Like so many MailChimp customers’ small businesses, RetroSupply Co. started out as a side hustle. Dustin Lee’s attempt to build a startup hadn’t panned out as he’d hoped.
“I was completely broke, I had $35,000 in credit card debt, and I’d quit all my freelance work to focus on this startup,” he says. “I had no money coming in.”
So he started setting his alarm for 4:30 am to get in a few extra hours of graphic design work each morning and began creating the products that would come to define RetroSupply today: graphic styles, fonts, textures, Adobe Photoshop templates, brushes. He took his work to Creative Market, a platform that allows independent makers to showcase and sell their wares.
And then The Slot Machine Morning dawned: the day his phone pinged so many times with sales that it sounded like a casino in the coffee shop.
“I closed my MacBook, ran home to my wife, and said, ‘Listen. Every time you hear this sound, that’s $9 in our pocket.’”
By the end of the day, he’d made $1,500.
It’s all about the list
“Creative Market is my closest partner,” he says. “But I also knew from my other business that one of the most important things I could do is build my own email list and have control over that.”
His strategy remains the same today: Drive all traffic toward the goal of building the list. “Even a small list of people who are into what you’re doing gives you tremendous leverage,” Dustin says. “I would give up everything I’ve ever made to keep our email list.”
To put that list to work, he chose MailChimp. “MailChimp had the mostly cleanly designed site, and it’s friendly,” he says. “I hate tech stuff that looks intimidating and MailChimp isn’t. Before I send, and the monkey’s finger sweats—that kind of stuff is so smart. It reminds me that I need to double-check things but makes it fun.”
The real value of testing
For one test with a new product, he hypothesized that short-form content with a buy button would result in more revenue than a long-form email full of photos. Instead, he found that while the short email created more clicks to the site, the long-form version tripled the revenue numbers. Even though the email was long, people who were really interested in the product learned everything they needed to know to make a purchase.
MailChimp’s data science team has found that when e-commerce customers use A/B or multivariate testing with revenue as their test metric, they typically earn 20% more revenue than they would from a standard campaign.
And testing shouldn’t just influence your emails, Dustin says. “It should inform the way you do business.”
For example, he wondered whether his customers were more interested in the authenticity of RetroSupply Co.’s products or behind-the-scenes content. He wrote one email subject line about crayons made of 65-year-old wax and one about behind-the-scenes tour of its creation.
“Way more people clicked on the crayons,” he says. “So when we do Instagram, when we write blog posts, we know that people are curious about our authenticity, and that affects everything we do.”
Deepen the relationship
“Our main goal,” he says, “is to get people on our email list, then build trust, make them like us, and show that we’re different and unique. If they open our email, they’re going to smile or find a novelty they want to look at, even if they don’t buy.”
They’ve also recently begun writing blog posts, which has had the added benefit of helping their ranking in SEO, and partnering with other blogs.
His other tip for small businesses? Surveys, which he runs through a third-party integration with MailChimp. He asks one question: If we made you any product, what would you want?
“When we build it, we know we’re solving a problem,” he says. “We’re not guessing. It’s really just being a good listener.”
Make neat stuff that people want and tell them about it. Then, send emails that make them smile and let them know you’re listening. That’s RetroSupply Co.’s approach. And it’s paid off. Dustin got rid of that credit card debt in 6 months.