The Road to A Million Users
The Untold Story of Unroll.Me — Mine
So here is the thing, I am not mentioned in the press about Unroll.Me anymore. I left the company (though to be honest, I was never an “employee”) more than 2 years ago. There were four of us who founded the company, (you can find that in the early press) and two of the original founders remain. The story of how the company was founded is long and kind of weird. It does not make for a nice bite-sized snack for the press. As part of the natural evolution of things, I am not part of the story anymore and I am 100% ok with that. We all discussed it and we want the press about Unroll.Me to be about the product. It makes sense for the press to reference the remaining founders without getting into historical minutiae. I am not a victim. I have not been “written out of tech history”. It has zero to do with my being a woman.
That all being said, many people know I’m a founder of Unroll.Me because of my social media presence. Though I have never shared my story or my direct contributions, I want to do that now. I want to share because I want people to see stories about women that don’t include being victimized or harrassed. I want my story to be an example of what is possible. I want people to know there are many roads to getting where you want to go.
I want non-technical people to know that they aren’t worthless because they don’t write code.
It was a hot New York City summer Sunday. I got a random invitation to a startup poker game at the Aviary. There were a bunch of interesting people hanging out and talking about the different startups they were working on. I got to chatting with Josh Rosenwald; who was clearly whip smart with a sharp sense of humor. He was experimenting with an incubator model, called Conceptually, where he gave founder equity in exchange for a good idea. His funded operation would then take ownership of and build “the idea”.
“I have an idea,” I told him. “Great,” he said. “Let’s have lunch.”
At the time I had been back in NYC for a year after four years in Hong Kong. I was trying to find a new career path away from recruiting traders on Wall Street. I had spent most of the year prior surveying the startup scene in NYC. My activities included going to events, reading startup blogs, meeting different people in the ecosystem, beta-testing lots of products, and making some light intros to my Wall Street contacts who were looking to angel invest.
“I can do this,” I thought. “I can come up with something people need and will love.” I started analyzing the way I did things, looking more closely at my workflows and personal pain points. A few weeks before I met Josh, I had been emailing with my Uncle about meeting for dinner and his response was lost in a mountain of email newletters in my inbox. I missed the dinner. In order avoid this from happening again, I immediately went to unsubscribe from things but it was difficult and time consuming. I researched possible solutions and found Unsubscribe.com. at the time was the best I could find, but it didn’t really do what I wanted. I wanted to know all the things I was subscribed to. I wanted to unsubscribe all at once.
Over lunch with Josh, I pitched my idea of an email unsubscribe engine. I will be totally honest, I would not have quit my job to build a team and raise money to do my “unsubscribe” idea. At the time I didn’t have the first clue about what it would take to build the technology or if it was even possible. The ultimate decision to partner with Josh and our other co-founders, Jojo Hedaya and Steven Greenberg, was one of the best decisions I have ever made. They were similarly frustrated with email and had been thinking about ideas in the space as well.
I have a belief that ideas belong in the world, to the world, and if you have a good one it is your responsibility to do everything you can to make it happen.
Josh called me really excited, “We’re going to call it Unroll.Me”. I loved it. The vision stuck in my head was on its way to seeing the light of day. We were a really unlikely pairing. The guys were in their early 20s, still in school, and I was in my mid 30s in the middle of a career change.
Let there be Unsubscribe
As a “non-technical” person I cannot emphasize the amazing, magical moment when your idea is in front of you in a working form for the first time.
The first version of Unroll.me was raw and basic, but I loved it. The “idea” was alive. We used it on my inbox because it was the biggest; I had never deleted anything. I think it took over an hour to run on my account. The biggest surprise was how many of the hundreds of things I was subscribed to I wanted to keep. This ultimately led to the creation of the daily “Rollup”, the digest of all your newletters in one email, which is the core of the product today.
I had already been kicking around ideas of doing something in the recruiting and people space, enter Archively, so it was never my plan to stay at Unroll.Me long term. I committed to being hands on through SXSW of 2012. Then I was off planning my move to California to work on something new. I have continued to be a resource to them, mostly in the form of introductions, whenever needed.
I am proud to say that as of today, Unroll.Me has over 1 million users.
It is a serious milestone and I could not be more proud. I can’t take credit for the amazing work the team has done since I left, but I did make some key marketing and growth contributions early on. Contributions that I believe, in combination with incredible execution by the team, set the company up for the explosive growth they have had in the last six months. Here they are:
My Presence on Twitter : By far one of my best investments in myself as a founder has been my obsessive dedication to Twitter. I started tweeting about Unroll.Me long before we ever launched the first version. We created mystery and buzz; things began to spread by word of mouth.
Closed Invite-Only Signup: This is widely used and no secret, but a LaunchRock landing page added a lot of virality to the word of mouth early on. We talked a lot about this strategy as a team; in retrospect this was a key decision because the demand for the product was ahead of the technology’s ability to handle it.
Hand Seeding of Influencers: Because of my dedication to social media I had a network of influencers to build off of for early feedback. I literally wrote to people one by one on Facebook and Twitter asking them to try the product and give me feedback.
Early Press: Personally I love being a woman in tech. There is nothing that has helped me be more memorable than being a woman. Our first piece of press happened when Courtney Boyd Meyers (@CBM), then at The Next Web, reached out to us. She asked to write a piece because she had seen me tweeting about it. As a female founder you get on people’s radars. That press was followed by a post by Lifehacker which generated over 26,000 signups in 24 hours.
Getting into the Ecosystem: One of the first things I did was figure out who was who in the ecosystem. I researched the space, spoke with, and met with people from Unsubscribe.com, OtherInbox, Hotmail, Yahoo, Constant Contact and others.
The Viral Trigger: Other than the original idea, this was probably my greatest contribution to the product. Before we launched, I did a lot of research on what we could build into the product that would make it grow.
I don’t even think I knew what “growth hacking” was, but I really understand people and why they do things.
I took a class with my now good friend, Michael Geer called “How to Get Your First Million Users”; you can take it on Skillshare. As he talked about his experience in the online dating space, something clicked for me. I remembered the way I’d get that email from Match.com saying “he emailed you” and whip out my credit card just to read it. I tapped into that human need to have what is behind the curtain and converted that into the “Share to Unlock” trigger. We show you all the things you are subscribed to and as you begin to unsubscribe, you need to share in order to unlock the rest. We got some serious hate mail for that, but people did it anyway! We took out the trigger in early 2012, but after a major product overhaul the team decided to put it back in this past January.
I have met all kinds of people, from all professions, from different parts of the world who use Unroll.Me. “I use it everyday. I love it,” they tell me.
There is nothing quite like the feeling of knowing you helped create something that people love.
There is so much more to this story that I wasn’t part of. I couldn’t even begin to outline each of their individual contributions. It feels good, however, to share my part. I am so grateful for Josh, Jojo, Steven and the rest of the Unroll.Me team. Without the team, and all of the pieces coming together the way they did, this never could have happened. The stars aligned for us to bring Unroll.Me to the world.