Tom Kulzer: Q&A Session

Q&A Session: Tom Kulzer

Tom Kulzer Q&A Session is happening on February 1st 2022 at 10:00 AM PST (1:00 PM EST)

Tom Kulzer is founder and Chief Executive Officer at AWeber, the leading email marketing and automation platform for small businesses, where he is actively involved in the company’s strategic direction, growth and evolution. Over the company’s 20+ year history, Tom has nurtured AWeber from a small start-up to a robust organization, that has enabled over 1 million customers to grow their businesses, all without public or venture funding.

Tom laid the foundation for AWeber while working at a computer hardware firm in the mid 1990s, where he realized sales prospects were falling through the cracks due to lack of proper follow up. By automating the delivery of personalized follow up emails to prospects, company-wide sales skyrocketed, and sales associates had additional time to spend pursuing new prospects.

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 Tom Kulzer – Transcript

AMA with Tom Kulzer @ AWeber

February 1st, 2022

We’re excited to welcome Tom Kulzer AWeber CEO for a 1 hour Q&A session starting now!  Tom will be here for 1 hour answering your questions.  

Tom Kulzer is founder and Chief Executive Officer at AWeber, the leading email marketing and automation platform for small businesses, where he is actively involved in the company’s strategic direction, growth and evolution. Over the company’s 20+ year history, Tom has nurtured AWeber from a small start-up to a robust organization, that has enabled over 1 million customers to grow their businesses, all without public or venture funding. 

Hi everyone!

Little current background:

  • I started AWeber in 1998 to automate the email follow up process of a sales cycle. It has since evolved into a full marketing automation platform serving a wide cross section of SMB users, Creators, and enterprises.
  • Our team of about ~90 is all remote these days, scattered across 12 states and several countries.
  • We deliver billions of permission based emails every month on behalf of about 300,000 worldwide users.  We work really hard to keep abuse off our platform.
  • We own and operate all of our own email delivery infrastructure, we don’t outsource to 3rd parties like many competitors do so we truly know about all the delivery idiosyncrasies of getting email delivered.

Hey Tom! 

Hi Tom! Thanks for doing this!

Hey Tom Kulzer, thanks for being here!
What’s been the most exciting change you’ve seen in email marketing over the years?

All the years…  ooff, that’s a hard one.  AMP4Email is a pretty revolutionary tech that’s gaining adoption and will likely completely change how many people use email.

Ha! I’ve heard of AMP sites and web stories but not email. Maybe I’ve seen and used it but didn’t realize. Will check this out! Thank you!

couple links to poke around at:


How did COVID impact your business if at all?

COVID impacted many of our users, some in ways that were harmful to them, others in ways that grew those users exponentially. It was a mixed bag from a business perspective there.From a team perspective, we wen all remote in March 2020 from a facility that was very unique in many ways..  slides, green walls, onsite chefs, onsite yoga classes, etc.In June 2020, along with our team, we decided to make the remote stint permanent.  Our team is now spread across 12+ states (hard to keep up) and several countries. The impact it’s had on our hiring process has been profound. It’s not “easy” to hire anywhere, but it’s dramatically changed who we are able to hire and where we can hire them. Our team is more worldly and diverse than it ever has been before and we’re starting to see the results of that in product and how we connect with our users.

What in your opinion is the best and worst parts of email marketing?

BEST: being able to reach so many people on such an intimate level via email.  It’s important to remember when sending, that even if you’re sending to 100,000 people, only 1 person is reading it at a time.  Write to that one person, not 100K.WORST: people that abuse email.  spammers, phishers, cold outreach that’s clearly bulk automated.

What’s your best interview question?

I like to dive into what people fear.  You can learn a lot about someone based on what they fear or don’t fear.

Email marketing has really made a comeback in the recent years – why do you think that is?

You’ll have to remind me on when it went away?  Email volumes go up and to the right.  I certainly haven’t seen it go away.I do think the media spends more time talking about it now, but a lot of that IMO is due to social media becoming a dumpster fire and the algorithms making it very hard to get in front of the audience that said they wanted to hear from you without having to pay a lot of $$ in ad spend.  Facebook/Twitter follower audiences typically see <20% of what you post.   If email only had a 20% deliverability rate our phones would be ringing off the hook with angry users.

