Bronto, Zappos and the Pursuit of E-Commerce Happiness

Today Bronto is sponsoring a webcast with Tony Hsieh of Zappos.  I will be speaking for about 10 minutes at the end about the importance of an exceptional company culture and the leveraging e-commerce technologies for ensuring superior customer satisfaction and business growth.

Like Zappos, we have had a deep commitment to an engaging and creative company culture since the very beginning. Early in Bronto’s history we scribbled down some guiding principles that still influence today. One of the most memorable was “Happy Brontos equals Happy Customers.” It’s simple but very true.

Hear the Zappos and Bronto story for yourself.  Register for the webcast:

  • Conversation with Tony Hsieh of Zappos.
  • Hosted by DM News. Sponsored by Bronto.
  • Monday, June 28 @ 1pm EST
  • $99 to attend
  • Register online

Free Emails for Haiti. Innovative Way for ESPs to Give Back.

Last week the American Red Cross approached us with an innovative and creative idea — launch a promotion where our customers could send Haiti Relief requests to their lists free of charge. We loved it.
Throughout the year, we donate our time volunteering at Habitat of Humanity, Urban Ministries, and other local organizations. We donate money to causes as well, including last week matching donations for Haiti Relief. But, this was a unique opportunity to contribute with exactly what we do. Today this idea became a reality and we kicked off the “Free Emails for Haiti” campaign. See for more information.

My hope that other email marketing service providers (ESPs) adopt these type of campaigns to help with Haiti’s relief efforts and other future humanitarian crises that inevitably and sadly will happen. It’s a great idea and one that only an ESP can do.

If you are interested in learning more about this idea, please let me know. I would be happy to share our experience with it.

Bronto, Entrepreneurship

How We Look at Strategy @ Bronto

Communicating strategy is hard. As the company grows and there are more moving pieces, it becomes difficult to keep everyone on the same page. We’re over 50 people now and with this size, we have to use a good framework to describe how we look at our company, our goals, and our strategy.

We base our strategy framework on one from Jim Collins’ Beyond Entrepreneurship. It’s a great book from the same author as Good to Great. Unlike Good to Great, it is a practitioners guide. So if you are running a startup and transitioning into becoming a real business, I highly recommend it.

As for the framework, we focus on four pieces:

  1. Purpose. Why are we in business beyond a paycheck? At Bronto, we are here “to make our customers better marketers through intuitive software and helpful people.” It’s simple. It’s true. It’s a rallying cry that inspires our day to day actions.
  2. Values. What do we stand for? This is newer to the framework and we’re going to spend our Quo Vadimus sessions (internal mixed team who we are / where are we going sessions) in February crystallizing this. We have them. Just a matter of articulating them very clearly. Not always so easy.
  3. Mission. This is what we are shooting for. Multi-year goal. Our mission is “to become the leading ESP around the shopping cart in 2010 with $10mm in revenue.” We’re almost there — at the least on the revenue side. The leading part is unrealistic at $10mm but we have been consistently building toward that direction so I’m happy with that.
  4. Strategy. This is what lets you accomplish the mission. Good strategy says what you are going to do and not do. When you zig and when you zag. We determine this on an annual basis. I just finished presenting this to the company and will explain that process in some future post.

Great strategies win markets. Great strategy frameworks get everyone on the same page, rowing in the same direction at the same cadence so that’s possible. This one has worked for us.

Bronto, Raleigh-Durham

Interviewed at the Bronto Tweetup

Last Thursday night Bronto hosted a Tweetup at its offices. Tweetup is a gathering of Twitter fans and enthusiasts. The event was a big success with over 200 attendees. And, as you can imagine it was very well covered in the the twitter-sphere. Special thanks to Brontos Adam Covati and Caroline Smith for organizing the event. It as a herculean effort and they pulled it off without a hitch. You can find some more information about the event on BrontoNation.

While there, I was interviewed by one of our guests Tim Ladd. I spoke about Bronto, its success in tough economic times, the state of social media, and the parallels between email marketing and Twitter.

