Ajay Goel (podcast)
- “How do we get email delivered to our subscribers' Gmail inbox?”
- Marketing companies are reporting that they are sending more and more email on behalf of their users
- With GMass you can send a personalized email to multiple contacts. You also get all the usual email marketing metrics, and then some bonus ones as well.
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Doug Morneau: Welcome back, listeners to another episode of Real Marketing Real Fast. I've got joining me today on the podcast Ajay Goel. He's been an internet software developer for his entire career, which began in 1998. He created one of the first email marketing platform called ‘JangoMail', and in 2003, it was acquired by a private equity group. Ajay now runs a product or runs a service called GMass.
It's an email marketing plug-in for Gmail. When we were getting ready for the show, I asked him what his superpower was, and he said that his main expertise is in Gmail, that he can make email marketing services that integrate into Gmail so he can help users get past the spam filters into the inbox. Welcome to the show today.
Ajay Goel: Thanks, Doug. Happy to be here.
Doug Morneau: You have a superpower that most people want to know how that works, and that's “How do we get email delivered to our subscribers' Gmail box?” Do you want to start off and answer any questions or share us a little bit of information with us on that?
Ajay Goel: Sure. Sure. That is the million dollar question that a lot of email marketers are trying to figure out because one, Gmail has a pretty aggressive spam filter, and two, even separately from the spam filter, they have a Promotions folder filter, and so getting to the Gmail inbox is somewhat difficult, but it can be done, and what I've built my expertise in is getting to the Gmail inbox by sending from your actual Gmail account. That may seem counterintuitive because a traditional email marketer is used to sending from a platform like a MailChimp or a Constant Contact or an iContact or what have you, but it is actually possible to send a campaign from a Gmail account as long as it's not too big of a campaign.
Doug Morneau: It's interesting because there are all these conspiracy theories and ways to get into Gmail's inbox in terms of opens, and clicks, and engagement, and replies, and what was it? I had a client that had an email deliverability problem into Gmail, so I had just contacted Gmail directly, and just the fact that they mentioned my client's name in the response email put Gmail's own corporate response into the spam filter.
Ajay Goel: Yeah. Right. I'm not surprised. I will oftentimes scroll through my promotions folder and my spam folder, and I'm shocked at how many big brand names have emails going into those folders, and I'm talking about Amazon.com, Uber, [Evites 00:02:55], Adidas. There was one in my spam folder the other day, so it's not a problem that only the little guys are having.
Doug Morneau: No. Fair enough. I was really encouraged as I was doing some research a month or so back to see how many people actually do check their spam folders. Obviously, you don't check it like we do our inbox, but once a week or once every couple weeks, people at least browse through it, so there might be some hope that we get a little bit of traction for the stuff that's not making it to the inbox.
Ajay Goel: That's more frequently than I check mine. I mean, I might check mine once a month if that … I basically consider an email going to the spam folder a lost cause. I mean, it's there's just people are so bombarded with so many different kinds of communication these days, so email is a big one, but you've got text messages, and voice messages, and Facebook message, and WhatsApp messages that I can't imagine that I could expect my receivers to proactively monitor their spam box as well.
Doug Morneau: No. Fair enough. That's not a good way to look at your business practice, hoping that they might check. In terms of your expertise, so obviously, you've got a lot of technical expertise and our audience isn't as technical or as smart in that area probably as you are. Do you want to share with us a breakthrough?
How did you get to this place where you said, “Hey, there's an issue. There's an opportunity in the marketplace. I think I can help entrepreneurs and businesses by developing this new product.”?
Ajay Goel: Yeah. Sure. I like simplicity, and I generally like to use as few tools as possible to accomplish whatever I'm trying to do. Both of us have been in the email business for a while, so we're familiar with the hundreds of email marketing platforms there are out there, but I found this need for myself where I needed to send a mass email to like 10 people at a time or 20 people at a time, and I wanted the easiest way to do it, and I basically live inside Gmail all day, every day. Gmail is kind of the central nervous system for my whole company, and there was a day when I wanted to send an email to all of my employees, which were like there are 10 of us, and I assumed wrongly that I'd easily be able to find a plug-in that could do that for me where I installed the plug-in into my Gmail account, I could compose my email to my 10 employees, personalize it with their first name, hit some kind of a button somewhere, and 10 individual emails would go out, and they'd all show up in my Sent mail folder, but to my surprise, no plug-in existed like that.
Doug Morneau: [crosstalk 00:05:51]. Yeah.
