How I Started a Tool to
Manage Email Signatures
Hi! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Madison Giles and I’m the creator of Signature Hound, an online tool for generating and managing email signatures.
What is your personal story and how did you come up with the idea?
I’ve been in Canberra, Australia my entire life. For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to own a gold and white border collie. Well, dreams come true and I’m very lucky to now have Sunnie in my life. She’s the inspiration behind the Signature Hound brand and it’s been a real treat to make her an integral part of the product (extra points if you noticed her closing her eyes when you go to enter your password on the site!).
I currently work as a freelance web developer and mountain bike trail builder while I continue to develop Signature Hound on the side.
Before starting Signature Hound I worked in a digital agency as a web developer for 7 years. During my time there it became clear that email signatures were a massive point of pain for us and our clients. Anyone who has coded for email knows what a nightmare it is. Coding email signatures is 5 times worse! The simple act of testing your signature across all the various email clients is time-consuming in itself. Couple this, the fact that Microsoft Outlook uses the Word rendering engine and other mail clients make seemingly arbitrary changes to your HTML code, and you’re dealing with a Pandora’s Box of issues to troubleshoot.
While at the agency I don’t think I ever saw an email signature delivered on time and on budget. It’s hard to justify to a client 2 days worth of work at $175 an hour for a simple looking email signature – there had to be an easier way. I figured that other agencies would be experiencing the same thing so I decided to quit my job and build Signature Hound to take away the hassle.
What challenges did you face when creating your product/service?
Well first of all I’d never created a web app before. I was predominantly a front-end developer and had no idea what went into building the back-end of an application. I spent the first months taking online courses and skilling up in NodeJS which facilitated building my prototype. Learning something new is always hard, but I knew that even if Signature Hound turned out to be a flop – these new skills would serve me well going forward.
I think the hardest thing I had to deal with was creating HTML email templates that worked across all the email clients. I only got into heavily testing this 2 months into the process. Knowing what I know now, I probably wouldn’t have undertaken building this application if I knew it was going to be that hard!
I now firmly believe that it is impossible to build one single HTML template that renders perfectly across all email clients. Signature Hound actually detects what email client you are installing your signature to and makes behind the scenes adjustments to the code specific to that client. Learning what those adjustments should be was a long and tedious process of trial and error that had me tearing my hair out.
Who is your target market?
I would say that my target market is anyone that sends email through their business – so pretty much everyone! For many businesses, email is the number one form of communication between them and their customers. With Signature Hound they can create a professional and beautiful email signature that acts as an advertisement of their brand and social media presence.
The more expensive subscription plans are targeted towards agencies who build and manage email signatures for their clients. There are plenty of tools on offer for these studios to make their life as easy as possible and make email signatures a profitable income stream for them.
How do you market your business and which approaches have been the most successful?
It’s not much but Signature Hound has only been up and running for 1 month. Currently, it makes around $200 a month through subscriptions. The pricing model is quite cheap with the base $5/month plan able to service most small businesses. A free plan is also available to suit individuals and sole traders – I wanted it to be free for people in the same position as me. I’m hoping that this will allow the user base to grow through word of mouth while we attempt to climb the competitive google search rankings.
I did an initial launch on Product Hunt and saw a tonne of valuable feedback and constructive criticism from the user base – something that can be hard to find on the Internet these days! I saw about 300 signups to the free plan and a lot of traffic so I’d definitely recommend Product Hunt as a starting point.
After the Product Hunt launch things went quiet so I ended up contacting every local design studio in my area. I’ve given those that were interested in-person demonstrations of the product and it’s been a great way to get feedback and get a few paid subscriptions. Now that I’ve exhausted all of them I’m contacting all of the IT services firms in the area to do the same.
I’ve also tested the waters with online advertising. Google search has resulted in the most conversions and is by far the most cost-effective service I’ve worked with for Signature Hound at about $0.40 a click and converting a solid percentage into sign-ups. Facebook worked out to be $1.50 per click and was okay. LinkedIn can take my $24 for the 2 website clicks they gave me and shove it you know where!
Since you launched, what has worked in not only attracting but retaining customers?
The goal has always been to offer a free plan and have the product sell itself. I’ve always wanted users to be able to sign up for free and have access to all the features they need to make an informed decision on whether this product is worth their money. This only works if the product is slick, easy-to-use and functions properly. I also wanted the branding and ‘cute factor’ with Sunnie as the mascot to really help differentiate Signature Hound from the competition.
Moving forward I’ll continue to listen to my users and implement their feature requests so that Signature Hound keeps getting better and better. I’m in the fortunate position where I don’t have any external stakeholders forcing financial KPIs on me, my focus is purely on making a good product.
What kind of culture exists in your company, and how did you establish it?
It’s just me and Sunnie, so lot’s of breaks during the day for play time and walkies 🙂
What software, services or tools do you use within your business?
One of the best things about being the only person in the company is that you can get away without needing the common communication and project management tools that are big in the industry. I just use Notes for everything and it does the job.
Signature Hound does integrate with a lot of the usual suspects that you’d expect to find with any web app eg. Amazon AWS for hosting assets, MailGun for sending emails, Stripe for managing payments and subscriptions. I’m a huge fan of Stripe and its API – I’m always sending my freelance clients to their website as an example of a website done beautifully!
What are the most important lessons have you learned on your business journey?
I think if you are planning on building a product like this my number one bit of advice would be to aim to build something small and make it as good as possible. Identify a minimum viable product, keep the scope narrow and nail it.
I’ve worked on a tonne of failed IT projects in my career where the scope has ballooned. It’s common to end up with a product that does a tonne of “meh” different things, instead of one thing exceptionally. You can’t get away with a product like that these days, there’s too much quality competition.
What is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
For me, it’s being able to build something that I have complete ownership over. There’s no clients or stakeholders to blame, it’s the culmination of everything I have to offer as a developer and businessman. That thought makes you work your butt off and it’s very rewarding when it comes together.
After taking the plunge to create Signature Hound I’m moving forward with a lot of confidence and new skills that I never thought I’d have.
What is your LEAST favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
I’d say the stress and workload. It can be really hard to switch off after you’ve put down tools for the day. I figured that when I left my job to do this I’d be working from home and spending more time with my dog and doing the things I loved. It’s been the opposite. I went maybe 5 months without a day off (including working Saturdays and Sundays). Finding the balance can be hard, but now that Signature Hound is live I’m able to relax a little bit more!
What books, podcasts or other resources have inspired and influenced your business journey?
Haha I’ve never read a book or listened to a podcast about business in my life!
There’s a David Goggins / Rich Roll podcast from a few years ago that I’ll listen to once every few months. The guy is INTENSE and I can understand if people have a hard time relating to him. But his message is powerful and every time I listen to it, it kicks me into gear and I end up going to the gym like the next 7 days in a row. There’s some real gold in here but be warned he loves to swear!
Where do you see your business 2-3 years from now?
I really believe that just to build and get a web app live is a great achievement for one person. If it continues to grow and make money that’s just a bonus. I can’t see it ever needing to grow beyond just one employee unless I see a huge boom in user signups. And that would be a great problem to have!