Visit Flickr to see all photos I took for this event.

P.S.: This was NOT a paid endorsement for MailChimp. We invited Ben to speak about MailChimp because one of our members that we really respect recommended him very highly. Plus Ben turned out to be a really great guy and there were actually several members in attendance who already use his service and love it. Evidently, MailChimp really kicks ass!

Learning about Adobe AIR in Atlanta…

I’m at the Fox Theatre in my hometown of Atlanta today checking out the Adobe AIR Bus Tour Summer 07. It’s nice to be at the first event nationwide. I’m attending at the behest of a friend who thinks it going to be the "next big thing." I’m skeptical. I fear yet another proprietary attempt to empower developers to craft unique custom web interfaces to provide desktop functionality as a layer over web technologies, and that’s not a compliment. These types of things, especially when looking at the black box nature of opaque Flash SWF files, do their best to ignore those things that make the web work, i.e. stateless URL-addressed resources. The reality of Adobe AIR remains to be seen… P.S. It would have been nice if Adobe had consulted me to ensure that this event was more convenient for me. I mean, I actually had to leave my home and cross the street to attend. Adobe, Please! ‘-)

Microsoft Visual Mashup Creator Express, May 2007 Community Tech Preview Internet Edition

You gotta love that some at Microsoft actually have a sense of humor! From the PopFly FAQ (emphasis mine):

Why did you call it Popfly?

Well, left to our own devices we would have called it "Microsoft Visual Mashup Creator Express, May 2007 Community Tech Preview Internet Edition," but instead we asked some folks for help and they suggested some cool names and we all liked Popfly.

Announcing The Atlanta Web Entrepreneurs

The Atlanta Web Entrepreneurs Logo Last night was the third meeting of the Atlanta Web Entrepreneurs, a Meetup group that I started this past December. Although the first two meetings in January and February were "just getting started" outings, this was the first event that made me think "Hey, we can really pull off something great here!" And that is why I finally decide to go ahead and blog about it [1].

I’ve been in Atlanta for most of my life and the positive, community-oriented, grassroots entrepreneurial tech culture thriving in San Francisco and Boston and has been all but none-existent in the modern era. Atlanta has been a Fortune 1000 town [2]; its high tech community has either chased big business dollars or been of the "get rich quick" dotbomb variety [3], or both. And those who prostrate to major corporations or indenture to venture capitalists are rarely of the "rising tide float all boats" ethos interested in the types of business communities I’ve yearned to be involved in.

Most readers of this blog know that web technologies have evolved to the point anyone with reasonable intelligence and enough passion can create a successful online business; no deep technical knowledge and only a tiny amount of startup capital required. That level of empowerment has unleashed latent entrepreneurial aspirations worldwide. The new-style online businesses people are creating may or may not be a jackpot like YouTube has been for its founders, but they can provide a great living for those involved.

And that excites me. But what really excites me more is, with events like SoCon07, Podcamp Atlanta, and others it’s evident the community-oriented entrepreneurial web ethos that I’ve so longed has finally arrived in Atlanta!

I won’t take any credit for Atlantans new interest in building agile online businesses as none would be deserved. But I will say I’m now doing what I can to help catalyze this transformation of Atlanta’s entrepreneurial web landscape in hopes to see as supportive an ecosystem emerge as those found in the aforementioned Boston and San Francisco.

Wish us luck!

Footnotes

  1. For a rundown of our third meeting, see my next post at PaperbackSwap founder speaks to Atlanta Web Entrepreneurs.
  2. Atlanta’s Fortune 1000 include Home Depot, UPS, Coca Cola, BellSouth (now of AT&T), Delta Airlines, Southern Company, SunTrust, Genuine Parts, and Cox Communications to name a few.
  3. Atlanta’s notable exceptions to the dotbomb moniker have been Mindspring/Earthlink, JBoss, and Internet Security Systems.

I’m going to Podcamp Atlanta!

Amber Rhea pitching Podcamp Atlanta to the Atlanta PHP User Group as Robert Swarthout looks on. Well, yes as I’ve already said, I’m not a super-timely blogger. I should have blogged this long ago, but ah well. Anyway, Amber Rhea of The Georgia Podcast Network organized a Podcamp here in Atlanta for this weekend March 16-18 2007 at Emory University. An as of yesterday when I asked, Amber said that she had 185 people registered! Wow. Another event like SoCon07; I can’t wait!

But this one is going to be special for me as I get to hold my first discussion on Saturday about User-Centered URL Design. What’s that got to do with Podcasting, you ask? I’m not sure either, but Amber assurred me that attendees would be interested. :-) But seriously, podcasters has many of the same issues to address that everyone publishing on the web should consider including usable URLs for their audio files as well as the website that hosts them.

I look forward to some likely discussions!

Energy in Atlanta: Finally at SoCon07!

I’ve never really blogged before about Atlanta because (except for this) I’ve never felt there was much interesting happening here, at least not from the perspective of things that interest me to blog about. But that’s finally changing!

