Don't Forget About Email

In this day and age of social media and an ever expanding set of communication tools (SMS, IM, Twitter, Facebook, blog comments, etc) it is easy to forget about email. But that would be a big mistake.

I was reminded of that this morning when I got my first ever weekly email from the Hype Machine. It's a customized auto generated email that is different for every member. Here's an example posted by Anthony, founder of the Hype Machine.

I go to the Hype Machine regularly. At least a few times a week and many times every morning while I am reading, doing email, and blogging. But even so, getting a weekly email from the service with some stats customized for me, live concert suggestions, and new music recommendations is a wonderful thing and builds my loyalty even more.

Our portfolio company Etsy operates a market for handmade items. Etsy has been operating for over four years. For most of its life, Etsy had little to no email communication with its buyers. In the past six months, they built a number of email services and now email is one of the top traffic drivers to the site, passing popular new traffic sources like social networks, blogs, and communities.

If you are building a web service, you should most certainly build regular email communication with your users/members as one of the key features of your service. There are a few things to be aware of though. First, you may have trouble getting your email delivered. Many new services find that their verification emails, friend notification emails, and regular communication emails end up in spam filters. Our portfolio company Return Path has a number of services you can use to address that problem.

You should also make it very simple for users to unsubscribe from your emails if they don't want to get them. Putting an unsubscribe link in every email you send it is best practice and it should take literally one or two clicks to do an unsubscribe.

We expect to see a number of robust cloud-based e-mail sending solutions appear in the next year, including something from Amazon Web Services. They should make adding email to your web services even simpler than it is today.

The bottom line is that email is the most used form of internet communication today and it is likely to remain so for a long long time. So leverage it to get your web service pushed out to your users, just like Anthony has done with the Hype Machine this week.


Comments (Archived):

  1. Dave Pinsen

    Thanks for the mention of Hype Machine. I’ll take a look at it.Incidentally, this is one company that I think does a good job with e-mail marketing: Chow Foods. That company runs a handful of restaurants in Seattle, one of which I went to a few years ago. Here are three things I like about that company’s e-mails: – They’re relatively infrequent. I’d guess I get fewer than a dozen e-mails from them per year, maybe only a half-dozen. – They offer money-saving deals. – They tend to be creative. See for example this one I blogged about at the time, a “Depression-era pricing” promotion the company ran linked to the closing price of the DJIA: Dow’d but not Out.

    1. Erica

      Email lists are still one of the most effective ways to reach people.Here are some of my own statistics from my blog. I wrote a blog post earlier today and emailed both my list (Aweber; all people who signed up through my blog) and Tweeted about it.Email: Sent 1552 emails; so far (a few hours later) 289 opens and 140 clicks.Twitter: Sent out a Tweet with a link so I can track clicks. discards clicks from robots.I have 16,342 followers on Twitter (more than TEN TIMES as many as are on my email list), yet I have only received 78 clicks so far.This is what many marketers are discovering, and it’s devastating news for people who want to market products through Twitter. Sure, there are some companies doing very well, but most companies would be better off simply building an old-fashioned mailing list.Not what many Web 2.0 superstars want to hear, but the numbers speak for themselves. Until this reverses, I can’t see email going away.-Erica (

      1. Dave Pinsen

        Interesting. Interesting site you have too, and congrats on your personal story.

      2. ShanaC

        That being said, how do you answer for people like me- who are on email overload. I love the DailyCandy, Flavorpill, etc. One problem: even with heavy filtering, I never get around to reading them, because I get way too many emails in general. If I unsubscibe, then I lose out on all benefits. One of the better early answers I’ve heard came from, Vladmir V. posts about how in some ways Twitter is like email on steroids. (he sometimes pops by) (granted not completely) which was here. http://vukicevic.blogspot.c… As my comment there remarks- this party is just getting started. No one really remembers the days of trying to listen to musical concerts of telephones either. This all feels like very experimental technology to me, and I suggest calling me when I’m 80 to see how the party turns out.

