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Bill McCloskey

Bill McCloskey

Bill McCloskey is the Founder of Only Influencers, eDataSource, Emerging Interest, and the Rich Media Sig.



georgebilbreyjoshbaerThis week I interview George Bilbrey, President of Return Path and Email Entrepreneur  Josh Baer, whose company  OtherInbox was acquired by Return Path last year.


OI: Josh, tell us a little about ContextIO? 


Josh: ContextIO is a small company out of Canada that ReturnPath acquired late last year. What ContexIO does is provide an API, basically a set of tools for programmers, that want to build stuff on top of email. The API is designed to allow you to build Email into your application. Now, you might do that if you want to make an Email Client, something that is all about reading email. But more commonly you want to bring some of the data and intelligence that is in Email into something else that might have nothing to do with email.


For example, you might have a CRM application to keep track of your sales leads, and you might want to see right next to you emails exchanged with those leads or files they've sent to you. Those files are living in your inbox and are hard to unlock normally but with ContextIO it is easy for anybody to connect to the inbox and pull any of the relevant data out and show it in a contextual way, which is where the "context" part of the name comes from. 


Typically if you are building something you are connecting to IMAP or Exchange or to Hotmail. Things that are not easy to program to. These are things that if you ask a programmer "hey, you want to go write some IMAP code?" , no one is happy with that. They are old protocols that are hard to work with and so what ContextIO does is give you ONE thing to write to. It is well designed, it is easy to use. You write to that one thing and you can connect to Gmail, and to IMAP and lots of other platforms in a really easy way. 


OI: And who is the customer for this. Is it the ESP's or is there something here for the individual marketer with internal resources would be interested in as well? 


Josh: it can be used a lot of different ways. The core market is not really ESP's or marketers but any kind of application or service that somebody might be using so it is more application developers than ESP's or things like that. What is relevant to marketers is what comes out of it. So what we can do is that the anonymous data that is pulled out of this can create some really interesting intelligence tools for marketers. 


OI: Are there any tools that have been developed so far using ContextIO? 


Josh: ContextIO acts as an anonymous panel that then seeds a lot of the different products that Return Path developed and has released so the most recent of those is the Inbox Inside product which is fully based on it. 


OI: Return Path recently rebranded themselves as an Email Intelligence company. Can you tell me what exactly that means? 


George: The goal of Email Intelligence at a high level is to take a lot of the guess work for marketers in how to optimize their email marketing program. Everyday on the Only Influencers list there is a question "say, should we do 'X' and our goal is to provide empirical evidence that if you do 'X' here is what the results are based on where you are in your email marketing program right now. So it is the application of a lot of different data - some of panel data that Josh was talking about comes from Other Inbox, some comes from ContextIO, plus our vast store of reputation data, the data we have coming from ISPs - apply some really great analytics to that and turn that into solid advice for email marketers. 


OI: can you give me a concrete example of the kind of advice a marketer might be able to get out of it? 


George: We had a client in the travel industry, an extremely narrow vertical, looking at how they were sending mail and the days of the week they were sending mail and looking at the days their competition was sending mail on and they found there was a whole in the calendar that no one was sending mail out on Saturdays. So they made the decision to send their mail on Saturday and those campaigns turned out to be their highest performing campaigns. Another example, we had a client that had a fair amount of deliverability issues: they were getting delivered about 92%. They wondered, could they mail more and still get delivered at the same rate? So we were able to look at both the reputation data as well as the panel data, take a look at some of their competitors and other people that looked roughly like them from a reputation standpoint and we determined that it was highly unlikely that increasing the cadence on one particular group of their subscribers was going to drive delivery issues and sure enough they were able to send more mail, get more impressions, get more views and reads without suffering any decrease in inbox placement.


OI: what data could marketers get using these tools that they couldn't get by just close monitoring of the email programs? 