I’ve been in Atlanta for most of my life, and my professional career has spanned exactly 20 years next month. I’ve also been in the entrepreneurial high-tech side of things but for the most part have always felt on the outside looking in. Sure there has been a lot of high-tech companies focused on serving our fortune 500 crowd, and there are tons of real estate entrepreneurs. However, I’ve never felt like there have been others interested in developer and web-related startups like I have always been. That is until now! SoCon07 Entrepreneur Breakout moderated by Jeff Haynie with Michael Mealling asking a question a Josh Watts of Blue Violin in the immediate foreground

Several weeks ago (okay, I’ve never been a timely blogger…) I attended an unconference called SoCon07 put on by Sherry Heyl, Leonard Witt, Jeff Haynie, Josh Hallett, James Harris, and Jonas Luster (if I missed or overcredited anyone, I apologize in advance.)

The event was actually incredible. Held in the nether regions of Atlanta (okay, that’s OTP a few miles) at Kennesaw State University. There were somewhere over 200 people in attendance, and the Friday night before there was a dinner held for any interested attendees. It was incredibly rewarding to get to meet so many other bright and passionate people interested in web-oriented startups and/or social media here in my good ole’ hometown of Atlanta, GA!

I’m going to shout out for a handful of other people I’ve met recently who were at SoCon07. Someone I had met socially last year, Grayson Daughters of The Spacey Gracy Review/blog and Producer and one of the Personalities for the TrueGritz satire site was busy doin her thang.

And then there was Amber Rhea and Rusty Tanton of the Georgia Podcast Network as well as the organizers of PodCamp Atlanta. And of course my good friend Eric Winter of Webicus. As well as many others I just met and whom I hope to soon get to know better.

Mike Gunderloy gets fed up with Microsoft

A Fresh Cup

Ok, for those who have been keeping up with Mike Gunderloy this is old news but I just ran across it. Mike is one of the most prolific writer/developers I know and one of those rare breed that can evidently learn new technologies in no time flat.

Mike has been working with Microsoft technologies for about fifteen years, but it seems he’s gotten fed up with Microsoft. Even though he is continuing his blog of links to info and tools of interest to .NET developers at The Daily Grind, he has started a new blog named A Fresh Cup where he explores his search for an alternative development platform.

Here is an except of his initial post:

…I’ve spent the bulk of the last fifteen years developing some amount of reputation and expertise in the Microsoft universe…

Unfortunately, over that time I’ve also come to the conclusion that, even though it is staffed largely by smart and ethical people, Microsoft itself represents a grave threat to the future of software development through its increasing inclination to stifle competition through legal shenanigans….

…I can’t afford to just walk out on a career that brings in good money. But I rather desperately want to find an alternative. This blog will record some of my explorations as I hunt around in other corners of the software world, trying to decide if there’s a viable business plan for me that can include weaning myself off of Microsoft software.

So it seems like I’m not the only one who has gotten frustrated with Microsoft as of late.

Wachovia building imploded with controlled demolition one block from my home!

This morning at around 8:15am the old Wachovia Building on 615 Peachtree Street in Midtown Atlanta, Georgia USA was imploded using controlled demolition techniques. This was filmed from North Avenue just east of Piedmont Road. Check it out!

 

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The White Man’s Web 2.0 Club

Badge for San Francisco Future of Web Apps September 2006After attending The Future Of Web Apps, I looked around for fellow attendee bloggers and while searching found Chris Messina’s post about the lack of diversity in the speaker lineup.  Several commenters then started getting riled up to the level of a virtual lynch mob with comments like:

Damned if I’m going to give hundreds of dollars to conference organizers who couldn’t get off their butt and mix things up a bit.

In interest of full disclosure, I do need to point out that I am a white male. OTOH, anyone who knows me well knows that I really seek out diversity, especially in my personal life, and that generally the type of people I least like spending time around are white males! But as I already posted, I loved this show. And I think the Carson did an excellent job with such a small staff, so I posted this comment:

I agree in principle with this post, but I have a different view of it (which is ironic, because I would normally be pushing hard for diversity.) I found this conference to be one of the best conferences I’ve ever attended, and I lost count at 50 conferences in my professional life.

It was also by far the best value at $147.50/day (and I even got a special offer for a 15% discount!) Lastly, his company is tiny (3 people?) and they are attempting to do a tremendous number of things for such a small company. I have seen many other conferences run by much larger companies do a much worse job in almost every area so I was AMAZED at how damn good this conference actually was, white man or not.

Could they have done a better job in diversity? Hell yeah. Did they do an incredible job in what they did? ABSOLUTELY! Did Ryan come across on stage as being sincere about wanting to address concerns and constantly do a better job? It appeared so to me. Were they probably overwhelmed by getting the conference implemented and possibly had the stress of organizing it cause them to accidently overlook some idealistic and feel good but hard to implement aspects? Probably. Do you think, now that it has been made a point that they will look to improve the situation in advance and do a better job of recruiting diversity for their next conference? Almost definitely.

So I would propose that before you collect up a lynch mob for this one oversight (”She turned me into a Newt!” “A Newt?!?” “Well…I got better.”), maybe you could consider this post and thread a suggestion for improvement that I’m sure Ryan & Co will see, and then give them the benefit of the doubt until and unless they fail next time. Fair?

