You are screwing up your Beta Email List

I see this anti-pattern so often that I just need to write about it in the hope of helping fellow entrepreneurs do it right.

The story goes like this:

You are building a new product but not ready to have users sign up to your service. You set up a Landing page to collect email addresses, so when you launch your service, you can let them know. Then you launch your service, invite the thousands of people to your email list expecting that 90% of them will sign up to your service on day one, and… crickets. Only 5% do. What went wrong?

There are three problems at different functional levels of the organization, so you might need to get your whole team (sometimes just you) to understand this. And just because I’m cruel* I’ll start with the least important first and the most important last.

Warming up your domain / IP address

It turns out that Gmail and other email providers are not very kind with new domains sending out thousands of email messages before they understand what this (new) domain is about. As far as email providers are concerned, this could be a new domain setup to send spam messages, it could be the server was hacked, and it’s being used to send thousands of spam messages, or a myriad of other reasons.

The solution is simple. Warm up your IP Address and domain. When you setup your SendGrid, make sure to get an exclusive IP address for your domain, and as people sign up for your launch announcement, immediately send them a message. This is a great time to ask them to mark your message as Not Spam or add the email address to the address book. Few people will do that, but just a handful will be enough to make a difference. Bonus point if you ask them to remove from the Promotions tab into the Inbox tab on Gmail (twist your friends and family arms to do that).

I’m using Mailchimp / ConstantContact, so I don’t have to worry about it, right? Well, maybe. They do improve your chances of delivery, particularly if you do double opt-in, but if you decide to export the emails to another service you still might run into problems.

Don’t go radio silent on them

Well, things do take longer than expected. That plan to launch in 45 days turns into 90-days, and then you decide to invite only 100 people first, and you wait for another 60 days, and by the time you are officially launching and inviting your email list of thousands of people, they haven’t heard from you in months (once a company contacted me 18 months after I register to be notified!). I know, your service is special and people will remember it compared to the other dozen services people dropped their email in.

Take a page from crowd-funding services like Kickstarter: Keep your future early-adopters up-to-date on progress. Send them a short and sweet update on where your product is and when they should expect to get access to it. Craft a non-salesy subject line (“A quick update on your access to Lingonberry” vs. “You won’t believe what Lingonberry will do for you!”). Write a one-paragraph message reminding them they added their email to the list; they can leave if they want to; what the product is about (to keep refreshing their memory); and when they should expect it to be available.

Once a month is a good amount. I haven’t seen data on this specific tactic, so I’m just using my gut instinct here. This will also help warming up your email domain and IP address since you will start sending more and more emails at once and won’t anger the Email gods.

The Invite Message

This is the most egregious mistakes startups make. They suck at writing this email. They suck because they know too much and they forgot what it is not to know. It’s called the Curse of Knowledge. They craft obscure subject lines that someone without context would not be able to understand it. The first paragraph tends to be bragging and self-congratulatory, and the call to action is, I kid you not, often missing!

Anecdote: Last week I’ve got an email for a startup here in London launching their crowd-funding campaign and there was no link to the crowd-funding page.

It’s much better a direct and straightforward subject line (“Lingonberry is ready for you today. Easily manage your Pinterest accounts”) than (“Be ready to knock the socks out of those Pins and Boards”). Think carefully about the cognitive load that requires a busy person to try to parse and understand your clever, cute, or click-bait subject line. It can work, but it’s risky and needs surgical precision to be clever, so stick to simple.

The very first paragraph must tell users they put their email on the notification list (that will help people recollect they were interested in this at some point) followed by what you do (again, reinforces your positioning, and help them even more with the “why did I sign up for this again?”).

Finally, right below the first paragraph, comes a very clear link with lots of whitespace around it of what you want users to do. Don’t give them ten choices. Don’t give them two choices! Don’t embed a video explanation. Provide one and only one link with a clear action-oriented and straightforward call.

Good choices for the link text:

  • Create your account now
  • Start managing your Pinterest accounts
  • Visualize your Fitbit Activity
  • Take the SAT Prep Test

Bad choices:

The last one is not horrible, but it’s not great because for the skimmers (people who just read a few words here and there, it still makes it harder for them to quickly make a click/no-click decision).

But, but, but, … my beautiful story of struggle…

Don’t! Keep your ego in check. Most people on your email list didn’t put their email in because of you. They did it because of themselves. Because you told them you’d have a product that they will benefit from. So focus, squarely in the product. If you feel the urge to write more than one paragraph and a call to action (which is more than enough), tell them three things about the *product* that will benefit them. Don’t talk about you and your co-founder story. Don’t talk about the genesis of the idea. Don’t talk about your funding or fantastic investors. The tech press is for that kind of filling. Let’s other tell your story. You must focus on telling your product benefits story. That’s it.

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Marcelo Calbucci

Marcelo Calbucci

I'm a technologist, founder, geek, author, and a runner.