MoonMail

Alexandre Saiz talks about how smart tech choices and an existing base of customers helped him grow MoonMail to $700/mo in revenue.

Tell us about yourself and what you're working on.

We are microapps, a team of people from more than 10 countries (with offices in New York and Malaga, Spain) focused on creating big things.

Our latest project is called MoonMail. It's a super powerful email marketing tool (built on the Serverless Framework) that allows you to deliver email campaigns over Amazon's cloud network. MoonMail is flexible for both small and large companies.

In a nutshell, it's a blazingly fast, military-grade secure app that even a 10 year old child can use to create amazing email campaigns.

How'd you get started with MoonMail?

One day we found ourselves in a peculiar situation. We were really strong at email marketing for e-commerce, as we had the two top-selling email marketing Shopify apps: MoonMail Recover Checkouts to recover abandoned checkouts and MoonMail Autoresponders for trigger and automation emails. So we were really good at specific niche email marketing. But when it came time to send mass emails, we were using tools like ConstantContact, SendGrid, or MailChimp.

Then we thought: Wait. What are we doing? We're good at the hard part of email marketing, but we don't have any tools for the red ocean? Should we start creating an open platform for everybody and not be tied to Shopify alone? Should we replicate our existing Shopify apps and make them available to other e-commerce platforms? No no. Shopify is the platform.

Can't we do something more powerful than MailChimp and cheaper? Can't we build an email marketing tool which has a deep playground for Liquid metafields? Can't we build an email marketing platform for the world? Which means, with a truly internationalized interface for emerging markets?

That's how the idea for MoonMail was born.

What tech did you use to build your application?

Two years ago the language and framework decisions at microapps were pretty straightforward. We were strong at Ruby on Rails and PostgreSQL, so there was almost no discussion on this. Almost everything happened within AWS (specifically, EC2). Everything was inside that monolithic stone: user authentication, CMS, trigger-drip emails, front-end/user interface, plans/pricing/billing management, back-end data processing, email composing, and so forth.

In the middle of the development of MoonMail, we began to realize that Ruby on Rails and the "traditional" MVC approach wasn't the right way to go for us. Specifically, if we wanted to build an email marketing tool which needs lots of computational resources and reads/writes to databases, that wouldn't be possible with our EC2+RoR architecture. So we embarked on a never-ending journey in perfecting the art and science of sending emails.

We started playing with a new offering from AWS called Lambda. Our team was extremely fast in changing, deploying, and updating the code. It was literally 1 click away. There were no servers, and we only incurred costs when an action was triggered, meaning that we paid nothing unless the user hit the function. We read some books on the Serverless Framework, got involved with the OSS project to see if it had solid roots, and 2 weeks later we went fully Serverless.

How'd you find the time and funding to build everything?

It's taken around 3 years to build the product, and we're still working on it today. Around 2 years for the RoR disaster and 1 year for the Serverless (Lambda) happiness.

When I started, I was already managing microapps, which has a pretty diversified portfolio of SaaS tools and services. That provides the funding when it comes to building new products that need lots of investment, which is the case with MoonMail :-(

Also, working with AWS and the Serverless Framework has helped us save lots of money. We don't need to have any server infrastructure, and we don't need to have sysadmins/sysops working on tasks that can sometimes be described as "unproductive", with my best respects to all sysadmins :-)

I normally work more than 12 hours a day on whatever projects I'm involved with, which has helped me in terms of juggling my various responsibilities. But I do normally keep a real focus on both product and marketing. Given that this project, MoonMail, is part of the microapps family, I haven't had to quit my main job. We have a somewhat unique approach to building a startup/product. We normally use the "Getting Real" approach, which is:

  1. We build products we already have customers for: ourselves.
  2. If they get enough traction, we scale them.
  3. If they don't then we can easily close them, as we have other resources/projects within the company.

How have you attracted users and grown MoonMail?

The most important source of "hype" for MoonMail has been thanks to the fact that we have open-sourced our tool.

I have personally seen big e-commerce companies go bankrupt because of AdWords. We do some display retargeting and we promote MoonMail on very niche websites where we know our potential customers visit. We already have a huge customer base thanks to our Shopify apps, so most of them already trust us like hell. Offering such a great product to them meant having a lead converted into a paid user with every email we send informing them about our tool.

Given that we only just launched 3 months ago, we still need more data to reach safe/sound conclusions about what marketing efforts are the most effective for us.

What's the story behind your revenue?

