Email Wars: Chimp chasing, Cronulla style

- March 24, 2014 3 MIN READ

You’d be forgiven if you weren’t able to recognise the names Ben Richardson and Dave Greiner – these founders don’t seek personal press too often, if at all.

They kicked off their venture – a simple Cronulla-based design agency – back in 1999 while they were studying in university. A primary task within their line of work was designing and managing email-based campaigns for their clients – hard to do when the platforms available at that time were sub-par and the templates less than beautiful.

Born out of a need to systemise their own business, Campaign Monitor was created in 2004 with modest expectations in place. Worst case scenario, it was going to be a tool that the pair could integrate into their day-to-day running of their business to increase efficiency.

But fast forward six months, and the revenue being generated from Campaign Monitor matched what they were making from consulting. Another six months down the track, it was triple the consulting revenue and the pair decided to give the platform 100 percent of their daily focus.

When it comes to email marketing platforms for business, Richardson and Greiner are kicking it with the top companies in the world. The bootstrapped beachside startup now boasts over 800,000 customers; and those people are using Campaign Monitor to send 1.3 billion communications to their clients per month.

If you compare this to the likes of Mailchimp, founded in 2001 by Dan Kurzius and Mark Armstrong and lead by Ben Chestnut, it is clear that over the last nine years, Campaign Monitor has been catching up to the chimp.

Although Mailchimp still dominates the marketplace with over 5 million customers, Campaign Monitor has overtaken them in more critical areas – with the average number of emails sent per customer at Campaign Monitor sitting at 1,625 compared to that of Mailchimp’s average of 1,200.

It would be foolish to think that Mailchimp have not noticed this. At the very core of the Campaign Monitor platform is the ability to manage multiple campaigns across multiple clients. From the very beginning Richardson and Greiner said they made a strategic decision to target designers and agencies – a very specific vertical in the world of email marketing.

Upon closer analysis of Mailchimp’s revamped site, you can speculate that Mailchimp is shifting their focus slightly – to the design world. The “cheese factor” cartoon chimp has gone from prominent marketing gimmick to subtle logo status, and it seems the system is all about a better, more professional looking email.

Cartoon to clean lines, Mailchimp has had a facelift.

Cartoon to clean lines, Mailchimp has had a facelift.

The Campaign Monitor strategy – to go after and capture the design market – meant they needed to think beyond Australia from day one. In an email to Shoe String, the pair stated that the very first version of Campaign Monitor was priced in US dollars and hosted at a .com. They were also fairly ambiguous about their location. In fact, their fifth hire was in the US; and today, more than one-third of their team work across Europe and North America.

Although a Subscription-as-a-Service (SaaS) business model is pretty standard today, back in the early days of Campaign Monitor, it wasn’t. It was a clever move by Campaign Monitor to integrate this into their business model.

It wasn’t just that customers, especially the types of firms they were targeting, wanted that kind of pricing in order to manage their cash flow better; an SaaS business model also allowed Richardson and Greiner to scale the software, as the customer base grew, without pouring a massive investment into headcount.

This tactic, which was refined a few years back to include a tiered subscription model, has ensured the company has loyalty from their 100,000+ paying customers on the platform.

Although Campaign Monitor doesn’t reveal its revenue to the public, we can estimate that even if all those customers were paying the lowest price – an average of $20 a month – the relatively micro-global firm of 55 people are still clearing at least $2 million in revenue per month. By every measurement, this is simply outstanding. That’s over $35,000 per head – hello profit!

Sometimes in a war, the size of your army doesn’t matter. Considering Mailchimp hired 72 people last year, it is clear they have a bigger one. From my perspective, however, the battle on owning the professional designer market has been won – and the winners are two lads from Cronulla.