Learn about Mailbutler’s early days and lessons learned in the company’s formation.
Powerful macOS utility application, Mailbutler, has humble beginnings, and founder, Tobias Knobl talks all about it in the interview below. The app is remarkable and provides a lot of important information for your digital communications. During this discussion, Knobl gives some background on the app and what it does, the funding gained for the company, and how the software company grew. Find out all about Mailbutler right from the founder.
1. First, to help provide a bit of context and background, can you begin by telling us what Mailbutler is?
Mailbutler GmbH is a German software company that Fabian Jäger and I founded in 2015. The product itself is a productivity extension for Apple Mail, Outlook, and Gmail designed to help professionals and teams manage their emails better. Some of our features include Send Later (an email scheduler), Tracking (insights into opened emails), Email Templates, and Email Signatures. Our goal has always been and will always be to provide an all-in-one solution for all email-related topics that help people increase their productivity and stay on top of their inboxes.
I met Fabian in 2015 when he came to the Entrepreneurship Center at the RWTH Aachen University, where I was working at the time. He told me about the email plug-ins he was developing and I immediately recognized their potential. We ended up founding Mailbutler together and relocated to Berlin that same year. Mailbutler was officially launched in March of 2016, and a relaunch that included redefined features and a completely new infrastructure took place in January of 2018.
2. What funding path did you take? Do you have investors on board or are you self-funded? What are some of the pros and cons of the funding approach you’ve taken?
We are entirely self-funded and profitable. This allows us to fully focus on our product and our customers without having to satisfy investors at the same time. Since no approval process is required, we have freedom of choice and don’t depend on a group of shareholders. The downside to self-funding is having limited resources to grow our start-up. However, taking full responsibility for funding our business has worked out pretty well for us so far!
3. Now, let’s talk a little bit more about your early growth days. What were the primary marketing strategies that helped Mailbutler gain its first bit of traction and onboard its first customers?
Word of mouth recommendations played a vital role in growing our company – and still do! That’s why we put a lot of effort into our customer support and, of course, the product itself. Word-of-mouth marketing is an extremely powerful way to influence business results, which we are witnessing first-hand.
4. Today your company offers users many features. You have Tracking, Send Later, Signatures, Templates, Follow-up Reminders, Snooze and more. However, when you first launched your MVP what features did you launch with and how have you gone about expanding your feature set over time? What feedback loops do you have integrated into your company to help you get feature ideas from your users? Up until this point has your focus been on broadening your set of features, or adding depth to existing features?
We’ve added new features over time and are continuing to work on the ones that already exist to improve the user experience. The first Mailbutler version included the following features: Signatures, Send Later, Attachment Reminder, Cloud Upload, Avatar Images, and Evernote Exporter. We added features such as Notes and Tasks, Tracking, and Message Templates later on.
When we develop new features, we mostly focus on what our customers are requesting. Our customer support team collects feedback and forwards it to Fabian and me. After evaluating the requests we determine if it would be useful to implement certain features based on the potential benefits for our users.
5. What are some growth channels you’ve tried that haven’t worked as well as you thought? What are some growth channels you’ve tried which worked better than expected?
In the past, we paid magazines and blogs to promote us by writing articles about Mailbutler. This was definitely a learning experience because we realized that smaller, more affordable “niche bloggers” benefited our company more than larger, more expensive magazines and blogs. The lesser-known blogs we worked with had very attentive audiences and served their niche perfectly, whereas articles about us that were published on popular blogs seemed to quickly become irrelevant.
6. You have a free plan called “Essential”, and three paid plans (Professional, Professional +, and Business). How much have you experimented with pricing and monetization?
We started off with only the Essential and Professional plans and added the Business and Professional + plans later on. The Business plan is more comprehensive than the other three: it offers unlimited “Team” features which allow you to easily collaborate with others working on your team, as well as automatic blind carbon copy forwarding to a Customer Relationship Management tool. After we created the Business plan, some customers, particularly freelancers, were asking us for a plan which included more than Professional but didn’t have some of the collaboration features which people working for and by themselves didn’t need. This led us to create Professional +.
The Essential plan is usually sufficient for private users, but really it’s designed to be an introduction to the product – everyone gets a 14-day free trial on signup so they can try out all of our features which are included in all our other plans.
Another great thing about the different plan types is that customers can mix and match subscriptions. If Mailbutler is used within a team not everybody needs to be subscribed to the same plan – some might be on Professional while others are on Business. This is one of the things that differentiates us from other SaaS providers.
7. Where does your team spend the most time: customer acquisition, monetization, or retention?
We’re continuously working on improving ourselves in all three of these areas. We don’t just want to gain new subscribers; we also want to satisfy our existing customers. This is why our current focus is on user retention. After downloading Mailbutler our customers receive a series of helpful onboarding emails. With these, we want to make sure our customers get to know Mailbutler’s features better and understand exactly how everything works.
Apart from these emails we also rely on excellent, attentive customer service. Our customer service team is extremely engaged and happy to answer any questions or comments that might come up – whether they’re about the installation process, certain features, or general feedback. People can of course email us to ask questions, but we also keep our eye on comments on our blog and our customer support team regularly goes through these comments to answer any queries potential or existing users might have. Excellent customer support is crucial for us when it comes to user retention.
8. Can you tell us a little bit more about what your Search Engine Optimization efforts entail and how big of a driver has it been to growth?
Online Marketing, especially SEO is definitely something we’re focusing on. Most of our traffic comes from organic search, especially through Google, which is why it’s crucial for us to have an optimized website. We’re quite lucky because email productivity suites are something many people are actively looking for – hence the importance of search engine results.
Our blog is something that has become much more important to us over the last couple of years. We now have a dedicated content team that regularly writes for the blog as well as a Content Marketing Manager who deals with all of the on-page SEO aspects of content. Organic traffic is a really important part of our marketing strategy and something we have been really focused on since we redesigned our website in 2021.
9. How long did it take you to hit $2000 MRR?
Thanks to our loyal group of users it only took us around two weeks to hit this target. Here’s why: Mailbutler’s features already existed before Mailbutler itself was founded. People were able to purchase them as individual plug-ins which is why the features already had somewhat of a fanbase prior to the launch of Mailbutler, which helped us reach $2000 MRR very quickly.
10. Lastly, if you had to start over again and do three things differently, what would those three things be?
To be completely honest, there are some things that we would do differently now, but fortunately for us they never really had a negative impact on our business. I do, however, believe that we learned a lot throughout the years. For example, we once made the mistake of releasing a new Mailbutler version during the summer when sales are generally not as good because most people are on holiday. That was certainly a mistake we won’t be repeating any time soon. Also, when we changed our payment method from a one-time payment to monthly/yearly subscriptions, we should’ve informed our subscribers sooner about the upcoming change because many of them weren’t familiar with subscriptions back then and disliked it at first.
But there are also things that worked out right from the beginning. We always positioned ourselves globally and therefore had the chance to establish Mailbutler in the American market as a German company, which tends to be quite hard, but worked well for us. However, since most of our customers are American, we haven’t been focusing on the German market as much as we could have. This is why we released a version of Mailbutler for Microsoft Outlook, which is one of the most used email providers in Germany. In general, though, Mailbutler has been a huge success and we hope it continues to be as we move forward!
We recently did a review of Mailbutler check it out here.