      3. fredwilson

        I have a different experience erica. This blog gets more traffic from twitter than google and email clicks aren’t even in the top ten even though I mail out my blog posts every night to about 2,000 people

  2. ShanaC

    I got that email. And email is the best tool ever, up to the point it being a total overwhelming mess when it comes to organizing.Email though is powerful because it is private (or public), any length you want, can include anything, and direct. Most powerful tool I have is my email. I love it. It is by far the best way to maintain connections. Up there with chat clients, which is like immediate email.I <3 email.

  3. Jose Paul Martin

    Here’s my wacky idea to kill spam or junk email – charge for sending email! Yep, just like you pay for your phone calls.…Jokes apart. Email is still the killer app. Why else would BB succeed so much!

  4. David Noël

    Your post reminded me of one of Seth’s posts (of course) where he says:”Every month, I get a great email from Paul McGowan, founder of PS Audio. His newsletter is anticipated, personal and relevant. I signed up for it and I look forward to it.”( it’s not a newsletter per se, I started looking forward to the Hype Machine emails from the moment I received the first one.

    1. ShanaC

      And why do you think I am so many sale lists.

  5. nicolastoper

    Hi Fred,This is actually the exact issue my company is addressing (http://www.m–x– We offer an SMTP gateway and ensure email compliances and quality (e.g. we add the unsubscription link, we add a CAN SPAM compliance footer and we guarantee deliverability).We are already integrated within AWS so you can point your SMTP already to us knowing it is inside AWS so you don’t pay bandwidth fees.

    1. fredwilson

      Awesome. We’ll keep an eye on what you are doing

      1. nicolastoper

        Thanks Fred, I will be glad to demo our service. It is very complementary from Return Path’s offering (which offers a very good service by the way)

    2. Dave Pinsen

      Nicolastoper,After looking at your website, I’m curious about how you define spam. Do you define it as any unsolicited advertising e-mail? Here’s what I have in mind specifically — let me know if you would consider this spam or not. What if I buy a list of e-mail addresses of individuals who subscribe to a newsletter about X, and I want to send them a discount offer for a subscription to a website I run focused on X?That’s actually something I’m considering doing within the next few weeks. Let me know if this is something I could do with your company’s service or if you would consider this spam.

      1. nicolastoper

        Hi Dave,This is unsolicited email. From a marketing point of view, I would never recommend buying an email list, but instead embed your advertisement in it.Now from my company point of view, our goal is to respect the law (obviously), ISP’s best practice and the end user’s interest.This means we use sophisticated spam filtering system that will block your delivery if too many people do not receive well your campaign and it does not respect email best practices.

        1. Dave Pinsen

          OK, thanks a lot. Great point about embedding advertising in the newsletter. I’ll have to see if they offer that. I may consider your service for opt-in e-mails in the future though.

          1. maxniederhofer

            I would disagree with parts of that. There are perfectly legitimate email lists which you can purchase. People on these lists have agreed to receive marketing emails – sometimes twice to make sure that they’re really ok with it (double opt-in). This is not necessarily spam – it’s similar to direct mail. However I would agree that email list management and brokerage is a very grey, intransparent industry. If you can find the right list, they work very well: paid email marketing has some of the highest ROI of any paid online marketing channel. But it’s very much buyer beware…

          2. Dave Pinsen

            Double opt-in sounds interesting too, thanks. I’ll ask the list broker if the ones he’s mentioned to me so far are double opt-in.

          3. ShanaC

            Who’s developing these lists and keeping them accurate? It reminds me of the old days with catalogs. If you don’t own the list, and are not keeping them accurate…

          4. Dave Pinsen

            There’s a whole industry around this, and sending hard copy mail to lists is still pretty big. I have a good friend who happens to work in the business at a boutique Manhattan firm (maybe they’re all boutiques?). In theory, according to him, each list is assigned a manager who exerts authority over who gets sent what, how frequently, etc. In practice, I’m not sure exactly how it works, particularly at other firms. The list I had in mind was one he referred me to another firm for.Incidentally, thanks to a piece of junk mail (or, more accurately, my finally acting on it), I’m going to be cutting down my combined TV, Internet, and phone costs by about two thirds, by switching from Verizon and Dish Network to Cablevision’s Optimum Triple Play. I wonder how many of those post cards I received from them before I finally overcame my inertia.

