Adam Robinson is a former Lehman Brothers financier who in 2012 founded and later sold an email marketing company. Among the company’s features was “identity resolution” — the ability to locate folks’ email addresses.
That identity technology is the basis of Retention.com, which he launched in 2019. The firm can link anonymous website visitors to their email addresses. The website’s staff can then email those visitors, soliciting business. Robinson calls the process “email laundering.”
He and I recently spoke. We addressed privacy rules, spam concerns, and acquiring the Retention.com domain.
The entire audio of our conversation is embedded below. The transcript is edited for clarity and length.
Eric Bandholz: Give us a rundown of what you do.
Adam Robinson: I own a software company called Retention.com. We identify anonymous website visitors, mainly for big Shopify stores.
We do two things. One, someone hits your website, they don’t fill out a form, and they leave. We can get an email address for that person, help you email and add them to your list safely. Using the same technology, we enable abandoned cart emails. Most folks are not logged into a store these days. They’re logged into Amazon, Facebook, and Instagram.
We’re a U.S.-only product. The initial reaction to our service is often, “What about the General Data Protection Regulation?” But we’re not in Europe, so GDPR doesn’t apply. It depends on where the person is. A European citizen in the U.S. is not subject to GDPR. In the U.S., the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 says email must have an opt-out, but it never mentions opt-ins. So long as there’s an opt-out link in your email, you can send it.
We used to be called GetEmails. We would place a pixel on our customers’ sites and then provide email addresses for their anonymous web traffic. We started focusing on Shopify stores and built a suite of bottom-of-the-funnel products — abandoned cart emails.
I saw an opportunity to focus on Shopify. I wanted to get the most prominent domain name possible with the most authority and relevance to what we were doing. I thought Retention.com was that. It’s not how an ecommerce brand would define retention, but still, you hear the name and know what that company does.
Bandholz: Someone must have been squatting on a domain like that.
Robinson: A woman had owned it for 29 years. To find that out, I first went through GoDaddy’s domain broker service. I found nothing. Then I asked a domainer friend. He told me he could help. He knew many folks in the domain industry. He said I would never get it if a big company owned it. If an individual owns it, it will probably be costly. I asked how much, and he guessed $300,000.
At the time, my business was in a position where we didn’t have a lot of employees, but we had a lot of revenue. It’s not the case anymore. We have a lot of revenue and a lot of employees. So I said, “I’ll spend a month’s free cash on this. Let’s do it.” Two months go by, and he tells me he has good news. “Someone owns this. It’s not IBM or Microsoft. However, the woman thinks her domain is priceless.”
She had a deal for $850,000 a few years before that fell apart. So that number was this number in her head. My friend got her down to $450,000 — $200,000 upfront and $250,000 in one year. I thought it was a great deal. I was ready to do it. Then the woman slept on it, woke up, and said $800,000 upfront.
I was ready to pay a maximum of $500,000. My buddy told me we could probably get it for that price, but it would be a couple of years down the road. He asked me, is it worth an extra $300,000 to have it now? I’m like, you know what? It probably is. I bit the bullet and paid the $800,000. It was painful but worth every penny. I have not thought twice about it.
Bandholz: You now own Retention.com. How do you obtain visitors’ email addresses?
Robinson: We partnered with publisher networks for the identity info, which we capture and transfer to our customers. We’re the middleman.
The theory I’ve formed is from talking to many privacy attorneys. Tracking U.S. consumers online is not going away. The argument is whether consumers are aware that they’re being tracked. There’s no liability for brands with clear policies collecting visitors’ addresses. Visitors might not read the policy, but it’s there.
Email recipients rarely trace it back to us. Recipients sometimes ask why you’re emailing them. We have an elegant way of responding. It’s rarely a problem, but typically, the brand (our customer) gets one email daily from somebody asking, “Dude, why am I on this list?”
If they get mad, we show them the date in the URL of where they opted into the publisher network. That shuts them up.
Bandholz: What about spam rates?
Robinson: There is an industry-wide accepted hurdle of one in 1,000 or 0.1%. A merchant’s main list is likely well below that, especially if the company uses Klaviyo, which cleans up lists.
Folks unsubscribe. They complain. If you’re getting first-party opt-ins, the spam complaint rate is likely below 1%. Our emails will be higher than that — maybe 5%. That’s not a problem because sending reputation is evaluated by looking at all the emails that go out daily, not just ours. It’s the total number of spam complaints over the total number of sends.
So even though our spam rates are more than they should be, it hardly changes anything if it’s only 2% of your emails. That’s the whole reason it works. You could think about it as email laundering.
Bandholz: Where can listeners support you?