- Search for cloud opportunity leads Jeffri Shahul to world of email marketing
- Looking for strategic investor for funding and co-founder to power email business
IT is an overstated myth of entrepreneurship that successful entrepreneurs know from the get go what business they want to focus on. Sometimes they just stumble onto a good thing while trying to figure out their niche. Jeffri Shahul Hamid was one such entrepreneur.
After leaving the consulting world the technically trained engineer began offering tech support on the cheap to clients and building websites. “I didn’t really know what to do then but quickly realized that just building websites was not going to cut it.”
And it was while building websites that he had an insight. “A lot of companies were paying quite a bit for websites but didn’t have a CMS (Content Management System) and that’s when we started building various modules for them such as database, e-commerce, CMS and email broadcasting. It was like a mini SAP for SMEs with all these modules,” he says of the business in 2004.
He then raised a small amount from Cradle – US$12,000 (RM50,000) and got some early customers for the prototype service. Selling the future potential of the nascent business allowed Jeffri to close a US$480,000 (RM2 million) angel round for his company Tineo Technologies. In the days before startups were the vogue, entrepreneurs and their investors liked to keep such deals quiet and so it was with this deal as well.
But what the funding allowed Jeffri to do was to expand his team and go after the SME market. Mind you this was in the pre-cloud era, which meant that each SME had to be approached separately with the sales process time consuming to say the least.
And as any tech vendor who has dealt with SMEs will tell you, the process is fraught with miscommunication and poor understanding of what SMEs are getting into. “Our entire model then was based on the volume game but we had trouble closing deals because SMEs could not understand what they were getting. They thought building a website also involved us writing their corporate profiles and managing their e-commerce stores or a host of other services they thought were included.”
This went on for a few years with SMEs asking for specific functionalities only to be told the contract for building their websites did not include the various customisations. “But we built those features in subsequent product updates which customers then had to pay for,” says Jeffri describing this constant process as the “vicious technology software cycle”.
This SME focus went on until 2010 when Jeffri had to decide whether to pump in more money or close down the business that was losing money every year, unable to hit the volumes expected. As the SME focus was not working the only option was to focus on the enterprise market.
And even though they were charging many times more than what they used to charge to their SMEs, to the corporates, it was still cheaper relying on Jeffri and his team of “young and energetic developers” than going with the large enterprise tech players.
Starting with a few enterprise customers then, the business started moving to the point that today, they have served hundreds of customers who come from the FMCG sector, entertainment, finance, insurance etc. Work scope includes reworking client architecture, planning their content systems and integrating the websites to their backend systems be they payments, CRM, supply chain.
That expertise with their mid-size price range has seen the company enjoy an average revenue growth of between 10% to 15% a year with Jeffri hoping to cross RM5 million in revenue this year.
The push for scale
But it’s not this enterprise growth that will push him over that revenue target, rather it is the next big push by him to reach his dream of building a business with huge scalability. Naturally it has to be cloud based and here Jeffri has zeroed in on the email marketing business.
The focus here was partly driven by logic – they have been in the enterprise marketing segment for 10 years. Frustration played a role as well. “We could only serve customers with between 500,000 to 1 million emails to be sent a month and it was frequently frustrating to spend all that time educating a potential client only to find out their monthly needs were much smaller and we would then recommend them to try Mailchimp.
And so, wanting to go after the smaller size customer base as well, in 2016 Enginemailer was formed with Jeffri not intending to play second fiddle to any of the global enterprise Email Service Providers such as MailChimp. The product went live end of 2017.
Infact Jeffri has the audacity to think that he can challenge MailChimp, noting that there are no Asian-based ESPs. While most new entrants will realise they cannot compete with the global ESP’s, Enginemailer could.
“The only reason we can compete on price is because we come from a business that is already sending emails. Plus, over the years we have built our own enterprise architecture that can deliver all these emails, we control large bandwidth and control multiple segments of IP addresses. So, it was a natural progression for us to move to a cloud based service.”
As a result, Enginemailer is now a global business that is able to go after customers it could not get before, handling those who want to deliver anywhere from 10 emails to 10 million emails a month.
On the backend, the migration to the cloud took two long hard years, with two new software engineers hired to assist his team of six developers. Besides the technical challenge, realizing that all cloud businesses are search engine driven “and that Google is your biggest sales person”, the logo for Enginemailer was crowd sourced with the team looking at over 200 designs before picking the one they liked. The time invested in this branding was important as Jeffri notes that, “the easier someone understands your brand, the easier it is to sell cloud.”
The focus now is all about getting more users with the first real marketing push started last month. Blame Jeffri’s engineering background. The reason it has taken nine months for the serious marketing push to begin is that he was not happy with the initial product pushed out. But nine months of constant enhancements with a strong suite of modules now allows Enginemailer to offer a comprehensive database management system instead of the list management system other ESPs offer, while offering both marketing and API driven modules where some ESPs mainly focus on marketing modules. At the same time, Enginemailer also cleans up customers lists of duplicates and bad emails, something even MailChimp does not offer.
All in, Jeffri now feels that Enginemailer has a very compelling set of USPs for customers beyond the fact that they get free sign ups with unlimited subscribers and can send 10,000 emails a month, free, for life with a 500 email limit per day.
One appreciate partner is the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC). Its CEO, Ashran Ghazi tells DNA, “As a startup benefit partner of our Global Accelerator Programme (GAP), Enginemailer provides our participants and alumni with complimentary integrated email services for an unlimited time. The combination of features such as database management, email marketing and more enable our startups to increase customer engagement efforts.”
Excited about the future of Enginemailer, one of the best things for Jeffri is, “No more meetings to get customers. They come to me now.” Indeed in the hour long discussion with the writer, Jeffri received notifications of four customers signing up for Enginemailer. And this is just the beginning, he believes.
Hoping to accelerate growth Jeffri is also actively seeking a strategic investor who can help take the business to the next level not just through their funding but by playing a role to grow it locally and regionally.
At the same time he is also seeking a co-founder to be the “Wing Commander” to ensure Enginemailer flies high and flies far. “I need to get someone that has experience in SaaS (Software as a Service) to focus on the Enginemailer business, whilst I still continue to look after the existing portfolios while playing an active supporting role in this new sexy business.”