One Person Business: EmailEngine
Access IMAP and SMTP email accounts via REST interface, $2k MRR. Interview with the founder inside.
EmailEngine, by Andris Reinman, is a self-hosted email automation platform that provides access to email accounts via an easy-to-use HTTP REST API to receive and send emails.
Launched in 2020, EmailEngine targets anyone who wants to integrate their system with existing email accounts. For example, a help desk service that runs on top of the firstname.lastname@example.org account and wants to convert incoming emails to support tickets.
Andris started working on this project on February 2020 and, according to the Indie Hackers page, he got his first paying customer less than 3 months later, in June! Scrolling through the detailed history of EmailEngine on IH is quite the learning experience, I would advise you to do so if you have the time.
When it comes to pricing, EmailEngine works on a license-based model. For a yearly fee of €695, you get a license key that will then grant you access to the product.
Andris accepted to answer a few questions for us, and explain some details about why and how he built EmailEngine.
Some parts of this might have been edited for clarity, and changes have been approved by Andris.
Tell me a bit about yourself. What's your background?
I've been working as a software developer for more than 15 years. A large part of my career has been related to all kinds of email software, both as a hobby, as open source, and as a paid job.
Most people know me as the author of the Nodemailer library. It's an email-sending library for Node.js I've been maintaining solo for the last ten years.
How did you come up with the idea for EmailEngine?
I built a similar system many years ago for my employer. I made many mistakes with it, did not know enough about all the possible edge cases, and my project was scrapped.
The company started using a SaaS alternative instead. Accessing email inboxes is still tricky, and I've learned a lot about it over the years on my other projects and jobs, so I decided to start over, but this time as my own company.
How many attempts (failed or not) did it take you to get to a product like EmailEngine?
I can't even count. Many. Some of these attempts survived as free, open-source projects when I made the code public, but most I've just thrown away.
For example, the Stripe account I currently use for EmailEngine was initially for a different project. I wanted to provide a DNS hosting and email forwarding service. I did build it but failed to get any traction.
Did you already have the necessary skills to build EmailEngine, or did you have to learn new ones?
I already had all the skills and knowledge I needed. I've had many attempts before and worked in different startups where I experienced both successes and failures. So it has been mostly about executing my ideas and less about learning this time.
Seeing close so many great people performing their roles in these startups has given me an overview of what is needed and, more importantly, what I can do. I can't do cold calls, but I can create more open-source projects, link to EmailEngine, and call it marketing, not coding.
In terms of reach, how did you get your first customers? Are you still doing the same, or have you changed your strategy? If so, why?
My strategy has been the same from the start. Over the years, I've published a lot of open-source code. Some of it is quite popular, and developers visit documentation pages for these projects a lot (ie. nodemailer.com, imapflow.com). I linked to EmailEngine from these documentation pages, and as it's all email-related, then EmailEngine is often relevant to these visitors. Almost all my users come from these sources.
What's your current MRR, and how long did it take you to get there?
The current MRR is $2,000. It took me more than a year to get to $1,000 and 4-5 months to get to $2,000.
Are you still a solopreneur, or have you hired someone to help you? If so, why?
I do everything myself, even stuff like accounting. I either look for free, open-source components or make them myself. For example, I made the EmailEngine logo using a free online logo generator. For accounting, I use the free web-based accounting service provided by the Estonian Tax Board. The design is built on top of a free Bootstrap-based dashboard theme.
If you could give one piece of advice to people jumping on the solopreneur bandwagon, what would that be?
It could be a hit or miss. I personally like working alone, and some people do not.
Anything else you'd like to add?
If you don't start, you never get anywhere.
Thank you Andris for your availability to answer these questions. For you that’s reading this, you can check EmailEngine’s Indie Hackers page to learn more about the process of building this tool.
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Until next time - Guilherme
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