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Andrea Loubier, Co-founder of Mailbird

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Andrea Loubier has a firm background in market research, social science, project management, and content building for software. Through her work, she established solid business relations with major clients which include Proctor and Gamble, KAO brands, Ubisoft, General Electric, Kraft and more. Andrea has a real passion in communications networking and making people happy through value driven initiatives and brand building.

Receiving numerous accolades, she has been recognized as Female Entrepreneur of the Month by Geek Girl Meetup and some of the apps that she has built has been awarded for best Productivity app at the prestigious Sparxup tech event. Most recently, one of her latest creations Mailbird, has been named as the startup of the day by Microsoft. Coming from a multi-cultural background, Andrea has been given many opportunities in building global brands and a broader understanding of culture and geographically specific values.

She is passionate about sharing her experience and knowledge with others and today, Andrea is interviewed by The Asian Entrepreneur about Mailbird and also her entrepreneurial insights.

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What exactly is Mailbird?
Mailbird is an email client for Windows that brings a whole new world of productivity to your inbox, on the most beautiful platform for email innovation ever.

How did you come up with the idea of Mailbird?
The idea came from our co-founder and CFO, Michael Bodekaer who started an entrepreneurial initiative called Project Getaway (www.projectgetaway.com) which takes place in Bali every year. He, like many others today, is a hybrid user when it comes to operating systems – meaning he works on both the Mac OS and Windows OS. On Mac it was clear that Sparrow was a winner in the email cilent world, however on Windows there was nothing that provided this alternative experience. In addition to that, after pulling together the initial team, we couldn’t help but brainstorm the opportunities and possibilities to essentially make an even better email experience on the Windows platform.

Could you walk us through the process of starting up Mailbird?
Starts with the idea and realizing the problems within the current set of limited email options for Windows. Then we assembled the team in early 2012. We started with 6, we now have 8 team members as our business has developed over the 9 months it’s been live in beta for the public. We then began to put the basic framework down for Mailbird, then the brainstorming began for how to innovate email in a way that paved the way to a more productive user. Then we had to decide what type of business model we’d follow through with. Then it was getting our company logo designed once we decided on the company name, Mailbird. Mailbird was a very clear cut and “yes I get it” name for our new bad ass email client.

We had to establish a closed testing group and a way to communicate and engage with our early adopters. Then we had to get our website up so people seeking alternative email clients for Windows could sign up to be notified once our project was live. We are now in beta and have been going strong for 9 months now. We plan our marketing efforts in line with our major milestone and feature launches to make sure people know about our updates.

2014 is going to be even better since we have some of the more inspiring feature releases in the beta coming like Wingman (a productivity booster) and Birdhouse apps (a public API allowing premium productivity app integration as well as 3rd party developers to contribute their apps to the Mailbird Birdhouse platform). We’ve been bootstrapping the project for the last year and a half and are now actively seeking outside investment in our leading global email brand. We are localizing as well to allow support for multiple languages. A lot of things we learn from experienced entrepreneurs and through our awesome network of resources at Startup Getaway (www.startupgetaway.org) based in Bali, Indonesia.

How has it been like managing the business since?
I think it is fair to say that running a startup is the most exciting, challenging and stressful commitment to your passion. A film called “The Startup Kids” says it well, running a startup “is the most manic-depressive way to live your life.” This clearly touches on the roller coaster ride that entrepreneurs seem to be addicted to because they genuinely love creating something out of nothing. Some days are awesome, some days can be the worst days ever. Otherwise, managing the business has been an awesome experience and I’ve never learned so much in a short amount of time.

Now we are focused on growing our user base, making sure we deliver happiness to Mailbird users and building key features in Mailbird that differentiate our email client experience from others. I am always thinking ahead of the next step, even if we may be far from it. The challenge during a beta period is keeping users who maybe just want to try it out, but still remain loyal to their current email solution. We are also constantly seeking ways to better grow the business and reach our potential users who are productivity seekers, they enjoy the native client email experience because it makes them feel more in control and they are very design conscious. It’s the new age of online communication and productivity.

Did you find anything particularly difficult during the startup?
There is not any one particular thing that is difficult about starting a business, it is more that there are many challenges. For us it was a combination of working through language barriers, agreeing on revenue channels, determining whether to apply to an accelerator in Europe or the U.S. or to continue focusing on product and business development from Asia. It is difficult to determine what to do, how to do it and when to do it.