Hi, Tom Kulzer I am dying to know – what is your take on new opportunities for existing b2b in web3 ?

web3 is fascinating and I’ve been watching closely. It’s definitely something that we talk about internally regularly and are trying to figure out the best way to poke our head in when it makes sense.  The hardest part IMO right now is it’s so darn technical. I have a technical background and even I struggle to wrap my head around all the moving pieces. Making it simple for the majority of users is really key.Creating communities and accessing content are the areas that pique my interest the most.

Hi, Tom Kulzer Automation flows take forever to setup, mostly because you have a hard time deciding what content to organize! Info vs sales offers vs company updates. Is there a balance that works for you?

Organization can be challenging. We obviously dogfood our own product and even internally we always have additional documentation around our automation flows.  What tags get assigned by what process, how we want people to progress thru, what the most desired end state is, etc.

Content in the messages really comes down to the audience. I lean heavily on the educational side of email vs. sales. Some of the best sales material to me is stuff that makes me smarter and educates me on how I can solve X problem or how someone else specifically solved that problem. Sell too hard in email and you turn people off, they unsubscribe, or worse, mark you as spam.

What would it take to be or become Tom Kulzer? Your biggest learning as an entrepreneur?

I certainly can’t discount the fact that I started while in college at a time the internet was really blowing up. There’s always an element of good timing that’s difficult to replicate.That said, even in our space, we have a lot of competitors. Some have been around for many years, others are much newer.  Find a problem and look to solve it for a niche. Keep banging your head on the wall because every day will bring new problems to solve, slowly but surely 23+ years later you’ll be an overnight success.  No one sees or acknowledges the grind years, but we all grind in them.

…must type faster….  lol

Different question: Tom Kulzer email privacy laws are all over the place, with some areas more permissive and others more restrictive. where do you see the trend settling? or will it settle at all?

They’ve been a moving target for decades now.  Some will stay, some will go, new ones will arrive.  It just is what it is at this point.I always strive to treat our users data in the way I’d want my own data treated. Don’t sell it to other people, don’t give it away to other people, don’t ask for more than you need, honor people’s permission and time.I hate cookie notice banners on sites with a passion. They wreck the user experience, everyone ignores them, every site uses cookies. I hope browser makers figure out a better way to handle them in the near future. 

What are some tips/advice for an effective drip automation?

The biggest thing I think about is how I can make my messages more and more personal and relevant over time. For instance…  in our onboarding sequences, we often have users converting over to AWeber from platforms like Mailchimp, ActiveCampaign, ConvertKit and others.The sooner we can learn who they are converting from, how many subscribers they have, what their website is, etc. the faster I can customize the specific language in those emails to guide them with terms they likely already know from those other platforms, videos that are specific to getting their data out of those platforms, etc..You can do that using Amp4Email to collect data inline or just via clicking various links in messages to express preferences. context on Amp4Email

Hi, Tom Kulzer What are the parameters to gauge the effectiveness of a tool to send email campaigns. most of the tools have the standard features so what makes something standout”. How important is deliverability rate as i believe that goes a long way?

Market differentiation is definitely something that’s hard to convey before someone gets in and uses a tool. I can say without a doubt there are massive differences between platforms that claim to have similar features.Just starting at the top, when looking at an email automation tool, does the company itself actually deliver the emails or do they outsource that last mile delivery to a 3rd party? There are a TON of companies out there right now that claim to be an ESP (Email Service Provider) but they don’t actually deliver emails. They outsource last mile delivery to companies like Sendgrid, Mailgun, or AWS. They don’t understand how email works and how it gets delivered and don’t have the expertise in house to troubleshoot delivery issues nor are they usually close enough to the data stream to keep abuse off their platform well enough.Beyond that, tools that you touch every day become critical…

  • how is the message creation process? Is it fast, does it make common things you do easy to consistently repeat?
  • Can you automate repetitive actions inside the tool?  Many companies are just sending out newsletters that are copies of their blog posts. There are tools to completely automate stuff like that so you don’t have to manually make a message every week/month/etc.  Same thing goes for podcasters, youtubers, etc.

