Lessons from Gary Levitt, CEO of Mad Mimi
Mad Mimi is an email marketing tool that launched in 2008 and was recently acquired by GoDaddy. Founded by Gary Levitt, the company has grown tremendously over the past 6 years, while still managing to remain humble and approachable. What many people may find surprising is how this small American-Israeli startup grew large enough to encroach on email marketing giant MailChimp’s turf, without spending real cash on marketing.
In 2009 I had the pleasure of sitting with Gary at his home in Jerusalem. He gave me some sound advice that I have carried with me since, advice that I would like to now share with you.
Don’t Be Afraid To Pivot
Launching a startup is a daunting task, just ask any entrepreneur. There are times when a startup is launched with a certain goal in mind only to find out that assumptions were misguided or environment has changed. For example, Groupon was initially founded to help with crowd funding social good campaigns before pivoting (and taking on the name Groupon) to service businesses instead. MadMimi is another example of this. Gary is a musician at heart and in practice (both he and Derek Sivers attended Berkley College of Music and Gary played for Oprah back in the day) and Mad Mimi was originally a way to help musicians do all of their non-musical work. It was a tool to help manage communication with venues and fans, so how did it become the email marketing success it is today? I don’t know the details, but I do know that Gary understood the landscape and decided to pivot. It’s never an easy decision to pivot, after all when you pour your heart and soul into something a pivot may feel like you’re saving it but it may also feel like you’re giving up on your original dream. Don’t be afraid to pivot, it might be the best decision you’ve made.
The most surprising thing to me about Mad Mimi was that I had not seen any ads for it when it came up. It came up to me, as it has for most people, via word of mouth. I was working at my first web developer job in Jerusalem and the organization I was working for was using Mad Mimi. I first heard how easy the tool is, next how accommodating the company has been to my employer’s need and lastly that I could just email Gary if I had any questions. There are two reasons why a customer would talk about MadMimi to a friend, but I think one outweighs the other tenfold.
The Actual Product
Arguably people might just love the product itself. I would tend to agree that the interface is powerful yet incredibly intuitive, fun to use and offers a great user experience. It’s the type of the product that lets you easily see both short-term and long-term results. But after working in web design and development for the past 5 years or so, I’ve come to realize that products can be cloned. Unless you have an absurdly unique and patentable product, someone can pop up as your competitor within a matter of months. Because of this I feel that the following reason is stronger.
The Customer Service
Anyone familiar with Seth Godin knows that one of the most important thing he focuses on is how people treat people. He usually writes about it within the context of how service providers treat customers (either through their product design or service interactions), but read between the lines and you’ll see that Seth is mostly interested in positive community. When I heard that a) Mad Mimi was not spending money on marketing and b) Seth Godin was a proud customer, I was blown away.
When you provide solid customer service, you create ambassadors to your brand. Your customers do the marketing for you, not because you ask them but because you give them something worth talking about. (“Soup Nazi” aside,) You can run a restaurant that serves the best food, but without good service you won’t get any customers.
It’s been a while since I’ve been a Mad Mimi user. Not because I’ve moved on to other products, but because my professional position has shifted over the years and I’m not in a role that would have me work directly with an email marketing product. But from my interactions with Mad Mimi in the past I can tell you that I received email responses at record speed. If I email Gary and he was unavailable, Sandy would reply. If Sandy couldn’t get to a response, Dean would step in. There seemed to be a shared email pool where unanswered questions would get picked up ASAP, even if the intended recipient was not there. One of the most painful things a user can experience is silence and Mad Mimi made sure this never happens.
People become entrepreneurs for many reasons, money and power included. CEOs can be unapproachable, coming off as too busy or too important. You never know what sort of reaction you’ll get when you reach out to a successful leader. If you’re like me, you’re deathly afraid that you’ll come off as someone who is wasting their time. This is not the case with Gary and it’s safe to say that his caring and driven attitude has shaped Mad Mimi’s culture. As Gary has seemed to have done, remember to stay human as you grow in success.
I’m not sure what is in store for Mad Mimi’s future. I’ve never been impressed with GoDaddy’s marketing, nor have I been blown away by their customer service. I hope that Mad Mimi remains true to it’s roots as it grows with the help GoDaddy’s success. I trust Gary and Dean and look forward to seeing Mad Mimi become even more of a household name.