          5. ShanaC


          6. maxniederhofer

            In theory it’s the responsibility of the list owner or list manager. In practice most lists are horribly inaccurate.

          7. Aaron Klein

            imho, these lists aren’t worth the bits and bytes they utilize on a hard disk. Basically, you’re buying the ability to add to the flood of mail into an inbox who signed up for some offer like a free iPod. The person isn’t looking for what you’re buying. In my mind, the hit to your brand and the waste of your time are far worse than the 0.3% that might buy or sign up.In other words, I think there is always a better way to figure out how to reach your customers. Go get a copy of Guerilla Marketing or read Seth Godin’s blog if you can’t think of one.

          8. markslater

            totally agree aaron.

          9. maxniederhofer

            This is not about using some shoddy list where people signed up because of some free iPod scam. This is about marketing to the subscribers of e.g. the WSJ or Economist, both of which rent their lists out. I am fully aware of Godin et al. And I am not making a moral argument. All I am saying is that paid email has some of the highest ROIs of any paid online marketing channel.

          10. Mark Essel

            I have to agree with Aaron (below) and of course Seth Godin’s view, anticipated and opt in. I think you would be much better off with a paid search ad that points to a product /service description with an opt in email offer.Let the user choose your business.

    3. Robert_Dewey

      A similar service came out of TechStars this year – Send Grid.

      1. nicolastoper

        Yes, MxM and our CritSend service have been around with steady customers since 2007, we are good at what we do and we welcome all competition ;>

        1. fredwilson

          I love that attitude. Bring it on!

        2. Robert_Dewey

          I agree with Fred.Competition forces innovation.

    1. David Noël

      We use CampaignMonitor at SoundCloud. Very good service.

    2. fredwilson

      Yes I do. Great service

    3. nicolastoper

      They are a very good service for newsletter delivery

  6. Khuram

    Hi Fred,Encouraging post – we are currently re-inventing email – Jeff Pulver told me to get in touch with you when we were in Silicon Valley in June. Currently self-funded 😉

    1. Mark Essel

      I wanted to comment about you guys after reading Robert Scobles status, but didn’t have the link handy :). Glad you found this relevant post from Fred!

      1. Khuram

        Hi, Happy to let you test drive. If you send me a mail address I will pass an on an invite.

        1. Mark Essel

          Please do send one to messel at gmail dot com Thanks

    2. Robert_Dewey

      Inbox2 looks interesting.When I seen it, I had another idea… What about a service that aggregates all of your messages and conversations from other services? For example, all of your @ responses from Twitter, e-mails to you, Flickr messages, Facebook messages, wall posts, etc.. This would allow you to respond all in one place.Not sure if something like that exists, or if that’s what you’re trying to do, but it’d be neat!

      1. Khuram

        Hi, with the exception of Flickr we are covering all the other stuff. We are still looking at the full stream, at the moment we still think the value lies in the @ replies. Just did a post with some of the latest features. Check it out:

      2. dskendall

        Robert, please request an invite to It’s totally in line with your idea.

  7. Darren Herman

    From the media buy side of email, I’ve been seeing more and more companies come in touting their email programs. For a few years, email was relatively quiet as brands got scared of using it as a media vehicle b/c of the Nigerian Spammer and such.I’ve seen everything from the simple Flavorpill’s and Thrillists to customized sports emails like the recently emerged DailyTailgate. Another use of email that is certainly familiar to the USV guys is DailyLit – so simple and real value. Email is certainly on it’s way back.

    1. ShanaC

      Daily Candy is a brand you forgot there with huge ROI….The thing is, I remember when the likes of the daily candy did text messages. I wish those were back. I also sort of wish that these sorts of more custom mail/lists of taste were on a custom feed of some sort, some sort of aggregator of my taste. Sometimes, they feel like they eat my inbox. And that’s when they lose value. When they eat my inbox.

