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Chris Cardell

Interview with Gary Levitt (Mad Mimi)

Mad Mimi specialises in email marketing software for small businesses.

I interviewed Gary Levitt, Mad Mimi founder and CEO to find out more. This is the hundred and twenty sixth in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Gary!

Describe Mad Mimi in under 50 words.

Mad Mimi helps small businesses create, send, track and share email newsletters in online. Mad Mimi is designed to be simple, and powers over forty million emails every day.

Describe yourself in one sentence.

I’m am an artist and musician who somehow spends much of his time designing a wed app.

Tell us a bit about your background and how you went from being a pro skateboarder and musician to a successful entrepreneur! What made you decide to start working on Mad Mimi?

I was born on a remote farm in South Africa. I became a decent skateboarder when I was 14 and after I felt satisfied with my skating accomplishment, I switched to playing the bass guitar, which took me on my adventure to Berklee College of Music. After graduating from Berklee, where my brother Dean had subsequently joined me, we moved to New York to be musicians which also meant working as a busboys. Dean leads Mad Mimi with me (he heads up our extraordinary customer service team). After we decided to stop being busboys, we started working as commercial musicians, writing music for television commercials.

We tried our hardest to make it work, but despite our impeccable music productions, the company eventually dissolved. Dean went to work at Starbucks and I tried in vain to put together a band that would perform at weddings.

After that didn’t work, I decided to make a website for musicians. The general idea was to give artists a way to make online press-kits that looked good in email… so that artists could get gigs easier – so that I could get gigs easier.

I won’t go into nitty gritty detail on how I assembled the team or built the product having not had any technical background (now I do) but needless to say, it was a movement of persistence.

Who is the team behind Mad Mimi and where are you based?

The team! We are about 25 people. Meeple. We’re based across four continents and 12 U.S. states. Most of us have never met in person.

How did you come up with the name Mad Mimi?

That I’ll never tell! :-)

How long did it take to put together Mad Mimi?

It’s still very much a constant process, but it took me 8 months from start to live. I closely followed 37Signals’ philosophical road map and launched with a slimly featured well executed product.

Any big clients on your list?

Sure, we have folks like Kelloggs, StumbleUpon, Bitly, The Grammys, Timbik2 and Air Canada using our service. Most of our customers are smaller operations and we are really enjoying the “getting online” space.

How have you marketed Mad Mimi? Which tools and techniques have been most successful?

We’re almost exclusively product-focused, which means we’ve only focused on product design and customer service – not marketing, not ads, not adwords. Until a month ago, we also had never performed SEO. Our customer service is personal and intelligent and sensitive.

Did you expect such massive growth?

Nope. I’m amazed and delighted every single day. No. I expected nothing of the sort.

What do you wish you’d have known 5 years ago that you know now?

Omg, yes and omg no. I would never have done this 5 years ago if I had known what I know now… and I would never have done this 5 years ago not knowing what I now know. I can just imagine in 10 years what it’ll look like!

Where do you see Mad Mimi in 5 years time?

I see us having a bigger range of products. We have a good sense for building simple stuff that looks pretty and works just the way you want, so yea – maybe we’ll be a big fancy tech operation in 5 years.

How many users do you currently have?

We have over one hundred thousand customers right now.

What advantage does Mad Mimi have over its competitors?

Mad Mimi is simple, with impeccable design. I don’t like using superlatives much, but Mad Mimi is so much smoother and simpler than any other competing product. We also have a strong customer service voice that has a sweetness to it. Compare that to outsourced support or snarky tech support we hear about, and you’d appreciate the difference Mad Mimi puts out there.

What is the biggest hurdle you have faced or are still facing?

One of the bigger hurdles has been scaling. It’s unbelievably difficult to scale an application. It feels like we’ve been scaling constantly for the last three years. It leaves less time for building features and doing cool stuff on the front end. I think we’ve managed it pretty well and achieved a reasonable balance, but it’s definitely an expensive process that we hope we’re over the hump with.

Do you ever miss South Africa?

Yea. I miss the wildlife and my family (and I say that in no particular order) and the constant sunshine. Hey Mom!

Which entrepreneurs do you most admire?

I admire Dean, my brother. I admire his discipline and intelligence.

What one piece of advice would you give to someone starting-up?

DON’T! No no, of course DO! Just do it hardcore. Do it with a focus on simplicity and execution true self-investment.

Learn every aspect of your business.
Take a piece of the product and do that piece yourself.
Read “Getting Real”, the book.
Manage all parts of your business.

Do not:
Cut corners.
Let anyone push you around.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

I’m most excited about Mad Mimi version 2. She’s been live for about 3 months now and we’re still nabbing some bugs. I’m excited that it’s opened up our vision again and is setting the stage for us to start growing our product line.

Finished reading? Check out Mad Mimi!

This entry was posted on Thursday, October 11th, 2012 at 10:59 pm GMT. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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