George: The key part of the question is "Close examination of their own email programs". I think what is interesting about the data we can bring to the problem is that you gain knowledge from other people email marketing experience. So what I see a lot of marketers doing is "groping for greatness", the phrase I like to use internally, they have a place where they are, they have a strategy they've been following, they have results associated with that. They have a rough idea of where they think they want to go. They do a series of A/B split tests, incrementally get to an optimum. But that optimum might be a very local optimum, it might not be the very best they can get because it is based on where their starting point is. By taking a look at what your competitors are doing and other best in class marketers are doing, you might actually be able to start in an entirely other new starting place, achieving a global optimum, not just a local optimum. 


Where we are unique is we can help find where practices are going to start to get you in trouble in terms of deliverability and help you walk that fine line between optimizing read rates and responses and having deliverability problems. 


OI: Are you finding that marketers are coming to you with a need for competitive intelligence? 


George: We've had great success with the Inbox Inside product with marketers. I think calling it a competitive intelligence product I think sometimes is slightly limiting. I think the way I'd like to think about it: it's a tool that provides you a roadmap to higher returns on your marketing program. You can take a look at what other people are doing to determine what's working and not working and give you some great ideas for your own marketing program. If you call it Competitive Intelligence sometimes only those companies that have a Competitive Intelligence group really get excited about it.

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Today was the official announcement that eDataSource has acquired Boxbe. Congratulations to eDataSource's CEO Carter Nicholas who was instrumental in this: what started as a conversation at a trade show 2 years ago has led to a reinvention of eDataSource. 

Having created eDataSource out of my garage in 2003, obviously this is tremendously exciting for me. 

Here is a little history of the start of eDataSource: 

In August of 2000, I launched my first for profit company: Emerging Interest (previously I had started a non-profit called The Rich Media SIG and the money from that company helped provide the seed money for Emerging Interest). Emerging Interest was an interesting idea that is being copied today: I would take vendors in to meet decision makers at agencies and companies in a traveling road show. Over the years, agencies would hire us to find vendors for a particular project. One day Ogilvy contacted me and asked me to find a competitive intelligence vendor for email. One of their clients wanted to monitor the competitors email campaigns. 

After talking to every competitive intelligence company, I found out no one monitored email. Why, I wondered. Well, I reasoned, there was no easy technological solution. You couldn't scan people's inboxes. So what was my big idea? Why not sign up to every list out there and archive what came in? Here I had an idea and a potential customer. I shut down Emerging Interest over the next few months and launched Email Data Source. 

And better: why not create a "virtual panel" with different profiles (sex, interests,etc), so I went about creating all these different types of "profiles" and then signing up different profiles to the same mailing list to monitor segmentation. 

I contacted a guy I had worked with at Comet Systems, Cullin Wible, who created the first version of eDataSource tool. I would process each email by hand every night: which meant looking at each email and categorizing it by company and product type. Soon I was processing thousands of emails a day and had to hire more people to process. In addition, since we used my physical address in signups, suddenly my mailman was delivery huge piles of direct mail to my house all addressed to my different virtual people. It was pretty insane. 

Eventually we had dozens of people processing email and even a team in India, and we were still getting further behind until my CTO had a brilliant idea: instead of categorizing the emails by hand, why not just follow the links in each email and see WHERE the emails were driving traffic to! That turned out to be a game changer: suddenly we could monitor every affiliate marketer, see who was working with who, and we could monitor all the intermediaries along the way. We suddenly had insight into the email marketing world that was unprecedented and unique. 

Through a close contact, I was introduced to the New York Angels where we ended up raising our A round. Later B and C rounds followed. It was my first experience in dealing with investments and VC's. An incredible experience. 

A few years later, I no longer was interested in the CEO role, which took me away from coming up with product ideas as most of my time was dealing with investors, operations, etc. Carter Nicholas was introduced to us by one of our Board Members Bob Rice. Carter turned out to be great, so great in fact, that there was less and less for me to do which is when I decided to leave to start Only Influencers: I needed to build something from scratch again. 

To all you would be entrepreneurs out there: I always said, if I can do it, anyone can. My background was always in the arts, not business, but I found out later in life that building a business is one of the most creative and exciting art projects there are. 

Every day as I think about the direction of OI, I look back on my experiences building eDataSource with pride. Not bad for a theater major from Bucknell!