  8. William Mougayar

    Inside large enterprises, the reliance on email is even more critical. They couldn’t function without it because most of them don’t have the social media choices that non-enterprise users are currently embracing.I totally agree that the customization is the magic that makes it really valuable.

    1. Mark Essel

      Right on William. Personalized information relevant to an individual subscriber, just like the type of service your biz offers.

  9. Jason

    great timing with this post, so web services should consider Return Path, MxM, and CampaignMonitor – now just have to figure out a simple way to offer the complete email solution to users’ users.

    1. isaacsaldana

      Jason, we allow companies to resell our services and offer it to their users. We have an API to create subusers described here

      1. Jason

        thanks, i like what i was reading, will make time for indepth look at service integration in very near future

  10. Sekou Murphy

    And make sure that when someone unsubscribes, they actually are unsubscribe…not subscribed for 2-3 more weeks and then maybe. It kills rapport.Another thing is to make it obvious that customers are signing up for email blasts…but more so, make sure those blasts are extremely relevant to interests, buying patterns, etc..Btw – I can’t read comments on my Blackberry. Anyone else can?

    1. ShanaC

      Switch to Opera. I have that problem too. Opera also allows you to (slowly) login with Disqus.I don’t know why that is, and it makes dealing with threads a pain.

      1. Sekou Murphy

        Hi ShanaC – yeah, Opera Mini works on many levels, but b/c it’s slow and navigation isn’t the best (for me), I only use it if I have no other choice, and it’s only for a couple of sites that BB’s browser doesn’t work well.

        1. ShanaC

          Dunno what else to tell you. That’s the only solution I have, and it is not a happy one.

  11. maxkalehoff

    Importantly, I can’t think of a single social-media service (Facebook, Twitter, blog comments, skype, Meebo, etc.) that doesn’t default to email. Email is the ultimate social network. Not surprisingly, we also have a similar experience in that email is the biggest driver of Web site traffic.

    1. Dave Hendricks

      To paraphase Mark Twain ‘Reports of email’s death are greatly exaggerated’. 99% of people getting off a plane are going to check their email, if they didn’t while on the flight. Blackberry sales are increasing. And when you get a direct message on Facebook, you are notified by email.Yes, this may be replaced. But an email address is the ultimate unique identifier and portable number. It’s surprising that by now it hasn’t replaced the phone number as an alternate way to ring someone up. Love it, hate it (spam) email is here to stay.Who do you know who uses a computer without an email address? No one that I can imagine – every service requires an address to set up an account. How many don’t use RSS, Twitter, Facebook, etc. – most. I love those, but just like TV didn’t kill radio, ‘social media’ won’t kill email.

  12. daryn

    Return Path is a great company and has great offerings, but I’ve found their pricing to be a little on the steep side, especially for most smaller web 2.0-style companies. There’s definitely a win to be had for a turnkey ESP that is really easy to integrate (ideally just a smart smtp relay — maybe the m–x–m commenter here is on to something,…), is priced reasonable, and has a good toolkit for reporting, metrics, deliverability, etc..Having spent way too many years working on email systems, it’s the last thing I’d ever want to build myself, but I’d appreciate it someone else did 🙂

    1. phollows

      @daryn – tweet me @phollows and let’s talk. I’m the FeedBlitz founder and we offer RSS to mail, Twitter, IM and RSS services as well for those looking for a FeedBurner alternative for feed management.

    2. fredwilson

      Return Path has a low end offering they call express. Not enough people know about it. That is something they need to fix

      1. daryn

        And by fix, they should: 1) make express more visible 2) make itspricing available online, and 3) make the signup processself-service.We got caught in sales call hell with RP awhile back, where wecouldn’t get straight answers on cost or features, just “what do youwant to pay?”… I know it’s standard practice in the enterprisespace, but frustrating at startup-scale.

        1. fredwilson

          I’m seeing them (RP) tomorrow so this is timely feedback. Thanks

  13. howardlindzon

    oh man…right on.

    1. Mark Essel

      Hey Howard you coming out of time bankruptcy enough to read Fred’s blog now?If so congratulations! I greedily covet all the free time I can run away with.

