Interview with Jason VandeBoom (ActiveCampaign)
ActiveCampaign is a web based email marketing platform.
I interviewed Jason VandeBoom, ActiveCampaign founder to find out more. This is the hundred and eighty second in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Jason!
How would you describe ActiveCampaign in under 50 words?
ActiveCampaign is an email & marketing automation platform that helps small businesses grow and connect with their customers at a deep personal level.
Why did you decide to start up ActiveCampaign early 2003?
I have always had a split passion for design & for programming. I had quite a bit of freelance work for clients and kept writing small scripts to allow them all to capture contact details. After a while I figured I might as well save myself some time and wrote an application that could serve all my clients. Turns out, there was a market need for such a thing beyond my network of clients and thus ActiveCampaign grew.
Anyone who works with email campaigns realizes there is large mixture of both design (for the actual look / feel of the campaign) and technical (for the delivery, coding, etc..) so it has been a rewarding mix for my split passions.
How long did it take to put together ActiveCampaign?
The first version of ActiveCampaign took a couple weeks. It was basic in its form but I immediately made it available to businesses and clients started to trickle in. I have never been a fan of long awaited feature releases where a platform is only updated once or twice a year. With our service we have numerous updates to the platform each and every day. So constant updates and refinements have been part of what we have done from the start.
What was technically the most challenging part of developing ActiveCampaign?
I would say infrastructure is the most interesting challenge. We of course have to manage an infrastructure of database servers, web servers, api servers, app servers, mail servers, etc… but a mass amount of data and figuring out how we can analyze all of it in real time can be a bit daunting. Every time anyone sends an email with ActiveCampaign we analyze their account, campaign, trends, and hundreds of other characteristics in real time looking for potential issues.
We also have active monitors that are keeping an eye on each individual account and making adjustments, setting up alerts, etc… based on behaviors and trends of that account. This is an area of our service that the end user typically would not know about but helps ensure that our service can’t be used by spammers. It also serves as an educational tool when we help guide our end users to improve the way they conduct their email marketing.
Who do you see as your target audience?
The scope is pretty large on who can utilize our service but small businesses tend to be our target.
You recently improved your WordPress integration. Where is your focus at the moment in terms of product development?
We always have a couple different tracks of development going on at all times. Integrations are a non-stop focus and we are actively talking to dozens of companies each day working out ways we can collaborate. Some recent examples include Contactually, SimpleRelevence, Pipedrive, Cloudwork, and vtiger.
In addition to integrations, we have several larger features/projects going on (a new email designer being one of them) and many smaller items that are either refinements or minor updates. We push new updates live 5 or 10 times on any given day so development is non-stop.
What technologies have you used to build ActiveCampaign?
Our core technology is definitely PHP & MySQL. As we have grown (and have a ton of data) we have started to use a variety of NoSQL database platforms and it isn’t uncommon to see Python used for certain operations.
Your services promote the use of social media marketing in the business environment. What would you say to a company which doesn’t currently use social media?
This may contradict some of our features, but, personally I think many people overvalue the use of social media when a business could benefit from other improvements. Obviously it would be ideal for every business to be involved with social media, but doing it in a mismanaged or inconsistent manner doesn’t provide much value. I feel it can actually hurt the brand. When you are running a small business, time isn’t exactly plentiful and doing things half-ass won’t help your business grow.
With that being said there are plenty of free tools out there to help out with managing social media accounts in addition to the marketing aspect of social media that we provide.
Which site or app do you check first when you wake up?
We have an internal app that I use to see what happened while I was sleeping and helps break down some of the data points we collect. I am fascinated by data and lucky for me we have a lot of data…
When reading or watching the news do you find yourself relating everything back to how it will affect your business?
That would be pretty depressing based on what the news usually entails. I enjoy watching news that ends up relating to usages of our platform though. We have had quite a few political campaigns, social events, mass civil movements, etc.. utilize our platform. I think some people believe their company has a bigger part or affect on the world than it actually has. Will the fluctuation of a certain currency affect a small web business? Most likely.. But if its out of your control its likely not large enough of an extent to worry about it.
Do you have any features in the pipeline?
The largest pending feature we are working on is a new email designer. It is interesting as it breaks out of the norm that many other ESP’s have done. We have really taken a lot of time to make sure people can easily design emails as quickly as possible. Reducing extra clicks, screen changes, etc.. all played a part with that.
If you had the knowledge you have now when starting the business what would you have done differently?
I would have been able to skip much of the time we have spent finding what works best for coding, infrastructure, and UI. Although all of those areas are constantly evolving so I am guessing not much would be different if I started a new company right now. Growth with having a revenue stream that funds the growth is a concept I believe in. There are times when funding can make sense for a company but the barrier to entry is so low that entering a marketplace doesn’t take all that much.
Has ActiveCampaign got the feedback and growth you expected since launch?
My expectations at launch were pretty low as it essentially started as something to save myself time. So technically, the feedback has eclipsed any and all expectations I have had. We are pulling clients from much larger (and bloated) competitors daily so the feedback is only growing and resetting my expectations as time goes on.
Companies may be trying to cut down costs due to the current economic situation. Considering this do you believe growth is achievable in your industry in the next few years?
Absolutely. We see substantial growth every single month and have never even been close to not showing yearly growth throughout our 10 years of doing this.
There are other companies which offer the same sort of services. What, in your eyes, sets you apart from your competitors?
The market certainly has a wide range of options. We live by our idea of making marketing easy for our users. A bit cliche perhaps but we take it very seriously. Anyone can jump ship at any point and there are many people who will jump from ESP to ESP continually. If we provide real results for our end users and help grow their business they have a reason to stay with us that a single feature can’t buy.
We also provide some complementary services that you simply won’t find with other small business ESP’s such as free one on one training, webinars, phone/live chat support, etc.. By overloading the options our end users have to seek support we force ourselves to truly make our application easy to use. If it wasn’t we would be overloaded with support costs.
How important is it for you to keep helping smaller businesses?
I have developed and grown ActiveCampaign in a way which I can truly enjoy what I do. I can’t imagine hating the day to day work I do. Watching how businesses use us to grow their business never ceases to amaze me. It is nice to have a purpose you can work for and see the results of beyond simply scaling and increasing revenue.
What is the biggest hurdle you have faced or are still facing?
We started positioning our company as a private label ESP where design firms, freelancers, etc.. could resell email marketing as if it was their own platform. We still do that (and it’s even expanding) but we are also targeting end users directly. The fact we spent so many years under the radar means we simply have less brand awareness built up.
Where do you see ActiveCampaign in 5 years time?
I don’t think anyone can predict the future of our market 5 years out. What I do know is we will be around helping small businesses grow. As much as some people wish email would die, it isn’t on it’s deathbed yet. With or without email as the core we will continue to adapt our platform to be a hub for small businesses to market using whatever technologies or methods we can conjure up.
What are you most excited about at the moment?
Watching our user base scale. We are bringing on more users than ever, have many new integrations, and many new partners popping up throughout the world. This has all helped fuel infrastructure updates and many new features (some of which are heavily based on feedback from our end users).
Can you convince the reader to start using ActiveCampaign in under 50 words?
Try our free account (never expires) or take 15 minutes to compare our platform with our free one-on-ones. Whether you compare us on price or capabilities we will likely outperform your existing solution. The extreme focus on usability & saving you time is a nice added bonus.
Finished reading? Check out ActiveCampaign!