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hud-smalt-whskThis weekend I took a ride up to Gardiner, NY to visit the Tuthilltown (pronounced Tuttle Town) Spirits Distillery. I was expecting a quick 5 minute tour of facilities followed by a tasting of their Hudson Whiskey. What I got was instead was one of the most interesting stories in entrepreneurship I've ever heard about.

Started 7 years ago, Tuthilltown Distillery became the very first Distillery to open in New York State since prohibition. Seven years later, Hudson Whiskey is available around the world (20 cases where headed to Lebanon while I was there) in their distinctive Pharmacy bottles and employees about 27 people, growing to 40 according to their growth plans. The success of Tuthilltown is a story that touches on every exciting aspect and stage of entrepreneurship, and the reason I love entrepreneurship so much.

Rule One: Adapt Or Die.

Ralph Erenzo, a professional rock climber and founder of ExtraVertical Climbing Center in Manhattan, had a dream of creating a Climbers ranch near The Gunks, a popular spot for climbers near Gardiner, NY. After purchasing the land, neighborhood opposition prevented Ralph from creating his dream. Now what?

Rule Two: Take advantage of a Change in Circumstances

Opportunities come at times of change. Ralph looked out on the farm he now owned and thought: what else can I do with a farm. How about distill whiskey from grains the farm produced? Only problems were that Ralph had no idea how to distill whiskey and the state licensing fees where $60,000 a year. This was the main reason no distillery had opened since prohibition: it was too costly due to government licensing fees and taxes. But that year, the state of New York change the laws and reduced the cost to around a $1,000 for two years. That was the opportunity that Ralph needed.

Rule Three: On the Job Training

Ralph's partners decided to take a tour of the southern distilleries to see what they could learn and what they learned one was going to give them any information about how to make whiskey! So they had to figure it out themselves. First up: they spent months trying to figure out why their yeast was not creating alcohol. For months, they spilled out vat after vat of mistakes. Then workers at a local Hasidic bakery told them: you don't know much about yeast: they needed to wait another 24 hours for the yeast to do its job and start generating alcohol.


Rule Four: innovation.

They got better. At first they produced Vodka because in order for Whiskey to be called Whiskey on the label it had to be put into white oak casks and the casks could only be used once. Casks were expensive and since they couldn't reuse them, they had an expense cask that couldn't be reused and raised their overhead. They also had the problem of time: They didn't have the resources to sit around for 4 or 5 years waiting for the whiskey to age and create its distinctive color, which comes from sitting in the barrels.

But after reading the laws carefully they realized one thing: while the law states the whiskey must be put in white oak barrels, it doesn't say for how long. By putting the whiskey into smaller barrels, they increased the surface area to liquid ratio and thus the whiskey aging process for shortened. They also found out that distilleries in Scotland do reuse barrels and where happy to purchase all the used barrels they wanted to sell.

In addition they found that pouring a Manhattan Cocktail Mix (Rye, vermouth and bitters) into a 5 gallon first use whiskey barrel and letting it sit for 90 days would create one of the most incredible Manhattans you've ever had: soon every bar in Manhattan was looking for their used 5 Gallon whiskey casks.

But the aging process still took to long: They thought about putting stave's from the barrel in the whiskey in order to create more surface area but the laws specifically state that you cannot add anything to the whisky cask. BUT it didn't say you couldn't REMOVE something. So their idea was to drill wholes in the stave's and on the inside of the barrel, thus increasing the surface area (an idea they immediately patented) and were able to reduce the aging process to 20 days per gallon of whiskey.

Their distinctive bottles, that look like they came out of a pharmaceutical shop, are exactly that: a relative had 1,000 bottles sitting in the basement of former pharmacy, and the rest is history. Each bottle is hand numbered with the year, the batch, and the bottle number. Each batch tastes different because of the home made nature of the the way their distillery works.

I don't want to give away all the secrets: but if you go ask about their unique method for stiring the barrels. If you find yourself in the Catskill region of New York, do yourself a favor and stop in for the tour. And pick up a bottle of their Hudson Single Malt Whiskey.  You'll love it.

