Former NBCi Executive's Company Geared to Help Small Businesses

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Out of the ashes of General Electric's NBCi Web portal comes VerticalResponse, a San Francisco provider of Web-based e-mail services for small and medium-sized businesses.


NBC shut down its Internet subsidiary last month and folded the portal into the network, eliminating many of the 300 jobs associated with NBCi.


Janine Popick, former vice president and general manager at NBCi Direct, the direct mail division of NBC Internet, founded the VerticalResponse three months ago. The company will seek to help small businesses develop and deliver e-mail campaigns quickly and inexpensively.


The idea for VerticalResponse came after Popick realized there were a plethora of e-mail services for very large companies and a number of them for individuals, but none for small businesses with more than 10 people, she said.


"Our focus is on the small-business market," Popick said. "We can manage up to 5 million or more e-mail names."


The company's first product is iBuilder, a suite of Web-based services that allow companies to build and deploy e-mail campaigns. Included in iBuilder is Opt-inBuilder, a service that lets users build Web-based forms that can capture e-mail names, demographic information and personal interest information from customers. Opt-inBuilder allows users to capture details such as name, e-mail address, city, state and ZIP code. It also lets users customize up to 10 fields of additional information.


Also included in iBuilder are ListLoader, an easy way to upload list data to the iBuilder service; eConstruct, which allows users to build HTML-based e-mails easily; and LiveReports, which offers Web access to near real-time campaign data.


"Customers can upload as many e-mail lists as they want," Popick noted. "We then send out both text-based and HTML e-mail."


VerticalResponse has about 20 clients now using its services, she said, including Winetasting.com, a Napa, CA, e-commerce site serving a network of independent California wineries.


Winetasting.com sends a newsletter twice a month to about 4,000 people using VerticalResponse's services, according to Dorian Patchin, Winetasting.com's vice president and general manager of Internet operations.


"We e-commerce-enable wineries to sell directly to the consumer," Patchin said. Winetasting.com has a network of 50 California wineries, he said.


He noted that prior to using Vertical Response, the company used list serve software to send its newsletter. However, using a separate design firm, the cost of each mailing was upward of $500.


"It was too complicated," Patchin said. "We were spending much more time troubleshooting the software than sending e-mail out the door."


In addition to its twice-monthly newsletter, Winetasting.com sends reminder e-mails to clients updating them about new products or promoting a specific vintage.


Patchin said the response to its most recent newsletter, sent earlier this month, was encouraging but was reluctant to give specific rates.


"We had a low unsubscribe rate," he said. "About less than 15. We're getting a lot of good click throughs that convert into sales."


He noted that depending on the campaign, Winetasting.com sees a click-through rate of 10 percent to 20 percent, with high conversion rates.


VerticalResponse's Popick said that while the company is concentrating on businesses with fewer than 100 employees, a number of large corporations have expressed interest in the company's services.


"We enable the small business to afford smart e-mail marketing," she said. "But there's been some interest from larger corporations. It's very cost-effective for a large list to use our stuff."


Pricing varies, depending on the number of e-mails being sent. For campaigns of fewer than 1,000 e-mails, the cost per thousand is about $15. For campaigns of 100,000 to 500,000 e-mails, the CPM is $7.50.


"We can afford to be low-priced because we don't have the large sales force," Popick said. "We're not going after the Fortune 1,000."


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