Feb 22 2006

Memory Lane or Dark Alley?

Memory Lane or Dark Alley?

We had an interesting meeting today.  A small group of the old-timers at Return Path, including one of our founders who doesn’t work at the company any longer, convened a summit to brainstorm ways to reinvent our original, original business, Email Change of Address (ECOA).

For those of you who don’t know what it is, ECOA is a very simple idea — that people who change email addresses need help updating their personal and business contacts, and also their most trusted commercial email newsletter relationships.  It’s a free service for consumers, and a paid service for opt-in email marketers and publishers who use our service to reacquire their customers with renewed permission and a shiny new email address.

When we created ECOA in 1999, we were sure it was the proverbial $100 million idea (what idea wasn’t in 1999?).  More than six years later, the product is a success and profitable, but it never took off with that explosive growth we all imagined early on.  Return Path has grown a lot since then, both organically and through M&A, and since about 2002 or early 2003, we basically put the ECOA business on “auto-pilot,” tending to it as needed and making sure it still worked well for consumers and clients and was adequately competitive in the market, but no longer investing meaningfully in its growth.

Now that we’re much larger and have the time and resources to put into it, we decided earlier this year to pay some attention to our neglected first child and see what we could do with it.  Today’s meeting was the first step, and boy was it interesting.

So I can’t decide whether the process of preparing for and going through this meeting was like a pleasant walk down Memory Lane…or a scary run through a Dark Alley late at night.  It was fun having a conversation about a part of the business that was so important to us at one time in our lives (it was all we had!), and the group of us were literally reminiscing in the meeting about all the different thoughts and ideas we had for the business over time, as well as about different former colleagues who worked with us on the business.  At the same time, it was pretty painful to look at some of our original projections for market size and of course business size — not to mention some of the marketing efforts, Powerpoint templates, logos, and names that fell by the wayside.

The good news is, either way, we do have lots of great ideas for how to move the ECOA business forward con gusto…so look for more news on this front as the year unfolds.