My TEDx Presentation – “Creating a Better World”

January 20, 2012

On December 10th, 2011 I gave a TEDx presentation in Raleigh on “Creating a Better World.” Here is the video.

And here are the slides from the presentation:

TEDx Ryan Allis – Optimism for the Next 40 Years of Human History

Announcing iContact Free Edition

April 13, 2011

iContact is announcing iContact Free Edition today – a no cost version of our email marketing and social marketing tool designed to enable more individuals, community organizations, and small businesses to grow and succeed using the power of easy online marketing tools.

Here’s the video announcement…

For more info, take a look at the iContact Blog Post – Helping More Companies & Causes Succeed with iContact Free Edition.

iContact Free Edition:

  • Is available for anyone with up to 500 subscribers on his or her list and who wants to send up to 2,000 emails per month
  • Allows anyone to manage his or her list of contacts; use our professionally designed templates; send email and social messages; and track opens, clicks, and social views
  • Includes 24 premium designer templates in addition to a library of basic templates
  • Includes social media integration with Facebook and Twitter, free iPhone and Android apps, and a built-in survey tool
  • Includes chat and email support

You can give iContact Free Edition a try at

Here’s an excerpt from the blog post Aaron and I wrote as co-founders on the iContact blog this morning…

We want iContact to become a great global company someday–a great company that is passionate about customer success, building easy online marketing tools, and social responsibility.

And so today we have an exciting announcement that we believe enables iContact to help more companies and causes succeed.

We’re proud to announce iContact Free Edition, a no-cost version of our email marketing and social marketing tool.

We believe that everyone needs a chance. As two entrepreneurs who set out to build a company while still in college, we can’t count the number of people who helped us get started.

For individuals, community organizations, and small businesses that are just starting out, we believe email marketing and social marketing should be free, easy to use, AND backed by great customer support.

Whether you use iContact Free Edition, iContact, or iContactPlus, we’re passionate about your success.”

Finally, here’s an awesome photo from a helicopter yesterday afternoon of our employees preparing to announce iContact Free Edition to the world by spelling out the word ‘free’ in our courtyard…

CEO Role #1: Setting the Mission, Vision, & Purpose

April 5, 2011

Here’s a short except from the article “The CEO Job Description” that I’m slowly writing over the course of a couple months whenever I have a few moments…

CEO Role #1: Set Your Mission, Vision, and Purpose (MVP Statement)

Why does your company exist? What is the problem you are trying to solve? Where are you going in the future? In order to keep your growing team on the same page you should define (and put up on visible flat screen monitors if you can) your purpose, mission, and vision.

What’s the difference between a purpose, mission, and vision. Mission is the WHAT, the vision is the FUTURE, and purpose is the WHY.

Mission – Your company’s mission is the WHAT you are trying to achieve

  • iContact’s Mission: Making online marketing easy so companies and causes can grow and succeed.

We also have a “specific what” that is a quantitative mission. We call this our 2020 mission, which is “to become the largest global provider of software and services that make online marketing easy so companies and causes can grow and succeed.”

Vision – Your company’s vision is the description of the FUTURE

  • iContact’s Vision: Build a great global company, based in North Carolina, for our customers, employees, and community.

Purpose – Your company’s purpose is the WHY behind what you do what you do.

  • iContact’s Purpose: Create value for our customers, employees, community, and shareholders while having fun and serving as a model for what a high-growth venture-backed company can become in terms of social and environmental responsibility.

CEO Role #2: Defining the Culture

April 5, 2011

Here’s an early excerpt from the article “The CEO Job Description.” It’s an early “unfinished” version that I’m just getting out there because I can’t stand writing sitting on a computer doing nothing :-) . Enjoy!

On the topic of building culture, take a look at this News & Observer article on iContact’s office space if you haven’t seen it yet…


Excerpt from “The CEO Job Description” by Ryan Allis

CEO Role #2: Defining Your Culture

One key role of the CEO is to set the tone for the culture of the organization. Fish rot from the head down. How you act and the words you use will have a big impact on your ability to recruit the best and brightest and create an unforgettably wonderful work environment to retain your superstars. So will how your senior team acts and the words they use.

So, what the heck is culture anyway?

A culture is the set of unique activities that a group of individuals do that differentiate them from another group of people. These groups could be called tribes. So what it is that your tribe does that differentiates them from your competitor’s tribe? What are your unique tribal traits (UTTs)?

Culture (n.) - the set of unique activities that a group of individuals do that differentiate them from another group of people.