Measuring the “deliverability rate” of a specific platform is impossible to do in any sort of comparable way. Anyone that claims otherwise is lying or doesn’t know what they are doing.The best way IMO to gauge whether or not a platform is going to have good delivery is looking for the number of angry reviews from people who have been kicked off that platform. Any email platform that doesn’t kick off abusive users will have massive delivery issues that will effect you. If they don’t have angry users, they are not adequately policing abuse on their platform.Deliverability in 2022 mostly comes down to individual senders. Are you sending to people that asked for what you’re sending, are continuing to engage (open/click) what you’re sending, etc.  Platform specific things like making sure the one you chose supports custom DKIM are good to check for as well.

One of the biggest things I come across constantly that separates a lot of platforms is support. Many places say they have it, but almost all are exclusively email based support only.  Some have livechat, very very few have phone and when they do have phone, you pay an arm and a leg to talk to someone.We do phone support for all of our users free and paid across all paid tiers regardless of size. A platform is useless if you can’t figure out how to use it and we find the fastest way to get someone’s problem solved is often with a friendly quick call to hone in on the issue and provide a quick solution. Too many places leave their users out to dry, frustrated with no one to help or multi day resolutions.

Hi, Tom Kulzer, Thanks for being here! I work at a studio that does product marketing animation for some large tech companies. I would be curious to know if you have any insight into animations like GIFs in email and how they impact user interaction. Should this be something we encourage clients to utilize?

10000000% encourage clients to use them. We love gifs in emails.  Be conscious of file size and how they render on desktop vs. mobile but other than that, they are excellent.

To go along with Patrick on the privacy laws – how has that impacted the industry / company?

It’s a constant evolution.Even recently with the Apple Mail Privacy Protection changes we’ve seen some substantial impact to how people measure success of their campaigns. Apple reacted to user perceptions, but in turn started collecting a TON of data via their apps that they previously had zero insight on. Now they are collecting more email data than Google in many cases.  As an email marketer, most of what Apple attempted to hide I can still see when those same users interact on our website, click the links in the emails, etc. Most of Apple’s change was just a PR gimmick IMO and doesn’t meaningfully protect end users in many cases.

For us specifically as a company, it’s just a compliance expense/headache to make sure we’re protecting not only ourselves but also helping our end users implement best practices on their own site.

How do you leverage personalized video content for marketing emails? For example using tools like Vidyard or Loom. Is this approach more sales-oriented than marketing? Excited to hear your thoughts, Tom Kulzer!

AWeber as a company doesn’t do the “cold email” outreach like a lot of places do. It’s spam in the majority of use cases and that obviously violates our TOS and our general ethos around protecting the email ecosystem.Where we do use tools like Loom is with helping individual users. Often when we get a support inquiry it’s easier and better to shoot them back a quick personal video showing someone how to do something than it is to direct them to a knowledge base article or other generic video.

Hi, what innovations are happening in this space? Beyond the use of data, are there things you are seeing help with successful execution that are exciting to you?

AMP4Email is pretty awesome, we continue to bet big on that internally with tools to help our users send incredibly interactive emails.

Hi, Tom Kulzer How does Aweber keep growing despite pressure from the Salesforces and Hubspots of the world (CRM-based data centralization and automation)? Does Aweber appeal to a different market segment?

Very different segment, we don’t tend to cross over in Salesforce or Hubspot territory very often.  There’s a huge percentage of the world that’s never used those tools and where they are massively overkill for most people’s use cases.

Hey Tom Kulzer, Mike Cadieux from OG here, been lurking in here, just wanted to say hello and thank you for taking time to share insights with our OG members.  Great having you on AMA.

thanks for having me on.  My fingers are tired…  always thought I typed pretty fast until I had 30 questions rapid fired at me and wanted to write out a thoughtful response to each. 

What’s your favorite email newsletter?