Enjoy the video!

Bronto, Raleigh-Durham

Bronto Celebrates Its New Digs

Three years ago Bronto moved into a 4500 square foot office space on the American Tobacco Campus of Durham, North Carolina. We had 15 people and it seemed like we would never fill up the space. 30 people later at 45 people it was a very different story. So, over a year ago, we started looking for new space. Ultimately, we liked where we were and orchestrated a grand plan to expand, which entailed having three other smaller companies relocate to other offices nearby. The grand plan worked and we moved into our new 12500 square foot space at the beginning of February.

Last Thursday we celebrated by having an open house and invited the local business community, customers, press, social media gurus et al … even Bill Bell, the mayor of Durham, showed up. It was a fun evening and a great opportunity to share our new space and our long-term vision for Bronto.

Here are some blog posts covering the event:

Thank you to everyone who visited us. A special thanks goes out to Stacy and Caroline of Bronto for ensuring the evening went off without a hitch. Hopefully, in a few years, this space will feel too small and we’ll be able to have another one.

Bronto, Entrepreneurship

Hits not Home Runs

Hits not Home Runs …. that’s a common phrase spoken around the halls of Bronto. It speaks to our focus on day-to-day execution versus sky-in-pie schemes to serve our customers and grow the company. Plus it’s catchy.
I was recently interviewed by Alice Bumgarner about this principle and how it applies to innovation. The interview was featured on the IdeaConnection blog. You can read it on their blog or inline below:

Innovative Hits, Not Home Runs
A conversation with Joe Colopy, founder and CEO of Bronto Software
February 13, 2009. By Alice Bumgarner

To stay competitive, Joe Colopy of Bronto Software, an e-mail marketing service provider, must keep innovating – or meet the same fate as his company’s namesake.

In the world of email marketing, what matters is making messages stand out, even as inboxes become more cluttered. To meet the challenge, Bronto relies on a combination of strategically targeted messages on the front end and Google-like analytics on the back end. The company’s software superiority has fueled fast growth: Bronto, whose clients include Johnson & Johnson, Lake Champlain Chocolates and Lending Tree, is growing 50% to 100% every year, and the company is currently tripling its office space.

Alice Bumgarner (AB): What is the importance and the role of innovation at your company, given today’s economic environment?

Joe Colopy: Innovation is essential to Bronto, because we’re in the business of developing and selling technology to solve business problems. In tough times like these, people are moving their marketing dollars to email or online marketing. Those with the best ideas, and those who can implement them well, will win.

AB: How is this role reflected at your workplace?

Joe Colopy: I look at innovation as being about fostering an environment of creativity and collaboration, so you can have a thousand small innovations. From the outside, it may look like something is one big innovation. But that’s a ‘lottery ticket’ view of the world. It’s really about creating an environment that allows little innovations to build upon each other and bubble up. That’s why Google allows [engineers] a lot of free time to come up with their own projects. It’s why 3M famously has a long track record of doing that. That’s what I see as the bedrock of innovation – fostering trust and flexibility and allowing hundreds of small things to happen.

AB: What is the most exciting innovation you’ve been involved in developing? What factors made or make it so exciting?

Joe Colopy: I founded the company and built the first software product, so there were thousands of small innovations that enabled it to be successful. But our current innovation is more in our unique culture than in the end product.

We keep things very focused, collaborative, democratic, unique and creative. For example, we have an extremely open, flat organization. I sit with everyone else – in a crappier seat than other people! We don’t have cubes, just tables clustered in sets of two, three or four in different parts of the room, like little islands.

The downside is that you don’t have privacy, and it has the potential to be distracting. But it actually ends up being more productive in a harder-to-measure way. You can easily dialogue with someone in another group. The physical organization sends an important message – people’s opinions are valued.

AB: What, if any, problem solving, creativity tools or innovation software do you use or are you familiar with?