Defining your company culture clearly can attract the type of people to your tribe that you want, in turn creating a more passionate team who then create wow products and provide wow service to your customers, ending the cycle in creating a base of loyal customer evangelizers.

Culture is something that must be authentic. It can’t be faked. But it can be guided over time by hiring people that align with the values you hold dear and holding them accountable to living these values.

There is a three step process to begin to define your culture as CEO:

  1. Define your unique tribal traits
  2. Define your values
  3. Define the actions you take to support your tribal traits and values

Step1 in Building Culture: Define Your Unique Tribal Traits (UTTs)

Step one in defining your culture is defining the words that you want to describe your culture that are inherent in your team DNA. In August 2010 we went through an exercise during a monthly Culture Committee Meeting at iContact. We asked a cross-section of our employee base to write down the five words that they would use to describe our culture. The five words that came up the most frequently in the group of employees were:

  • Fun
  • Creative
  • Energetic
  • Challenging
  • Community-oriented

Great. Now we knew how team members described our company culture. At least according to our tribe, we were MORE fun, creative, energetic, challenging, and community-oriented than most other companies. These were our Unique Tribal Traits, our cultural DNA. This process gave us critical knowledge about our culture and how to invest in it.

What are your company’s UTTs?

Step 2 in Building Culture: Define Your Values

Step two in defining your culture is defining the values you and your company holds dear.

Values – Your company’s values are the unique precious behaviors you want your team members to hold dear and go above and beyond in bringing to life. For a value to be a company value you must be willing to fire someone if they didn’t display that behavior. You should have no more than five values so they can be remembered. Ideally you’d have an acronym that can be pronounced to correspond with your values. Avoid generic values that everyone uses that don’t actually differentiate (honesty, integrity) and ensure your values start with verbs and not nouns. Most people think values are things. Values aren’t things they are behaviors.

iContact’s Five Values (WOWME):

  • Wow the Customer
  • Operate With Urgency
  • Work Without Mediocrity
  • Make a Positive Wake
  • Engage as an Owner

Step 3 in Building Culture: Define The Actions You Take to Support Your Tribal Traits & Values

Step three in building your culture is defining the actions that you take as a company that support your cultural descriptors and values.

We’ve learned a lot about consciously building culture as the company has grown from awesome companies like Zappos and Google.

Here are some of the things iContact does to help us live up to our tribal traits:

Fun, creative, & energetic:

  • We have Cool benefits like monthly massages for employees, free drinks, monthly lunches, annual car washes (along with the standard health, 401(k) matching, and options)
  • We hold a quarterly high-energy team kick-off with costumes to share, align, and celebrate
  • We hold new employee graduations in full regalia with pomp and circumstance
  • We have a 17′ slide that goes from the game room to the product and marketing area
  • We divided our two floors into the northern and southern hemispheres (with the slide between them). The continents of Africa and South America are on floor two and Europe and North America are on floor three. Each continent has four region. Each region has a team leader. Each regional area has designed their space and conference rooms to be representative of their region of the world including turning cubes into African huts in the Serengeti and mounting taxidermied moose in Eastern Canada.


  • To work at iContact you must be passionate about serving the customer and working hard. We are a high-growth internet company and recruit the best and brightest. We very much are a performance-based meritocracy and those who perform well stay and grow.


  • We are a purpose-driven company and B Corporation
  • We have a 4-1s Corporate Social Responsibility Program. We give 1% of equity, 1% of product, 1% of payroll, and 1% of time back to the community.
  • We give each employee an added 2.5 days off every year to volunteer in the community, tracked via a tool called VolunteerForce

Define The Actions That Support Your Values

In our annual performance review process and in every coaching conversation we refer to our values and give each employee a 1-4 ranking on how they are doing in living up to the value. (1=red, 2=yellow, 3=green, 4=supergreen).

Noting that some of these are aspirational and still being perfected, other actions that we work on taking at iContact to support our WOWME values are:

Supporting Actions to Wow the Customer

  • We work to create an unforgettable overall customer experience.
  • We take complicated things and make them simple through design and UI.
  • We make the product experience unforgettable.
  • We make the service experience unforgettable.
  • We work to highlight the customer’s success in everything that we do.

Supporting Actions to: Operate with Urgency

  • We use the agile development methodology on a ten week release cycle so we can get new features to market quickly.

Supporting Actions to Work Without Mediocrity

  • We put out quality work that is engineered for scale.
  • We put every new team member through company training and product training to share with them our values.
  • Every year all new managers go through our Managerial and Leadership Training (MALT) Program.
  • We don’t accept mediocrity as leaders and managers.
  • We move people out of the organization that are not performing well.

