Lviv startup gets Starbucks, Nvidia, and Nestle as clients in just four years into its existence
Newoldstamp, a Lviv-based startup, has been working on custom email signatures since 2015. The team never took investments, grew from two to 12 people, and among its clients are such world-famous brands as Lyft, FedEx, Vodafone, Starbucks, Nvidia, Nestle, and Coca-Cola. AIN.UA tells the startup’s story in the words of its co-founder and CEO Volodymyr Zastavnyy.
Who came up with the idea
Volodymyr is a marketer by education, and his first job was as a marketing manager (later he grew to a position of the director). Volodymyr was a member of the AIESEC youth organization: everyone was suggested there to prepare branded email signatures in two languages. He liked the idea and tried to implement it in the workplace: to create such signatures for all 25 top executives of the company.
But it turned out to be not that easy, “At first it was necessary to make a design, then approve it with the director, then coordinate the implementation process with our tech specialists. In the end, I had to go and create it myself on each computer,” says the startup co-founder.
Then he realized that, on the one hand, such signatures could be really helpful to companies in terms of promoting their brand and attracting new customers. On the other hand, very few employees are interested in doing this on their own. So the idea came up to create his own customizable corporate mail signature service.
How the project developed
Volodymyr has long pondered the project but being a
non-technical person, he could not implement it himself. Six months later, he found an acquaintance who helped make the first version of the product: a very simple service where simple signatures with minimal features could be created. At that time, it had only four templates for signatures, it was impossible to change the picture, colors, banners. But it was already enough to check if that would work.
At the beginning of 2015, the team launched the site, did minimal SEO optimization. By that time, Volodymyr had already quit his previous job to take up the project fully. He found a programmer for the project who could help on a part-time basis and a student girl for marketing tasks.
Six months into the project the site was already receiving about 500 people a day, and about 100 of them were creating free signatures. In the first year, it managed to grow to 1,000-1,500 visitors a day, who generated about 200 signatures. The service was promoted, among other things, by its viral nature: a banner with a link to the service was added to each free signature. At the same time, the startup began to receive the first applications from companies for the corporate version of the service: they asked if it was possible to create similar signatures in a centralized way and configure them.
And for the next six months, the team worked on developing a paid version where you can create accounts for companies where they could set up branded signatures for employees. For example, a company director could register himself, create 5-10 signatures and send to his subordinates, and this whole process took just several minutes.
The appearance of signature editor in 2015, 2017, and 2019:
What obstacles you had to overcome
The startup developed without investment, from personal savings, the investments of friends and family that I managed to raise. The team was hoping for a paid version because there were a lot of requests from the business.
“I was hoping that when we launched the paid version, they would all say: Hooray, finally, the customers will instantly come and give us loads of money. But on the day we launched the paid version, we didn’t have sales as we expected,” Volodymyr recalls.
Some customers did not wait for the launch and made their own signatures, some went to competitors. The paid version was launched towards the end of 2015, according to the co-founder, it was a kind of test for the team: they expected to profit a lot from it, but it did not happen. At the same time, the number of free users and traffic to the site grew. At the time of launch of the paid version, there were already under 2,000 users, who were creating 400-500 signatures a day (now the traffic has grown to 8,000 a day).
Another problem was related to technology. Initially, PHP was chosen for the project implementation, so it was easier to find developers to work with it. But later it turned out that clients were asking for additional features that simply could not be implemented in PHP.
“I had to rewrite everything from scratch, it was expensive and took more than a year. But the third version was released on Rubi on Rails,” says Volodymyr.
How the project attracted clients
Search engine optimization and content marketing remain the main channel for the product: customers find the service through Google, through reviews, through other sites that write about tips for marketers. For example, in 2016, American Forbes included the service in the list of recommended, and after its publication, the service was mentioned by multiple other media. Earnings from the project at that time already allowed to hire sales and support. Examples of reviews about our service can be viewed here and here.
According to Volodymyr, that’s how customers from big companies like Lyft or Nestle started using it: when a marketing person starts looking for a centralized signature solution, they find referral sites, apply for a product demo, and then it all depends on the internal needs and bureaucracy of the company. For example, Lyft now has about 4,000 signatures in a corporate account, but the startup had to work on a project agreement and coordination from October 2018 to May 2019.
Not all companies implement such signatures in a centralized manner. “There is a franchise company that has five different templates depending on the franchise, location, etc., and about 3,000 users. There are companies that implement such signatures in individual countries, such as Coca-Cola. We also negotiated with Auchan, they wanted to do it centrally, but their bureaucracy did not allow it to do so. That is why we will start working with them from Poland,” says Volodymyr.
According to him, several Ukrainian companies, such as banks, have also approached the startup, but they still use very outdated e-mail clients, the ones that were used in the U.S. in the 80-90s, so we were not able to offer our solution.
The startup relies on a subscription model. It sells subscriptions for packages of 25 to 100 signatures (36 to 99 per month). We offer discounts for educational institutions and NGOs. We are planning a special package for startups.
We have not yet reached the point of profitability, but earnings allow us to develop further. According to the co-founder, the cost of getting the lead on average is half the amount it brings to the company. All the money is invested in product development.
During its existence 9,854 paid accounts have been created in the service (one account is used for managing many signatures), 500 signatures are created daily with the help of it, the number of new paid subscriptions is 2,800 per month.
Increase in service traffic from its kick-off to July 2019:
From the beginning, the startup tried to develop only from the customers’ money. But now, scaling the team requires investment. That is why the team applied to participate in 500 startups.
From the beginning, according to the co-founder, they wanted to get into some industry accelerator, the top 3 U.S. accelerators were not even considered. But it so happened that representatives of 500 startups came to Lviv, talked with the team and they liked the project. Newoldstamp was selected from among 2,000 applicants. The team learned the news that the startup entered the program a few weeks before the start: during that time, it was necessary to set up the remote work, get visas and tickets.
According to Volodymyr, participation in the accelerator will help the startup find investors and understand how to grow further. “Growing the company and its clientele is our main challenge at the moment. The investment will help us hire professionals and run advertising campaigns. The U.S.-based accelerators are fixated on educating startups and connecting them with investors. It is here that we can learn how to properly scale SaaS solutions. And I am talking not about doubling it but making it ten times as big in a span of a year. We want to tap into a global market,” he says.