Joe Colopy: We don’t use any specific tools, but we do structure the environment so that good ideas come from everywhere within the organization.

AB: How do you encourage good ideas to bubble up?

Joe Colopy: Social media tools help spark ideas. Employees use Twitter, Facebook and our internal wiki, called BrontoPedia. At the core of BrontoPedia are our weekly metrics, but it’s also the place for marketing plans, YouTube videos, an RSS feed from our blog, articles that people have tagged from It’s a democratic, decentralized approach, as opposed to a top-down approach.

We also set up games to help people feel part of things and collaborate. For example, once a month, we spin a big wheel with 36 spots on it. We end up with two numbers, which correspond to two employees, and those two employees swap spaces for a week to work alongside another team. Now these employees have made some connections and new relationships. So when, say, a salesperson has an idea, he can go to the product manager and talk about [it]. Engineers can go to sales folks and say, “Would this be hard to manage?”

It’s easy to get your head down in your own little world. Innovation and creativity are about connecting things that appear disparate.

AB: Do your innovations ever come from consultants or outside sources?

Joe Colopy: Generally, we don’t use consultants except for some specific functional tasks. I believe that the talent is here, it’s just a matter of tapping into it.

AB: What is the most difficult problem you and/or your team have solved?

Joe Colopy: The challenge has been not so much in solving discrete problems, but in the ambiguity surrounding the problem – in other words, do you even know what the problem is versus the symptoms?

AB: When faced with ambiguity surrounding a problem, how do you and your team clarify it?

Joe Colopy: You have to get people to look at the same thing, otherwise everyone is working with a different set of assumptions. When we hold regular meetings about general strategy – to talk about where we’re going, where we fit into the market, what the next big ideas will be – I give everyone a common framework or a way to look at the market, so we’re all talking about the same thing. Then you can talk about whether your solutions make sense.

AB: When teams are working on a problem or developing a product, and they hit a barrier, what do you recommend?

Joe Colopy: To overcome barriers, it is usually best to involve folks in other areas that can see your problem from a different perspective. We also loop in customers quite a bit, and they offer great perspectives too. We just have to willing to ask, which is sometimes tough to do. It’s easier to move forward without using anyone’s opinion but your own.

AB: What are some of the obstacles that prevent teams from creating innovative products?

Joe Colopy: You can’t be too tightly measured or you’ll measure yourself out of innovation. It’s important to spend some part of your business experimenting. Innovative products are often found in the journey of experimentation. That’s how Bronto started. If you focus too much on having ROI justified at the beginning, then you’ll never go down the path. If the benefit were obvious to everyone from the outset, then it probably wouldn’t be innovative.

AB: Are you familiar with virtual collaborative innovation communities and networks such as that bring together experts, facilitators, and product developers for confidential collaborative creation?

Joe Colopy: No, I’m not. I am interested in idea communities that companies form with their customers to drive ideas. SalesForce has one that I think is cool, and it’s something that we might implement.

AB: What good books, articles, blogs or other media on the topic of innovation have you read? Are there any that you recommend to employees?

Joe Colopy: Often I get good ideas by reading books and articles about completely different industries. For example, how does Zappos approach customer service? They have a completely different product than us – shoes vs. hosted software – but we have a lot of common approaches. You can find plenty of parallels if you look around.

AB: Do you have any other thoughts you would like to share about innovation?

Joe Colopy: We have a saying here at Bronto: “Hits not home runs.” I see innovation as being not necessarily one big idea but rather a thousand small ones that lead to something truly great.

Bronto, Marketing

Bronto Gets Scrappy With Andrew Kordek

Last week I was interviewed by Andrew Kordek of the blog the Scrappy Email Marketer. Great conversation with someone who really understands email marketing.  Much of the interview was also about our approach toward our customers — open, transparent and truly committed to their success. It’s in our DNA and we think essential for anyone trying to do marketing right.
You can read the article on or inline here:

Wilma…give me a Bronto Burger please.
December 5, 2008 by thescrappyemailmarketer

A few weeks ago I put out an APB to all ESP’s to contact me as I would like to interview them for my blog. Bronto was only 1 of 2 ESP’s that contacted me and I was sure glad they did.