We overcome the many startup challenges typically by talking to other people who are experienced in overcoming any particular challenges. You quickly realize that it is ok that you don’t know everything about running a business, there are others out there that have done it before who you can learn from and perhaps even do it better. Some current challenges include exploring growth initiatives, countering those who say all email is headed to the web or on mobile, establishing holocracy in our teams working culture and determining the best investment options for our business. Again, we overcome these challenges by talking to experts, keeping things transparent and ensuring each team member takes part in our overall big picture business decisions.

How was the initial reaction from the consumers?
Users were relieved that there was finally a solution and alternative on Windows that offered the light weight, in-control and speedy feel that Sparrow delivered for Mac users. And yes, we have a great conversion rate from our free Mailbird Lite users to paying users. As we’ve developed the software and business, engaging more with our users, we are learning so much and already have great plans for Mailbird as a productivity hub, not just another email client. It is best summed up by our user testimonials.

Do you face a lot of competition in this industry?
Yes, email is an action packed space and with the competition for new email clients comming to surface we see this as great validation for the need for a better email experience. Our strategy from the beginning has been to find a market to focus on, and that is the Windows OS market. We also will be the only email client that can solve many issues people have with email where at one point it has evolved into a productivity killer at work, we are doing the opposite.

We are making email your productivity super tool on the desktop with the Wingman feature and Birdhouse apps that are currently in development. We are looking to build a tight community between email users, premium productivity tools and third party developers who are also interested in building and marketing their productivity apps within Mailbird. There is not just one problem with email, so creating our productivity platfrom packaged in a beautiful and fast email client allows us to innovate email – something that has not changed in many many years. Instead of focusing on being everywhere, we are focused on the Windows platform. So we will be the go-to email app for Windows users.

Have you developed any industry insights that you could share?
Email is a very challenging space when you are working against huge corporations with unlimited resources. There has been a big shift in email from desktop to mobile, but what we’ve realized is that most people are productive when they are sitting down at a desk in front of their laptop or PC. We’ve seen many attempts to “fix email”, but what it comes down to is that we just need to be better at how we manage and use email. When it comes to the user experience and interaction design, we are now looking at very minimalistic, clean and beautiful emails interfaces. Email users today are growing increasingly more and more dynamic in their feature needs based on how they use email. We know that email has become one of the biggest productivity killers for offices.

A study by a Microsoft Researcher named Linda Stone revealed that email actually induces additional stress, where 80% of computer users actually stop breathing when they open up their email. The other emerging problem is that people spend too much time online these days making it more difficult to separate work and life, stress levels have increased, and energy levels on a downward spiral. Mailbird makes 87% of our email users more happy and it is getting better. We want people to be so much more productive and better with email management that they spend less time with their email, and more time doing the stuff that matters. Email is not going anywhere.

How have you managed to stay relevant in this industry?
By talking to the right people. We talk to others who’ve worked on email companies before that have both suceeded and failed. We execute on what we know works in our effort to innovate email and make people happier. Many tech influencers have also written about Mailbird, and our power users are even more awesome in that they also communicate to the world about how awesome Mailbirdis. Marketing so that you reach and connect with your potential users is of course a very big part of it too. Staying relevant means you are on the radar, continuing to change and improve your vision for improving the email experience and helping people manage their online communication and work load better than what is currently out there. We as a company will continue to do this relentlessly for our users.

What are your future plans for Mailbird?
This year we plan to release the mega features that differentiate Mailbird most from other email clients- Wingman and the Birdhouse apps API. We are looking to close our first outside investment round for those interested in leading global tech startups. By the end of the year we hope to close the beta and release the full version 1 of Mailbird for Windows as platform for email innovation. After that we are looking into expanding to the mobile environment. We hope to also continue building our relationship with Microsoft, focusing on opportunities with email.

This is especially since they recently introduced IMAP support for Outlook.com and Mailbird was one of the first email applications to adopt integration with Outlook.com’s IMAP support. They also named us Startup Of the Day which was awesome. We will work to continuously improving Mailbird for our users, and reaching out email users worldwide in our effort to improve information management and work flows. We’d like to start working with smaller businesses that are seeking a great email solution, where the current more coporate email clients you see in big offices are not such an attractive option and are also very expensive. Our business pricing plan is actually the most economical solution for teams of 5.

If you could start all over again, would you change anything about your approach?
No, because you can only take your past experiences and apply them to a new business concept or idea. You never really know what unique challenges will come up, so you have to just do what is projected to result in best outcome. There’s a lot of trial and error, which is awesome because that is how you learn the most. If I absolutely have to say something I would have done different, I would have approached outside investment opportunites earlier and more aggressively because whatever money you think you need to keep the business moving forward, double it, more is always better to speed up business growth.

