Founded in 2014 with a London headquarters, EmailOctopus now sends billions of emails on behalf of a vast range of customers. Their small, dedicated, team works to create the most affordable email marketing platform in the world.
We spoke to Jonathan who is the founder of EmailOctopus, an email marketing software company based out of London.
Journey so far
I’ve always been interested in programming. Building websites started as a hobby when I was 8 and I set up my first business when I was 15. It was called PseudoMailer and was basically a platform for people to send prank messages – exactly the sort of business a 15-year-old would start. But it did surprisingly well and I kept it running as a side project through university, earning enough to give me extra pocket money until I was 24.
After university I worked as a developer at the Royal Opera House and then moved to a startup called CoinDesk where I worked my way up to become Director of Technology. It was a great opportunity for me to develop my technical skills as well as teaching me the benefits and challenges of working for a start up.
I’d been running my business EmailOctopus on the side for two and a half years before I finally took the plunge, quit my job and went full time just over a year ago.
EmailOctopus is an affordable email marketing platform. Our aim is to make email marketing more accessible and easy-to-use for our customers. We provide the usual features you’d expect from an email service provider – subscriber management, campaigns, performance reports, automated emails. Our users connect a free Amazon Web Services account, which their emails are sent through. Amazon’s infrastructure is bulletproof, so deliverability is high and costs are low.
We’re a small team and we’re all learning on the job to some extent, so there have definitely been challenges along the way. We’re a skilled group of programmers and marketers but we don’t have any formal training in design, which means we inevitably slow down when building out the UX for new features.
Until we grow enough to invest in some in-house UX expertise we try to overcome that by taking as much inspiration as we can from other SaaS companies’ designs. In fact, we recently put together a website of best-in-class SaaS design: https://lookatthatsaas.com/
Successes/failures in life
One of the biggest successes I’ve had with EmailOctpous was hiring Tom, our COO, very early on. At the time we were tiny and hardly making any money, so it felt like an extravagance – even a risk – taking on another paid staff member to build the business with me. But without Tom’s expertise, we wouldn’t be where we are today.
Going full time on EmailOctopus actually came from a failure. The startup that I was working at the time was acquired by another company and all of us in the UK team were let go. While it was difficult to say goodbye to something I’d put so much time and effort into, I saw it as an opportunity to finally branch out on my own.
Choices made which had a significant difference in life
I wasn’t always set on going to university and I’m so glad I did. I spent a year doing customer support in a call center before I realized that I wanted to work in tech and I decided to do a BSc in Software Engineering. It gave me a great foundation in my technical skills, led me to move to London and helped me get my first job as a programmer.
How does your workday look like?
I start the day by checking my emails and making sure nothing’s gone wrong overnight – if we’ve had an issue then I’ll get working straight away to ensure it’s resolved.
Then I usually cycle the short journey to work and spend a bit of time catching up with the team when I get in. We have a stand up each morning for 15 minutes where we review what we did yesterday and set our focus for the day. Then I’ll be in the office until 7ish – the working day is a mix of developing new features, keeping our customers happy and all the usual admin that keeps the business afloat.
And I’ll always make sure I get to spend some time with Alfie, our office dog.
Your productivity & motivation secrets
I love what I do and the truth is that I never struggle to stay motivated. Solving problems, building new things for customers and working with the team is always good fun. That said, get great feedback from our customers always gives me a boost – I’ll always check in to see what people are saying about us, and that motivates me to continually do better.
What do you do to keep yourself on the growth path?
The main thing is keeping in touch with our customers, listening to their feedback, building the new features that they want and trying to provide the best possible service. As the platform has grown and improved over the years, we’ve attracted and kept more and more customers.
Tools you use
We’re trying hard to build a remote team, which comes with challenges, so Slack is essential for keeping us in contact throughout the day. It also helps build a sense of being part of the team, even for those of us not in the office.
Trello’s great for keeping on top of tasks and we use a good old fashioned whiteboard to plan and prioritize our work.
Your favorite books
I’m a programmer first and an entrepreneur second so, to be honest, I probably don’t spend enough time reading and learning about how to be better at business. I’d always prefer to spend my time developing new features.
Working in startup circles, you meet lots of inspiring people every day who are working hard and taking personal risk to make their ideas succeed. I’m lucky to work closely with friends who inspire me – like Abs at Payhip, Johnny at Ticket Tailor and my brother Gareth who runs Bulldog, a digital marketing agency.
How do you hire your team? What traits do you look for while hiring?
My background is in programming so I try to build a diverse team around me that brings in all the skills I might not have myself. But the main traits I’m always looking for are people who are enthusiastic, entrepreneurial and creative and who will be excited about working hard to grow EmailOctopus. And as we’re a small business we want people who will thrive working as part of a small, close-knit team.
What advice did you get which changed your life?
Although I’ve always had my own side projects which have earned a bit of extra cash, I never really thought that it would be possible to build a self-sustaining business myself without taking outside investment. It wasn’t until I met my friend Abs – who was building his own bootstrapped business at the time – that I realized I could build my side project into a legitimate business and work for myself.
What advice would you give to people looking for success and growth in personal and professional life?
There’s always time to do what you love and try new things – don’t make excuses.