Email List

Notes from building an audience

Append Only Database

To give you the result first: A quick email capture form using Firebase turned out to be the best.

I use Firebase as an append-only database, so that records can be added to it straight from the website, and I can be sure that no one can read or delete all the information, even without any authentication mechanisms in place.

Here is the “rule” for that:

    "rules": {
        ".read": false,
        ".write": "newData.exists()"

That’s it. Now email addresses can be added to the Firebase db with a simple POST and it will be safely saved away.

Why Not MailChimp?

Poor Service

I personally don’t have a good experience using MailChip. I put my app up on BetaList and I got a good list of people interested about an idea I’m working on. I used MailChimp to collect these signups. I was ready to email them the invite. Minutes before the invites went out, I got this email from MailChimp:

I was upset and I immediately reviewed their “acceptable use” policy again and I wasn’t in violation at all! I submitted clarifying details to them right away and they showed me this:

Well, it has been two whole months and I haven’t heard back.

But even without this bad experience, I think it is a good idea to avoid them for sending out beta invites. I’ll elaborate in the following sections.

Anyway, for two months I had no idea why M broke up with me (except for the “my friend Omnivore thinks you’re no good”) while telling me that we might get back together someday if I put in the effort and talked it over. Then M ignored all of my attempts to talk it over. Now my guess is that my company home page didn’t have much content at the time. I’m guessing this because another email service I tried recently alerted me to it and asked me to fix it. Who knows though… But it doesn’t matter. I’ve moved on. Except to warn my fellow hackers to be wary of capricious little M :-)

Not a Good Fit

MailChimp is really meant for newsletters and not for sending out beta invites, and it shows. People interested in your startup enter their email. If they forget to click the confirmation email, or get interrupted, or if the email gets lost, you don’t see their email at all.

Feels Like Bait and Switch

Take a moment to think about the work flow. People like your idea and type in their email address in the signup box. Now if they get an email saying “XYZ Mailing List: Subscription Confirmed”, it feels like you just subscribed them to a newsletter and there really isn’t a product.

There’s a lot of vaporware out there. You don’t want to be dismissed as one.

But …

“But isn’t setting up your own thing too much work?” Sure, if you’re not a developer. If you are, rolling your own takes about the same time (not in an “I can build StackOverflow in a weekend” sort of way). I’m in here for the long haul and I don’t mind getting it right.

“But this is bad advice! Developers will overengineer and never launch.” This isn’t advice or even a suggestion, but more of a journal if anything… and come on, I’m not that persuasive :-)

Sending Email

Here are some services I like so far (my friend Dru told me about most of them):

  1. PersistIQ - It uses your Google Apps email. I pay for this, and that is saying a lot, considering how “frugal” I am.

  2. Drip - I haven’t gotten around to integrating this with my projects yet, but I wholeheartedly recommend it just from what I’ve heard and I absolutely love Rob & Mike’s podcast: Startups for the Rest of Us

  3. GMail via Google Apps - I just pay the $5/user for any new significant project I work on these days. That makes life so much easier and most services integrate with Google Apps. They’ve definitely earned their keep.

  4. SendInBlue - No issues and replied to my question in minutes. I use them for transactional emails right now, though they do marketing automation / lifecycle emails too.

To save you some time (perhaps):

SendGrid didn’t make it to my list of services to try because of this HN thread. Unbelievable!

My friend Alan told me that MailGun’s support is pretty basic and they kept ignoring his actual question and continued sending him irrelevant and obviously scripted replies. That can be very frustrating. But I haven’t tried them recently, so I don’t have any first hand experience to share.

Say “hi”

If you want to hear more of my rants as I bootstrap, email me at I’d love to chat. Or just use RSS.

Some day I’ll write in as long a format as Steve Yegge. Just not today.