What do you think about startups in Asia?
I think startups in Asia are the future of business development and growth. More and more people from around the world have their attention on Asia, and even more specifically on Indonesia due to sheer potential given they are the 4th largest nation in the world. Most of what you see in Asia startups today are following cultural trends which means everything is mobile, e-commerce is king or online or mobile payment solutions. In order for the world to really take notice of the high potential of innovation, talent and growth in Asia, I believe that we need more globally scalable tech startups.

This also means there is a lot that Asia still must do in order to “catch up” with the tech startup culture that dominates in Silicon Valley. We need to see a shift for international investment as well to give startups in Asia more relevance and traction. Most investors are extra cautious of the unknown, and therefore have a tendency to only build their investment portfolio locally. A lot of startups in Asia have awesome developer teams, but I feel still lack in experience and credibility when it comes to the business and marketing side of building a solid business. I would like to see more startups in Asia that take on the “big dogs” and to step outside of the local market. I’d like to see more startups that challenge the mind set that Asia “still has a lot to catch up with” because we are building remarkable things here, and it is a matter of time before the rest of the world starts to take notice.

What are some personal values that guide your career?
I believe in delivering happiness to people, and in Mailbird’s case that would be our customers and our team members. I feel strongly about positive reinforcement, building meaningful relationships with others and not being afraid to fail or admit when you are wrong because it means that you are open to learning, to take leadership and ownership of what your are doing. When you say you are going to do something, try your hardest to making sure you get it done. Keeping an honest and open channel of communication within our team, customers, investors, partners and advisors is key. Learn to filter the advice for how to run a successful business, and to trust your own instincts. Stay focused and committed.

What is your definition of success?
I build a product that is globally recognized as a solution to the problem with online communication and productivity. Something that helps people do better work in the growing tech-centric culture we live in today. To have millions of users world-wide, to be recognized by top influencers in the tech startup world and publications. To make it on the top of rankings and “best lists”. When I am a big part of bringing happiness and change to people, including the those that I work closely with. Finally, a very relevant part of building a business, to be able to sustain the business through revenue re-invested into the business, constantly improving and being ahead of our competition.

Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?
I have a passion for building something from nothing. I love being a part of the business development process and to challenge the status quo. I am a self-motivated person and also love the freedom of creativity, obstacles and learnings you gain from starting a business. I believe that when you decide to pursue the entrepreneurial route, you learn some of the best life lessons that you wouldn’t have learned otherwise. I believe it is so much more rewarding to be a key influencer, an important variable in a complicated equation that comes with building a business.

What do you think are the most important things entrepreneurs should keep in mind?
Be true to yourself, your team and those who could help your business growht, know when to ask for help, set goals and a road map early on as a way to reaching your goals and visioin through your business. You could have the worst day ever, someone is suing you, a team member leaves, some publisher publicly posted some very negative comments about you…just remember that it is going to be ok, just about any issue can be fixed and to stay focused and learn to ignore the negative chatter and rather focus on your customers by listening to their needs.

In your opinion, what are the keys to entrepreneurial success?
You have to have strong leadership skills which can always be improved over time as you learn and gain experience, you have a relentless passion for achieving your goals, you are a likeable and respectful person who can easily influence others. You are creative when it comes to problem solving, an “out of the box” thinker, you are very analytical, organized, focused on execution, putting strong initiatives in place, ready to be involved in all facets of a business – even those that are extremely unfamiliar to yourself. You have to be somewhat fearless, see challenges as great learning opportunities, and someone who likes helping people and making their lives better.

Any parting words of wisdom for entrepreneurs out there?
Building relationships is probably one of the most important things you can do to move your business forward. Start building relationships with prospect customers, PR affiliates, potential investors, potential talented and experienced people who can help you. Also, it is important to make clear that building relationships is something that all team members involved with your business should be doing.

Be sure to have a clear answer for why you are pursuing entrepreneurship, why your business needs to happen, find your product/market fit as soon as possible and practice taking calculated risks and making more decisions. If you are making decisions, you are moving your business forward and that is even if you make the wrong decision.

Be passionate and driven with a strong work ethic and brace yourself for the ups and downs, the roller coaster ride of entrepreneurship. It truly can be the pinnacle of your personal and business development, and the most thrilling experience of your life.

Connect
Website: http://www.getmailbird.com
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/GetMailBird
Twitter: https://twitter.com/getmailbird
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/company/mailbird

Entrepreneurship

Why is Facebook so Successful?

