There is no shortage of email editing tools. Fancy or simple, expensive or free, it seems the list grows longer each month. But despite the number of editors available, one has consistently stood out: BEE. With a unique model and name, I wanted to understand why they’ve succeeded against such cluttered competition. Luckily, BEE’s CEO Massimo Arrigoni was kind enough to sit down and give me the scoop.
Gregg: Let's start with your story, Massimo. Where did your career start?
Massimo: I got involved in digital marketing early on, studying this new thing called ecommerce back in the mid-nineties, when I was still in college and it really was a new thing (Amazon launched in 1994). That initial interest became a business venture when in 2001 I started my own software company with two friends, focused on ecommerce: we built a shopping cart system - called ProductCart - that went on to power thousands of online stores (it still exists and still powers lots of online shops). We sold it about 10 years later to one of our largest resellers.
Gregg: So how did you find your way into the world of email marketing?
Massimo: During that time I met one of MailUp's owners (Nazzareno Gorni, still the CEO) at an event in San Francisco: I grew up in Italy, he was from Italy, so we shared a common background and hit it off from the start. MailUp back then was a Web agency and started reselling our ecommerce software in Italy. They did a great job at it, but then decided to focus on email marketing 100%. We kept in touch, though, and years later, when I sold the ecommerce company, I decided to join them.
Gregg: And that led to BEE?
Massimo: BEE is a spin-off from MailUp. At MailUp we had built a nice email editor for the MailUp platform itself. It was a cool product from the start, so one day we decided to see if it had legs to run on its own: we literally threw it up on the web to see what would happen. Internally the project had been called "best editor ever" or "best email editor" (the ambitious goal we were after), and since we were making it available as a free online tool, we put "bee" and "free" together and bought the beefree.io domain (.com was taken!). And off we went!
First beefree.io home in 2014
And how it looks today
beefree.io immediately triggered some interest and quickly grew to the point where thousands of visitors to the site were asking to be able to do more with it. So we gradually launched BEE Pro - which is a hosted email design suite - and BEE Plugin - which allows developers to embed the editor in their own saas software. Both projects took off and now BEE is a multi-million dollar business unit for MailUp Group (which is publicly traded on the Italian stock exchange (MAIL:IM).
Gregg: There is no shortage of email editor tools, but BEE is clearly one of the best. Why did this product succeed?
Massimo: At beefree.io you can start using the BEE editor with 2 clicks. No sign-up. No "give me something and I'll let you use this". Nothing. You just click on "Start designing", pick a beautiful email template, and you're in this awesome design tool. And then, after editing your email, you can download the HTML and leave.
I'm a big believer in product-led growth, and learned from masters like Shopify and Stripe the power of removing friction between the pain that customers are experiencing and the product that can take care of it. The friction is down to nothing at beefree.io. That's one of the reasons why it's so successful.
Gregg: I love that product-led model.
Massimo: And the job-to-be-done is pretty clear: there are lots of applications with lousy email editors: so people look for alternatives, find us, experience BEE within seconds after finding it, and love it. And of course the user experience in the editor itself is one of the best around, the HTML we produce is one of the most compatible with email clients, and our designers create pretty stunning templates to start with.
The product is great, you get to experience it very quickly, and the output is what you were looking to get. So it all works. There are now tens of thousands of monthly users of the free editor, thousands of paying customers of BEE Pro (email design suite), and over 500 SaaS applications that have embedded BEE Plugin to give their users a great editor directly within their UI. The whole project is still growing triple digits year over year, and we have big plans for the future: so we're very excited.
Gregg: Talk more about that BEE Plugin concept. Why was offering an embeddable version a direction you decided to go rather than focus on driving more people to BEE Pro?
Massimo: Quite honestly when we first launched beefree.io, we were not expecting that outcome. But very early in the process product managers and software engineers across a wide spectrum of industries started contacting us about being able to embed a white-labeled, personalized version of the editor in their own products. So it became evident that there was a very clear need in the marketplace. It's a classic make-vs-buy scenario: developing and maintaining your own drag-n-drop editor - especially one that outputs email-optimized HTML - is a big product & engineering effort, and so for many businesses "buy" makes more sense than "make".
Gregg: What type of SaaS apps and industries are using it?
Massimo: It's incredible how wide the range is. There are now over 500 SaaS applications that have embedded BEE. Not just email marketing systems, but all sorts of niche products: from a CRM for dentists to a marketing tool for auto dealerships to a customer engagement platform for restaurants. We have some of the most successful marketing automation companies in the world as clients (like Iterable here in San Francisco, who just closed another big VC round), and also applications that I would have not thought of. For example, the CMS used by the high school where my daughters go adopted BEE: so when the teachers send me a newsletter about what's going on at my kids' school, they're actually using the BEE editor to create that message :-)
Gregg: That’s awesome. So, anything new or exciting coming up?
Massimo: Yes, we're working on lots of exciting stuff, but some of it I cannot share just yet :-)
Gregg: Not even a little peek? ;)
Massimo: One thing that I can share is that we are working on a new version of the editor that will make BEE a good solution for creating landing pages too. So if you're a SaaS company and you are embedding our editor, you will now be able to give your customers a consistent user experience for building both emails and landing pages. And maybe other content elements down the road. Stay tuned!