Once our schedules synched I had the pleasure of speaking with Joe Colopy the CEO of Bronto the other week. Imagine my surprise that when I called him, he picked up his phone. A CEO picked up his phone and apparently that is not the only thing that is open and transparent about Bronto…..according to Joe, he does not have an office, but rather sits out in the open with the rest of the Bronto folks. Pretty cool if you ask me.

In any event, I really wanted to know why the name Bronto? He told me that he was fascinated with dinosaurs as a young kid and even thought there really isn’t a Brontosaurus anymore (which isn’t true according to my 7 year old in that the Brontosaurus was actually renamed in 1975 to be called an Apotosaurus) he really wanted a symbol for his company which was physical in nature , but wanted also the ability to empower people in his organization.

So what does the future of email marketing look like in Joe’s eyes. For one he sees a tremendous amount of innovation specifically centered around the integration of social marketing in the B2C space and the near term, the ability for B2B folks to integrate well with lead management systems.

Speaking of social marketing I asked Joe if the integration into email is just hype or is it here to stay. According to him and I agree, its here to stay.

I asked Joe about Bronto and their sweet spot in the marketplace. He indicated that Bronto is a mid market player with a good strategy in play for long tail retailers. His differentiators in the marketplace are the fact that they have experience in the marketplace and their openness and transparency.

Joe and I talked about a lot of other things both personally and professionally and I found him to be really open and honest and truly committed to email marketing which is refreshing to see in the marketplace. I think that he truly cares for the success of his clients and its evidenced by his companies blog and market presence. I follow their blog regularly and interact with with DJ Waldow on occasion and I can truly see why Bronto is who they say they are. They seem to have a tremendous amount of passion for their clients and as an industry as a whole, which truly makes them unique this business. Its rare that you find companies out their that want to help the greater email community and do it selflessly.

One final note, I got my inflatable Bronto in the mail the other week and can’t wait to submit my picture. If you have no idea what I am talking about, ask Bronto as I am sure they will be sure to oblige.

Bronto, Raleigh-Durham

Bronto Featured in Triangle Business Journal

Bronto was featured in this week’s Triangle Business Journal (TBJ). The TBJ used an old picture of Chaz and me from a couple years ago. Fortunately, I am proudly wearing my Bronto belt buckle.

The article is fairly short and speaks broadly about our growth.

You can read the full article on their website or inline below:

Durham’s Bronto Software Takes Off

DURHAM – Bronto Software, the company named for a dinosaur, is looking to expand its stomping grounds.

The Durham company is set this month to start work that will triple its space on the American Tobacco campus to 13,000 square feet by the beginning of the year, says CEO Joe Colopy. Bronto currently employs 45, up from 29 at the start of the year, and Colopy anticipates adding more workers.

Colopy says Bronto’s expansion comes as more retailers turn to e-mail as a way to communicate with customers. He says Bronto also is getting new business from companies that had been doing their e-mail marketing in-house.

Colopy says Bronto will reach $6 million in revenue this year, and he projects that the company will reach $10 million next year.

“E-mail marketing is not just e-mail,” Colopy says. “It’s real marketing.”

Corporate interest in e-mail marketing has picked up over the past five years, says Heidi Hennink-Kaminski, professor of advertising at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She says companies use e-mail marketing to try to learn about customer preferences – a goal similar to the one businesses have had with traditional mail marketing campaigns. But with e-mail, Hennink-Kaminski says, feedback comes much faster.

Colopy started working on what would become Bronto’s software in 2000. He and company co-founder Chaz Felix both worked at Red Hat before starting Bronto in 2002. The company has taken no outside funding, though Colopy says he receives inquiries from venture capitalists.

Colopy says that in the early part of the decade, e-mail marketing was just sending e-mail messages to lists. But the industry has moved toward providing messages targeted to particular individuals.

