RebelMail, formerly called EngageInbox, has raised a $US2 million seed round for an interactive email product that launched a few months ago.
Venture firms Vaizra and Boldstart co-led the round with participation from Lerer Ventures, David Tisch’s Box Group, Gary Vaynerchuk’s Vayner RSE, and angel investors.
RebelMail, which is based in Washington, D.C., takes an email marketing campaign and adds instant check-out to the message rather than redirecting readers to a website. It dumbs down the multi-step purchasing process and puts it all in a single email, which translates into a clean mobile shopping experience.
The founders, Joe Teplow and Trever Faden, were surprised to see investors clamor to fund their two-person startup. A source close to the company says the valuation jumped three times during their fundraising process. The pair were only planning to raise a small pre-seed round of a few hundred thousand dollars, this person says, but after one month, VCs had committed multiple millions.
“We were two relatively unknown founders,” Teplow told Business Insider when reached for comment about the fundraise. “We were going to raise a small amount of money because our initial email tests were going so well and we wanted to hire quickly. But the pre-seed quickly turned into a seed round which then turned into a larger seed round.”
David Tisch says of RebelMail’s hot round, “I think the product got people excited, and they had early customer reactions.”
Another person explained that the quick email checkout product RebelMail is building is the “holy grail” for marketers, increasing engagement and purchases.
Faden and Teplow, who participated in Silicon Valley accelerator program Y Combinator, came up with RebelMail together.
Teplow had built a not-for-profit email company that encouraged subscribers to give 25 cents to charity every day. The email list grew from ten of Teplow’s close friends to more than 300 people who were donating up to $US1 per day. Last year, Teplow’s email project donated more than $US30,000 to charities.
“The emails would say, ‘Hey guys, today’s charity is Alzheimer’s. Click on which of the two charities you want your 25 cents to go to,'” Teplow explained. The open rates and engagement metrics were impressive, with 75% of subscribers opening the emails daily and 65% clicking on one of the two charities.
“I became obsessed with email as an interface,” he said.
While Teplow brought quick payments to the table, he needed Trevor’s help to embed form fields in emails.
“Trevor was working on a project introducing friends across social networks who didn’t know each other in an email and I received one,” said Teplow. “That was the first time I saw a form field in an email. I filled it out, then called him and said, ‘How the heck did you do that?'”
After that conversation, Teplow dug up a J. Crew email campaign in his inbox. He mocked up what the campaign could look like with a form field and instant check-out added to it.
“At the end of the day we had a J. Crew email on our hands that looked really good and functioned great,” said Teplow. “And it took full advantage of what’s possible on an iPhone.”
The next few months were spent lining up small e-commerce companies to test RebelMail’s new, interactive emails. “The companies sent out static emails and our interactive emails and we were blown away by the increases in engagement,” said Teplow.
The pair will use their recently-raised millions to hire more people and fulfil campaigns for even larger e-commerce shops.