A few days after a customer uses their new Karma device, they receive an email. It looks something like this:

Hey Paul,

I'd like to personally thank you for joining Karma. We're glad to have you on board!

We started Karma with one simple idea: everyone should be able to get online, everywhere they go. Your Karma hotspot is the first WiFi hotspot that is Made for Sharing. Anytime someone connects to your Karma hotspot, not only do they get free WiFi, we reward you for being generous. They receive free data for joining and you receive free data just for sharing your WiFi. Good karma, indeed.

I'd love to hear what you think about Karma! You can email me anytime at steven@yourkarma.com Also, out of curiosity, how did you first hear about Karma?

Oh, and should you have any questions, our friendly support team (https://yourkarma.com/help) is here to help.

Thanks again, and welcome!

Steven van Wel Co-Founder / CEO

It's sent in plain text, from Steven's actual email address, without any fancy formatting or embedded images. It's just an email, basically, and it's meant to start a conversation. It's sent automatically a few days after a new user first activates his device, but with the sort of personal tone that's meant to elicit a response.

"I wanted to put my own ass on the line," explains Steven. "People on average spend around $146 on their first purchase. It's a lot of money before they even get the product, and it deserves a follow up. We're not just throwing the product over the fence and figuring they'll find customer support if they need it. If there's anything they want to share, they know where to do it."

When he first started sending the emails, Steven was afraid "it might be like internet comments," but the response has been overwhelmingly positive, and even the negative replies have helped mold the direction of the company.

"We're not just throwing the product over the fence"

Every email response is forwarded to everyone in the company. It's an easy way to keep a finger on the pulse of what people like and dislike about Karma. Our COO, Robert, parses out more detailed information from each email and turns it into spreadsheet data, like how people heard about Karma (a word of mouth referral is our best performer, just past paid promotion) or what they dislike (coverage problems are by far the largest issue, something Karma Go will help fix).

How did you hear about Karma?How did you hear about Karma?

For a long time, Steven processed all the emails in his personal inbox, and did his best to reply to anything that needed a response. As of last month we've moved the emails over to our support system. Our customer support team replies to emails that are more urgent support questions, and Steven replies to the other stuff.

"I wake up really early," says Steven, "so I probably come into the office between 8 and 8:30 and spend about half an hour replying to these emails every other day or so." Sundays are a good time as well. "If people take the time to reply to this email and they have a really simple question or a really beautiful story, I love to reply to those emails." Steven admits that as the user base grows, he won't be able to respond to everyone he'd like to, but that's why he's integrating the support team right now.

"It's really easy to ignore what your customers do"

Dave Ford, a member of the support team, likes how positive the emails are in comparison to the traditional support request. “I don’t think most normal people ever write in to a company or give feedback unless it is negative,” he says. “So the amount of people that write only positive things back to us on a daily basis is definitely surprising to me.”

While positive feedback is its own reward, what's most important is to show your customers that you're listening, and to actually listen. "I'd love to see more companies, more startups, do stuff like that," says Steven. "It's really easy to ignore what your customers do."

If you're interested in doing this for your own startup, Steven has the following tips:

  1. Make sure it's a genuine, proper email, sent from the founder's email address. No fancy stuff, no newsletter stuff. Don't trace how many people open it. No images. No upsell. It's just a general follow up and welcome to the company, with an open-ended invitation to talk.
  2. Make sure people have time to experience your product. In our case, it's after activation. If they had a bad activation experience, or can't get coverage where they are, they'll know that by the time they get the email.
  3. Make sure everyone on the team gets insight on the emails, or at least access to the the emails. We have an internal Google Group, and everyone who is subscribed gets every email.

Karma is by no means the only company to send out a founder's email. One of my favorite examples is from Nathan Kontny, creator of Draft, early in that product's development:


Thanks again for signing up for Draft (https://draftin.com/). I updated the Features page recently to list all the things you can do with Draft.


But there's not a ton of help or documentation yet, so I was just emailing to make sure you were able to get started ok. Is there anything I can do?


I went on to have a couple of brief, productive conversations with Nate. And became a paying customer. The personal touch was all the more important to me because his product is an alternative to Google Docs — something so monolithic and distant from my feedback that it's useless to even imagine a feature request.

When you can show your customer you're listening, and you're actually listening, beautiful things can happen.

About Paul Miller

That guy who left the internet for a year