August 2, 2019

I left my job and quit profitable project for this

Patrik Krupar @pkrupar

It's the middle of 2018, and I gave up on my first profitable side-project to pursue something new. My itch was transactional emails - password resets, SSO, account activation, notifications, you name it. My usual process was to find some email template on Github, carefully modify it without messing it up, and send with Mailgun. Just on SSO email, I'd spent 2-3 days. That's just too much time when you're building MVP!

So, I challenged myself to build something that will change that - Sidemail.io. The goal was that you should be able to start sending emails from your application in under 15 minutes (with no previous experience). The key features to achieve it:

  • Pre-made commonly used email templates (SSO, password reset, etc.)
  • A visual no-code email template editor
  • Simple API for sending

Before I got my hands dirty with the code, I verified the demand by creating a landing page with an option to subscribe for early access. I was fortunate enough that my blog post went viral, and over a hundred people subscribed. Just shy of 150 subscribers, I started coding.

I worked on Sidemail every day in my spare time. Covering good ground, but the progress was slow. 2019 rolled in, I left my job, and started to work on Sidemail full time. The private beta launched a few months after, in March.

During the Sidemail beta, I discovered another itch - I wanted to send product updates and newsletters, and manage my mailing list from under one roof, in Sidemail. So, I built it, but more on that in the next milestone.

Give Sidemail a try! :) It's production-ready. Signup here and get access to the private beta or get in touch [email protected].

  1. 5

    "Send Nicer System Emails" has been on my todo list for almost a year (untouched). Signing up now.

    1. 1

      Pleased to hear that. You can join now, just sent you an email about it :)

      1. 1

        Curious, do you offer a paid plan yet? I don't think I'd actually start using this in production with the footer link enabled.

        1. 1

          Yes! Take a look: sidemail.io/pricing.

          Pro plan starts at $15/month with larger sending limit and removed powered-by footer link. :)

          1. 1

            For me, when I go to the billing page, the buttons to subscribe / update card are disabled.

            1. 1

              I see! Below the "How much you need to send monthly?" sentence, it's actually a slider where you adjust sending limit to what you need and then the button will enable.

              Bad UX, sorry. Will make it look like a proper slider tomorrow.

              1. 1

                Thanks! Got it.

                The Slider kind of looks like it could be in a disabled state, I think that threw me off.

                1. 2

                  Tweaked the look of the slider this morning, it should be better now :)

  2. 3

    The email editor looks exactly what I was looking for 👌 Signed up for beta access :)

    1. 1

      Glad to hear! Constantly making it better :)

  3. 3

    Good work. Very inspiring! I hope to join the "I quite my job" club one day myself :)

    I like the landing page design, it's clear and visually appealing.

    One thing I noticed though, once on the documentation page, there's no way to go back to the home page (clicking on the logo links back to the same page you're on).

    It would be nice to have a way to navigate back to the landing page without using the back button (maybe have the logo link back to the home page or provide an extra button somewhere navigation bar?).

    Just a curious question, what is your next milestone for the upcoming months?
    Did you do any marketing around the product, if so can you share some things you did?

    Thanks for sharing and keep us updated on your progress!

    Cheers!

    1. 1

      Thanks! Good questions.

      Great point with the docs page, fixed it.

      The next big milestone is definitely to get enough paying customers, so I can keep working on it full time. I'm living from my savings now. I've been buried in code for the last couple of months and I'd like to make some content for a change. Share my progress, and spread the word. :)

      Not as much as I should! A while back I posted here, but that was really just another verification if there's a demand. Not much since then. I tried to submit Sidemail to BetaList but got rejected which I found quite weird, but never got around to figure why.

  4. 2

    Just my 2 cents, firstly, congrats on going for it mate - all the best.

    Personally, it's a shame you feel the need to have the footer branding on the free plan as that makes it an immediate no-go for my projects.

    The potential recipients I'd be sending mail to wouldn't be your target demographic, but if I was a user and advocate of your service my network of peers and friends are definitely your market.

    I'd suggest dropping the free limit to 5,000 or 1,000 and making it completely unbranded - get users on-board, let them get success with your service and they will upgrade when required - at least in these early days.

    All the best.

    1. 1

      I appreciate your feedback, thank you! :)

      Do you think the branding is bothersome because it's email related, or you think this about all services that offer a free plan and show their branding? For example, uptimerobot.com or gitbook.io?

      1. 1

        (Apologies for the slow reply, I'm not a regular visitor here at IH)

        The difference is at least for UptimeRobot (which I'm not a user of), the branded emails would only going to me so I have no problem with that. It's branding emails I want to send to my users that turns me off.

  5. 2

    Very useful and simple.
    Do you use Amazon SES or mailgun or similar? AND the Sender Is always sidemail domain?

    Really good project.

    1. 2

      Pleased to hear that, thanks :)

      Behind the scenes, Sidemail uses AWS SES. You can configure DKIM and SPF, so email clients will display only your domain, not "Sidemail" or anything else. Though, if you open the source code of the email, you'll find some AWS headers. But, it's not like people view email source code, anyway.

