From One Small Business to Another
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“It is true of the nation, as of the individual, that the greatest doer must also be a great dreamer.”—Theodore Roosevelt
If timing is everything, Janine Popick will admit that her timing was bad—even horrible. Just as other Internet companies were closing their doors when the tech bubble burst in 2001, Popick was opening her email marketing firm, VerticalResponse in San Francisco.
Popick spent the 1990s working in email marketing for a large technology company, but she always wanted to work for herself. Her experiences had taught her just how hard it was for anyone—especially small businesses—to create, manage, and analyze their own direct marketing campaigns. “I was a bit early to the game, but there was a need for a simple-to-use, self-service platform that wouldn’t cost a ton of money,” she says.
By 2001, Popick had a business plan and screenshots of what the product would look like, but the appetite for Internet companies had fizzled. She turned to a group of friends and family and her own bank account for the initial $500,000 to start the company. She turned to the same group of 15 investors three years later to raise an additional $700,000 to keep the company going until it became profitable four years in.
On the upside, many of her former colleagues in the tech industry were looking for work in 2001. Popick partnered with two developers she had worked with to help build and maintain the new product. “The tech bubble had burst, and we all could have gotten other jobs or been rolled into a big company. But everybody was ready for a gamble,” she says about her two co-founders. “It was a ‘what’s the worst that could happen’ deal.”
Popick was also able to find cheap office space in a San Francisco—an area known for its high rental costs—after an advertising company from Seattle that serviced technology companies closed its office. “I walked into the space to see what I had just rented, and all the employees were packing up everything, from desks to paper clips,” she says. “I asked, ‘How much for everything?’” She bought all the stock for $2,000. “We didn’t even have to buy printer paper that first year.”
Today, VerticalResponse has more than 100,000 customers, and Popick is helping small businesses just like hers. “Getting to do something on my own was great; doing something for others was icing on the cake,” Popick says. “We’re helping our small businesses grow. They are the backbones of our economy.”
Popick also helps small nonprofits by providing free email marketing services, giving 15,000 nonprofits up to 10,000 free emails a month. “They’re doing amazing things, and they need all the help they can get,” she says. “It also makes my employees feel good to work for a company that cares about the things they care about, whether its animals, children, or the homeless.”
To share your story, e-mail Greg Galdabini at email@example.com.
CEO & Founder: Janine Popick
Email Address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Address: 501 2nd St, Suite 700, San Francisco, CA 94107
Chamber Member since: 2008
Number of Employees: 100