Bronto’s software allows a retailer to measure e-mail campaigns so the content and the frequency of the messages can be adjusted. Message content also can be tailored to customer interests.

E-mail marketing is getting harder because spam filters block a lot of messages, says David Buffaloe, president of M-pact Marketing in Raleigh. Even if a message does get through, Buffaloe says, it must contend with dozens of others filling customer inboxes. M-pact works with clients to formulate their messages but does not offer e-mail marketing software.

Buffaloe says the value of software such as Bronto’s is its analytical power. Being able to measure how many messages get opened and whether users clicked on items in the message can help a company further refine its marketing efforts.

“Every time you do an e-mail campaign, you want to learn from it,” he says.

Bronto has not been trouble-free. A software upgrade in 2006 turned up numerous bugs. The company worked to fix the problems and offered the service to customers free for a month.

Bronto now claims 800 customers. Clients include the Duke University Alumni Association and seafood company Gorton’s. Waterloo, Wis.-based Trek Bicycle has used Bronto for two years. Web Marketing Manager Casey Kohner says Bronto helped Trek move from blasting e-mails to sending targeted messages. Kohner says the software allows Trek to segment messages, so the entire customer list doesn’t get the same message.

“Frequency is determined by what we know about them and how specific they want the information to be,” Kohner says.

Hennink-Kaminski does not see e-mail marketing replacing traditional advertising. Print and broadcast advertising helps build brand identity, she says. E-mail marketing gives more specific information to customers who want it. “I think you need both parts of the equation,” she says.

Bronto, Technology

Bronto Server Back Like Seabiscuit

Things often have a way of coming full circle. Back in May 2002, Bronto purchased its first server to host its email marketing application. The server, originally named bronto, was built by Blake Watters, a freshman at UNC Chapel Hill, for about $1000. It was a big purchase back in the day.

What a long strange trip its been. Now, we are many servers, people and sophistication away from those early days. But, sometimes it’s valuable to dust off the old, and make it new. Just like Seabiscuit,  the old server found a new life — hosting this blog.

Before our domain, there was And, little known, prior to, there was Now, the first domain and first server back together again. All is well in world!

Thanks Doug for setting the server up and Blake for building it originally (where ever you are!)


Become A Paperless Office … Except For This Print Magazine

I was recently quoted in this  article about running a paperless office. It’s not too related to email marketing but I do despise clutter and, as a company, have fully embraced web-based / SaaS solutions. You can read the full article from the August 2008 edition of MyBusiness Magazine or the relevant bit inline here:

Paperless Office

Joe Colopy doesn’t like a lot of paper floating around the office. That’s why Bronto Software, his Durham, N.C.-based e-mail marketing company, has done away with its dependency on filing cabinets and invested in technology that helps employees not only reduce the need for paper–but also work faster. “The days of people carrying briefcases stuffed with every document and contract they need to work with are over,” says Colopy, Bronto’s CEO. “Today people can access everything they need online with a computer.”

Transforming your business into a paperless enterprise may seem like a daunting task, but it starts with just a few small adjustments. For Bronto Software, the path to reducing paper use started when the company began uploading hard copies of old documents onto a central server. Soon, the new filing system evolved into a way of doing business.

Without tons of paper shuffling around the office, Bronto Software is “wildly more productive,” Colopy says. The company largely communicates with clients through e-mail, and as a result, their information can be accessed quickly by employees–no matter where they are. “We used to have what I call the dentist’s office method of filing, with manila folders for every client,” Colopy says. “Now it’s all organized on the server to make it usable and accessible for everyone. If our employees are traveling, attending a trade show or visiting a client, it provides the flexibility they need to keep their clients happy from the road.”

Besides helping Bronto offer clients better customer service, cutting paper use has helped the company maximize its resources. “Since we moved everything online, it’s really helped us grow the business,” Colopy says. “The No. 1 expense for us is people, so if we can make them more efficient, we save money and serve our customers better.”