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This morning I thought I’d do some digging to try and find what people think about why Facebook became so successful. Most answers that I found didn’t really capture what I thought about the issue (not even Zuckerberg’s own opinion), so I decided to give a bit of an alternative perspective on it.

The One Thing We Learn From History…

As Malcolm Gladwell pointed out in Outliers, someone’s success is not independent of their history. For example, Bill Gates had already built up over 10,000 hours’ experience by the time the opportunity to start Microsoft came along, and there are probably a number of examples of people who had similar experience to Gates but were just “one year too early or late”. Success is obviously a combination of both hard work and opportunity.

Now that that’s out of the way, let me state why I think Facebook’s strategy was so successful – I’ll get to why Google+ wasn’t. The closest answer to mine that I could find was this one on Quora (see point 1 of Todd Perry’s answer relating to “attacking hubs”). Yes, Zuckerberg had the right amount of technical expertise, but that isn’t the chief reason why their strategy was successful – many people have similar or even greater levels of technical expertise, but haven’t started Facebook. Yes, the owners have been aggressive about growing the site – show me someone who isn’t aggressive about growing their business. Yes, Facebook appeals to a side of ourselves that struggled to find expression prior to the existence of social media – MySpace, Friendster and countless others (including Google+) all do similar things, yet where are they today, really, in comparison to Facebook?

Zen and the Art (and Science) of Business Strategy

The answer, in my opinion, can be best articulated using terminology from Lila, the sequel to the classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig, as well as an understanding of social influence (power). This is a bit philosophical (abstract) at points, but I guarantee you it’s worth understanding if you’re in business.

In Lila, Pirsig divides reality into four “levels” of patterning: inorganic, biological, social and intellectual. Biological patterning (such as cells) cannot exist without inorganic patterning (the molecules that make up those cells). Social patterning (immediate, pre-intellectual gestures and responses between biological organisms, and social influence/power) cannot exist without biological patterning. Intellectual patterning cannot exist without social patterning (for a discussion of how we think mind emerges only from social interaction, see this article).

One thing we’ve been missing out on in our understanding of business is a thorough understanding of power and its role in society, and my opinion is that Facebook inherently managed to leverage the right amount of social influence at the right times to slingshot them to success.

How exactly did they do it? It was both easy and difficult (easy for Zuckerberg, difficult for the rest of us). Think about it: the first institution whose members were up on Facebook was Harvard – one of the most powerful, influential institutions in the world, with their students being incredibly influential people in society. Several other influential institutions followed, and before they knew it, everybody who was anybody was on Facebook. It was only a matter of time before the nobodies (such as myself) were on Facebook. (By the way, I’ve since deactivated my account, for a variety of reasons).

Where Google+ Went Wrong

According to this perspective, therefore, I (being a nobody) should not have received an invite to the Google+ Beta version, but I did! Who the heck am I in the bigger scheme of things? Apart from being a few years too late to jump onto the social bandwagon, this was Google+’ single biggest failing. Their entry strategy was flawed from the beginning. According to this article, Facebook has around 850 million users at the moment – Google+ has around 10% of that (90 million – and even that might be an optimistic estimate). (And no, I’m not on Google+ either, for a variety of reasons).

Conclusion

I am not at all discounting the value of incredible technical skill – it’s an essential component to getting your business up and running, and is mission- critical for high-tech businesses. You simply cannot afford, as a small start- up, to have your site/application fall over just when people start liking it, because then, just as quickly, they stop liking it. Also, I am not at all discounting the value of getting the right amount of start-up capital, if you can’t bootstrap your business, at the right time, or addressing the real customer need/desire, or having the right people, etc. Facebook certainly got a lot of those things right too.

What I am saying is that a successful strategy seems to be one that also takes into account social influence. Start off by convincing the right users – those with the most social influence – to use your product/service, and you’ll find it’ll be much easier to convince everybody else to do the same. That could be an incredibly easy or hard task, depending on how connected you currently are, and Zuckerberg was fortunate enough (this is the “opportunity” component of the opportunity/hard work mix about which Gladwell talks) to have direct access to some of the most influential people in the world to promote Facebook for him.

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About the Author

This article was written by Thane Thomson, who is currently working for DStv Digital Media in research and development.