Supporting Actions to Make a Positive Wake (similar to actions to making us community-oriented)

  • We ensure team members build people up
  • We are a purpose-driven company and B Corporation
  • We give back through the 4-1s and VolunteerForce
  • Our employees receive an extra 2.5 days of PTO for volunteering each year
  • Our internal and external communications are fun, creative, and energetic
  • We have a slide in the office and decorate the office like our sixteen geographic regions to further creative thinking

Supporting Actions to: Engage as an owner

  • Every employee receives options to be able to become a shareholder
  • We act like owners because we are owners.

So what actions will you take to ensure you and your team members live your values?

In Summary

So, in review, the three step process to begin to define your company culture as CEO is:

  1. Define your unique tribal traits (UTTs)
  2. Define your values (precious unique behaviors)
  3. Define the actions you take to support your tribal traits and values.

What is your company culture like? What are your unique tribal traits? What are your values? And what actions will you be taking to define and build your company culture as you grow???

A Tour Inside the iContact Durham Offices (And Zappos and Google)

September 10, 2010

iContact will be moving to a new office building in Morrisville, North Carolina next month.

We moved to Durham from a two-room office Chapel Hill in December 2004 when we had 11 employees and were called Broadwick. We actually fit the entire office in one U-Haul truck when we moved!

Now six years on, we’ll be taking 240 employees to Morrisville and have space to grow to 550.

I took an hour today to take a few photos of our current office and put them together with a few older photos from our 2009 decoration contest to create a tour off our current office space. I hope you’ll get a bit of a sense for our fun, creative, and energetic culture as you take a look. We’re not quite Zappos or Google yet in terms of the creativity of our physical environment (see below), but we’re working on it.

For the sake of preserving a bit of our unique culture and sharing what it is like inside the iContact physical environment, here is a tour of our current iContact Space via Scribd. Enjoy!

Looking for some inspiration for the physical environment we want to create in our new space in Morrisville, I also put together a deck of pictures from Zappos office and Google’s office that I figured would be worth also sharing…

The Zappos Offices – Las Vegas, NV

Zappos Offices – Las Vegas, NV

Google Offices – Worldwide

Case Study: The Results of iContact’s Initial Foray Into Social Responsibility

September 2, 2010

Here is a case study sharing the initial results of of iContact’s efforts around social responsibility.

The post was first published earlier today on

Wanting to Experience More Meaning at Work

In October 2009, I went through some challenging experiences that caused me to realize that life can be very short. Out of these experiences, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to align my values with my work at iContact to the extent possible. I wanted to see a direct connection between the work that iContact was doing and making a positive impact in our community and the world.

As Chip Conley writes in Peak, I wanted to be able to experience and see “meaning” at work and in my work. The humanity within me was dissatisfied with the comm only-held belief that the sole purpose of business is to maximize short-term profits, regardless of the impact on the world as long as one stays within the law.

I saw the purpose of business as creating value for humanity and profits a result of successfully pursuing this purpose but not the purpose itself. This extreme dissatisfaction with the Milton Friedmanesque view of the world could be a Gen-Y or Millennial phenomenon as our generation has grown up learning we cannot build a prosperous, stable, and secure world by externalizing environmental costs and exploiting other parts of the world.

While our generation may be particularly attuned to social and environmental issues, I think seeking meaning at work is a higher-order, but universal need. It is simply reality for the large majority of workers (particularly the smartest and most driven talent) that they want to be able to be part of something meaningful–in their contribution to the company, in what the company achieves with its business, as well as the ways in which their business goes about creating that value for society.

Helping small and mid-sized companies communicate more easily with their customers and reducing paper usage from direct mail had a positive value to society, but could we create meaning in other ways, perhaps in how we went about building our business, the culture we created, and how we gave back?

I could no longer compartmentalize my life between the for-profit financially-focused work I did and the not-for-profit charity-focused work I did.

And so, going into 2010 I made it one of my priorities to substantially expand our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts at iContact.

Case Study: Social Responsibility at iContact

Since 2007, iContact has been giving away 1% of it’s payroll to 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations in our communities locally and globally, but just giving away money was the easiest thing to do–and not nearly enough. We also had an annual Habitat for Humanity company house building day each July and and we adopted a handful of foster children each winter to provide gifts for them. But again, this is the basics of what every company does–almost as a check-the-box whitewashing effort to just be able to say “well, we do something.”