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Tagged in: Entrepreneurship

Everytime I hear about a friend or business colleaque tell me they are going out on their own, I raise a toast. There is nothing better than being your own boss, setting your own hours, and living (or dying) based on your abilities and wits. 

One of the biggest mistakes I've seen people make is this notion that you need to immediately go out and raise money in order to launch a business. Once you take money, you are right back where you started: working for someone else. 

Of the 5 companies I've started, all of them were started on no money and for only one ( did I make the decision to raise capital in order to grow. So, how do you start a business with no money? 

Here is how: 

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Last week I wrote a blog post called "Don't Read This Blog". It was inspired by a conversation on the OI discussion list that occured after I had sent a "test - ignore" email to the list. One of the influencers commented that he couldn't resist reading an email with the subject line "Ignore" in it. 

So I decided to do a little experiment. I would write a series of blog posts on different topics and compare those stats to my "Don't Read" blog post. Here are the results: 

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This August represented my 11th year as being a full time Entrepreneur. What that means is that starting in 2000 I launched a company from my basement, it grew. 3 years later I got a new idea, went back to the garage, and launched a second company. And it grew. (Still growing as a matter of fact with offices down in the financial district). A year ago I launched a new company, Only Influencers, LLC. 

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One of the Influencers was recently listening to Anderson Cooper and heard him say just before going to break: "and you can follow us on Google+." 

Google+? Not Facebook, not Twitter, but Google+!

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Today's Digital Marketing Job Board: 

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One of the greatest motivational forces - one that seems underutilized in marketing - is that compelling need to do something that you have been forbidden from doing. During Prohibition, for instance, the incidents of alcoholism actually went up, not down. 

This week I sent out a post to the Only Influencers Discussion list with the subject line: "Testing - Ignore". One of the influencers responded that he felt it impossible to ignore an email with the subject line that says "Ignore". How can you ignore something that commands you to ignore it? 

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I've spent most of my career writing and speaking about online marketing. But today I want to write about something that is unique to the Brick and Mortar store experience. Something that can't be replicated in an online enviornment. I want to talk about why I shop Macy's. 

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Part Two of my address at the 2011 New York Ad:tech conference: Email and Mobile: 

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The following is the Part One of a speech I just gave for the 2011 New York Ad:tech Email Track. It concerns the merging of Email and Social Media. Part Two is on the synergies between Email and Mobile and will be published in a separate blog post. 

Bill McCloskey 

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Rory Carlyle is an independant email consultant who has been primarliy working for This is his story. If you like Rory's story, pass it on to your network and help Rory win a bottle of wine:
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(Editor's Note: The following was originally posted to the members of Only Influencers. I asked Dave Lewis for permission to post it publicly. This will be published in 2 parts. This is the second part. See yesterday's post for part 1):

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(Editor's Note: The following was originally posted to the members of Only Influencers. I asked Dave for permission to post it publicly. This will be published in 2 parts):

Everyone has been all over this topic.  There¹s been much speculation about causes and consequences and many divergent viewpoints expressed on a variety of related topics.  Some comments I¹ve found to be well-reasoned and constructive while others to be alarmist (even borderline irresponsible) or drilldowns on side issues that don¹t really matter much at this point.  But what concerns me most are the voices that minimize what¹s happening.

My objective with this post is elevate this issue to a business level discussion, particularly as it relates to where our industry is headed. This will be a two-part post.  The first will be about how I see things in an industry context, and the second on our path forward.  I'll try not to dwell on the obvious but sometimes the obvious needs to re-stated.

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Over the last nine years, I've spent quite some time making sure to stay tuned in and involved with the various organizations that either help keep email marketing stakeholders in compliance and in check or provide their own constituencies with the best practices and other materials they need to drive their brand and publishing models forward. At times, one of our greatest challenges has been that the various organizations are not aware of what efforts the others have underway, despite the fact that they often have greatly overlapping memberships. Lately, the tide has been turning as, in my humble opinion, the email marketing landscape has matured and the organizations we are involved with realize that, when appropriate, the sum of collaboration is much greater than the individual parts.

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