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Entrepreneurship

Ecommerce in India – 2016’s Online Shopping Destination

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Shopping in Chennai, India

Ecommerce in India is looking pretty so far, but 99% of the canvas is still unpainted. The country’s online retail sales currently account for less than 1% of the total revenue generated by retail sales. However, it would be inaccurate to label India’s e-commerce state as ‘infantile’, for the industry has seen growth — fast and furious — over the past few years. For example, India’s online retail market share nearly doubled from 10% in 2009 to 18% in 2013. With the gears well-oiled to continue turning at this robust rate, key e-commerce players are forecast to run on exponential growth for the next five years.

With reference to a recent study by TechSci Research, India’s e-commerce market is predicted to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of over 36% between 2015 and 2020. A combination of many important determinants work together in producing this figure. Internet and mobile penetration is at an all-time high and growing stronger by the day. With cheaper internet and mobile data plans being churned out, the feverish bug of online retail is spreading beyond Tier 1 consumers, but also to the Tier 2 and 3 consumers in India. Accessibility and awareness work hand in hand to contribute toward heightened interest in online shopping. Foreign Direct Investments and aggressive funding in both retail startups and giants are also major factors in stoking the fire. In the next half-decade, Taiwanese electronics maker Foxconn Technology Group will pour 5 billion USD of commerce investments into India.

On the consumers’ side, aggressive marketing and attractive discounts on spending are incentivising them to open their wallets. The big boys of India’s online retail — Flipkart, Snapdeal and Shopclues — compete for market share by keeping their prices low and competitive. Cashback sites have also caught on in recent years and proved to be a popular channel for consumers to make their purchases. These cashback sites monetise by providing rebates for consumers on their spending and purchases.

Top Online Shopping Sites in India

Just this year, Southeast Asia-based cashback startup ShopBack launched in India. With a strong pulse already felt in Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines, ShopBack opened strong in India as well, offering customised cashback options for key Indian merchants like Jabong, MakeMyTrip and Amazon.in. Co-founder Joel Leong said, ‘We recognise that Indians are heavy users of mobile recharge, so we want to help them save money by paying them extra cashback for an indispensable necessity.’

As of Q2 of 2015, a study by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India revealed that mobile subscribership clocks in at almost one billion Indians. Recognising the savings prospects this entails for mobile users, ShopBack made its Indian debut providing 5% cashback for mobile recharge and bill payment with Paytm. To put that in perspective, the current market rate is only at 1.9%.

What obstacles must be demolished?

From arid dry deserts to sweeping mountain ranges, the Indian subcontinent is flush with beautiful panoramas. However, this varied landscape — coupled with insufficient suitable infrastructure — incubates a disorientating headache for retailers seeking economical logistics and transport systems. The developing country’s business-to-consumer e-tail platform is thriving, but specific to this department, the delivery fees for sending a single parcel from one end of the country to the other can be steep, making them unpopular with buyers and cost-inefficient for sellers. Currently, logistics systems in India are metropolitan-centric and target mostly Tier 1 consumers. About 90% of goods purchased online are delivered by air, layering added costs for retailers. Surveys have shown that Indian consumers expect low-cost, if not no cost, where shipping and returning charges are involved.

Indian Rupee

Another hurdle to cross for India’s e-commerce growth also happens to be their most favoured payment method: cash-on-delivery. Although manpower-intensive and time-consuming for retailers, the system accounts for more than 80% of e-tail transactions in India. The vibrant cash economy is supported by a majority of consumers who prefer inspecting the goods to match expectations before counting out the banknotes. This purchasing behaviour means returns and non-payments are high, and efforts and delivery costs come to naught for retailers. Plagued by low credit card ownership amongst the overall population, it seems this arrangement is set to continue, at least in the near future. However, the preference for COD also stems from a distrust in the lack of delivery and transit structures. Investments are already laying on the foundation for these problems, and key players are also introducing online payment wallets and enticing credit card payment options. The e-tail industry holds huge promise for expansion should these issues be alleviated.

What is brewing in the future?

India has a potential consumer base which far outsizes those of many other countries in the world. Currently, a flourishing travel market accounts for more than half of the total e-commerce market. Ticket-purchase, hotel-reservations, and holiday-planning are increasingly being completed online, and this trend shows no signs of slowing down.

Agra India Taj Mahal

2015 was a remarkable year for India’s e-commerce, booming from 5 billion USD to 8 billion USD. Although there is no question of it continuing to permeate consumers’ lives in 2016, India’s e-commerce seems to be paving another route of growth. Out of at least 75 million predicted e-tail consumers this year, more transactions are likely to go through mobile phones than computers. India is opening its doors wider to international firms by the day and with accelerating capital flows bolstering economic liberation, the drumbeat of India’s e-commerce is looking to resonate stronger than ever.

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