These initial efforts were a start, but not enough. If we were going to make CSR a key differentiator for our company for attracting and retaining A+ talent and attracting customers who care about the world, we needed to do so much more. If our culture was going to be centered around creating a tangible direct connection between the work our employees did and true-meaning and value creation for the world, we needed an integrated CSR program.

iContact’s Corporate Social Responsibility Program

And so, taking a page from the playbook of Marc Benioff, we created the 4-1s CSR Program, modeled in part after the 1/1/1 Integrated CSR Program that has so successfully implemented after Marc’s experiences at Oracle in the late 90s left something to be desired for corporate service.

The 4-1s CSR Program added giving 1% of product, 1% of time, and 1% of equity to our original program of giving 1% of payroll.

On January 8th, 2010 we rolled out the 4-1s program to our employees at our annual kickoff meeting. We explained that each team member would receive 2.5 extra days of Paid Time Off per year to volunteer in the local community which we would track via an AppExchange add-on called VolunteerForce, that we were taking 1% of the shares of the company and pledging them to the iContact Foundation, that we would give iContact away from free to any non-profit in North Carolina, and that we would continue our program of giving 1% of payroll away and matching employee contributions up to $300.

I was thrilled to have a formal CSR program in place. When Entrepreneur Magazine wrote an article about the 4-1s program in April giving us our first major press about the effort, I was careful to share that this was just the beginning for us. We have so much to learn about CSR.

Who knew if this was the right or best structure for integrate corporate philanthropy. What mattered is that we had something formal and significant in place and could learn and improve as we went.

Becoming a B Corporation

In May, we took our next major leap in our effort to turn iContact into a leader in social responsibility for venture-backed companies. After speaking with Drew Tulchin at Social Enterprise Associates, I knew if we really were going to be a Triple Bottom Line company, we had to have some type of external help putting in place a tracking system for our social and environmental impact. The next weekend I serendipitously met Matt Kopac at at Sunday brunch with a group of Durham friends. Matt had just finished up an MBA at Yale and was looking for work in the area with a non-profit or socially responsible enterprise. He had done work with VisionSpring and had been in the Peace Corps in Benin. We brought Matt on, initially as a half-time consultant.

Matt’s assignment was simple–put in place a measurement system for social and environmental impact, manage our 4-1s CSR program, and help us put in place the changes necessary to become a B Corp. B Corps are are a new type of corporation that use the power of business to create public benefit.

When we first took the B Corp assessment, we scored 67 points. The assessment graded us within five categories: accountability, consumers, environment, employees, and community.

We then underwent an eight week process that Matt led to conduct an environmental/energy audit and supplier audit and put in place some needed changes to policies and sustainable supplies.

On June 30th, we finally passed the 80 point threshold needed. B Lab officially certified iContact as a B Corp! We had reached the next milestone for our process of becoming a leader in social responsibility and creating company culture that tied the work each employee did every day with meaningful impact, and we received a signed Declaration of Interdependence.

Tracking our Social & Environmental Impact

Once we became a B Corp, we needed a way to be able to track our social and environmental impact. Matt Kopac worked with our internal administrator to install PULSE into Salesforce AppExchange, which is free for B Corps.

Below is a screen shot of PULSE showing a few of the environmental metrics tracked within PULSE for iContact.

In Salesforce PULSE we track the following social and environmental metrics in beautiful graph format in a location that is accessible to every iContact Employee. You can imagine how much easier this system makes it to track and view our triple bottom line metrics.

Current PULSE Social Impact Metrics Tracked

  • Total Energy Consumed
  • Energy Consumption Per Employee
  • Total Water Use (Liters)
  • Total Water Use Per Employee
  • Total Irrigation Liters Used
  • Sheets of Paper Used
  • Recycled Paper Used as % of Total

Current PULSE Environmental Impact Metrics Tracked

  • Dollars Contributed to Non-Profits
  • Number of Non-Profits Contributed To
  • Value of In-Kind Contributions
  • % of Sales of Giving
  • Number of Jobs Created
  • Staff Turnover Rate
  • Number of Non-Profits Given Free Product
  • % of 4-1s Non-Profits as Customers
  • New 4-1s Non-Profits Per Month
  • 4-1s Non-Profits Emails Sent
  • Number of Non-Profits Trained
  • Number of B Corps as Customers
  • Monthly Employee volunteer Hours
  • Cumulative Volunteer Hours

Building Employee Engagement With Changemakers

To further our connection to employee-driven change we created an employee-led group called Changemakers. We now have a Social Changemakers Committee and an Environmental Changemakers Committee that meet monthly and come together once per quarter to make their recommendations to the company.