A little while later I got an email from someone at Carson thanking me for my comments and saying:

You got it bang on the money, except that we are a 75% female company, soon to be an 80% female company ….

So I took the opportunity in reply to give my suggestions both to address this issue and also generally to improve the conference, as follows:

Thanks for writing. You are welcome.  You guys did an excellent job, as you know my opinion already.

Suggestions:

  1. Ask the community to nominate speakers via a forum, and then use some kind of poll software to let the community vote on who gets to speak with the caveat that not everyone voted for will accept or be able to so they should vote on a larger pool than you actually need.  That will also cause the community to notify the speakers and make your job of contacting them a lot easier.  If the community nominates 90% white male when you announce in advance you are looking for diversity, well then…
  2. Have a conference that ONLY has people other than White Males speak. Enage the community that is bitching about this to help you promote the conference.  Have this conference in Atlanta at The Fox Theatre: I can help; I live across the street. :)  This could offer a serious challenge to the community to put their money where their mouth is. Get them all to do referrals and then we can track who has the most referrals and shame the vocal ones who have few or no referrals.  If you don’t do this, I might. :)   BTW, here is a list of women speakers in tech.
  3. The worse part of your conference (for me) was lack of person-to-person networking opportunities.  It was totally hit & miss. Some thoughts (admittedly random):
    • Set up a tagging system in advance for attendees where they can tag both their involvments (what they work on), their experience, their attributes (who they work for, their title, etc.) and their interests for the conference.
    • Announce meeting locations (you could call them "A", "B", "C" or use some other naming system) so people could coordinate in advance to meet or coordinate during the event to meet. 
      Have the system make suggestions on who they should meet based on their tags in order to kick start the meeting process.
    • Set up "birds of a feather" sessions for 1/2 day based on the interest tags where people could gather to meet each other. Appoint moderaters who would announce ground rules, keep things going, get everyone to say who they are.
  4. Similar to #3, I wanted a chance to talk to some of the speakers offline but I could never find them afterwards. Schedule a time and place where the speakers would be available after their talk for people who want to meet them.
  5. I loved the laminated badges, EXCEPT!  It was almost impossible to figure out who was who.  Maybe use landscape format and for their name and company make the type
    REALLY BIG

    so that we don’t have to feel like we are staring a people or have them think we are staring at them to figure out who they are and what company they work for.

  6. Have an area where vendors can exhibit using tables only, and don’t charge them much to be there ($500?) Have rules that disallow everything but computers, handouts, and swag (i.e. no booths, even desktop ones.)  Get them a wired connection. :)
  7. Create a clear and obvious signal when the sessions will be restarting. I found myself many times in a break and not realizing that sessions had started again.

 

P.S. While writing the email I googled to find Chris’ post and instead came across Mike Monteiro’s rant entitled The Future of White Male Apps. I was going to leave a similar comment there as well, but stupid VOX evidently won’t let me leave a comment unless I have a membership, and when I "requested an invitation" it told me that I would get one "as soon as we have a spot available." Sheesh! And to think I previously got an invite, tried it, misunderstood how it was handling things, and then deleted the account!

UPDATEChris Messina saw this post and offered me an invite to VOX so I could comment on Mike Monteiro’s post. Thanks Chris!

Carson Workshop’s “Future of Web Apps” Conference was Incredible!

Place of the Fine Arts; inside and out The past two days I attended Carson Workshop’s "The Future of Web Apps" presented at The Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco and I must say it was one of the best conferences I’ve been to in years!  Every one of the speakers was excellent each providing invaluable insight, and the energy level was just electric! 

I really liked the venure too; an ~800 seat auditorium where the entire single-track conference was held. It had so much better feel than getting stuffed into lots of little breakout rooms at a hotel or a convention center.

Not everything was perfect, i.e. not enough networking opportunities, flaky WiFi, and no exhibit hall, but at $2951 for two days the event was otherwise so incredible that I feel really bad2 even mentioning any negatives! OTOH, Ryan Carson was made fully aware of those problems by people other than me and I get the sense that next time it will be corrected.

Lastly, Ryan announced plans to publish online the audio ala T.E.D. for each presentation which the presenter the agrees, which Ryan definitely encouraged! That’s a very "Creative Commons" approach, and oh so right for a Web 2.0 conference (or any other future conference, for that matter.)

Maybe I had such a good time because I was burned out on 12+ years of Microsoft-oriented conferences and just needed something new.

Whatever the case; Bravo Carson, you definitely made a fan!  If you get a chance to attend one of there future conferences on a subject of interest to you, don’t hesitate, don’t think about it; just do it! I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.

Footnotes

  1. The $295 price was also so very in line with the ethos of "Web 2.0"; created high value for little money, and benefitting from the goodwill that creates. I so totally feel like they practice what they preach at Carson!
  2. Of course if it had been a Microsoft TechEd for $1000+ I was have been totally pissy about any lack of perfection, but not at $295 for the quality that Carson delivered!