Why Top Startups Are Getting Radically Personal

You don't read emails that come from faceless brand entities. But you do read emails that come from people.

When you get an update on the writing app Draft, the message doesn't come from an Abstract Corporate Entity, but from its founder, the esteemed Nathan Kontny. The December edition began like this:

And ended like this:

This kind of personal touch, is kind of an extension of the idea of radical transparency, in which employees' past work and future goals are shared throughout the organization. Instead of getting inundated by a faceless spambot, you're getting inundated by Kontny's smiling face. It feels less like marketing, more like a missive.

Kontny's personalization is part of a small but growing trend of founders choosing to to be the face of their startup, putting a new spin on 'personal branding.' While it began with Jason Fried at 37Signals, you now see it in the most radically friendly of startups: if you're to get an update from social media-scheduling Buffer, it'll come from cofounder Joel Gascoigne; if you receive word from talent-sourcing at ooomf, it'll come from cofounder Mikael Cho.

In light this growing trend, we asked Kontny a few questions about his email practice. Here's what he had to say.

On the effectiveness of writing as himself

I've heard from quite a few people who have stuck with Draft from the beginning not just because they've enjoyed using the software, but they've also highly enjoyed the experience of getting to know me and learn the lessons behind how I've made things. Someone even compared my feature update newsletter to waking up on Christmas.

Why the personal touch?

It's a necessity. Draft is the product of just one person. I've got a ton of competition from giant companies and well-funded startups. I can't compete with Google Docs by trying to imitate Google. But I felt like if I could open myself up, and connect with an audience on a human level, maybe I had a chance to get people's attention. It worked.

I learned a lot from 37signals. Even in 2007-2008, you'd see Jason Fried's name at the bottom of their newsletters. I "grew up" as an entrepreneur watching 37signals and reading their book Getting Real. They even have a chapter on this. You can see him still doing this at their product site.

The bottom line: The name's what lasts

(The personal touch) is also an insurance policy. All these startups and projects we are working on can unfortunately be fleeting. The odds of starting something then moving onto something else is high for a lot of folks. But I'm always going to have my name.

Things are great with Draft, and god forbid anything bad happen, but if disaster strikes, people will hopefully still remember "Nate Kontny" and follow me to the next venture.

Do you think the personal email touch works? Let us know in the comments.

[Image: Flickr user Sylvain Kalache]

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  • People who buy my products get a personal hand written note with each purchase. Something I will continue in some form as things scale. It takes hardly any time to be a little more personal.

  • Ryan Naylor

    I thought this was just common practice? There is a personal touch to it as I do read these type of emails/newsletters to learn what other founders are doing - but, who else is going to write your emails when starting out? And why wouldn't you as it's an ideal way to learn what people think of your product/service? Overall, it's effective and a positive.

  • This is hilarious. It's not personal at all...It's an automated email that gets sent out with a name in it vs. a company. There's little to no chance at all that the recipient of any of these emails thinks that some founder etc...is literally typing them a note.

    And you do read emails that come from corporations. If you didn't email marketing wouldn't exist and companies sure as hell wouldn't send email if it didn't get read...

  • People do read marketing emails because I've seen CTR graphs proving it :) The personal thing, even if its not personal, also helps if its done in the right way. It like most people who say 'advertising doesnt work on me.' rolls eyes, it works on those people the best!

  • Yes! As a start-up myself I put a personal touch on my business and I let my personality shine through. People choose to work with Simply Social Media LLC because they know that no matter what, I take the ownership on me! The buck stops on my desk. Period. I am committed to our customer SLA, I refuse to hide behind a nameless faceless company name.