While putting in place the structure initially needed coordination and buy-in at the highest levels of the organization, to expand our efforts and integrate the values and ethos of our company permanently into our culture we need the energy, support, and word of mouth of individuals at every level of the organization.

Making the Connection to Meaning at Work

Back in November 2009 I was speaking to an iContact employee who told me, “If you can connect the work I do at iContact to making an impact in the world I would be so much more passionate about coming to work everyday.” This was a key moment for me in making the immediate connection between ‘meaning’ at work and the incremental discretionary effort employees are willing to put into their jobs.

As Chip Conley wrote in Peak, If you can tie in “meaning” into the workplace you will get orders of magnitude more productivity our of your team. Too often companies are meaningful lifeless entities that are focused on short-term profit maximization rather than maximizing sustainable value creation for human beings, what actually maximizes long-term profits.

Meaning has three components to it–

  1. Personal Meaning – how the job ties into to the individual’s life goals.
  2. Work Meaning – the significance of what the individual is enabling the company to achieve and the understood connection between their work and company success.
  3. Organizational Meaning – the significance of what the organization succeeding means for human society.

So in the “Employee Hierarchy of Needs” money is at the bottom which creates base motivation, recognition is in the middle which creates loyalty, and meaning is at the top which creates inspiration.

What iContact Employees Think About Social Responsibility

So, has the social responsibility initiatives we’ve undertaken so far created added meaning for our team members, and can it for yours?

Here are a few examples of the comments we received from our employees so far either via Salesforce Chatter (shown above) or via the Culture Committee Meetings…

  • “It makes me more excited about the company I work for.”
  • “It’s a rare opportunity to be a participant in a company such as iContact.”
  • “iContact is a diverse group of individuals from all walks of life that come together as a team to both achieve and help others succeed.”
  • “iContact is a dynamic team-centric company that effectively balances customers, employees, and the world.”
  • “We have a holistic approach to business in terms of our impact on all stakeholders”
  • “We do business differently, our employees are empowered, we work hard and play hard, and we are actively committed to helping others.”

But the impact is not only in increasing employee engagement, but also increasing customers and partners that expressly seek out wanting to work with socially responsible companies.

Here is an unsolicited email we received from one of our partners to illustrate this…

“I was impressed by the iContact’s commitment to reaching beyond themselves to serve their community. to work toward making a positive impact on our community. It made my decision easier knowing I had found a company to work with that was like minded.  As I work with my customers I make sure they know that we chose a company as a partner that would extend their reach.”

What We’ve Accomplished So Far

In the first eight months since we’ve expanded our efforts:

  1. We’ve launched the 4-1s program (1% product, 1% payroll, 1% time, 1% equity)
  2. Our employees have participated in 75 community service events logging 1,100 service hours tracked via VolunteerForce
  3. We’ve installed Salesforce PULSE to track our environmental and social metrics
  4. We were approved as a B Corporation
  5. We conducted and published an environmental audit
  6. We’ve hosted a non-profit workshop at our office
  7. We’ve launched the Changemakers Group
  8. We’ve launched the iContact Culture Committee

The Beneficial Economic Impact of Social Responsibility

So the hard-to-measure long term impact of improved employee retention and recruitment and customer growth and retention are no doubt positive factors in our long-term financial return models for our social responsibility program–but what about the hard-nosed measurable short-term economic analysis? Certainly this effort has to have cost us more money than it saved us, right?

In fact, this effort toward becoming a socially and environmentally responsible company will actually save us money, not cost us money.


One of the ways this has been possible is because B Labs has a network of over 300 B Corps and companies that want to access the economic buying power of B Corporations. Once our current contracts expire and we’re able to move to the discounted solutions, we expect to realize about $40,000 per month in savings from being a B Corporation while we are spending a total of $21,000 per month of all of 4-1s Program. Significant credit goes to for offering a 75% discount off list price to B Corps.

In fact, in our five year financial analysis model of our social responsibility efforts, we came out with a five-year IRR of 54% for the conservative case model and 132% for the expected case model.

So we’ve gained a quadruple benefit from social responsibility efforts of:

  1. Mid-term existing vendor cost reductions of $40,000 driving estimated net savings of $19,000 per month ($228,000 per year).
  2. Increased employee engagement and excitement to be working at our company (which we believe will lead to greater passion in people’s work, additional discretionary effort from team members, increased productivity, lower regret employee turnover, and an increased ability to attract the best and the brightest).
  3. Increased customer acquisition and customer retention from customers who are coming to us and sticking with us because of our social responsibility programs.
  4. Additional press coverage from Entrepreneur, INC, and the Raleigh News & Observer that is helping us recruit the best and brightest and gain additional customers and partners.


