First of all, how are you and your Family doing in these COVID-19 Times?
Jonathan Bull: We’re doing pretty well, thanks. My wife and I moved from the UK to Canada a couple of years ago, so when the pandemic first hit, it wasn’t easy to be so far apart from friends and family back home. But now things have settled, things are OK. And we are feeling fortunate to be “stuck” in beautiful British Columbia with lots of hiking and camping opportunities to keep us sane and entertained.
Tell us about you, your Career, how you Founded EmailOctopus
Jonathan Bull: Programming has always been a passion and hobby of mine from when I was around ten. That led me to start building websites and then my first business when I was fourteen. I studied software engineering at university and had a couple of programming roles after that; first at the Royal Opera House in London, then at a startup news agency focused on cryptocurrency.
I set up EmailOctopus in 2014 with my brother Gareth, who’s a marketer, and I ran the business alongside my full-time work. After a couple of years, it finally got to the point where I could quit my day job and focus entirely on running the business. It’s been a huge learning curve — not just moving away from development and into management, but learning everything else I didn’t know about running a startup.
How Does EmailOctopus Innovate?
Jonathan Bull: One of the great things about working as a small team is that innovation happens naturally. Everyone suggests ideas and, if we want to try something new, we can usually turn it around pretty quickly. Each team member has a lot of freedom and autonomy to make improvements in their area of expertise without having to get their ideas approved. As we grow, I’m sure this will start to slow – but I’m keen to keep innovation a core part of our culture.
How the Coronavirus Pandemic affects your Business and how are you coping?
Jonathan Bull: We’re an email marketing provider, so many of our customers are small, independent businesses that have been hit hard by the pandemic. Especially in the entertainment sector, like bars and theatres. We’ve tried to be as generous as we can with discounts so they can keep promoting themselves, but many have had to shut up shop for a while, and they don’t need to send emails at the moment.
Luckily, this has been offset by growth in other industries. Lots of businesses have quickly moved online and are just starting to invest properly in email marketing. For example, we’ve seen a lot of restaurants using their mailing lists to promote takeaway options. All in all, we’re doing pretty well. I feel extremely lucky as I know this isn’t the case for so many people.
Did you have to make Difficult Choices, and what are the Lessons Learned?
Jonathan Bull: Early on, we had to decide if we were willing to subsidize to our customers who were impacted by COVID-19. At this point, we didn’t know what our own future would look like, but it was still an easy decision to go ahead. Some of our customers have been loyal to us for years, so we want to do all we can while they are struggling. We hope they’ll stay and continue to grow with us once things get better.
How do you deal with Stress and Anxiety, how do you protect yourself and your company in the Future?
Jonathan Bull: Personally, exercising regularly makes a huge difference in my mood. I’ve only started doing this recently, and I’m amazed at how going for a run or going to the gym helps me calm down and refocus. I have a habit of getting pretty obsessed with work, but my wife is great at dragging me away from the computer – I always feel much less stressed when I’ve had a weekend away from the city, spending time in nature.
As a company, we’re lucky to be in a reasonably stable position. We’re not reliant on external funding, we’ve always been profitable, and we run things conservatively. Our revenue is spread across many customers in many industries, which minimizes risk. We’re in a strong position to weather the storm to come, but we’re not taking this for granted. We’re regularly re-forecasting, preparing for different scenarios and reducing unnecessary costs where we can.
Who are your Competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the Game?
Jonathan Bull: Email marketing is a vast industry, so there are lots of others in the same space. Our mission is simple though: we’re easier to use and more affordable than the competition. We rate highly on usability and support, and on average, our customers save up to five times on their email marketing bills by moving to us.
Your Final Thoughts
Jonathan Bull: If you’ve been looking for a lower cost email marketing platform, check us out. And feel free to get in touch if times are tough and you need a discount.
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