Ajay Goel: Gmail has over a billion users. It's the most widely used email platform, and there was no plug-in to perform what I thought was a pretty simple task, and so I'm well aware as I'm sure a lot of your listeners are that I could have set up a MailChimp account, imported my employees' information into MailChimp, composed the campaign, launched it, and I could have accomplished what I was trying to do, but I became really attracted to this concept of a unified email experience where whether I'm sending an email to one person or whether I'm sending an email campaign to a hundred people, that it could all be the same experience inside Gmail. You still hit the Compose button, you still type your subject and your message in the same window, you still put your one address or your hundred addresses in that same two-field, and then hit a button, and then it's all the same, so I wanted to consolidate the idea of sending a person-to-person email with sending an email campaign.
Doug Morneau: Yeah. Totally makes sense. I mean, I remembered exactly the same thing with about the same number of staff, and, “Okay. How do I do this? Going to talk to my IT guy.” We had to set up a group, and then after you set up a group, that's your employee's …
It's like, “Holy smokes”. That is a lot of work. All I wanted to do was send out an email.
Ajay Goel: Totally, and that's one of the used cases we're going after is the non-technical person who might not even be an email marketer. It might just be somebody that needs to send a mass email out, but it's of an informational nature. You're sending internally to your employees or you're sending an email to a membership club that you're the president of, announcing the next meeting. There are lots of needs to send mass emails where it's not commercial in nature.
Doug Morneau: Sure. No. I get that. In terms of your users, what type of audience do you think your users are in terms of businesses, and mostly, small business, large business? Do you want to give us an idea of kind of broad-brush who's using your platform these days?
Ajay Goel: Sure. Yeah. It's really interesting because it really runs the gamut. Now, almost every major tech company you can think of uses GMass, so Uber, Lyft, SalesForce.com, LinkedIn, Twitter. Even Google uses GMass, which is kind of meta if you think about it because Google's own employees are using a plug-in for Gmail written by a non-Googler. LinkedIn indeed.
All of these companies run their email operations on G Suite, and so GMass is a perfect tool to add to their arsenal. We have all these major tech companies use GMass, but then, there's lots of individual mom and pop type entrepreneurs, lots of salespeople sending emails to warm leads, lots of non-commercial purposes like teachers emailing the parents of students, presidents of clubs emailing out to their membership, PTO organization emailing school officials, church leaders emailing their congregation members. It runs the gamut, but in two short years, I'm surprised at the … I loved sharing that all these big tech companies that are well-known use the product because it's surprising to me as well.
Doug Morneau: It's interesting because I was at the gym this morning, and I was listening to Elon Musk's book and listening to the [challenge 00:09:43] that they had breaking into Swiss SpaceX competing against NASA, and that being a government-funded organization, and then I'm listening to you talk about corporate Gmail using your product, so you've obviously aside from building your really good product, you've obviously got some really good background in marketing. How did you get your business from a concept, an idea, a startup to the point now that it's widely adopted across all the big brand names or a lot of the big brand names that we know, as well as small business?
Ajay Goel: It's funny you mentioned that because I've never considered myself to be a very good marketer, which I know sounds ironic because we're in the email marketing industry, so how can I be in the email marketing industry but suck at marketing? I don't have a great explanation for that, but I see myself as a technologist primarily, a software developer primarily, so I think my skill set is in building really good product, so I understand email technology inside and out, and so that has allowed me to build this, what I think is a really easy-to-use system, and I then proactively market to a lot of these companies that are now using us. A lot of them found … All of them found us on their own just by Googling, or by maybe monitoring sites where new products are launched. There's a big one called ‘Product Hunt' that we've been featured on in the past.
I don't really do any proactive marketing for the product other than some digital marketing, which I can talk about like Facebook ads and Google ads, but honestly, those haven't really done a whole lot for the company. It's mostly organic traffic, word of mouth, referrals, and people being drawn to the content around Gmail and Gmail deliverability that I've written.
Doug Morneau: I also know from you and I chatting offline before that you do invest some time with your team on producing good content, so not only having a good product, but you produce good content around your space so people will find you. I'm thinking of the Domain Blacklist that I just saw that you published just the other day, or republished just the other day and …
Ajay Goel: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. What I really enjoyed doing is I enjoy really delving into a particular topic, and then writing long-form, technical articles that explore an area that hasn't really been explored. For example, a lot of people on email marketing are familiar with blacklist as you mentioned.