We’ve got a long way to go still in working toward becoming an example for how other venture backed companies can invest in social responsibility. We’ve still got a lot to learn. It’s been a great start and we look forward to much learning to come.


I’d love your thoughts and comments. How has your company implement Corporate Social Responsibility? What other programs have you seen that have been responsible? Do you wish your company were more socially responsible? What impact would that have on your desire to put in full effort at work?

Announcing iContact’s Series B Investment

August 30, 2010

Eight years ago when Aaron Houghton and I met at UNC, we never fathomed we’d have the opportunity to build the nascent iContact into a great global company based here in North Carolina. As iContact passes 225 employees and $40M in annualized sales, we see an opportunity to do something rare—to build a venture-backed IT company here in the Triangle from start-up to IPO. Today, we’re announcing a critical milestone on our journey.

I’m thrilled to share the wonderful news that iContact has closed on $40 million of Series B venture capital funding from JMI Equity of Baltimore, Maryland. We worked with Allen & Company out of New York as our investment bank advisor in this round.
This $40M comes in addition to the $13.3M we’ve raised so far from our investors IDEA Fund Partners, Updata Partners, and North Atlantic Capital.

We’ll be using these new funds to make significant investments in sales and marketing, back-end technology, our product features and usability, global expansion, and of course our people that drive all of our success.

Over the past eight years we have been on a growth spurt, increasing from $2M in annual sales when we raised our first round of funding in May 2006 from IDEA Fund Partners in Durham to $40M in annual sales today four years later. We have been fortunate to find great people to join us at iContact as employees and investors. We would not have been able to get to this point without the amazing team that is with us.

For us, this is just the beginning of building a company that will be here in North Carolina for many decades to come. iContact’s vision is to “build a great global company, based here in North Carolina, for our customers, employees, and community.”

Building a Unique Company, For the Long Term

We are working on building a unique company, one that sees social and environmental responsibility as additive to success not counter to it, one that invests heavily in building a fun and creative place to work, and one that cares about maximizing value created in the long term not profits generated in the short term.

Our business philosophy says “The purpose of business is to solve human problems and that if we focus on creating positive value for our customers, employees, and community we will maximize financial return for our investors and shareholders.”

We will use these new funds to invest in building iContact into a customer-focused socially responsible high-growth company with a wonderful work environment and company culture. We are glad to be part of the conscious capitalism movement that the B Corporation community is forwarding and wish to provide another example for what a socially responsible company with a great employee culture can become.

Our Three Promises

These new investment dollars will enable us to better fulfill what we call our Three Promises. Our Customer Promise is to “help SMBs succeed and grow.” Our Employee Promise is to “create a wonderful work environment that attracts A+ talent.” Our Community Promise is to “make a positive wake in our local and global communities.”

Our Customer Promise
Working toward our Customer Promise, we have recently rolled out our brand new MessageBuilder to our 65,000 customers and 700,000 users that has been under development for the last year. MessageBuilder makes it extremely easy for anyone to create a beautiful, professional, effective communication. We currently have 110 templates with the new MessageBuilder and will have hundreds more by year end.

We will also be rolling out the brand-new iContact for Salesforce next week, which has been in limited release for the last six months. We acquired in April to enable added event marketing capability for our customers. These product investments are in addition to an upgraded back-end infrastructure, an expanded QA team, and a six person in-house User Experience Team who talk to customers and users to help us design extremely easy to use features and functionality.

Our Employee Promise
Working toward our Employee Promise, we will be moving to brand new company headquarters on October 24th in Morrisville, North Carolina in Perimeter Park within the Lenovo Campus that will allow us to expand to 550 team members.
We have recently implemented on-site monthly massages to add to our list of unique employee benefits like on-site car washes, Bagel Mondays, monthly lunches, unlimited free sodas, and a culture that encourages Nerf gun battles, dressing up in drag, and creative expression.

Our Community Promise
Working toward our Community Promise, we rolled out our 4-1s Corporate Social Responsibility Program which includes giving 1% of payroll, 1% of product, 1% of equity, and 1% of time back to the community.

For 1% of payroll we will contribute $150,000 in 2010 to 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations. For 1% of product, iContact is now free of charge to any North Carolina non-profit to send newsletters up to 10,000 subscribers. For 1% of equity, we have committed 1% of the equity in iContact to the iContact Foundation to endow the foundation with funds to expand our ability to give back permanently.

For 1% of time, we have provided each employee 2.5 additional days off per year to volunteer in the community during business hours. When we started the year, I set a goal of 1000 hours of community service in our first year. iContact employees have already completed 1200 community volunteer hours and it is only August!