MoonMail's business model is split into three distinct parts:

  1. We offer a monthly subscription for users who use their own Amazon SES account. It's $9.99/month + 19ยข per 1000 emails sent.
  2. We also have a monthly subscription for users who don't have an Amazon SES account. It's $9.99/month + 70ยข per 1000 emails sent.
  3. Lastly, we offer an enterprise MoonMail deployment to users' own AWS infrastructure for the customers who need military-grade security and privacy. It's totally decoupled from our own servers. The core MoonMail engineer team deployment starts at $4,990 for deployment + $299/month for ongoing support, artificial intelligence-powered list cleaning, and consulting.

You can take a look at our Baremetrics dashboard to see all of our revenue data.

As for our costs, they mainly consist of ongoing infrastructure, processing, and customer support fees. For example, we pay for MONEI (transaction fees); Intercom; and various AWS services like DynamoDB, Kinesis, SQS, CloudWatch, S3, SES, SNS, CloudFront, and Lambda.

What are your goals for the future?

Our goals are really simple: to be the best email marketing platform on the Earth... and later on the moon as well, thus our moon graphics ;)

We want to keep our simplicity and usability but combine it with the power of big data and artificial intelligence that we're actually developing right now. We are almost able to send really well-targeted emails which we're almost 100% safe telling you that, when they hit your user's inbox, the recipient will open the email and click a link.

We're also building an incredible app store. Developers will build amazing apps and integrations to make MoonMail's a bigger and much more powerful platform while keeping the simplicity of the dashboard.

We're almost ready to release a free email list cleaning tool which we've been using internally for almost one year. It's totally powered by artificial intelligence and big data (we use our encrypted recpients database to make sure your lists are totally clean), thus you don't spend a penny sending an email to a recipient which doesn't exist anymore (bounce).

We're working on a super powerful drag and drop editor which will be totally open-sourced.

We're working on the biggest email template market with tons of free email marketing templates as well as super pro paid ones. Both designers and marketers will be able to sell their templates in our Mars Market.

And last, we're working on both an experts section and an affiliates section. In the experts section, we'll help MoonMail users connect with top email marketing experts to help them succeed in the email marketing jungle. In the affiliates section, any digital agency will be able to earn revenue by just recommending MoonMail to their customers.

Stay tuned for amazing things to come!

If you had to start over, what would you do differently?

Absolutely nothing! We made mistakes. Quite a few: the wrong architecture, wrong providers, etc. Sometimes we were even wrong about being wrong. However, it's all a part of the game. If we did everything right, it would be boring and rather useless. By making small mistakes, we were able to iterate, make them into our strengths, and ultimately set a good course which we continue to follow.

Rest assured, this is just the beginning for us. We still face challenges on a daily basis, and we love them, because they make the whole process interesting and worthwhile.

What have been your biggest advantages so far?

Following these immortal words of wisdom: Simplify. Sometimes developers like to cram as many features as possible into an app. However, more often than not, we see that the most effective way is to have the right tools for the right job. No more, no less.

With this in mind, we created MoonMail's UI clean, which is simple and extremely easy to use. We tried to follow the same principle with every aspect of the app, which was on occasion quite challenging, especially when customer service is concerned.

What's your advice for aspiring indie hackers?

Just start. Do not wait for tomorrow. "MVP" is the key word โ€” minimum viable product. Then iterate, every day in every way. That's what we did, and it's worked out pretty great so far. If we waited until we got hyper amazing ideas, millions in VC funding, etc., then nothing would have gotten done.

The other super important thing is to adapt! Always adapt to the changing market. We are in a super fast world, and to stay up to speed you need to go to warp speed.

One thing I suggest you learn is selling. You can have the best product, but if you're not able to sell it, you're done. If you have a chance, take a look at the web and the vendor tools of Cdiscount, the second e-commerce marketplace in France when it comes to turnover. It's the most horrible thing I've ever seen. Worst ever. They sell. They are second, just behind Amazon in France!

The last thing I suggest is related to your users:

  1. Keep a close eye on them yourself. Never ever outsource customer support. Answer support tickets yourself. Even if your product is growing like hell.
  2. Try to know who your Ms. Jones is (your customer). In today's digital world, we sometimes make the mistake of building tools or products intended for too broad a market or user base. Start broad, but as soon as you get traction, narrow it. It's hard and scary to say: this customer is not for me. It's ok, do it. Today, billions of people are "living digital", so there's enough of a market to focus on relative small niches. Then you'll be able to better serve a concrete segment and everything will be much more "under control".

Where can we go to learn more?

microapps.com is an amazing place to start, then check our Shopify apps; our super awesome, small, custom-crafted pieces of code that superpower thousands of Shopify stores; and the MoonMail blog.

You can also leave a comment below, and I'll try to get back to you!

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