    2. fredwilson

      I’m replying to your comment via email. Disqus is a bleeding edge social media service. And yet I use it almost exclusively via email

  14. Erin

    Hype Machine is one of Tumblr-er David Karp’s projects, no?

    1. fredwilson

      Nope. Anthony Volodkin built it while he was in college

  15. Erin

    Hype Machine is one of Tumblr-er David Karp’s projects, no? I recall him talking about it at his Digital Pub. Group talk a few months ago…

    1. fredwilson

      Nope. See my previous reply

  16. Guest

    I’m very interested in seeing how I can use Google Wave… Also dying to try out Google Voice, seems like it is taking them forever to get that one launched…

  17. Tom Evslin

    FeedBlitz (in which I’m an investor) has an excellent email service. Particularly good for bloggers because it can be run off rss feeds but used more and more for all kinds of non-spam email marketing. Because of required double optin and years of good practices it gets through spam filters. Lots of options for customization and branding and good stats. It’s also how I get my daily A VC.

    1. fredwilson

      I use it to send this blog’s daily posts every night to about 2,000 subs

  18. markslater

    what is the most used form of wireless communication?

    1. ShanaC

      That’s an excellent question. Any ideas, do you know?

    2. fredwilson


  19. Mark Essel

    I never even considered a mailing list for my blog since I always unsubscribe. Just goes to show what I now ;).Maybe bed of each month, let readers optin.

  20. Dave Chase (@chasedave)

    Right on. Most regular folk barely use many of the things we take for granted with Twitter, FaceBook, RSS, etc. I own a hyperlocal site that gets 60% of its traffic from our 5x/week opt-in newsletter. In our community there isn’t a daily newspaper and many folks tell me that this is their daily “newspaper”. It’s a media vehicle in its own right with many of our advertisers only wanting to be in the newsletter.Funny story: One of the bigger advertisers in our area (Insurance Broker) literally thinks we deliver our whole website to him every day. When I was in his office, he showed me how to find something on our website…he looks through the emails we’ve sent him. He runs one of the most successful businesses in our area so I’m not going to worry if he doesn’t get the ins/outs of the web.

    1. fredwilson

      Great story. For him, email is the web

  21. Carl Rahn Griffith

    When sharing a story, etc, some people I know use Twitter, some use Facebook, some use X, Y, Z …. all use email.QED.

    1. ShanaC

      excellent use of QED

      1. Carl Rahn Griffith

        Thanks, Shana.I probably use it too much, and out of context, strictly speaking – ahem!In the recent past I was a tad too hasty regarding the demise of email – mea culpa ……Ah well …. 😉

  22. kenberger

    Tying back to your Foursquare Crush post: funny how Business Insider missed scooping how much love and crush you’ve publicly professed for Hype Machine / Anthony– the quantity and consistency has probably surpassed that which you’ve shown toward any startup, ever.Hey– I say we all blog and flickr, etc heavily re HypeM and drive up a bidding war cuz it literally rocks! And Anthony right now seems to have the coolest lifestyle biz I’ve seen.(@fascinated: you gonna take this link bait or what… 🙂

    1. fredwilson

      Anthony’s got it figured out. That’s for sure. And I do love hypme. Bigtime

  23. Robert_Dewey

    I think the whole “SMTP” through API thing will be huge. Send Grid already has 160 companies using it, with hundreds of millions of messages being sent.I was building something similar; an API for sending SMS through SMTP. There would be a free option and something like $0.01 / message sent. For example, Fred (or any company) could have used a widget that would let users input their cell number to subscribe to his blog headlines, updates, etc..The problem is that I’d be afraid to rely on the e-mail to SMS gateways knowing that the greedy cell companies could easily block it, or put some sort of terms on usage and essentially shut it down.

    1. isaacsaldana

      Robert, thanks for mentioning us. We are in the process of adding more plugins to deliver to other mediums besides email servers. Currently we only support Twitter and speech to phones. We will be adding support for IM systems and more social networks. For users that don’t want to rely on cell companies SMTP servers, we will be partnering with SMS gateways so they can develop their own plugins since we have an open plug in platform.I would be interested to find out what you developed for SMS.