There's generally two kinds of blacklist, an IP-based blacklist and domain-based blacklist. I wanted to write a comprehensive guide to domain-based blaclklists, and even with a domain-based blacklist, again, amongst the email marketing community, everyone's heard of names like Spamhaus. Spamhaus has one of the most widely used blacklist in the world, and they operate a domain-based blacklist, but what a lot of people don't know is that their public domain-based blacklist like Spamhaus and SURBL, and URIBL, but then, there's also private domain-based blacklist. For example, AOL maintains a private domain-based blacklist. You can't query it to see if you're on it, but AOL will block you if you're on it and you send an email containing a domain that matches. I wanted to dive into this topic and explore public versus private domain blacklists, and also do some testing. We have this lab environment setup where I can test by sending emails containing blacklisted domains and non-blacklisted domains to all the different email providers like Yahoo, Hotmail, AOL, Gmail, so I can see, “All right. Who's blocking email based on this blacklist versus that blacklist?”, so that way, I was able to come up with a matrix that I use for my own deliverability work and support for my own users, but now that we can share with other people as well, that's how you … It looks like Hotmail is using this and this, but not that. It looks like Gmail is using this and this, but not that.
Doug Morneau: With all the changes online and the space, I mean, there are a million new things out there, there's a shiny object in every corner, and we hear every time about email, which many consider to be an old, outdated platform and I obviously disagree. Being that I do, I use it as a cornerstone of our marketing. I'm sure you do as well. What do you see around the corner? What do you see? What's next for marketers and people that want to communicate using email as a platform?
Ajay Goel: Yeah. That's such an interesting topic because so many people have predicted the death or the download or the mitigation of the use of email for so long, and I haven't seen it happen, and on the contrary, all this new and cool stuff keeps happening in the email ecosystem to make email a more useful, better tool. Let me give you a couple of examples. Actually, just a few weeks ago, Gmail made it so that software developers can customize how the Gmail app works on mobile. What I mean by that is that it's been possible for several years for software developers to integrate their software's own functionality with Gmail on the desktop, but now, just as of a month ago, now it's possible to do that on mobile as well. Google has clearly vested in keeping people on email and making email as productive a tool as possible.
Doug Morneau: Just tell us a little bit more about that. I know that Gmail, I don't obviously keep up-to-date on everything because I spend the 24 hours a day looking at it, but I did see notification come in for a Gmail to start using the Resident app on my iPhone, and it seems like it's about the same time that you said that they've made it available for developers to develop internally. What does that mean for me as a marketer and for our listeners?
Ajay Goel: As a marketer, it means that you could, while you're using your Gmail app on your iPhone or your Android device, you could get notifications from your Gmail app as people are opening or clicking a campaign that you've previously sent. It means that you could open an email from someone that you're having a conversation with, and see a history of that person of what they've opened, clicked on, what they've converted on with your past campaigns so that you have as much information as possible when you now respond to that person, and that used to be that that functionality was only available on the desktop, but now, you'll be able to do that for mobile.
Doug Morneau: That's really cool.
Ajay Goel: Just other examples that email is still thriving. This is really recent, but just a few days ago, SendGrid, one of the biggest email companies in the transactional space went public, and their IPO did really well. In general, email marketing companies are reporting that they are sending more and more email on behalf of their users. It's not less and less, so that's probably the simplest metric to look at in terms of how email is being used, is that companies around the world are investing more in sending email. If that wasn't the case, all of the metrics of email marketing companies won't be going up all the time.
Doug Morneau: Yeah, and I think it might have been SendGrid that sent something out yesterday, the day before talking about email being 45 years old and still being consumer' preferred way to receive information and updates from their favorite brands.
Ajay Goel: Yeah. I won't be surprised. I mean, I've tested lots of modes of communication, so if I want to get a message out to my users, I have a choice of I can send them an email campaign, I can post an update to my company's Facebook page, I can post a tweet to my company's Twitter account, or I can post an update to my company's LinkedIn page, and there's probably a couple other options I'm forgetting as well, but by far, the most response and the most engagement I get will come from the email campaign to my users. They're more likely to see the email than they are my Facebook post, my LinkedIn post or my tweet, and that's just been the case since the beginning of time.
Doug Morneau: Yeah. We see the exactly the same thing. I mean, not that we're not in social, and I don't believe that obviously, email is the only way to market, but the reality is it still has the reach. I still think it does the heavy lifting. It still has the responsiveness, and when looking at the statistics in terms of open rates for your initial welcome message with your autoresponder saying that they're often upwards of 65%, there's a great way then to invite your audience to join you in the other social platforms, but I wouldn't in any way give up, but email is my primary communication method.
