When Ilya Semin, the 29-year-old CEO of Datanyze, wanted to first test his product in 2012, he turned to one of the oldest marketing tactics: cold emailing.
He found the email addresses of a few dozen sales executives and sent them an email asking for feedback on his new product.
His product could search millions of websites every day and automatically figure out which software--in areas such as content management, e-commerce, and data-analytics solutions--they were using. It was an early prototype but definitely something salespeople could use to generate better leads. Knowing which software a website was already using could help them sell their own competing products.
Nearly half of the people responded to Semin's emails, sometimes with valuable insight. He would update his software with their suggestions and reach out again for more feedback.
One of the first people to respond to his emails was Ben Sardella, then the vice president of sales at Kissmetrics, a web-analytics software company. Cleverly, Semin mentioned that his software could show how many people were using Mixpanel, a Kissmetrics competitor:
After a few emails, the two met at a coffee shop in San Francisco to walk through Datanyze's software. Semin explained how it worked and showed the data it collected: the type of software each website used, when to expect a website's software contracts to expire, and the size of the companies. Sardella was hooked, and he became the first customer to use Datanyze. In fact, he was so impressed that he ended up joining Datanyze as cofounder in 2013.
Semin's cold email also caught the attention of billionaire Mark Cuban, now widely known for his role as an investor in the reality TV show "Shark Tank." In April, Semin sent Cuban an email with his pitch deck, not really expecting a response back anytime soon. But within an hour, Semin's inbox rang its little bell. It was Cuban: "Definitely interested--Send me more details." A few months later, Cuban joined IDG Ventures and Google Ventures in a $2 million seed-round investment.
Since Sardella joined, Datanyze has grown 25 percent every month. It says it is profitable after reaching $1 million in annual recurring revenue early last year. Despite having just 18 employees, it has already signed up 200 companies, including big customers like Marketo and HubSpot.
Looking back, Semin says people are generally always willing to help, especially when you're not asking for money. He always asked for feedback first, and that's what propelled his business to early success.
"The biggest lesson I learned was: If you want advice, ask for money. But if you want money, ask for advice," Semin told Business Insider.