      1. Robert_Dewey

        No problem!SMS is definitely a big market with a big problem. Clickatell pricing is $0.049 cents per outbound msg… and that’s with a “discount” for 1 million msgs.For my app, I was even thinking of a “free” option, which would be limited to 140 characters with the other 20 characters reserved for small text ads. But, all of that is moot if the gateway blocks mass email-to-SMS. I’m still looking into that.As you say in a comment below, I was also thinking of some sort of response technique. For example, a user could have incoming messages routed to a web form or REST API for which the message would be passed as an argument, with the response submitted back to the cellular phone user.

    1. isaacsaldana

      This is a great point. We allow companies to point a domain or subdomain to our servers, and we automatically parse all their emails and post them to a web form. This prevents companies from having to setup their email server and develop a parse application to support what you just mentioned. To find out more about the parse API please go here

      1. lawrence coburn

        I wish we had known about you a few months ago – parsing emails for post-able content is not trivial.

      2. daryn

        sendgrid looks great isaac, very cool…

  24. roblevin

    Email marketing will be here for a long time. However, there are drawbacks – everyone can do it. Check out Levin’s Law –….

  25. Ro Gupta

    Indeed. I actually use email quite often as an analogue to comments when describing Disqus to people.*Both have been around since day 1 of the net*Both have seen many other potential substitutes emerge along the years (personal communication: IM, SMS, tweets, etc.; UGC: blogs, Flickr, YouTube, etc.)…*…yet both are still dominant in their respective spheres in terms of volume and ubiquity*And thankfully, both have benefited from a long overdue wave of innovation in just the past few years

    1. fredwilson

      Nice way to put it Ro. I agree

    2. KennytheClown


  26. Tom O'Leary

    Technically, compliance with the CAN-Spam Act does not require use of an in-house list. The reality though, is that the recipient ultimately determines (and defines) what is and isn’t spam.See my blog posts below:A Practical Definition of Spamhttp://www.messagingtimes.c…Email Marketing: Growing Your In-House Email Listhttp://www.messagingtimes.c…Regarding list rentals, just beware that the average rate from reputable list brokers is $170/thousand (B2C) and $277/thousand (B2B). So if someone is offering you a list of 1 million co-registration addresses for the special price of $99.99, you can be pretty sure that the list is full of invalid addresses and potentially spam traps.

  27. Tom O'Leary

    @DaveinHackensackTechnically, compliance with the CAN-Spam Act does not require use of an in-house list. The reality though, is that the recipient ultimately determines (and defines) what is and isn’t spam.See my blog posts below:A Practical Definition of Spamhttp://www.messagingtimes.c…Email Marketing: Growing Your In-House Email Listhttp://www.messagingtimes.c…Regarding list rentals, just beware that the average rate from reputable list brokers is $170/thousand (B2C) and $277/thousand (B2B). So if someone is offering you a list of 1 million co-registration addresses for the special price of $99.99, you can be pretty sure that the list is full of invalid addresses and potentially spam traps.Good luck!

  28. Duncan Lennox

    I think its a question of the right tool for the right job. (And the right audience.)When we launched SpacedEd (, a site that offers a learning marketplace with courses on various topics in the form of simple Q&A delivered as 1 or 2 questions a day, we learned this lesson very quickly.All the research that Harvard had done to develop and prove the system was based on using email to deliver your daily questions. The results were amazing.However, when we launched the spin-off company and built our infrastructure, we expanded the options to include getting your questions via RSS, the web and mobile devices like iPhone and BlackBerry.While that has proven to be very popular, the majority of learners continue to elect to receive their daily questions via email. Its a great format for “push” learning and it gives folks a lot of flexibility in how, when and where they take their learning.This has been great learning experience for me – as a developer/start-up guy its very easy to get caught up in the latest tech, especially given we are all typically early adopters, but it would have been a huge mistake for us to discount (or worse, discontinue) the use of email for our service.