BALI – Liyana Stuart interviews Andrea Loubier, CEO of Mailbird from its office in Silicon Bali and learns its plans for growth, and the importance of ‘cultural fit’. Andrea Loubier, 30, half American, half Filipino, and 100% LadyBoss – is a third culture kid and the CEO of Mailbird.
Born in France, Andrea lived in Kenya, Thailand, and Ohio before Bali. Now she is building an award-winning email client – Mailbird. As of January 2016, Mailbird announced that 1,000,000 email accounts have been activated to date, but Andrea has her eye on millions of people around the world. She calls Mailbird a “Swiss Army Knife for online communication”.
“In the first year, the initial capital of US$100,000 was put in by our co-founders. We bootstrapped off that, for a year, and then we took angel investment and then a couple of bridge rounds. We are making money now,” says Andrea. Annual revenue is currently at US$500,000.
Mailbird has 3 offices – in Bali, Bandung and Copenhagen. Her two other founders – both Danish, and both named Michael, conceived the idea 3 and a half years ago in the US. Michael Bodekaer, Mailbird’s CPO, and has past tech start-up experience in managing, launching, fast coding and product execution. He has been successful growing a startup all the way through exiting and has put the initial bootstrapped investment into Mailbird.
Michael Olsen, Mailbird’s CTO, based in Copenhagen, handles the main machine, the back end development. He improves all the tiny performance details of Mailbird which makes it so lightning fast. Andrea was selected as CEO as she has a marketing background. She is the face of the company and leverages her personal brand to promote Mailbird.
Pricing and customer strategy
Mailbird offers 3 types of pricing – free, US$6 a year or US$19.99 for a lifetime. Yearly subscriptions are the most popular. 20% of unique website views convert to a paid plan. Mailbird has about 500,000 people who have paid for a Mailbird plan. Some of its features include multi-account, integrated messaging apps, a unified email inbox support for 17 languages, and customisation for colours and layout. It’s no wonder that growth has been explosive. Mailbird has a team of 13 staff, including Andrea. Other members of the team include nationalities like Danish, German, Spanish, Brazilian, and Indonesian. Mailbird’s customers are primarily 18 to 34 years old, and mostly men. Most of its customers are from the US or English speaking countries.
A Natural Leader
Inspired by women in tech, Andrea believes in making direct connections to Mailbird customers, and is motivated to make email easier and more effective for people and businesses around the world. Andrea’s background in marketing and project management have also been valuable assets to taking Mailbird to where it is today. Andrea runs Mailbird from Bali, where along with complicated business procedures, there is patchy Internet, legislation is unclear, and power cuts are frequent. These are the basic requirements for many businesses. However, Andrea has persevered and found success.
“What it comes down to is hiring the right people who have great cultural fit with the team, and with no lag time in communication. A lot of people on our team enjoy travelling. Our team is open-minded, creative, with a great work ethic and willingness to learn.”
“Being in Bali makes sense for us. We have a distributed team structure. There is amazing start-up ecosystem here,” she says. Being half Asian and half American has given Andrea a very global, and rare understanding of leading a multi-cultural team. Her people skills are evident. She switches from making fast, impactful decisions, to having the charisma to win over a crowd. People – customers, business associates, and friends alike – seem to love her, and this has impacted Mailbird’s customer base greatly. Mailbird’s customers are not only loyal – they are an elusive breed of superfans. They not only tell other people about Mailbird, they convince them to switch to Mailbird.
Mailbird’s vision is to create “the world’s best email solution that is highly secure, fast and innovative”. It has won awards such as “Best Email Client for Windows + Gmail” by IT World, and “Best Free Email Client for Windows” by PC World. It receives glowing reviews from its customers, and has many superfans that promote Mailbird over and over again.
Where does she see it next?
“At some point we want to start looking at artificial intelligence technology to the point Mailbird can schedule meetings for you. There’s a lot of creativity and innovation that can come from managing information online,” she adds. Mailbird’s customer acquisition strategy may also be targeted at more B-to-B customers. “At the moment, we’re very B-to-C,” she says. “What we’re looking at is tapping B-to-B, especially SMEs, and startups as they are more flexible. It’s not our mission to take over corporate clients or take over Outlook, rather provide an alternative option for people.”
“Even a year before we launched I started building relationships with journalists. Our timing was perfect.”
The Right People, and The Right Apps
When it comes to hiring, Andrea says ‘cultural fit’ to the team is very important. “What it comes down to is hiring the right people who have great cultural fit with the team, and with no lag time in communication. A lot of people on our team enjoy travelling. Our team is open-minded, creative, with a great work ethic and willingness to learn.”
How does Andrea manage teams remotely? She recommends different apps and tools such as Time Doctor for managing the team, Asana for task management, and People HR for HR management. “You also need to learn you can’t do everything. Find people that are smarter than you, that are experts in your field.” Andrea has a very thorough process for recruitment, and doesn’t take it lightly.
“The recruiting process takes 5 months, initial screening, interview, and then a skills test. It’s intense. It’s a matter of make it or break it – if you don’t have the right people on board. And then we give them a 3-month probation period.”
Secret to Success
She says the secret to their success is “super followers and supporters” and “hiring people smarter than you”. She has learnt her best lessons from failure, and that character plays an important role in Mailbird’s success. In terms of marketing, naturally, Mailbird depends on online marketing to get subscribers. “We do a lot of content marketing, we do re-marketing, re-targeting. The thing about paid ads is it’s very easy to dump a lot of money into it. It requires constant monitoring and adjustments.”
Part of Mailbird’s success is also due to its media savviness – Mailbird has gotten a lot of media traction, won awards, and Andrea has participated in a competitions to spread the word. For example, she participated in Start-UP, a reality series on Channel NewsAsia which documented the journey of shortlisted start-uppers on a quest to bring their ideas and businesses to fruition with seed funding of $2 million. Andrea started building a foundation for Mailbird’s publicity strategy even before Mailbird launched.
“Even a year before we launched I started building relationships with journalists. Our timing was perfect.” For Mailbird, in-house PR and marketing makes sense. “We tried working with PR firms, but in the end, we know our products better, and it’s better that we do it in in-house. I used to do it all, but now I have someone who helps me with marketing and growth” she says. “We have done a lot of diff marketing tests – and getting press has had the best effect. It’s all about talking to people and building good relationships.”
“We do a lot of content marketing, we do re-marketing, re-targeting. The thing about paid ads is it’s very easy to dump a lot of money into it. It requires constant monitoring and adjustments”
“When you decide to pursue entrepreneurship, there’s a lot of stuff you don’t know. This is the first company I’ve built from the ground-up. You fail, and then you learn to how to do it better,” she says. She stresses the importance of getting feedback from your customers. “I had my general background and we did a lot of testing and got feedback, and all that plays into getting traction. Taking learnings and building a product around those learnings, she adds.
So how does Andrea stay sane? With a large customer base, a distributed team around the world, and the challenges of remote working, she says finding balance is key. “When I started I didn’t have a life. I was working till 2 in the morning, 7 days a week, burnt out …. Once you go through the burnt out phase, you realise you have to figure it out. Now I try to work Mondays to Fridays, 8 to 6. And then I force myself to cut off.”
Andrea stresses the importance of character in building a business. “Character has a lot to do with how far your business can go. I have a lot of really bad days, I have really great days. On very bad days, I think, what can I learn from that?”
And what has she learned from her entrepreneurial journey? “Never give up,” she says with a smile. “Be persistent.”