Special Thanks

We worked with Brad Wolosen, Jit Sinha, Bob Nye, and Krishna Potarazu from JMI Equity’s Baltimore Office on this fundraise. Brad and Jit will be joining Aaron, myself, and Carter Griffin from Updata on our Board of Directors.

We used Allen & Company to represent iContact as our investment bankers on this transaction, working with John Griffin, Dave Wehner, Kemp Webber, and Michael Melnitzky.

We worked with Joey Silver and Sarah Loya out of DLA Piper’s Atlanta office and Neil Bagchi of Bagchi Law, with Mark Burnett, Kathy Fields, and Maggie Wong representing JMI at Goodwin Proctor.

Special thanks go to our internal deal team of Tim Oakley, Ben Redding, Bryan Conner, Robert Plumley, and Susan Harrison and to our full Senior Leadership Team who endured two months of due diligence requests while still getting their day jobs done.

Our goal is simple—build a financially successful socially responsible company based right here in the Triangle that becomes the global leader in email marketing software and services for SMBs.

Thank you to all of our customers, employees, investors, mentors, advisors, and supporters who have helped us get iContact to this point and here’s to the road ahead!

How Do iContact Employees Describe Our Culture?

August 29, 2010

In my post Friday on the most important business lessons I’ve learned at iContact, lesson ten was:

“10. If you create a great culture (a fun work environment filled with people who are high performers and who care about their work and their impact on the world) you will be able to attract and retain better people who will be much more engaged and productive and create a much more financially successful company.”

Recently I’ve been reading four wonderful books that have helped me ‘go to school’ on the tremendous value of building company culture and the revenue growth than can be achieved when you can align profit, purpose, and meaning for your team. These are:

This post is to share a bit about what the iContact Culture is like today, in the words of our current employees. In future posts I’ll describe an effort we’re about to embark on to make the iContact Culture a core part of what differentiates our company, with the help these authors, many of which Tony Hsieh of Zappos turned me on to.

How iContact Employees Describe Our Current Culture

Last week we held our first ever Culture Committee Meeting at iContact over lunch one day. I started off by asking the group to write down words that described our culture.

The words that came up more than once from the group were:

  1. Fun
  2. Creative
  3. Community-oriented
  4. Energetic
  5. Challenging

These were pretty powerful words.

Other words mentioned by employees to describe the iContact culture were:

Dynamic Respectful Socially Responsible Diverse Casual
Optimistic Open Service-oriented Unique Sustainable
Inclusive Engaging Encouraging Ever-changing Family-like
Motivated Fast-moving Compassionate Growing Helpful
Mission-focused Intellectual Professional yet wacky Agile Thoughtful

How Would You Describe the iContact Culture In a Sentence to a Friend?

I then asked the group to write a sentence they’d use to describe iContact Culture to a friend. Recently I’ve been describing the culture as a “high energy performance based culture that cares.” The group wrote:

  • iContact is an open, supportive, and respectful place where employees can make their setting their own and have a say in influencing their own experience
  • iContact is an organization that is driving forward the deliverance of a product surrounded by a team that shares their personal excellence with the world
  • iContact is a diverse group of individuals from all walks of life that come together as a team to both achieve and help others succeed
  • iContact is a company that consciously seeks uniqueness
  • iContact is a dynamic team-centric company that effectively balances customers, employees, and the world
  • iContact has a fun atmosphere where each individuals ideas and work are recognized
  • iContact is comprised of interdependent teams working to solve problems together
  • iContact is an exciting place to work due to the energy put forth by each employee every day
  • iContact understands that individual and team growth equals company growth

What Makes the iContact Culture Unique?

I then asked the group to share some of the things they felt made iContact unique as a company. They wrote:

  • We are fast-growing while becoming open and more agile as we grow
  • We believe in what we say and we act based on that belief
  • We practice openness
  • We have a holistic approach to business in terms of our impact on all stakeholders
  • We are a socially responsible company
  • We are transparent and have lots of giving back opportunities and a comfortable dress code
  • We have unique wall murals
  • We do business differently, our employees are empowered, we work hard and play hard, and we are actively committed to helping others
  • We interview candidates to determine not if they are the best individual candidate but whether someone is going to fit in the team
  • We have a commitment to the community and the 4-1s CSR program
  • We have unique benefits like free unlimited sodas, monthly massages, annual car washes, Monday bagels, monthly lunches, monthly birthday cakes
  • We produce a monthly YouTube company news video featuring sword fights between bees and knights, dancing, rapping, chocolate grasshopper eating, Batmen superhero fights, iron chef competitions, parades, and cross-dressing
  • We have smoke machines and disco lights at monthly company meetings
  • Our CFO has dressed up like a cheerleader and Michael Jackson
  • Our CEO has shaved his head when we hit
  • We have big anniversary celebrations with hot air balloons, dunk tanks, bouncy castles, inflatable slides, fire eaters, magicians, bluegrass music, and Carolina BBQ
  • We go to the Durham Bulls baseball and Carolina Hurricanes hockey games as a company
  • We have pot luck lunches, waffle and pancake parties, 3am code deploys, lots of plants and balloons, new hire donuts in technology, and Finance/HR annual ice cream socials, and summer picnics

So it’s fair to say we have a rather unique culture at iContact already.

But iContact is about to move into a new home in Morrisville, NC on October 23rd. We can use this opportunity to do even better.

I’ll be writing more about our company culture and our journey in the coming days and months.

Videos of the iContact Culture

Here are some of the videos that have been part of defining our unique culture over time, from the iContactTV YouTube Channel


How We Do Meetings at iContact

Celebrating our 7th Anniversary at iContact

Celebrating 5th Anniversary at iContact

50,000 Customer Celebration Parade

Dressing Up as Tina Turner and Michael Jackson to Celebrate $2M in Monthly Sales

iNews Digital Short: Chocolate Covered Grasshoppers

July 2010 iContact iNews

The 10 Most Important Business Lessons I’ve Learned

August 27, 2010

Here are the most important business lessons I’ve learned building iContact from 2 to 220 employees over the last eight years.

  1. Just get started, have a bias toward action, and don’t get stuck in analysis paralysis.
  2. To grow your sales, it is critical to calculate the lifetime value of an average customer, calculate what you’re currently paying to acquire an average customer (total monthly ad spend divided by customers acquired in that month), determine the maximum you’re willing to pay to acquire an average customer, and scale your marketing scientifically by testing relentlessly and finding the channels in which you can acquire customers for less than your maximum acceptable customer acquisition cost and then growing spend within those channels.
  3. Never raise more equity capital than 1x your current annualized revenue (monthly revenue x 12). If you raise too much money too soon you’ll give up too much ownership and control of your company and be tempted to spend the money in ways that aren’t carefully controlled. Wait to raise a large round until you have proven mathematically than $X amount of additional spending with generate $Y amount of additional revenue. (once you figure out #2 this is easy).
  4. If you choose to raise money, raise it from investors you like and get along with well. You’ll have to hang out with these people for the next 3-7 years, make sure you enjoy spending time with them.
  5. After the first year or two, your success is determined by the people you hire, not by you. Stop trying to do everything yourself. Scale yourself by hiring people more experienced than you in their field as soon as you can afford to.
  6. Every member of the team should have a significant portion of their compensation based on the company’s success and their department’s success, quantified and communicated clearly in advance.
  7. Your job as CEO is not to micromanage/tell your team members what to do, but rather to hire experienced people who can do their jobs better than you could, collaboratively set numerical goals, and hold your direct reports accountable for their performance individually and as a team.
  8. Once you get past the start-up phase when you’re responsible for everything, the five parts of a CEOs role are 1) Set strategy and vision 2) Manage the senior team 3) Communicate with stakeholders 4) Oversee resource allocation and 5) Build the Culture.
  9. It is possible to become more socially and environmentally responsible and increase your financial returns at the same time
  10. If you create a great culture (a fun work environment filled with people who are high performers and who care about their work and their impact on the world) you will be able to attract and retain better people who will be much more engaged and productive and create a much more financially successful company.

I’ll be writing more about building a great company culture in the next post.

What lessons have you learned over the years in business? What do you think about these lessons?

The Brand New – Oh My How Design Standards Have Changed!

June 22, 2010

In late 2002 I met my business partner Aaron Houghton at the October meeting of the Carolina Entrepreneurship Club on the UNC campus over Chic-Fil-A nuggets. At the time, Aaron ran Preation and I ran Virante. We partnered to launch IntelliContact Pro, which became IntelliContact in 2005 and then just iContact in 2007.

Today, iContact is a 205 employee company here in Durham, NC with 64,000 customers and 700,000 users. Our marketing and IT teams launched a brand new web site today on As a former web site designer myself, it’s been fascinating to see the site evolve as design standards have changed.

Let’s take a trip down memory lane to show how the web site has evolved over time…

Which one was the worst? Which one was the best? What do you think of the new site?



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