  6. 2

    Hi @pkrupar - love this! Was just about to roll out my upcoming MVP with Mailjet, which IMO also does an amazing job in helping you quickly get transactional emails off the ground quickly. Would love to hear why Sidemail is better in your opinion, as I'm interested in switching over.

    1. 2

      Thanks, mate!

      Much better email templates is a big one; upload your logo, pick colors that match your brand, and you can start sending in style. In Sidemail, pre-made email templates are truly ready to use out-of-the-box.

      Organization. In Sidemail, you can create a project for each of your apps/projects (that's why email templates may share the same design). Stats, templates, sending history, API keys are separated.

      This is subjective, but I dislike Mailjet's design.

      Best to see for yourself. Got your access to Sidemail, yet?

  7. 2

    Looks like a really interesting product! One feature that I would really need though is automation to send email sequences.

    1. 1

      Thanks! Basic time-based and event-based sequences are possible. You can schedule email delivery for a specific date with Sidemail API. For example, a user signed up so you'll send a welcome email with immediate delivery and schedule follow-up in 3 days.

      As far as event-based sequences go, there's nothing fancy, you send the email when the event happens, for example, user requested a password reset - send password reset email, etc.

      Advanced cases, such as "send this email if some time passed and the user did this action" cannot be done from Sidemail right now. I can see how someone could leverage Sidemail's scheduled email delivery and email template to make a great product out of it, though.

      1. 1

        Hey I was talking about something like this: https://convertkit.com/features/automations

        1. 1

          Got you. This is actually the top requested feature and I'd like it as well. So, stay tuned :) If you want to be notified when it's ready, join the mailing list.

  8. 2

    Product looks good, might use it on my next side project :)

    How come you decided to do email marketing as well? What was the logic behind it?

    1. 2

      Thanks!

      A couple of reasons. One; a privacy policy update or a new feature announcement usually looks the same as password reset, same layout, but different content. All tied to your application, but the first two are not transactional emails.

      Will share more in the next milestone :)

  9. 2

    Very nice Patrik!

    Sidemail looks like something I could use as a viable alternative to MailGun. (I'm currently working on the email integration on my app, so the timing is great). At first I was hesitant due to the lack of SMTP interface. However, API spec I figured that I could easily build a Laravel package to get going. So, I just tossed my name on the wait list!

    Looking forward to it!

    -- Jimmy

    1. 2

      Thanks, Jimmy!

      That sounds like a plan. Loved working with Laravel back in the day.

      Laravel package is a brilliant idea, it could be public, right?

      When you're inside Sidemail, you'll find code examples in PHP to send all email templates (including the ones you created). That should make the job easier for you! :)

  10. 1

    Hi @pkrupar! This looks awesome! As someone whose projects rely on sending tonnes of emails (https://tripfate.com), I definitely see a lot of value in sidemail. I have 2 questions - can it be used to send marketing emails (in addition to transactional mails)? Also, what's your strategy on ensuring deliverability (i.e. sender IP reputation, etc.)?

  11. 1

    Looks interesting! Love the pricing model (this is how I think about email as well). I've mostly built my own homebrew version of this on top of Mailgun, so I'm curious about a few things:

    Do you stagger sends on marketing blasts? I get throttled with Mailgun if I send out more than ~3-4k emails in an hour, so I've been chopping up my list and staggering the sends.

    Do you have a users api? I mostly add users via API, it would be a pain to manually import.

    How do you handle unsubscribes?

    How easy is it to export templates? I typically send product images with signups/receipts which I see you don't support yet--I would want to export a template and implement it as an HTML send from my side to match what I'm doing now.

    1. 1
      • Yes, Sidemail does exactly what you described - sends emails by small chunks. No need for a custom solution.

      • We have a lot on our plates right now, but the user (contact) API is on my TODO for this weekend, or if something comes up for the next week.

      • If you sent to groups, unsubscribing will remove a contact from those groups. If you send to all, unsubscribing will mark the contact as unsubscribed (groups will remain).

      • It's not possible to export templates, at the moment. What I usually see is to add a button with a link to receipt PDF.

  12. 1

    Looks cool! Just to play the devil's advocate - what stops somebody from just using Mailgun with a custom email template that they found somewhere? Especially since users only pay once they hit 10,000 emails per month. Couldn't somebody who already sends 10,000 emails per month jut find a template and use it? What's the pain-point here?

    1. 1

      Thanks! This is the case for almost any SaaS, isn't it? You could build it in-house and "save" money. Yet, we all use all kinds of services to help take the burden off our shoulders. Emails for your SaaS product is where Sidemail can help :)

  13. 1

    Well done. I love hearing these stories, keeps me motivated. I had an idea that I think would fit as a value add for you: "Contact Us" wordpress or other sites need a reliable contact us a solution that stores the message in a database, and sends the email. But if the email is not viewed, then escalate. I send contact us messages on plenty of sites, and they never get back to me. Usually, because the email server is down, or the email address gets too much spam, there should be an easier way, like a mobile companion app for business owners so they can see what messages have been sent, and not replied too. :) I guess I'm suggesting a cut down CRM

    1. 1

      Thanks! Appreciate you for taking the time to share the idea.

