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Interview with Lars Helgeson, GreenRope

How did an email marketing provider turn into a provider of software which mashes up a combination of email marketing, wiki, customer service management, event and meeting management tool, project management software, and much more? San Diego-based GreenRope (www.greenrope.com) is just that, and to figure out how it got to where it is, we spoke with Lars Helgeson, the firm's CEO, about what exactly GreenRope provides, how it grew out of email marketing, and where it is going.

What is GreenRope all about?

Lars Helgeson: We started about ten years ago, with an email marketing platform called CoolerEmail. The idea was that we wanted to create something that would make it easy to manage mailing lists and email newsletters. It turns out, it was something that people wanted, and we ended up being one of the first email service providers on the market. About five years ago, we sat down with a lot of our customers, and they asked us--how can we do more than email marketing? With email, there is a lot of information collected, and the challenge to any sized business is how to disseminate that to other business units, sales people, and so on. They need to know what is happening with email marketing campaigns, and are interested in the message that a company is sending out.

As we started to talk to more and more businesses on how they do their operations, we realized that there was a large opportunity to unify lots of different disparate parts of business operations and marketing. We're talking about CRM, contact management, sales pipelines management, events, business continuity, wiki, websites, online storefronts, and even managing donations and fundraisers for nonprofits. We started adding more and more of that into our system, so that we could essentially create one, unified platform that would save a business from having to buy lots of different subscriptions, and also save on the difficulty synchronizing things every time something changed.

Can you give an example of the functions you are talking about?

Lars Helgeson: If you are a small business, and run an event of any kind, you'll often send a follow up email. But, synchronizing that with your CRM is virtually impossible, if that event management software isn't also the CRM. Although it can be done, it's very expensive, your data is always out of sync, and your event management staff probably won't talk to your sales staff. As a sales person, however, if that data were readily accessible, it could provide lots more insight to that sales person. We're also doing website integration with our CRM tools, sort of like what Marketo charges you something like $30,000 a year for, but where we charge--depending on your traffic--something like $20 to $40 a year. We're integrating your CRM with the people visiting your website, much more than Google analytics, telling you exactly who in your database is going to where on your website. That kind of data is very difficult to come by.

We have an integrated system which ties it all together. The last part that we're working on is social media, giving you the ability to look at your contacts in your database and news feed, and figure out the connections between that information and your CRM. It's a very tight, elegant integration, and we allow you to look up your contact in a database, to make a phone call with them, or send a follow up email, and see that data right there on if they've been looking at your social media stream, who is commenting on their news feed, or retweeting, in case you should reach out to them as potential leads.

Do you compete with, or work with software like Salesforce.com?

Lars Helgeson: We actually do both. We have integration with Salesforce.com, so that you can keep your CRM in Salesforce. And we'll integrate seamlessly with them. But, we've also found that people find it much more efficient to use our CRM, which we include with every account, and don't charge extra for. So, we can either support your existing implementation, or you can switch over to ours any time, we support both methods.

It looks like you're competing on many, many different fronts--why tie that all together?

Lars Helgeson: We've been in business for eleven years, and in the process of learning from companies using our software, we realized there was a lot of value in tying all those pieces together. It's a convergence of information, and about making that information readily available to all members of the team. That's your events team, your marketing team, your social team, your PR people. We can create one platform where they can all log in, you can give them special access to the parts of the system they are working on, and, for example, someone working in the event management system can send an email to targeted people in the CRM, with just a few clicks. That's opposed to the issue of trying to do a massive synchronization between disparate pieces of software, hope that transfer went okay, spend lots on consulting on trying to get that set up. We wanted to make that easy, providing them a tool that would save them both time and money, and provide more information to various parts of the team, something they never had before.

What's your target market?

Lars Helgeson: Generally, our sweet spot is companies with under 300,000 contacts. Above that, we you tend to be working with businesses who are not as relationship driven. However, we're actually in process of working out to handle much larger data sets, and in the next month or two look to increase our capacity to handle two or three million contacts, as we grow and build out our infrastructure to handle larger businesses. Our differentiator is that we don't charge by user, we just charge by the number of contacts loaded into the system. If you were to get a Salesforce enterprise license, to even do what a fraction of what we have would cost you $120 per user per month. With five sales people, that';s already $600 a month for CRM, not counting all the other functions.

Switching topics for a moment, how is the company funded?

Lars Helgeson: We're totally bootstrapped. We started eleven years ago, and now have around 1500 companies using our software, in one shape or form, whether that's for CRM, email marketing, project management, or event management. Some of those customers are using more functionality than the others, and a few use only one of them, depending on the needs of that particular business. We're now looking to grow outside of our boutique approach, to provide a very high level of software, so that we can compete on the world market, and put more momentum behind the software.

Finally, what's the next plans for your growth?

Lars Helgeson: Right now, we're looking to find channel partners. We have a private labeled version of our software, and 80 percent of our user base comes through that reseller channel. Those resellers include customers like chambers of commerce. As an organization, they get their own brand in front of the client, so that every time one of their clients send an email newsletter, it shows that email powered by the reseller's brand. We feel that the best way we are going to be able to grow is by finding key channel partners and help them go after this substantial market. An example is the San Diego Chamber of Commerce, where members of the San Diego Chamber can get their solution, ChamberZoom, for special pricing, where every time those members send an email newsletter it helps the San Diego Chamber of Commerce create awareness. In the last seven months, the San Diego Chamber has had more than 500 local, San Diego businesses use their software.

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