Unroll.me CEO on Learning from Mistakes and Striking When the Market is Hot

Like many entrepreneurs, Josh Rosenwald ate a healthy slice of humble pie after his previous startup went under. So he planned carefully before committing to his latest endeavor. This time he believes he found a scalable idea he can monetize. That does not mean Unroll.me, his New York-based startup, is a sure bet, but he is using his prior experience to position his company to seize opportunities.

Unroll.me, founded last September, lets its users unsubscribe from unwanted automated e-mails and newsletters—a pain point co-founder and CEO Rosenwald says others have struggled to address. Many times users of e-mail do not remember when they agreed to receive messages, which can include special offers, newsletters, and general marketing from websites and companies. Getting rid of such automated e-mails can be tricky. The process may be more complicated than signing up, or worse, the sender might ignore the request to stop. “The more friction they add, the less customers they lose,” Rosenwald says. Unroll.me also lets its users discover new newsletters and lists they may want to receive.

The Unroll.me team got some attention last week when it won the best unfunded startup award at the NY Tech Day fair. Rosenwald says the startup—which has thus far been bootstrapped with support from friends and family—is in talks with potential investors. The platform lets users see and control the e-mails they signed up to receive. Unroll.me is expected to emerge from beta in a couple of weeks, Rosenwald says.

Other startups operating in the e-mail sector, he says, tend to address highly specialized problems. For example, there’s technology to tell e-mail senders whether their messages were read. That may be important for marketers concerned about conversion rates, but scaling such technology to a broad audience can be a challenge. “They can’t market [that service] to everybody on Gmail; it wouldn’t be cost effective,” Rosenwald says. Unroll.me, he says, aims to meet a more widespread need.

Though the idea seems simple, Rosenwald says developing the platform led to some issues. “About two months in we said ‘we didn’t think it would be this hard,’” he recalls. The platform had to be tweaked to operate with different e-mail providers. Unroll.me currently works with Gmail, Yahoo, and AOL e-mail clients.

Furthermore, Rosenwald had his own doubts about the business viability. “Nobody made money from the unsubscribe process,” he says. “You can’t charge for it. We had to figure out how to monetize.”

If users only tried the platform once and then never returned, there would be no way … Next Page »

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