  14. 1

    I'm genuinely excited for this project.
    Any idea of the segmentation tools and reports that will be available?

    1. 1

      Pleased to hear that!

      As of now, there're groups to segments users, nothing advanced yet to keep it simple. We'll be adding advanced filtering soon, though. But have to take the time to craft a perfect design, so Sidemail doesn't become bloated.

      What do you think with reports? :)

      1. 1

        Haven't got there.
        I'm stuck importing contacts.
        Instead of working with a single click on the import button, it kind of pauses and asks me to click import contacts again.

        As for reports, (other than the obvios) this is what I would like to learn from my users:

        Data

        • Country
        • City
        • IP
        • Device
        • Links Clicked

        Actionable Reports

        • Resend to those who didn't open (with option to edit the subject and content)
        • List Cleanup (inactive users, after 6 campaigns/or date)
        • Data Poor contacts (to enrich with clearbit or similar)
        • Most popular links clicked all around
        1. 1

          Let me understand, you get stuck when you click "Import contacts" button? Or after you click "Upload CSV file" in the modal window, then you get stuck? I'd like to fix the issue ASAP, can you give me more information? Everything works well for me every time.

          We show contact's country and city based on IP, but not the IP (for privacy). We're not tracking links at the moment, you'd need to use external service for that. We track opens, though. If we add link tracking, then we can also detect the device.

          As for actionable reports, except for enriching the data, we'll be adding features that should cover this.

          Are you planning to use Sidemail to send emails from your application or sending newsletters to your email list?

          1. 1

            a) I map the fields on my cvs with the ones on simplemail. Then it starts importing, proving examples of the next record on the cvs...

            It proceeds to import them apparently, but then it stops at a certain record, and it would be asking me to map the fields again...

            It's a small database of 6500-ish subscribers.

            b) I plan to use it as Newsletter provider (replace mailchimp)

            To be fair, I'm also testing email octopus, revue, substack and sendy.
            All with their own pros and cons

            1. 1

              Thanks! It's a size issue, there's a CSV upload limit and 6.5k list is probably over. I'll add a feedback message when this happens to you're not in the dark.

              Got you, seems like Sidemail is not the best fit for you. Sidemail works best for SaaS owners, that need to send email to their users. Good luck!

              1. 1

                I love the the clarity of your niche and your commitment to focus.

                It all indicates that I'll have to develop my own solution.
                best of luck with Sidemail

                I'll read you around
                :D

  15. 1

    Looks intriguing. Two questions:

    i) Why is SideMail better than Mailchimp?
    ii) By default, do the marketing emails get delivered to the primary tab in Gmail?

    1. 3

      Will help him out here:

      i/ Mailchimp is designed for marketing emails (i.e. promotions, newsletters etc.). Sidemail is built for transactional emails (sign up confirmations, password resets etc.). These are two very different types of email, and have very different requirements.

      ii/ a lot of factors go into this, including how the user has interacted with your domain in the past and how good your domain reputation is. Patrik has no direct influence.

    2. 2

      Thank you, @danp!

      I'd add that Sidemail is primarily designed for SaaS devs, to make the implementation of emails that you send from your application simple. With Sidemail you can also send, for example, product updates. This is because these emails usually share the same branded layout as transactional, but are categorized as promotional. Also, it's always better to manage everything under one roof.

      MailChimp is better suited for layout heavy campaigns, those that look like a website and I honestly find them the worst. Minimalistic design in the email is the way to go (just google some studies) and for clean-looking email, Sidemail is better :)

      As for the primary tab, @danp is correct. I'd just add that landing in primary tab mainly depends on the content of your email. The more personalized your content is, the better. Gmail is very cleaver nowadays. You could "cheat" a bit and encourage your subscribers to add you to their contact list, that will help some

      1. 1

        Understood, thanks for the clarification that it's for transactional email, not marketing. The headline threw me off by saying "All-in-one email solution for Startups" when really it's not. Might be worth re-thinking that. Best of luck.

        1. 2

          It's not true actually. Sidemail got you covered through the whole process of interacting with your subscribers/users:

          • from collecting new contacts and building your audience with Sidemails subscribe forms
          • sending progress reports
          • creating and delivering transactional emails to your users (e.g., SSOs, welcome emails, password resets)
          • to keeping your users engaged by sending promotional (marketing) emails (e.g., product updates)

          Hope it's more clear now:)

  16. 1

    The viral blog post wasn't about Sidemail though...so how did you pivot with your email optins and pitch them on a product idea they didn't originally sign up for?

    1. 2

      I didn't. In the post, there's a couple of places where I dropped a link to Sidemail. Back then, Sidemail's landing page was all about subscribing for early access. The mailing list mentioned in the article is my personal - not Sidemail's.

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