Ajay Goel: Yeah. It's funny because people love to hate email. People love to complain about how much they hate managing their inbox, but there's a dichotomy to that because as much as they love to complain about how much of a time suck it is, it's still their primary way of getting information.
Doug Morneau: Yeah, and I think the numbers that I looked at recently said that the average person has two accounts or more.
Ajay Goel: Yeah. I'm way above average and I wonder if you're one or two, Doug. I probably have 10 accounts that I actually received legitimate email at, and that I have another 30 accounts that I use for testing purposes.
Doug Morneau: Yeah. Seed accounts. Yeah. I guess then, I can tell people at the end of this podcast because I feel good and it made me feel good that I'm above average for something. I have more email accounts than my neighbor does.
Ajay Goel: Yeah. Yeah. Hats off to us.
Doug Morneau: How do you see moving forward in terms of integration? I mean, there's been talk around artificial intelligence using that tool in a number of spaces, and email is one integration with tools like Slack where now you can integrate your Slack account and email so I could use your service to do a broad guest, and my end-users could actually view that in Slack?
Ajay Goel: Yeah. I remember when Slack first made a splash across the news. That was another platform that said was going to be … People predicted it was going to be the death of email, and for everyone that I've talked to that used a Slack, it seems to be more of an internal communication tool for intra-company communication than it is for an external communication tool, but let me get back to your question. I actually haven't used Slack a whole lot myself to know what its integration possibilities are. I do know that there's a million apps that are integrated with Slack, but I can't really speak intelligently to what other email marketers have done with it.
Doug Morneau: I'm just thinking more along the lines of what's coming. It seems this will be the focus of so much wording online and a myth that I struggle with is that you and I discussed briefly the other day was around using email and renting data and getting access to people. I actually had a friend of mine say that really, it's still a good way to borrow somebody else's credibility and to use their influence to reach your audience, so we don't see it going away anytime soon, and the sales numbers certainly keep pointing up and not down.
Ajay Goel: Totally, and the other cool thing about it is that it's all measurable. I mean, the one thing that email marketing platform markers have done well is to make it so that you can track exactly what happens with an email it's sent. I don't know if that's possible with some of these other communication channels including Slack. With emails, you can track opens and clicks, and you can track what happens beyond the click on the website, so it offers a marketer good validation.
Doug Morneau: You want to walk us through just a typical scenario, so I'm in my Gmail account. I like to use the corporate Gmail Suite, normally get my plans used at as well, and I've got GMass installed. There's my Chrome extension, and I want to reach out for example and I want to invite three or four, maybe 10, say 10 people that I like that to invite them on my podcast. Walk me through the process of how much different that experience would be from what I'm currently doing, which is one at a time, finding the person, writing the email, putting the name in manually, and sending it.
Ajay Goel: Sure. Sure. Some of you have already got it installed and they're ready to go. You would do what you would do with a regular email, which is you hit the ‘Compose' button, which is in your upper left in Gmail. They're going to get your Compose window that has your subject and your message in your two-field.
In the “To” field, simple way to do it, just start typing the 10 people that you want to send this email to. Gmail has really good autofill, so you just have to type the first few characters of the person's name, and it'll populate it. Now, you've got your 10 contacts in your two-field. You'll put in your subject. You'll put in your message.
For your message, you can use a variable. Let's say first name, so personalize it, so you'll have the first name surrounded by curly brackets, and then a comma, and then the rest of your message inviting the people to the podcast. Now normally, you're probably used to hitting the ‘Send' button in Gmail, so you're not going to hit the ‘Send' button because if you hit the ‘Send' button, then what you're used to happening is what will happen, which is all 10 people will get the same email, and all 10 people will see that the other nine people have been a recipient of that email. Instead of hitting the ‘Send' button, you're going to hit the button right next to that, which is the ‘GMass' button, and that's where the magic happens. When you hit that GMass button, GMass takes the 10 people in the two line and sends an individual email to each of those 10 recipients, and it replaces that first name variable with the recipient's first name.
Doug Morneau: That's really cool. In terms of reporting, what would I expect to see in terms of reporting of opens and clicks and that sort of stuff?
Ajay Goel: Yeah. You get all the usual email marketing metrics, and then some bonus ones as well. That includes opens, clicks, unsubscribes, bounces, blocks in the case where there's a deliverability issue, but what you also get is you can also track replies on a per campaign basis, and the reason that's a bonus metric is that because GMass is integrated with your inbox, it has the ability to know when somebody has replied to a specific campaign, and then show that to you as a reporting metric. It would be difficult for a regular email platform to be able to do that because a regular email platform isn't integrated with your inbox.