It pains me that it’s not sent from AWeber yet, but I really enjoy Exponential View from Azeem Azhar.

Apple’s MPP – Do you think it is improving email or damaging it all around?

IMO, the way that it was implemented is damaging and has limited impact on actually protecting people’s privacy.I’m a big proponent of privacy, but the way that Apple implemented this just put them in the middle of billions of user interactions each month that they previously never saw before.I know you’ve likely seen the article I wrote on the subject  via other channels we both frequent.  I didn’t hold back my general thoughts.

Hey Tom Kulzer – so sorry I missed the opportunity to drop some questions, but very encouraged by your last post so here are a few:

  • what email frequency have you seen works best?
  • what is the best way to for a manager to measure effectiveness of an email marketing team? Obviously they are oriented more short term, so how can I ensure they don’t do it at the cost of bad user experience/reputation?
  • what’s one thing that works great but almost no one does? (aside from AMP4Email & gifs, can be anything from different types of content to different schedules/hybrid experiences/deep personalisation)

Thank you for your time and everything shared above!

  • email frequency:  send at the frequency you tell subscribers you’re going to send at.  There’s no one right frequency. We have senders that send multiple times per day, others that send once a month.  The wrong frequency to send is one that you didn’t disclose up front.. ie) if your opt-in form has no frequency disclosure subscribers may assume you’ll send monthly, but you actually end up sending daily.  That will absolutely get you spam complaints and unsubscribes. Meet expectations.
  • measuring effectiveness of a team: that’s a hard one to answer without knowing a lot more about the team and their goals.
  • works great but no one does:  add something to buy to your thank you page after someone opts in. It can be one of your highest converting sales pages.

Ah, bummed to have missed this but still posting Qs (if you have time Tom Kulzer). Particularly interested in how you work as a company.

Our team of about ~90 is all remote these days, scattered across 12 states and several countries.

  1. Did you intentionally setup AWeber this way or was this caused by circumstance (pandemic)? Is this going to change in the future?
  2. What are the most difficult challenges with running a large fully remote team?
  3. What are some critical workflows/processes/rituals that make working remote a success (for the whole company)?
  4. How are you building (or maintaining) the company culture while remote?

Thanks for the questions (…

  1. We’ve definitely been intentional about most of the states we have team members in. We keep a list of states we’ll hire in and states we don’t hire in for various reasons. Sometimes we’ve found exceptional candidates in states we were not prepared to hire in but have made adjustments to be able to hire them.
  2. It’s not all that different than running an in person team. The people to people in office drama tends to be less, but there’s more family related drama that pops up. The hardest part of remote is building relationships with new team members and maintaining them with existing team members. You have to be really deliberate about getting different teams to interact regularly, making space in meetings for general non work conversation, etc.
  3. Process docs.  Having solid documentation about how things work, who’s responsible for them, and making them easily updated is critical. Without process docs, you’re bound to keep making the same mistakes over and over again.
  4. My answer from #2 is closely related there. Culture for us has always been about how team members interact, collaborate, and push each other to deliver the best product possible to our users. Many people mistakenly believe that culture is “office perks” and untraining that requires deliberate effort. Besides the items I listed in #2, we also do a lot of remote social events (cooking, games, holiday parties, clubs), lots of slack #offtopicgroups on various hobbies and interests that people have. Eventually we’ll do some in person get togethers again, but we’re waiting for COVID to settle before moving forward with those.

Phew – Tom Kulzer, you crushed that one. Thanks for not only being here, but giving such in depth answers to questions. You clearly know your stuff and I appreciate your presence here. I know I walked away learning a lot personally.  That concludes today’s Q&A session. On behalf of our community we give you a huge Thank You!  Hope you can give your fingers a break the rest of the day.

Thanks for having me David Feinman and thanks for all the great questions from everyone. I’m fairly new to OG, but it’s clearly a quality community with smart folks.Happy to continue to converse if anyone has any follow ups. I spend a lot of my day in Slack, so I’m pretty easy to track down and have alerts on my name, AWeber, and other relevant industry key words where my knowledge might add something to the conversation.

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