Doug Morneau: No. That's true. That's so funny, and that would be a helpful metric to know of where that these people are replying actually from that. The thing that I see often and I don't understand it at all is when you get an email from somebody using a large ESP, and the return address is a do not reply to this address.
Ajay Goel: Yeah. I've been guilty –
Doug Morneau: Hey, my favorite thing –
Ajay Goel: Yeah.
Doug Morneau: Hey, I'm going to send you some follow up and ask you a question, but now, I have to go hunt for your email because this is a no reply email.
Ajay Goel: Yeah. Yeah. I've been guilty of doing that in the past as well. On the one hand, there are cases where a company wants to disseminate information as like a one-way communication pack if they don't want anything back. They just want to get some information out there and not have anything come back.
On the other hand, consumers are so used to being able to hit reply on an email, but it's kind of a shock that your reply is going to a do not reply address, and sometimes, you don't even notice the actual address behind the name so you don't see that it's a do not reply, then you get a bounce after you reply to it.
Doug Morneau: Yes. You've been there.
Ajay Goel: Yeah. Yeah. You can do that with GMass as well. We don't encourage it because we encourage you to send the campaign from your real, legitimate email account. Another benefit that has is that a lot of people have their picture set up as part of their Google profile, and so when you send a mass email from your Gmail account, your picture will often show up in your recipient's inbox as well.
Doug Morneau: That's neat. For guys like you and I that are as you mentioned, your words, not mine, we're above average in terms of accounts. How does the licensing work, then if I install, this is a Chrome extension, then I'm running four or five, six, maybe 10 different Gmail accounts?
Ajay Goel: Yeah. It's actually per account, so the pricing ranges from about $7 a month to about $20 a month based on what kind of account you get and what kind of features you want, so yeah. It's per Gmail account that you want to log into and send campaigns, however, we have some users who have just one Gmail account subscribed, but then they have multiple alias from addresses set up under their one Gmail account, and in that case, you only need one license. You only need one subscription because we don't care how many addresses you're sending from, so you can have an unlimited number of aliases set up in your account. All we care is how many accounts you're attaching it to.
Doug Morneau: Okay. Now, I understand what that is just because I've been doing it for a little bit.
Ajay Goel: Yeah. That was technical?
Doug Morneau: Yeah. Let me just take two minutes and explain to people what an alias account is. I mean, I can't say enough good things about using Gmail, and I've used alias accounts, so how does it work?
Ajay Goel: Yeah. Sure. Yeah. In Gmail, you can actually connect outside non-Gmail accounts to your Gmail account. What that means is let's say I have [email protected]
That's not actually my address by the way, but let's say I set that up, and I have my corporate account, which is let's say [email protected] I can connect my [email protected] corporate account to my [email protected] so that I can still log into my Gmail account, but send from [email protected] and even check my email for [email protected]
Doug Morneau: Right. Okay. Very cool. Moving forward, what is the best place for people to hunt you down, find you, learn about your product and service and connect with you?
Ajay Goel: Yeah. I'm pretty easy to track down. [email protected] is my email address. That's [email protected] On Twitter, I am PartTimeSnob just like just it's spelled just like it sounds. Those are the two best ways.
Doug Morneau: Okay. I'm not going to ask about the Twitter account, but I'm just going to look it up because now, that's intriguing.
Ajay Goel: Yeah. [crosstalk 00:29:46] conversation.
Doug Morneau: What's been funny as I have been interviewing a number of people in the email space is all of them have volunteered their email address to be contacted, which has not been the case with my non-email people that I've interviewed. They're afraid to give us their email address, so …
Ajay Goel: What do they give out there? Their phone number? I'm happy to give out my phone number.
Doug Morneau: Yeah. No. Some of them just say, “Just them to my website”.
Ajay Goel: I see. I see.
Doug Morneau: Yeah. No. I like the ability to reach out however we can, so I will take this information as you know, listeners, and we'll have it transcribed. We'll have the show notes and the details. I will make sure that we've got links to Ajay's company Gmass.co, and you'll be able to have a look at that. Check out his resources, and we'll have his link to his social media, and maybe you want to get back to me and let me know why he has PartTimeSnob on this [pa 00:30:42] … Anyhow, thanks so much, Ajay for being such a good guest today and sharing a little bit about your product and service and your experience in the email marketing space.
Ajay Goel: Thanks a lot, Doug. It was my pleasure.
Email: [email protected]
Ajay on Twitter: PartTimeSnob